I have always loved life. I enjoy to travel and explore the unusual opportunities available in the natural world. When I was younger, my parents would bundle my sister Nkem and me in a taxi, and we would travel to Ojota motor park where we would join one of the buses going to the villages. As we grew older and my parents became wealthier, we went on luxurious buses and eventually by chauffeur driven cars.
I missed the days we went on the small buses packed like a tin of sardines. There was always a stench that filled the air. There was a mixture of sweat, food and at certain times, I was sure I smelled urine. On those journeys, we would put our hands out of the windows to feel the fresh air. We would beg mother for her last fifty Naira note so we could buy some roasted Ube Pears selling by the roadside. I was always more keen to eat fruits when trapped on those long journeys. However, when wealth came, the trips were never the same. We never travelled like locals, the mobile police that escorted the cars would never let us stop, but I could still take photos via the tinted mirrors. By the time, I completed my university degree; I had not travelled by road in years. ‘The roads are not safe’; father would lament.
When I was done studying political science at university, I scored a journalism gig in South-Africa. I was paid to travel and write about it. Someone paid me for doing something that I loved, but it did not last long. I did not travel the way tourists did. I refused to visit relics or eat gourmet food. I went to local joints, ate with my hands and tried herbs I had never seen before. Once the travel magazine I worked for noticed that I did not play to the script, they got rid of me. And I was dependent on daddy for my trips and sold some occasional photographs to ‘edgy’ galleries.
Then there was the short trip to Montego Bay or Mo-Bay as the locals in Jamaica called it. I went by bus from Kingston so that I could have something more natural to write about. Something other than the beach and activities designed for tourists. I wanted to live the simple life. So I purchased some Ackee and Saltfish, and then I climbed on the bus. It had to be one of the most exhilarating journeys I had ever taken. I was lost as the locals spoke Patwa to me. My afro was turned to dreadlocks by the end of the trip, and I felt like I was at home for the first time in years. Just like those trips as a child, the bus was saturated with all kinds of fumes. There was a cocktail of fried fish, cannabis, cake and rum. Upon getting to Mo-Bay, there was a sweet scent in my nostrils and a song of praise in my heart. I promptly asked the bus driver for advice on a local hotel where I could reside. I quickly ditched the 5-star hotel that had been booked for me by my office and decided to indulge.
I often blamed that trip for my downward spiral, but now I mark it as the beginning of hedonism, and hedonism the birth of my downfall. I was always a robust child. Aunties were always on hand to say; “You have added, try to lose small” about my weight. I did not have a medical condition. I was not big-boned; I was indulgent. I did not quite know when to say no to my flesh. I did not have to consider the relentless nagging of family members who wanted me to find a real job and find a man. They claimed I was too wild; they said my dreadlocks were not modest, they said I was not a ‘homely’ girl. That was where I became unstuck. The cannabis created a relaxing haze. I did not have to deal with the words that created the emptiness that had cut me to my core. I kept blocking my mind with uppers then downers, and then I realised that numbing pain does not make it go away.
My mother often claimed that I was an aimless wanderer, she felt I used my job to mask the absence of any real vision in my life. My father though disappointed was still happy to fund me. He often said; “Go ahead, see the world while you can”. He explained that I was still young, he believed I was an international photographer in the making. He encouraged me; that was where indulgence began. Mother instead was pragmatic and felt that at 32, I was not young, certainly not for a Nigerian woman with no husband and no career.
It was after Easter, and mother had been calling for days, I had been in a cloudy haze. I do not remember much of it or those who were present during it. I remember Jerome saying; “Ignore it! She just wants to you to come to Nigeria yet again”. I do not recall looking at my phone for days. I awoke on the cold and wet kitchen floor, and there was a smell, pungent and smoky; like burning fruit cake. When I opened my eyes, there was a broken bong in the corner and clothes I did not recognise on the cooker. I was famished, and my mouth was burning and my tongue stung. It felt like I had swallowed several tonnes of salt. I ran the tap and drank directly from the faucet. There was vomit in the sink.
I tried to stand properly, but my feet could not find the floor, my eyes were not open there was a film of blindness over them. I reached into the cabinet, then the fridge, but I finally found it under the bathroom sink. Rum. A few gulps later, I could see clearly again. I stood under the shower with my bottle. I do not think I washed the stench away. But I was finally awake.
I walked to the bedroom where there was a box of cold pizza, and I started eating. I connected my phone to the charger and turned on the television. It was eight a.m. 20.4.14. I continued to eat, and I continued to drink. My phone began buzzing again messages from Mother and Cynthia an old school friend. I looked at the screen; I had 146 messages. Voicemails, Texts, Emails, and Whatsapp notifications, people had been trying to reach me.
“Nne it’s your mother, where are you?”
‘There was an accident.”
“It was armed-robbers.”
“It is your dad, and your sister too.”
“Can you come home?”
“Where are you?”
“Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“Your mum needs you.”
“Please try to come home.”
“How can you do this Amaka.”
“Your father died this morning, and Nkem followed soon after I hope you’re happy.”
That was the last message. It was sent ten days ago; it was from my cousin Amarachi.
Hello, my name is Amaka, and I think this is what you call rock bottom.
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Until next time, Damiloves