I have always lived with animals.
When I was little, we had turkeys and rabbits running about our home. One little turkey was allowed in the sitting room and it was always attracted to my earrings and would peck at it while I slept.
My father is a livestock farmer; he had us all to tend to his animals and, perhaps, love them. We would later grow fond of Bebeto, a rabbit who refused to eat grass but would dip its mouth into my bowl of garri and drink it up while I looked the other way. I can’t forget the day I refused to eat my rice but kept it in the pot. I got back from church, opened the pot and found an overfed Bebeto inside, its belly bulging. Rage filled me and I nearly strangled it. I can’t forget ‘mother rabbit’ who was such a beautiful rabbit, but always ran away when it was time to feed her babies. She died of ear disease and I cried; I was little.
I am remembering the sheep too. I never liked them at first, I don’t even think I do now. But I can’t deny I miss the way they follow me around when I’m carrying the yellow bucket containing feed. Or the way they hit their horn against their house in protest of being tied up.
Don’t let me start with my dogs. Major who would lick his lips repeatedly while you rubbed its belly, and then hold one of your legs as though pleading with you not to leave. Major wouldn’t finish his food but will guard it jealously and growl if any other animal tried to eat out of it.
Or Betsy, the ever playful dog who never recognises when you’re in the mood to play or not. Betsy did a lot of funny things when it was little: from putting off our generation whenever we put it on, to dipping one of its paws into the hot soup and then running off on three paws while howling at the top of its voice.
But I’m not here to talk about them.
Today, I’m thinking about the little chicks I miss, those ones who knew whenever I was about to feed the rabbits and would hustle for the corn. I would chase them away, but trust chickens – they would come rushing back once a little drop of feed fell on the floor. I never knew it was a big deal, I never knew I found joy in them, not until they all died.
It struck me one day while I was mixing the rabbit feed; I had been doing it for some minutes, expecting, as usual, to see the mother hen rushing toward me, the little feet of the chicks trotting behind her. But they did not come. I missed them in a way. An odd way. I remember complaining most of the time about how those little chicks could never let me mix feed in peace.
And now I missed them. Odd!
Here’s one thing I’ve discovered – maybe I shouldn’t use the word ‘discover’ because it is common knowledge. We humans really crave joy, happiness, peace and all sort, but we search for them in big places, places where we have to crane our necks, stand on our toes and stretch our arms before we see them. At times we seek them in people, those who we think our lives wouldn’t bloom without, some of those who trample upon us then laugh nefariously because they know we cannot do without them.
Most times, we seek joy in vain places, like stripping beneath the sprinkle of red lights, when the day has gone to sleep, letting the cracked palm of old bones slap your supple buttocks. When they laugh leacherously, you’re happy they find your body enchanting and you’re in control of their emotions. That is not joy, it is an illusion of joy – it fills your belly for a fraction of time, lets you starve for a while and then feeds you with a bitter void.
Joy isn’t in white powder, competing with the air that passes through your nostrils, or in lifted spirits that make you play with the celestial bodies for a while and then leaves you snoring in guttered waters, hours to come.
Joy is in little places.
I learnt this a long time ago. When I played with sugar ants carrying grains of garri to God knows where. When I strolled down my street, savoring the evening air, earphones plugged deep into my ears.
Joy is my younger sister asking who sang Black Panther because she is posted to a village where there’s no network. Joy is when I dress up, feeling like a fine girl, and my sister reminds me that everything I’m wearing is hers. Joy is my sisters and me playing scrabble and arranging words we know do not exist in the dictionary.
Joy is my aunt’s 3-year-old running into the sitting when her mum was about to beat her, screaming with her arms stretched towards heaven, “oh God, what is wrong with my mummy now?”
Joy is when I’m tying the ewe and she pees in my hands, or when I finish washing the tiled floor and Betsy poos on it while wagging her tail – you cannot even beat these animals, because they are living their lives, nescient to the anger rumbling in your belly. Joy comes in form of those little chicks that waited patiently for me to throw corn on the floor for them to pick. Chicks whose presence I never appreciated until they all died.
Joy is in little things.
Where are you seeking joy? Your life might seem like the many parts of Lagos: disorganized, dirty, filthy – but you can find your gold even in a dumping ground. Many of us ignore the little things that make us happy because we are pursuing the ‘phantasm of joy.’
Joy could come in the little things you and your friends do – those annoying friends who you quarrel and fight with all the time but you know they will always be there for you. Joy comes in the dimpled face of that man you love. It could be inside danfo buses, the annoying BRT queues, that ‘irritating and arrogant’ guy who just won’t let you be. Joy comes to us, but we’re too busy to look her way.
Joy comes from you nne; it regurgitates from your belly, but you keep swallowing it back because you think it is not worth it. You do not need to find joy through sweat and blood. It is sitting right in front of you, perhaps clad in torn cloaks.
The fact that it is sparkling, shiny and beautiful doesn’t mean it is joy. It could be just a chimera.
Learn to find joy, in little places.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime