After the Dust Settles

My little brother called today and he asked, “Tony, when are you coming back again?”

It was a simple enough question, but there was something beneath I could hear, the small quiver in every word. The sound of a boy trying to be strong.

I was around the area and I told him I’d be right there. And I was. I hugged him tight when I saw him, and I asked him what was wrong.

“Nothing,” he said, smiling. But he wouldn’t meet my eyes.

I asked again and he answered again. The same thing. And so, I held him tight, and he held me tight as well.

It was a moment before I felt tears on my shirt.

I sat us down, still holding him. “Come,” I said, “let’s play a game. We both ask each other questions, and promise to be honest.”

In the spirit of fairness, I said he should go first.

And in a breath, he asked a question I know had been on his mind — it had been on mine as well.

“Tony,” he asked me, “when are you coming back home?”

***

It’s been maybe five months since I left home. It was a painful day.

For five years I had suffered in one position with one solution, but my father wouldn’t budge. I was to go to that university, with that course, or leave his house. That day, we were meant to have a conversation, meant to speak about how to move forward — but he wasn’t having it. Again, it was the same thing: University, or I leave his house.

That day, October 4, 2021, I left the only home I’d ever known leaving all ties to my father behind.

I can’t say if I cried that day, but I know I cried in the days after.

Something in me had cracked forever, I knew. And no matter how much I tried to fix it, mend it, mould it, parade it, it would forever remain cracked. I had lost a part of my family, and they had lost a part of me.

The war that my father had been fighting with me for half a decade was now over, the dust had settled, and all that was left was us, staring at each other sweating, our eyes blank, our fist clenched, our hearts shocked at the chaos we now saw. Both of us losing, in our own special ways.

***

The exhibitions were amazing.

We put our hearts and souls in them, our small camp. But at the back of my mind, in every move, while I didn’t know it yet, I was grieving.

I had lost so much. I was so tired. I was so pained.

But there was a show to do, and so I wiped my tears, I stood up. And I got to work.

If you listen, you can hear it in every interview, though, in every Instagram story, every tweet, every video I appeared in, you can heart in my voice, that slight quiver. The sound of a boy, trying to be strong.

***

Living in Lagos is the devil’s way, I believe, of getting back at God’s creation. Everything you plan, envision, will, at a certain point, go wrong. But your day goes on, and so do you.

The first day I moved in, the fridge I bought stopped working. That afternoon saw me in a strange car that Game had sent, the fridge in the back, my hand to my head, wondering just what the fuck all this even was.

The first night, I was too tired to even fathom, to even think about the gravity of what was happening. I was living on my own.

Me.

Mind you, I didn’t even know that apparently, bed frames are built in the rooms. I always just thought they squeezed them in. Somehow. I don’t know.

But now, here I was, in an apartment I was paying rent for, confused out of my mind.

It didn’t feel real. But it was.

***

My subsequent days were spent in some meeting or the other, planning this or that. My mind was free to roam, this was it’s territory. At night, I would come back home, tired, and bored. I’d watch a show then, Modern Family mostly, and have a late night meal.

This was where the weight gain began, but more was happening, as I think more about it. Every meal was accompanied by a drink. Maybe some juice. Or chapman. But, I needed a kick, and so I would add a little bit — just a little — of whatever alcohol I had in my house.

It was just a little, I thought.

What harm could it do?

***

Imagine a whole room full of people telling you how great you are, every minute. Imagine all that love, and all that relief you feel after you realise that what you planned actually worked.

Now, imagine, in an instant, that it all went away.

That’s how the exhibition felt to me. It was the most amazing, life changing experience, being able to see, for the first time, my work, and people who had appreciated it, all in the same room.

But I would go home at night, alone. And then the loneliness would hit.

I had spent those few months working. The fear of paying rent was on my ass and I didn’t want to ever feel like I had felt in my father’s house — helpless. And so I worked and I worked and I worked.

I ignored everyone, everything. Missed birthdays, group calls, outings. The most important thing was the work.

And now, the work was done.

And I was alone.

And little by little, the bits of alcohol were increasing.

But what harm could it do? It was still, relatively, a little.

I guess.

***

I think I realised I had a problem while I was in Ghana — I had gone for a meeting, but also to run away. Lagos was choking me.

I had tried Abuja and I didn’t feel good there, and so, I decided to try Ghana, surely I’d feel better there.

I really wish you could see how wrong I was.

There was the fourth, or fifth, or sixth glass of some cocktail in my right hand, and a cigarette in my other. I drank some then took a drag, blowing the smoke in the air. I was in some bar with my friends, and my mind had turned to pudding.

I ashed the cig, taking another huge gulp.

The crazy thing was, I don’t even smoke.

***

I had reached a new height in my career; everything was going great on paper. I had done everything I said I was going to. I had fought everyone I needed to, I had gotten my freedom, but God, I had never felt so alone. So tired.

I wanted to disappear, somehow, and just never have to deal with the life that I had built.

But anyone who’s ever drank knows one thing: the death alcohol gives you is not sure and far from permanent.

You will appear back, at some point.

And your problems will be right there, laughing at how much of an idiot you are for thinking escape was that easy.

***

Let’s play a game, then, you and I.

I’ll be honest with you and I’ll tell you my fears, all that’s been plaguing me these past few months and you’ll tell me yours. But these stay between us. Okay?

Okay.

Here goes…

I get lonely a lot. And then it feels like no one cares. Like i’m nothing and everything i do is nothing.

I’m insecure about my weight, always have been. One time in secondary school, some guys put a picture of me Twitter on social media and my crush saw it. What we had ended promptly after. Haunts me sometimes. My fear of being physically vulnerable with anyone comes from there.

I’m scared i don’t look good enough.

Crossing roads scare me. I was hit by a motorcycle when I was young.

I get jealous sometimes of people doing better than I am.

I’m scared that one day I’ll fall off, and I’ll just be that guy in the corner that everyone points to. “Oh,” they’ll say, “is that the Anthony guy? The one who used to write and paint? And had that EP? Yeah, I mean, it looks like him. It’s crazy, did you hear he lives under a bridge now with a dog…”

I don’t think I deserve anyone’s praise. I feel very ordinary a lot.

I’m scared some people in my life don’t want me for me, but rather the perception of me they’ve built up.

I have had bad coping mechanisms: alcohol, women, sex, porn/masturbation, food, TV, work…I’m scared I’m not as strong as I want to be yet to fight my problems.

I’m in pain a lot. There’s a lot I’m working through, that I cover with jokes and smiles and smokes and mirrors. I’m scared that one day, you’ll look at me, and you’ll see the truth. And you’ll leave. And I’ll be alone again.

I’m scared one day you’ll all realise that I’m just some guy.

I’m scared all my money will run out.

I’m scared of letting my family down.

I’m scared of letting you down.

Okay, wow. That felt…

Wow.

I don’t know if you’ll ever see this. I’m also scared of being vulnerable.

Enough of me, though.

Now, your turn.

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Anthony Azekwoh

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.