I had a very complicated relationship with art when I was younger but like all relationships that are called complicated, it was actually a straightforward matter; I really loved art, I just couldn’t make it. So, my anger was directed outwards, instead of inwards because that’s just a lot easier. I wasn’t able to draw, not because I didn’t put in the time or effort but because art was inherently silly. Though, in some tiny moments, I’d try my luck with the pencil and paper, begging the gods of creativity to help their boy out. Still, it was all to no avail because I could not, for the life of me, draw or paint, or do anything right with my hands. My handwriting was once described by a teacher as ‘a war between chickens’.

“Wait wait, Anthony,” The teacher had said, taking off his glasses, “you’re saying you can actually read this?”

At the end of 2016, though, things took a turn and it actually just grew on me. Lines and tones started to make more sense. I started drawing, tiny things though, like horses and shurikens with little swirls inside the outlines. But I wanted more, I wanted to see more.

And then, I went to the Nike Art Gallery for the first time.

I had lived close to it for years actually, always wondering what was behind those giant white engraved walls but never actually going there. Before the trip, though, I had never been one of those annoying artsy people who droned on and on about texture and brushstrokes sprinkling words like aesthetic and message, but by the time I left Nike, I had become a convert.

I ended up going to the gallery a lot when I was feeling angry, sad or just lonely, or bored. It was like this nice little haven I could drop in at any time before 6, a haven that I was forced to share with the other people that came in. To me, these weren’t art lovers but frustrating usurpers who were interrupting ‘me’ time. But still, every time I’m there, my eyes are always focused the art, everything fades away until it’s just me and the painting in front of me; nothing else is important.

The one thing I loved about Nike was the way the art was arranged. See, there are so many paintings, so many sculptures and textile, that it’s impossible for the place to not be cluttered, so some of the paintings especially are stacked on top each other sometimes, sculptures placed in front of the other like they were protecting each other against evil onlookers. It was chaotic, scattered and I thought it was amazing. Every time I went, I could find a tiny little spot and look behind some of the paintings, finding new ones I had never seen before.

The one person I ever met who didn’t love it was of course, Adéolú, a friend of mine, who against all reason refused to agree that it was awesome. This, in her defense, wasn’t really her fault. She’s one of those children who were born after the year 2000 and by default have unfortunately missed all the amazing things we witnessed. We, the old and experienced, had seen the golden age, lived in it and basked in its glory while the young ones lived in this weird shadow of it, wide-eyed and wondering what Waptrick was.

This was our first-time meeting, though, and I was at a point beyond nervous, wiping the beads of sweat on my forehead with my sleeve while she wasn’t looking. But I learned a long time ago that when you were nervous and in doubt, your best option was to talk and talk a lot. Jokes were good, preferred actually. Anything that could take the focus of your jittering voice and clammy hands.

“I don’t know,” She said, giving the art a worried look. “It looks cluttered and all over the place.”

“Exactly!” I said, gesturing at a pile. “That’s why It’s the best.”

She rolled her eyes. It’s literally her super power, along with denying, vehemently, that I’m the best thing since sliced bread. She had this nice outfit on with a skirt that had the bluest blue flower prints I’d seen. They splashed against the white in a busy pleasing way. Her hair, though, is what grabbed my attention immediately. It was in these thick bluish green long locks that complemented her dark skin perfectly

30 minutes had maybe passed when I realised that something was off about that day. Normally, Nike is my place, when I like a painting, I’m normally able to at least spot what I like the most about it. My attention is saved completely for the art. The texture, the colour shifts, value choices, after a while I’ve started noticing these things. But that day, I was definitely off my game, even the Ankara bags I was sure were practically mine had magically shifted in position.

Ade broke my reverie and said something about me messaging her first that dragged me back to the present.

“You messaged me first.” I told her, sitting on the staircase.

“Nope,” she denied, shaking her head, “this did not happen. You’re misremembering.”

I sighed. People born in 2001 could be so stubborn.

“Shut up.” She said, glaring at me as she pulled out her phone, scrolling through her dms to find the message while I sat there and waited patiently for the realisation to hit.

She looked up from her phone slowly. “Shut up.” She said, glaring at me.

“I didn’t even say anything,” I said, laughing.

“Shut. Up.”

I can’t tell you about any of the new paintings I saw that day but I can tell you without a doubt that the shade of blue in her hair was something close to aquamarine blue crossed with turquoise green. The blue flowers on her skirt resembled a lighter midnight blue, the kind you’d find in dimly lit night-time paintings. Her skin was dark but glowed, in the fluorescent light, with red undertones that made the blue-green in her hair stand out more. She smiled in this funny way, using her whole face to carry out the expression, and when she tried to mimic me, she obviously did it badly because greatness like my voice can only be appreciated, not copied.

Soz. I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

When she laughed, though, she covered her abdomen in this almost self-conscious way that I wanted to ask about, but got distracted when she said some painting was meant to be Beyoncé.

It wasn’t by the way.

Every day I spend at Nike, I use up my hours staring at the art and that day, the more I think about it, wasn’t nearly as different as I thought.

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.