“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We all have them: Pandora’s Boxes. They’re these little spaces in our heads where we keep all our flaws, our iniquities, the parts of us we’re ashamed of. Some are small with glittery covers and others are great large boxes with daunting cases, all made to fit the darkness they hold.
Mine, unsurprisingly enough, was a dark large blue chest that was as high as my knee and about half a metre long. On the body were engravings made with shiny metals, that made it look almost attractive. But I, especially, know that all that glitters isn’t gold. I stare at the chest now, seated opposite it, glaring at it like it can feel my cold stare. It’s just both of us in the room which I have been spending time in for too long.
I’ve always pictured my mind as a dark space, the walls of which are littered with cracks, and cobwebs fill every corner. The smell of mould and dust fills the air to the point where it is barely breathable. There’s a small window to my left, but the curtains have been tied shut, for some time actually. There hasn’t been light from outside here in a long while.
The only light in the room is the rays of the purple glow cast from the underneath the lid of my Pandora’s Chest. There’s this old thought by an author of Buddhist text I like. It was that the resistance of pain is what caused suffering, that the only way was to accept the pain, observe it and watch it vanish.
I stare at the Chest now, thinking about those words.
I open it.
Of course, I see Fear first. It’s a black key taken from a piano. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was in primary school and we were going to the Muson Centre for a competition or something. My principal picked me to play the piano during the stage performance which was only about a week or two away. The thing is, I couldn’t play the piano even with the impromptu practice and when the time came to perform on stage with the others playing their harmonicas and flutes, I couldn’t do it. I remember shaking in my little suit, beads of sweat travelling down my face. The crowd was too large, the lights too bright, my heart was beating too fast. And when it came time to play, I was off key, the volume was too high, the whole thing was a mess.
I remember trying to explain to my principal after, who was, now that I think about it, a dick. And what still sticks to my mind was the anger in his voice and eyes, the saliva that shot out of his mouth as he screamed, “Shut up!” I mean, now I would tell him to go to hell but for nine-year-old me, it was a big deal, for obvious reasons. The black key doesn’t just signify my failure that day but all of it. All my fears, my fear of failure, of not being good enough, of being alone, of death and even the other fears I haven’t admitted. They all come alive, breathing, swirling in this one black key.
I stare at it and put it down beside me as Insecurity catches my eye.
This is a dark blue cardigan and I grimace as I hold it in my hands, a memory flooding my mind. This was back when I was in Whitesands, maybe SS2 or earlier and I had just discovered the wonderfulness a simple cardigan could bring.
See, I was fat, obviously so.
There were jokes and taunts, from classmates who, now that I think about it, were dicks. But still, this was before I discovered things like self-confidence, self-love and jogging. So, each time, the words were like shoves back into the door. I became ashamed of myself and everything I was, so much so I couldn’t even imagine being anything more. And so, I got a cardigan, that I wore almost every day for so long. It was hot, uncomfortable and it made school a hundred times worse but if it made my protruding belly less obvious, then it was more than worth it. Of course, it couldn’t last forever and at some point, I just had to take it off and face the truth, face me. In the faded cardigan in my hands now, I feel the cold chill in my spine as I walk, that everyone is staring at me and somehow laughing behind my back, the feeling that my friends are actually better off without me and they secretly detest me, the feeling that nobody cares, that I’m just disturbing everyone, that my work doesn’t matter.
I squeeze the cardigan tightly and place it beside me along the black key.
God, that thing smells.
Anger is a door knob and I know exactly where it’s from. This happened during a night in my house, after events I still can’t write about, things that still make me shake. I’d always been an angry child and I, expectedly, grew into an angry teenager. The tears in my eyes flooded my vision, and the only thing I could see really was a face in my mind. Anger flooded my very soul and after that, things went a little dark.
I remember looking at my bathroom door in astonishment, how had I punched a hole into it? I looked at it from both sides, pressed it with my hands, but it was still my normal bathroom door. I calmed down after that, my mind wanting to only sleep. The door knob is the feeling I have to mute everyday of how I feel when even the slightest thing goes wrong, the feelings I still harbour for those who have hurt me, disappointed me, let me down. The door knob is every outburst, everything I’ve ever done in stupid rage.
I look at it cautiously before I pick it up and put it beside the others.
Sadness catches my eye and it’s a simple light blue pillowcase. Fitting, I think to myself. Things haven’t exactly always gone to plan and more often that not, I just find myself feeling down. From issues with school, to my not-so-broken broken home, to my work and whether or not I’m on the right path, the past two years have just been a whirlwind of emotions. I remember one night, I just collapsed into my bed, crying. My pillow muffling my cries so my roommates wouldn’t hear. I was just so tired, so hurt, I really didn’t know what my point was or the pint of anything was, I felt so lost. And I just remember crying myself to sleep.
Thoughts of ending it had been creeping into my mind for years but that night, they were stronger than before, everything was falling apart. Every single thing.
But, I don’t know, I woke up the next day, feeling better, I remember texting Tofunmi later on that day, about an idea of a suicide prevention hotline in Nigeria. That then developed into an online platform for the same reason and finally to Atio, what we’re now working on. The pillowcase is every time I have felt lost, broken and alone. Every time I have thought that really, there wasn’t any point.
I pick the pillowcase from the chest and put it beside me with the other items. I look into the box and there are so many other things: Lust, Selfishness, Greed, Denial. All in the forms of the memories I haven’t thought of in years. In frustration I empty the whole lot onto the floor. I’m tired of them. All my flaws, these dark memories.
I walk to the window and tear the curtains off, they’re weak and brittle so they fall off like weathered meat on an old bone. The bright light hits me and I place my forearm in front of me to protect myself against the shine. I walk slowly to my chair around which I’ve dumped all the items. There’s this image of a wonderful life that always plays in my head. One of a happiness filled, peaceful home with a peaceful life. Going to a nice school, with no problem with my academics, succeeding without a single bump. Why couldn’t it be that easy?
I pick the pile up and I rush to the window, about to throw them all out, when I pause.
If it was that easy, I would never grow, I know that much. In the pile I hold in my hands, though they have driven me mad at different points in time, they’ve always been indications, pointers to what I’m so woefully lacking. My flaws have never been the problem, not really, succumbing to them has, ignoring the lessons I could’ve learnt underneath the obvious pain. Maybe my anger is teaching me to be more patient, with myself and others, showing me the dark consequences. My insecurity teaching me self-confidence and self-belief. By knowing what makes me hurt, what makes me fall to my knees in pain I can’t describe, I somehow now know to go in the opposite direction in similar situations. To act differently, to get different, better results.
It’s not that easy and slowly but surely, I’m becoming okay with that. Like discords in a smooth harmony or erratic brushstrokes in a painting, these flaws will only add to the beauty of life in the end, making those nice, warm fuzzy moments, even more special, more memorable. Heaven takes on a more beautiful light once you remember the hell you went through to get there.
My mind is starting to look a little different now, I got a sofa to put inside! I may even get a bookcase and some nice wallpaper to spice it up a little. I look at the pile of my flaws I laid delicately in the corner, they’re a reminder now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ll make a lot more but I’ll keep them in the open now, make peace with them, accept them and move on. It’s the only way .
I’m painting the walls now, and there are so many cracks. It’s funny, now that I think about it, but maybe the Pandora’s Chest wasn’t the only source of light after all. These small cracks, unwanted imperfections, all the while, were letting little streams of light through.