They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

-Ernest Hemingway

When you’re very young, the world looks very different. You stare up at these huge people and huge structures and the only thought ricocheting around your mind is the simple childlike awe that this is even possible.

And then, you grow older.

And then, you wake up.

I think that a people and their home are inextricable. They are bound together in a dance that goes on for what feels like eternity. As children, we were told tales by the fire of our great country — the giant of Africa: One of the greatest nations in the world. And for a while, I think we believed it. This was our country, this was our home, and we were bound to it — for better or for worse. This was a marriage with no ceremony but your birth, no dissolution but your death.

But what happens when your home lets you down?

What happens when your home puts you in danger?

What happens when your home kills you, ignores your pain, what happens when you want to be anywhere, anywhere but home?

What happens when your home honestly and truly keeps fucking you over?

What happens then?

Nigeria, I think, is a poorly clobbered thing. A name shouted in pride, clinging to a hero’s past long gone. A tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. We’re the old man at the party, yelling at the younger ones, telling them, firmly, of the days of old, when the land was filled with milk and honey. It’s a good story, and I think the best stories are the ones that never, really, truly happened.

Nigeria is a misogynistic, homophobic, tribalistic, sexist and hypocritically religious place. It’s people maybe even more so. So, it’s been a longstanding thought that maybe, just maybe, in some tiny way, through some miniscule possibility, we somehow deserve this. The Nigerian people are bad ergo Nigeria is bad ergo Nigeria people deserve the calamities that they have brought on themselves.

But I don’t know.

How do I tell a newborn child in Makoko that?

“Well, Ṣemílóre, the thing is that your life expectancy is very low and really, you may not make it up to 16. You can go to school, I guess, and there, like in most places, you will most likely face all sorts of ungodly abuse from all sorts of godly people. You will live a life of struggle and pain, calamity and tribulation, but you shouldn’t complain, little one, you can’t: this is your fault too. Bloody bastards made stupid decisions decades before you were even born and now, you get to suffer like the rest of us, aren’t you a lucky one? But forget about all that, my dear, welcome to Nigeria: the greatest nation in Africa.”

How do I tell my little brother that he’s in this with us? That he’s just to blame?

But I don’t know.

I think that Nigeria is a horrible place with horrible leaders. A shadow of a nation that never was. A pure unadulterated example of everything that could go wrong in a country. It’s a disgusting, vile place that only the very rich or very idealistic could ever stand. It’s a ramshackle house — the boards are torn off, water leaks through the aged rusted roof, the paint is little but a memory and the landlords don’t particularly care. To fight for this Nigeria would be a stain on any good man’s conscience. This place? No, never.

But I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Sometimes, I can’t sleep at night. Have you ever felt that? It’s like your brain won’t turn off and all the thoughts keep buzzing around, drinking Star and playing Ludo. Well, sometimes, at nights like these, I find myself dreaming — I can’t help it. I stare at my brother as he sleeps and just let my mind wander. In some of these dreams, like countless other humans since time immemorial, I dream of a different home.

A different Nigeria.

It looks a lot like this Nigeria, smells a lot like it too — but it’s an entirely different one. In my dreams, this Nigeria is a safe place, there are no killings — there is no need, and the people discover that there never was. Tribalism is a thing of the past. Our differences make us stronger, the people say, they unite us. Gay, bisexual, asexual, lesbian, transsexual and non-gender specific Nigerians all walk the streets with pride — there is no law telling them they cannot. In my dreams, religion is just a belief system, nothing more. There is no need to fight, no need to maim. No man is higher or lower because of it; it’s just a belief system, nothing more. Rapists are jailed, and women are respected, not because ‘yo man, what if it was your sister/mother/cousin/cousin’s wife,’ but because they are human beings and they deserve dignity and rights over their own bodies. In my dreams, you can also wear camo shorts in peace; traffic, like polio, has long since been kicked out and the word “stuffs,” has been outlawed. It’s the Nigeria that is mounted at the tip of my subconsciousness, the Nigeria I run to when the night gets too dark and the days even darker.

It’s a Nigeria of possibilities, of dreams, of life.

A Nigeria where anything is possible.

And then, I wake up.

And then, I wake up.

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.