Non-fiction by William Saint George
This month has brought my emotions to strange extremes, each day has taken its toll. The stalemate in my years long war against the growing sense of isolation that comes from living as nothing more than a cog in the economic machine that is the world was broken when I woke up at the start of this week, completely defeated.
I led myself through the morning rites and waited to be shuttled off to work. I am employed in a mind factory. Work demands that each day I apply steady faculties creatively to complex business problems for long hours to create products that people may find useful. That morning, I lacked that critical asset – a stable mind – the absence of which made me an expendable liability.
I was frantic. I had no one to speak to. Most conversations were little more than glorified departmental reports with a dash of humanity. They were as predictable as routine calls across a network; client to server, then back to client; request, response, request, response, made more unbearable because the humanness was being eroded and all the people I ever encountered day to day were becoming more like the servers that surrounded them; cold, metallic, with blinking LEDs drowned in the monotonous hum of work life. I did not need another morning of passionless status updates.
Desperation to escape the absurdity of existence, to confront life and rediscover myself that I lost has led me to act in the most curious ways. I have taken leave of society – perhaps counter intuitively, it is something I’m quite notorious for – and indulged in solitary activities in the hope that I may find fulfillment and the balance needed to maintain the health of mind.
Isolation from outside influences is an easy thing. It was freeing myself from the relentless onslaught of memory that proved hardest. The siege of my mind was broken that morning. My defenses collapsed and I was invaded by waves of memories and foul, self-deprecating thoughts.
I alighted from the bus a slave of the past. My shoulders were more slumped than usual. My gait measured, a reflection of my mind that, having been inundated, steadily combed through the albums in pitiful cross-examination.
I remember watching my feet progress across the courtyard towards the dining area outside. Some people were already seated at the tables, laptops set up before them, cups and bowls of breakfast fare at their sides, elusive joy in their eyes. I could not make sense of the conversations that flew around me. There was too much noise in my head. On my way to serve myself I bumped into Barbara. I did not notice her, though she wore a bright yellow blouse on the sombre morning.
The people closest to you are the most dangerous. My most crippling memories were of those who have been a part of my life and had left to pursue other adventures, tearing away a piece of me, leaving a tattered mess behind. This morning, I saw their faces stare back at me and smile like we were still friends. The semi-strangers paraded themselves as I stirred the hot cup of coffee before me.
I sat far from everyone else so I could think. The coffee burned my lips with vengeful heat as I considered Adom and all the letters we sent to each other in Achimota. Of my handful of friends, Adom was the closest, most honest. He loved me for a while, and I returned the affection. We wrote together, walked together, sometimes we studied at the same desk. We lived, we breathed our poetry.
Adom was the only one in my circle who loved to read my poems and share his best works with me. Indeed it was under his inspiration that I christened myself and gladly bore the cross of writing. But where is he now? The rascal run off to make new things with new people. For me, I sit here drinking my coffee and wondering if I also return to him in memory.
I let the heat of my beverage fill me and melt the frost that was gathering in my inner sanctum. I watched through the corner of my eyes as more people poured in, served themselves, ate and talked and left to work. I’ve often wondered how these happy people confront their existential loneliness. Are they too distracted by all the sights life offers? Should I be…?
Papa reminded me that he was here. He came with a flurry of activity in my faltering mind. Papa. What made us who we were? We had our dance in the sun; you with your jokes that only I understood (because we were so alike and unlike the rest of them) and the antics that got us in trouble with the class!
The bitter aftertaste followed right after I swallowed. They accepted you. You become one of them. They raised you up in their eyes and made me a rug on which they brush their feet before entering your shrine. I cringe when I recollect the name-calling. I shudder when I remember how 180 people conspired to bring me down one hot Wednesday afternoon when I realised I was not as smart as I thought.
I am not smart Papa, and you prove it in countless ways.
Before I could recover from him, a more sinister wave crashed in. I put my half empty cup aside and set my head on the table. I smiled. This was ridiculous. I had no strength to rebuke them (as I often have) and so I let them have their way with me. Juliana with her dimples and satanic smile. Typical Ga girl in all the obscene games we played.
I was enamored by her, but I feared her more than I should have. She was a harmless thing. I would have pursued the affair with her had it not been the bothersome check that God mischievous meddling implanted in my life. Clerissa.
Clerissa was the reason why I became a good boy for a season. There are some things I cannot imagine telling my parents (my dad, to my horror, discovered my diary once and so taught me never to keep one again.) that I told her.
You see, Clerissa was younger by four years, yet we shared quite a lot. She was part Ghanaian, part Portuguese. It is a shame I don’t carry the D’Almeida name, though the kids have wanted to keep it as a sign of our colonial heritage. Abuse had left her emotionally scarred, yet she was strong. She is not the first person I’ve known who has found strength in tragedy. God knows I’ve tried so hard to look within myself but maybe my own traumas aren’t worthy of such cathartic progress.
Clerissa was quickly pushed aside by a parade of faces that make me visibly wince: there was Ama, then there was Akua. There was Deborah, and before I knew it, an even more sinister Ama came by. The most brilliant, troubled writer I put behind me. The only sweetness to her tale was the apology that came by mail a year ago. I received it coolly and absolved her of her sin. Yet at that time I was oblivious to the more calamitous affair I’d already entangled myself in.
So they passed, these thoughts, these people, and with them the heat left my beverage and everything became cold and unappealing. I drained my cup and left the seat abruptly. I will distract myself with work as the riot lays waste to all the fine things in my life.
The office must have been 18 degrees, cold enough for machines and men. The only noises I heard were the drone of the air condition and the click of keyboards. Heads were buried in LCD screens, washed with light. Eyes devoured code and shifted back and forth between Facebook tabs and terminal windows.
I walked in briskly.
“Hey, what’s up?” my colleague asked while he contemplated his girlfriend’s portrait. He wore his headphones and spoke above the music in his ears.
“I dey, chale,” my voice was tired.
“How was the weekend?” he deigned to lift his head and consider me.
“Hmph. It was okay oo,” I smiled, cleared my desk and placed my laptop. I resigned myself to the day and looked his way.
“Chale we get work do oo,” he reminded me with routine concern.
“Hmph, chale.” I smiled back and wondered why he hadn’t noticed the emptiness in my eyes. He quickly returned to his screen after our standard exchange; request, response, request, response, facilitated by the artificial climate and our professional detachment.
Jesse Jojo Johnson writes under the pen name William Saint George. Among his several interests are world history, philosophy photography and amateur music composition.
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