Say Autumn despite the green in your eyes.
Beauty despite daylight.
Say you’d kill for it.
Ocean Voung, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
It is matriculation day and my roommates are all around me, teasing me about rice and drinks, and I’m supposed to be this giddy boy flushed with an uncontainable, intoxicating excitement. I flash them a weak smile. It is all that I can muster, all I have been managing for these past few days since I don’t feel really well and the passion in the waves of my soul has fizzled out. But why, what could be the trigger, brother? Jude’s voice echoes in my head. I really don’t know the cause of all these unprecedented mood swings occasionally assaulting me. It’d even got me at loggerheads with my family on my birthday last year. A drama, it seemed to be: my face suddenly bleeding a bitter solemnity and my family growing from being sick worried to sinking in a blue sea of bewilderment. I would later think of how we were actors in this drama, except that we weren’t conscious of the fact that we were performing a play. But that was more than a play, actually.
Holding the folded cloth that is my matriculation gown—a green, billowy thing with folds— my muscles ache like I am holding a stack of blocks. It’s my disdain, both for the gown and the imminent matriculation ceremony, and in fact, everything that symbolises the ceremony. Perhaps it is because the event has come this late and every ounce of zeal for it has evaporated. But had there been a zeal for it anyway, having been oblivious what a matriculation ceremony entailed? Perhaps it is also because my family cannot make it, and yet right before my eyes, many others are surrounded by the gaiety and pride of their family. It is Cyriacus, my very good friend, who will note the aforementioned this evening. I’ll shake my head, beam with white teeth in my usual way, and tell him ‘no,’ a ‘no’ that will be the absolute truth.
Yes, the absence of family doesn’t bother me. Rather, an unfurling has happened in my soul, a recoiling, an ache for nothing but to retreat into my shell, to set up walls, away from the world, into myself, where there’s beauty and bleakness. And I want to revel in it, shades and all.
Seated on the lower bunk, hands sunk into the foam of the tiny bed, I think of my in-law. I have refused to call and inform her about my supposedly “big day.” A tension swells in my chest and breathing becomes an exhausting exercise. I smell trouble. I smell gloom. I feel melancholia brewing and frothing inside my chest, suffusing every part of my essence with a mysterious kind of sadness.
I sling my pregnant bag, Emmanuel, my roommate’s, over my shoulder and step out into the world, afraid, uncertain, dissident.
Lydia, my course mate and friend, reacts to my WhatsApp status. She asks if I had taken pictures and I tell her something along the lines of not really, just one. I just wasn’t myself. She replies that she had noticed, and she seeks to know why. I tell her it’s my usual mood swings. She confesses to relating to my circumstance, how once in a while, an inexplicable depression hits her, too, and how with time it ebbs away. She explains that taking pictures would have been great, because after the lift of melancholia, it will be something that I would be happy about; memories frozen on paper for me to look back on. You should have at least faked it, she writes.
Lydia is not who I am fidgety about answering. It’s Jude. Jude, who has become a big brother and haven I run to in my beautiful and awful; one with whom I share an immense lot with; who probes and probes at the core of my heart till he gets to the cause of the problem, getting words tumble out of my mouth. I’ll keep to myself now, but later Jude will chat me up on Facebook and ask casually about how the party went and apologise for having been unable to make it. And like that, with no effort, Jude’s presence and attention alone will siphon the words out of me, bringing to his knowledge my un-wellness.
The next day, I drop by his place. His rented room stands in a cluster of rooms facing themselves, as though they, the rooms, were always organising a family meeting. Jerry! Good evening. Welcome, he says.
Jude, dark as night, stares into my face from his tiny bed upon which we squeeze ourselves into on the nights I spend at his place, and I, on his blue chair, face him, scoffing, trying to figure the root of it all. This scene is not new: Jude and I facing each other, conversing about sensitive and pertinent issues, sometimes about writing and the lives of writers we admire, especially Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). I don’t know if Jude knows, but he’s gone from becoming just that Facebook buddy into a brother, a shoulder, a role model, a dad, and a crush, too—yeah, a crush!– in a kind of way.
Community is something I’ve come to learn and cherish, or discover I truly cherish on coming to Nsukka for my tertiary studies. First, it began with my roommates, six guys for whom I am the little brother they dote on and respect, and who, I swear, have become family. Again I took recognition of what community would later mean to me in the company of friends like Jude and Henry and U.C and Cyriacus. The love resident in our bond is what seeps colour into my world, what elates my heart.
It is examination period, and usually Henry, U.C and I have a get together at Jude’s place: four boys laughing and bemoaning and trying to make sense of literary concepts. Jude’s the big brother (our Vet. Doc in the making!), who encourages us, stokes the fire of hope in our hearts.
One night, everyone is asleep. Jude has this tiny bed and so we sprawl in different positions over the bed and the floor. I’m the last to come to sleep because I had insisted that I wanted to watch a movie, to chill the charged frequencies of my brain. Lying on the floor, with my head atop my school bag, I take out some time to study these little men deep in sleep. In my mind, we are powerful, so beautiful and yet fragile, vulnerable. I pick up my phone and attempt poetry. I write:
Circumscribed by three sleeping little men, I want to say it’s an ideal world. Safety—how the world melts on my tongue. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Together, we are a small yet beautiful world, awash with love, rid of bias and prejudice. My heart glows.
Jude asks me if I am content with my life or not, if I have ever taken time to mine out from the depths of my soul elements of what I want my life to rattle with. “Not really,” I say. And then I think, stutter, try to mould words into coherence and tell him the basic things: a world brimming with love, a life partner I would truly love and that will also love me back in incalculable measure. Love, that’s it.
The subsequent days come with its activities and demands, and on some, I am well-going, chatty, radiant, dragged left and right by mates to put them through concepts, and then on some, I slip into a despair, fears and hurts emerging onto the surface of the sea of my mind. But when I behold love, taste it in the company of Jude and Henry and U.C, in the walks I share with Cyriacus; in the reverberating laughter my roommates and I echo; in the early morning calls mummy places on me to remind me that she loves me; in the big dreams that build mansions in my mind, soothe warms its way into my heart. It’s love! That’s it, in its many forms.
It’s no wonder why I’m an obsessed romantic. And do you know, I may be wrong though, romantics have a hard time locating their dream man/woman.
One of these days, someone is going to say degrading words about queer people and I will march all the way to Jude’s place and who knows, I might just ask him to lie on his bed. Lying down beside him, I will rest my head atop his arm, hold up his free arm and drape it over my body. I will bury my face in his chest, uncaring about the number of potential lovers who must have probably sought comfort in the well of his big heart. And while my mind will continuously remind me of all the burdens that come with being INFJ, his voice will echo in my head: don’t let such things get to you.
Yes, Jude! Yes!
Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba
is an aspiring 18-year old writer. Currently a first year student of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he has works published on FictionWrit Magazine and The Shallow Tales Review. In his lowest moments, he finds succour listening to songs by Pentatonix, Christina Perri and Calum Scott. He wishes to attain the peaceful serenity of water and also behold love in its many forms. You can reach him on Facebook @Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba or via his email address:firstname.lastname@example.org.