I Have a Walk with Life

…struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. [Life] is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5

I’m having one of those days again, my head hurts and the pain in my chest seems to be eating at my very being. I get up from my bed without a word, my pillow wet with my tears, put some clothes on and leave the room. I have no idea of where I’m actually going but I don’t care. I just want to move, somehow outwalk my thoughts. It’s a losing game, I know.

It’s not the first time.

Outside, I breathe in, filling my lugs with warm air. I start walking, I pass the cafeteria and ignore my stomach’s growls of protest. Now isn’t the time. I stop walking as another flash hits me, they’re like jabs in my chest. It just feels like everything is going so so wrong with no hope of a change. I’m crying, I can feel the cold-warm tears seep through my fingers, failing at keeping them in. I sluggishly walk to the nearest sidewalk and sit down, my head buried in my arms.

I’ve gone through so much this year and I thought it was getting better, that maybe all the pieces were coming together but they just came crashing down again, like every other time. This school, this life, my family. All of it hits my mind like the hammer of a blacksmith against hot iron laid on an anvil. I groan, I’m tired of all of this, why did this have to happen to — .

“Hello,” a feminine voice says from behind me. “You look lost.”

I turn around and despite my tears, I see that she’s strikingly beautiful. Dressed in nothing but a silky white linen top that flows with the wind, showing off her dark brown underbelly and plain blue jeans, she still manages to look like a goddess. Her afro was dark and thick adorned with bright crystal jewels all around. Her eyes are what caught my attention though, it was like looking at a kaleidoscope, her irises were broken, fractured even into different colours, all shades of brown mingling with a myriad of other colours: blue, green, grey. I stare for so long that I almost forget that she is speaking to me.

I use my sleeves to clean my eyes and reply briskly. “I know my way around here, I go to school here.”

“That’s not quite what I meant, and I’m sure you knew that.” She smiles a little, a small gesture that changes her face dramatically. “Why do you clean your tears, my dear? They’re nothing to be ashamed of.”

I stand up and brush my trousers, ignoring her last statement. “It’s fine, I know my way.” I say, beginning to walk away.

“You must think you do.” She says, in a quiet voice that still managed to convey volumes. “Now you’re walking away like you do all your other problems. When will you confront them, Tony?”

The last part makes me stop dead in my heels. That’s my pet name at home. From my late grandmother to my little brother, that’s what I was always called. It always made my name sound more endearing, more family like. I turn around to face her.

“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask, anger filling my voice. “Cry all day, feel sorry for myself? I walk and move on because that’s what I have to do.”

“Yes,” she says, looking at me with her beautiful eyes, “you think they hold you back, that they make you weak. That’s why you’re ashamed of your tears.”

“I know who you are,” I say quietly.

“Of course, you do,” she said, with her gentle smile. “You’ve insulted me many times just today, you’ve even called me meaningless.”

“You’re Life,” I say as I breathe out.

She answers with a smile and starts walking, her steps as graceful as her appearance. I follow by her side.

“You’ve spoken with Death?” She asks.

“Yes,” I answer simply.

“I can see it from your essence,” she says, her eyes turning a bit sad. “You don’t fear death anymore, in fact, you embrace it. You’re truly tired of me, aren’t you?”

I don’t answer and just keep walking.

“I never got you human beings. You are blessed with such an innumerable quantity of emotions, you can feel so many things and yet, you feel ashamed of them. You run away from the feelings you think are unpleasant — which are in fact just the ones you don’t understand. You spend so much time running from them and yourselves, how then do you expect to live?

Even you, you’ve run so long from the pain you’ve endured from your past, defining yourself by it, moulding yourself day after day, building a façade so nobody outside sees the broken boy underneath. Aren’t you tired? Are your bones and heart not weary of the struggle between you, yourself and I?”

“So, what is the solution?” I ask, my eyes facing my faded slides.

“There’s no solution to this, Tony,” Life says, “unless you provide it by yourself. Maybe you’ll learn that today. Let’s walk.”

We walk and I feel myself changing a little, not physically but an iota of understanding seems to be forming inside me. As we walk, it gets brighter and as I cover my eyes at the peak of it, it immediately dims. I open my eyes and realise where we are.

I scowl.

“What?” Life says, entering the gate of my childhood home. “What better place to start than where it began? Where you began.”

We enter and I’m quiet, I remember this day. Birthdays are especially hard to forget. Children are running around, some armed to the teeth with balloon animals. My little sister, Rita, who’s still learning to walk is bumbling around with her toothless grin. I see my parents also smiling, talking with family and friends. Relatives that came to help moving around like tornadoes with drinks and plates of food in their hands. I look for a while and see him. Or rather, me. I’m sitting in a circle with some friends from school talking, telling a story maybe, I always liked those.

“You were happy, no?” Life says, looking at me with her kind, broken eyes. “Your family was happy, this is what you’ve been searching for? A taste of what you had, that you think is gone?”

I don’t reply her but I walk away to the gate and out of the house. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve seen that place and I don’t know, it makes me feel worse somehow.

