I fall out of sleep back into where ever it was that I had slept. Mostly on the chair. Sometimes on the ground. If on the ground the dream must have been a good one, the sort that makes me fear for my sanity, with plot lines spiralling out of my subconscious control, the characterisation of the stars astonishing. More astonishing than their real life personas, for those I’ve met. Some of them, just portrait photographs on my FaceBook feed become complete in my dreams, with proportional bodies and proper voices and mannerisms to match. Sleeping for me is the only pure ritual. The only rich one. The tedium of dragging a body through days; bathing it, feeding it, covering it up, using it to relate with people can slowly make one weary but sleep? Ah nothing can compare to the surrender of the consciousness of it all, in sleep you can become nothing. So that falling back into my body can be strange, a curiosity that I once didn’t look forward to, but now entertains me. I test my eyes, open-close, they are eyes. I am truly awake now. I test my feet folded up into whatever weird posture I contorted into in my dreams. I lift my hand to my face, touch my fingers to my beard, wonder what would happen to my thoughts if they were ever broken off. I never asked for hair but after fighting it for a year I have come to accept it, the way I have come to accept my baldness and other things I have to live with in this body.
I am 24 living in Nigeria without any sense or illusion of control over my life. Before 20 I used to study hard in school, wrote literature harder; prepared for a sheltered happy life of a professional and a writer upon graduation. I couldn’t wait to be the youngest published writer by twenty. That didn’t happen. Neither did the finishing school on time with the 2.1 class of degree or the sheltered life after graduation. I can confidently say the things I have wanted seldom come to me. Everyone is asleep in the house so I switch on my phone and click my Facebook notification on reflex. Something is always there waiting for me. I am an on and off FaceBook addict and have threatened to shut down my account several times for two years. Friends who once supported the idea have seen I may never succeed so they are against it now. The last time I deactivated my account I was actually scared that I really won’t come back, not even after their persuasion until family members and those friends bullied me back.
FaceBook is not the problem, you are the problem.
Well it eats hours of writing time. I spend precious writing time responding to stupid inquiries in my inbox so that I won’t be branded as one of those conceited writers who snub people. So I respond rapidly to ‘good morning sah? how are you doing sah? how was your night bro? whats happening? do you have a real job? Come and be my mentor. How do you write? What did you have for breakfast? Where do you live? Can you read my story? Do you model? Hi. Hello. What did you put on your eyes? When is your book coming out?
The irritation from having to be polite to these people makes me hostile sometimes to even close friends online. Then of course the intrusion of family. I really feel a little sad for them. I don’t use my wall as a social network tool, I use it as a private writing diary to jot the most bizarre of ideas that flit briefly in my head. So I feel for them. I can imagine how it must feel to be normal and see my little nephew I had carried as a baby inquire about the sexual behaviour of Nigerians in a particular regime or see him upload pictures of women lying down (actually I would be delighted) and so I consider screening my content for their sake. Heck my grandpa is on FaceBook. At some point I would block them If I don’t shutdown my account entirely but then I would have to block the dozens of rude users who snoop into serious conversations I have with professionals in different fields of art. When the whole thing starts irking me I drop my phone and have a brief conversation with God. Many atheists believe I am a closet atheist, some Muslims believe I am secretly a Muslim and many Christians, probably all of the FaceBook Christian users believe I belong to some occult New Age sect. I don’t blame them. I am open to new ideas and things happening in the world after all if God really exists every ‘heresy’ is happening inside it. Which is another conundrum for Christians who really really want to welcome me into their domination so they can be open minded. How can I claim to believe in an Abrahamic religion and not ascribe a gender to God?
It is really morning now and half stories, unfinished on paper, half-typed in somebody’s laptop and undeveloped flit in my head. Whichever I choose would make me guilty of leaving the other. I choose one out of duty (usually an article or piece I have been asked to write like this one) I may start strong but the trail of my idea eventually evaporates with the morning then I get stuck somewhere. That’s where I am now, stuck at the brink of the quarter of a century; living with a family, too many half finished ideas and projects, a mind that is happiest when away from my body, some causes for celebration here and there. Maybe I am getting better at living in this body I don’t demand too much from it anymore, at least not beyond today, not beyond now. The future doesn’t owe me anything, not even a short story prize or book deal so I am learning to not feel entitled to it. Which is why I am distressed when people tell me ‘you will be the next so so and so’ or ‘do and win Nobel for us’ the only thing I should be thinking about is my story, the body of stories I am to leave behind when breath leaves me, that sentence I am to write now. Breakfast will soon be ready. I really am lucky to be in the clan of Chinelo Okparanta who writes best in the morning. By dusk my brain will be a tired mess. I look for a quiet part of the house with my jotter and pen. Then I start to write.
TJ Benson is a short story writer and creative photographer. His work has appeared online and in print journals. He loves cake, pasta and wine.