You grew up building blocks and bricks. At first, they were coloured blocks that you arranged to form a car, or a house. You built a mosque, a church, a hall and sometimes, just a windowless room. Your mama teased you that you will grow up to be a bricklayer cos you were so good at clipping one toy brick to the other until the house had a strong foundation and even stronger walls.
It was when you got to primary 5 that you stopped making shapes with coloured plastic bricks and started erecting real walls and building houses. It will turn out to be the house you’ll live in for a really long time.
These houses started with thin square-shaped Ankara wrappers. You would place your legs high on the walls and put your head on the pillow, then you would tuck in one end of the wrapper under your feet and the other under your head. The two other ends will be tucked in beneath books and you will look up, amazed at your little house. Dark – save for the little penetration of sunlight.
As you grew, you stopped building houses with Ankara wrappers and started using blankets. The ceiling fan would be increased to the highest and you would shut out all lights and raise your legs to the walls while tucking the thick blankets beneath your feet. Sometimes, you would place a torchlight inside your ‘home’ to help you see while you read about fairies with long red noses and wished you could eat a peppermint. Other times, you simply closed your eyes – content.
When mama noticed, she began to turn on the lights and yank the blankets off you. She would laugh and wonder what you always did behind closed cloths. But when you had your own room, you removed the bulb and shut out all forms of light from the windows and tiny door holes. Then you began to sit in corners and face the walls, your arms wrapped around your body and your face shielded by the ’90 degrees’ of the walls.
She became worried.
So she broke your doorknob and bought the brightest bulb for you. You hit a nail deep into the wall and curved it behind the door. It was not until one day she cried while breaking down your door and leaving your room naked that you learned to mount those bricks in your head and wrap your arms tighter around your body until your nails dug deep – and deeper – into your skin.
At first, these walls were just a little girl’s escape. A home to run to when papa raved on like a mad bulldog. When he talked of driving you like a slave master, you ran into your brick home that had a thatched roof and ate peppermints – those were the only place where you truly did not feel like a slave or a second-fiddle.
With time, you realised that your home was conducive and you could tweak it to your taste. It was filled with tranquility, hush, and quiet. It was an escape.
When you started living in your home, it had colours. There were little drawings of fairies splattered across the walls. There was a jar of peppermints, a cup filled with lemonades, a plate of blueberry muffins and your ‘Secret Seven’ book sitting on that super-clean bookshelf. You also had a dog. When you licked a peppermint, you placed it flat on your index finger and carefully raised it until it landed gently on the tip of your white tongue – that was the way they licked it in the fairy books. Then you will throw your head back and laugh heartily. It was your happy place.
Mama saw you laughing at the mirrors and, as usual, tears trickled down her slender face. Papa never noticed. He was too busy looking for kids he would drive like a slave-master.
Later, your home would be filled with black – gloom decorating its windows. Your home was closer than it was when you first lived there; there were colours and fairies and angels and peppermints. Now, there was just serenity – the quietness you never got when you lived outside of it. There were no peppermints – they seemed silly anyway, and fairies were stupid mythical creatures. Now, there were African books, and alcohol and cigarettes and plenty of love-making – and the tales of slave-trade.
There was also sorrow – plenty of it, enough to choke you until you hold your throat tight and cough un-gently, spittle spraying the walls.
Don’t be deceived by what you read. These walls are amazing. A world inside your head. A tweakable place. Today, it is filled with romance, you are setting your bodies in flames and lying beneath the waters. Tomorrow, it is heartbreak and you are listening to Brymo and you are hitting your head against the walls and getting drowned in the salty waters that dripped off your lens and filled the room. Next tomorrow, you will give your estranged lover a drink from the Midsummer’s Night Dream and have him gaze into your eyes in wonder.
Today, you are in a castle, drinking from goblets. Tomorrow, you are in that mud house with thatched roof and dressed in animal skin. On both days, you are quiet, peace surging forcibly through your veins.
It is a world you can tweak and turn on and off – like NEPA light.
But when these walls begin to become smaller and smaller, perhaps, too much for your large body, when you begin to whip yourself and slice little bits of skin off your already mangled body, you will turn yourself into that psychiatrist ward and get help.
Perhaps, you will forever have walls in your head. But maybe you don’t have to live in there forever.