Home Rarely Feels Like This
by Bassey Ikpi
"I'm tired. I'm tired."
– Phyllis Hyman
She heard the violently off-key choir of the church next door before she even considered opening her eyes. The static fuzz from the ancient P.A. system swirling through the apartment told her two things: she was awake and she was alive. With one eye open, then the next, she reached for her glasses and cell phone. They always managed to be an arms-length away even if she had no clue how they got there.
Lagos was unbearably hot that morning. Lagos was always hot. But this particular morning, she could feel the wet of her tank top clinging to her back and shoulders. Her hair had managed to unwind itself from the medusa mass of a top knot she constructed at some point last night. She hated how her hair felt on her neck as she slept.
The distant taste of whisky clung to her tongue like an inappropriate suggestion. If it wasn’t for the empty bottle still on the floor, she wouldn’t even have remembered drinking it. Straight from the bottle, no chaser, like a bawse. Or an idiot.
What she remembered was that she needed something to wash down the Ambien. The sleeping pills had begun only to encourage sleep. The whiskey, she discovered one night, helped chase the anxiety that seemed to travel the space between her chest and belly, encouraging a trembling. She’d been on one medication or another for the last ten years, and a glass of wine a few hours before it was time to take her nighttime meds was safe. But using whiskey to wash down those same meds was not smart and she knew it. The neglected bottle of water standing next to the empty whiskey bottle knew it too. Both bottles were standing side by side with their caps off. At some point last night, they must have been a metaphor for making good choices.
She had just wanted to sleep, and for the anxiety to stop, and to forget—she just wanted to sleep. That she did, but there was no satisfaction in the victory. Before she could allow herself a clear thought, she reached for the water bottle and downed the full contents without taking a breath. The water entered her like a prayer and stayed, quenching the thirst she hadn’t noticed. She stayed on the floor staring into the black space between the window and the wardrobe, the church next door moving on to some barely audible sermon. She would never understand why Lagos churches opened their doors and pointed speakers out towards the street at any hour of the day, whenever they felt like worshiping. This religion, by force, served as ambient sound.
She clutched her phone, refusing to check any notifications, dreading what kind of drunken, misspelling shame she had unleashed into the universe. There was no hangover to punish her for the night before, so perhaps she just passed out and slept, and the new anxiety about drunken texts and phone calls was just decoy. She was praying there were no confession of love or rants of disgust directed at him or anyone else. That horrible drunkenness where you feel the need to share every passive aggressive thought you’ve been holding in. She quickly swiped her phone and saw no messages. The relief and pang of loneliness rose together. She felt her eyelids begin to sting; at the same time her heart rolled into her belly. She blinked rapidly trying to hold herself against the storm her body created sometimes and the fucking whiskey bottle was empty. She lay on her side, her body a ball of flesh, trying to hold it all in. She now wished she would have sent those angry drunken rants, because at least it would have meant that last night was a thing. Right now, it felt like an empty gesture, the small talk of self-destructive patterns. There was nothing about last night that was damaging, really. Nobody knew. She was still here. She couldn’t understand this feeling volleying around her head. It wasn’t shame or embarrassment. It felt like she had been denied something she didn’t know she wanted.
This was disappointment.
This morning, this waking up on the soft, poodle fur-like rug, these eyes able to open, this heart still beating, this still fucking breathing was a disappointment. She stood up and headed to the mirror. Her legs were fine. Last night, the shaking got so bad that walking was an amusement park ride. Even before the whiskey, she couldn’t walk without crashing into walls or door frames, her body too unsteady to support itself, she too unsteady to support herself. She stared in the mirror. She looked at least 10 years younger than her age and had always smiled and thanked people when they told her as much. But staring into the hollow of her face, she did look young. Not that acceptable, “Girl you look good”-young. She looked unfinished, like whatever “stuff” that was needed to make her complete hadn’t been added to her yet. But staring at her sun and honey colored skin, smooth, lineless face, the smattering of freckles and moles that circled her eyes, she felt unfinished, like a project that had been abandoned years before, and from which everyone once interested in had already moved on.
It’s probably better she didn’t die last night. Death deserves something more top shelf, a Johnny Walker good bye. Not a bottle of cheap whiskey picked up from the dirty shop down the road. The bottle was so dusty and dirty that after hearing her American accent, the cashier’s face fell into a mask of shame and embarrassment. He apologized over and over for the state of the store, as if she would carry this information back to America and disgrace his family.
“Please, ma,” he said over and over. “May I find a clean bottle or maybe you get Andre?” gesturing toward the rows of sparkling wine behind her.
She shook her head and found a smile somewhere within the wreckage.
“No worries.” She tried in her best slow, vaguely Naija pidgin accent, “Just take cloth clean am. No trouble yourself for only N600.” She handed him a N1000 note and told him to keep the change. His eyes lifted in gratitude and he tripped over his small English to thank her.
The boy, too young to be working so late, too young to be working at all, smiled and wiped the bottle, and wiped it and wiped it until it shone, like it was something precious and worthy of an American accent. If only he knew who she really was, he would have found ways to add dust to that bottle. She located another smile and turned to leave the store.
“God will bless you real good, ma,” the boy called to her back as she joined the street noise.
She returned to the apartment alone, the generator humming a funeral march in the background. She was grateful for the time alone. Not having a place of your own in this city meant spending a lot of time with people who preferred her carefully laid out and fun-filled lies rather than this messy, alcohol- and pill-soaked truth. Truth: she just wanted to sleep. Let that be the story. The mess was that it was the waking up she was still desperate to reconcile.
After the disappointment of the appearing morning, she thought about what would have been written if she hadn’t woken up. Nobody would have known the story. They would say she didn’t go to church or was old and unmarried or couldn’t settle on a real career or there was a spiritual attack. Those would be the stories.
No one would ever understand that the moment she left was a mix-tape of a life. Of a trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and winning and then fucking it up again. This towering inferno of disappointments and lost potential and a brain that could no longer mend itself. She stood at the mirror attempting to see what the world would see. She saw fatigue. It had entered her soul and perched there waiting for instructions.
“I’m fucking tired.”
But it’s rude to die in someone else’s house.