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Happy Birthday to BN Contributor Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke! Read His Beautiful Memoir – For a Better Me



Bn1It is my birthday today. I will wake up to countless good will messages and the smiling face of my Brother, my Mother will send a lengthy message recounting the experience of that morning in a small Lagos hospital, many years ago when I was born. I will talk on the phone with my Sister for long minutes and my Father would leave for work without forgetting to ask me what I am doing later. All of that matters, Caleb matters.

But before I get drowned in the ecstasy of adding another year, before I join friends and Family at an outdoor party somewhere in Lagos (because even writers are lavish like that) and toast my favourite brands (which you would know if you know me). I will first take out time to admonish myself, to love and appreciate an older Caleb.

I am not exactly the best version of a person. My Brother says I talk too much sometimes, my friends say I do not call often or text on Whatsapp often; that I do not reply texts when they get off their ivory towers and decide to send, and that I feel too important to take calls. In this era of life where people measure your humility and niceness by how many direct messages you have replied, I can comfortably say that I am not humble or nice by these standards.

I am not exactly the best version of a person I would want even. I stutter when I speak too quickly, I am 5Ft’8 short, (by my standards), my moods veer constantly like a car with a bad tyre, and I have not written as much as I would want this year. One of my closest friends described me as constantly belittling people’s efforts in my life a few weeks ago and I still cry whenever I worship, even in church when a fine sister is nearby.

Nevertheless, as should be learned, I have gathered that it is unreasonable to love oneself only because of where one is, gathered that what one is now is simply a portion of the pie chart of what one is going to be and not the whole plan.

And so, I do not love myself because I am flawless, I do not love myself because I can confidently say that I am all I would want to be, I love myself because of my short comings. My flaws are slender streets with butter coloured lamps leading to the appreciation of me, they are handbooks to recognising oneself in the uproar that is everyone else. I realise that perfection is a journey and not a destination, and so I love myself on this journey, I love myself to perfection and not because of it.

bn2I have long learned not to relate self worth to how others regard me, that self worth is solely dependent on my idea of myself, this clarity and counsel has steered me on the journey to owning oneself. On nights when the wind of the populace rows my gentle boat, I tuck myself in one corner and remind myself of this, when the waves of judgement lick against the sides of my acceptance boat, when the tempest is intense.

But I am re-learning this, because when we re-learn we remind ourselves of why we chose to learn, we imprint once more on the wet pages of our memory the significance of old things, when we relearn, we survive the tempest by simply remembering.

I am learning to like my choices, not because they are the best decisions, but because they are the best I could come up with, they are mine, and I love the “Me” brand, learning to accept and not tolerate myself.

I cannot always be the receiver, the one who deposits emotions excitedly in his shirt pockets with a long spoon and estimates meticulously when it’s time to dish out emotions. I cannot always be the one heaping emotions in plastic bags to hang over my back with pride and split fistfuls to my demanding ego when everyone has their backs turned.

There is a need for love to be served in finely patterned plates; by waiters in pleat skirts and properly ironed shirts. And although this is not a prerequisite for how love tastes, as a good restaurant is determined by the quality of its meals and not how fanciful it looks, there is however a need for it to look magnificent too.

For I am learning that good things come in good packages, and that judging a book by its cover perverse to what I was taught is not a bad trait, the bad trait however is judging a book only by its cover.

But even I do not completely know this, I look for love in the strangest of places, I know. I play music in the corridors of my heart and tell it tunes to dance to, I restrict love, I give it a set of rules to follow.

“You cannot dance to these new generation songs” I say to Love “Dance only to Fela and things you’re familiar with”

I tell love that when it is not requited, it is invalid, pointless; I tell it that it must come with reciprocation and love listens eagerly, hands stretched out, one foot forward, ready to carry out my directives.

But I am learning that I do not love only to be loved in return, I do not love a mustang because it loves me in return, I love because it makes me happy. And I am at my own slow pace learning to love people this way, as I do cars and books. I am learning to love simply because it is an emotion I can feel; simply because there is the presence of something/someone I admire, I am learning to love because I am delighted by it.

And this form of love is most beautiful because it aligns with self love, it does not jeopardise my love for Caleb when I choose to love people as I love cars, I do not love at my own expense, in this way, I can only gain by loving not lose.

I have learned too that life will not always hand me lemons to make lemonades, sometimes life will hand me nothing at all. It would come unclad, panting, shoulders slumped, say “Caleb, nothing at all, I have nothing to give you”, and I will look life in the face vowing to make do with nothing. I will sit in the backseat of an Uber cab and sob silently praying the driver will not notice.

For I know now, that though I might not always be strong, I am strong enough. Though time and chance has its way of rattling one out, flinging them against cold hard tile floors, I am strong enough. I know now that I am stronger than all I would ever come upon, that under the tottering weight of encounters, I might stagger, but I will not fall. For in truth, mistakes are not costly, mistakes are cheap, what is costly is not trying again.

As I turn a year older today, there are few things I am learning about me, I am learning that when life is toughest, I have it better than someone else and that viewing life this way-although I previously thought it a subtle way of glorying in the misfortune of others-is a practice of accepting ones fall shorts. I am learning that we move only by accepting that we have stopped, for one cannot ignite a vehicle he thinks is already at top speed.

I am learning to be more open minded. My Mother like many others frown at my opinions of many things, she thinks I am unwise for resolving to not be bothered by sexuality, or equality or things of that sort. But I want to be more flexible than I already am, because sometimes I doubt the ideas I endorse, and I do not want to doubt them, not because they are right to me, but because they are right to someone else, and because humanity is very important.

I am learning to love God more, and I am drunk in this love. A certain wise friend, Enwongo Cleopas once said “God is blood” and this is true, this is everything. God is blood, friend, lover, Girlfriend, and everything.

With this new age, I am tapping at the treadle of my mind with my feet and designing new resolves. I will listen to love songs with significance whether I am in love or not, for I understand that I do not need to be in love to feel it. I will continue to love written notes and Jesus, and myself. I would not always be handsome, but I will always be my own version of handsome.

Safe Journey Book CoverMy life might not be as I had scripted it in previous years, the plot of the life I have might totally have deviated from the script, but my life is something and for that, I am grateful. And on some days life will be chilly enough, frosty, but I would learn to wrap myself in my arms, to embrace myself and enjoy my own comfort

May I find love in new things and appreciate the old, may I understand that novelty is welcoming the new and not doing away with the old. May the faces I make in the mirror look more appealing to me, may my morning coffee be warm, and my slices of bread evenly spread with butter. May I smile on cold nights wrapped in the sheets not because I have someone warming me up, but because my happiness is very independent of company.

May I savour my aloneness and crave it when I get too busy, may my stories be patent and my hugs affectionate, may I with these tender hands touch more lives, and yet, may Caleb be all that matters to me, may he be all.

Editor’s note
Happy birthday to Caleb from all of us at BellaNaija. If you’re a fan of Caleb Somtochukwu’s writing, we’re pleased to announce that Caleb’s debut novel Safe Journey has just been published by Bahati Books.

We are pleased to announce “Safe Journey”- Caleb Okereke’s debut digital novel is available to buy from @Okadabooks @DigitalbackBks @amazon!

— Bahati Books (@BahatiBooks) August 19, 2016

Buy a copy of the book HERE


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