Life comes beside me. “Let’s try something else, then.” She starts walking and I follow, the bright light attacking me again.

In an instant, we’re in our current house and we’re in my room. The lights are off and I hear sobbing, my sobbing. I remember this night, it was one of the darkest.

“Please, God” I hear. “Please.”

I was about fifteen then and things were already falling apart at home, for me anyways. Peter was born by now and he was already causing havoc around the house. I always felt that my role as his big brother was to protect him, to help guide him but how could I do those things when I couldn’t even do them for myself? Maybe it was the abuse that night, or the thoughts that plagued me, but either way, I was low, almost too low.

Life is standing beside me, her eyes sad like she was watching a plane crash and she could do nothing about it.

“Do you see?” Life asks.

“All I see,” I say, speaking for the first time in a long time, “is just me breaking down.”

“I see more,” Life says, twirling one of the many rings adorned on her finger. “Maybe you would see it too if you looked hard enough.”

The scene changes like water and I see myself clad in nothing but a t shirt and a pair of boxers, earphones plugged into my ears. I know this scene, this is present day me. My roommates are all sleeping but I’m typing away on my laptop, working on something that seems to allow my mind filter the rest of the world away.

“I see a boy filled with so much anger and sadness, so much so that he couldn’t deal with it on his own. So, he devised a way, he used these emotions and poured them into his words. He bled on the pages he began to write. I see a possibility of a bright future and also a dark, dreary one.

“And now, the words aren’t helping that much, are they? It’s getting too much and you can’t deal with it because you never ever tried to learn how. You always ran from one distraction to the other, one person to another. Something to fill the void, talking and working so fast that you never found the time to dwell on the pain that had now become part of you. The pain that had now become you.”

I bend my head down, what she’s saying is nothing but the truth. Every single word.

“Your life story by all indications may seem like just a never-ending slope downwards to you but maybe a change of view is needed for you to move on. Life doesn’t have to be this dark and dreary story, it can be brighter and full of happiness and all it needs really is a kinder story teller.”

She looks at me with her eyes again and I feel like they’re challenging me somehow, urging me to make a decision. “A kinder you.”

“I don’t know.” I say, clutching my head.

“Let me show you three paths, three of the infinite roads you can walk on.”

She stretches her hand forward and I take it as she leads me toward the light again, it’s bright shine illuminating the world.

We’re in a living room now, the lights are off but the cool gaze of the moon shines softly through the patio windows. It’s enough to illuminate the room so that I see something that grabs my eye. I move towards it, my eyes gazing at the framed family picture hanging on the wall.

It’s of a man and presumably his wife with their two children, a boy and a girl, both grinning. They look identical and around the same age, twins maybe? I stare at the man’s face, his eyes look and face in general look familiar, I almost thought it was me but no. The cheekbones are softer, his lips are smaller than mine, his head shape longer.

“You had killed yourself seventeen years before.” Life says, now beside me somehow without making a single sound. “He lives a happy life as a successful doctor with his wife, who’s a lawyer, and their two children.”

I stare at the image, my mind refusing to compute what this is, what all of this is.

“And not a single day goes by,” Life says, her voice filled with an emotion even I can’t discern, “that he doesn’t wonder what might have been if his big brother, his hero, had stayed alive. Sometimes he thinks that maybe you secretly hated the whole family.”

“I didn’t, I don’t,” I say silently.

“You weren’t around to make it clear, no? Sometimes, he cries at night, the pain in his heart reopening itself. Your parents and your sister were forever bereaved and your friends would live the rest of their days, all wondering, if they were the ones that caused your death.”

“I didn’t mean to.” My voice is barely a whisper now as I try to comprehend what this would mean for everyone.

“Take me away please,” I say. “Let’s go.”

Life starts to walk. “No life is lived in isolation. Every single life affects another, most times in ways even we can never truly understand, even I. You want to take you life, I ask, from whom?”

The scene shifts and now we’re in another dark room, this time it’s dimly lit by the television that’s on, blaring a lot of noise. Even without the lights, I can tell the place is a mess. It’s a small apartment, with the kitchen connecting directly to the living room but there are food packets everywhere, used clothes sprawled on the floor. I wrinkle my nose, trying to get the smell of expired food out of my nose.

Life points at a mound of clothes on the couch opposite the tv and as it moves, I realise it’s a person. “That’s you.”

“How?” I say, uttering the only words that could come.

“Like your father wanted, you graduated university with a first class in Chemical Engineering but two years after, you quit your high paying job because even that wasn’t filling the void. You stopped writing almost ten years ago, the words stopped coming, your pain too much to bear, too much to overlook for you to even type a word. You gave it up after that, ran from everything and everyone you ever loved. This is where you fled to, food, sex, and every other thing you could take in excess. This is you.”

Life looks at me with her strange eyes again, probing my soul. “The meaning of Life will not come from anyone, not your father, not your mother, not your friends, not your mentors. It must come from you.”

The light came again and somehow, I knew the journey had ended but somehow began. It was evening when we returned, the streetlights bringing their warm glow to the streets.

Life turns around to look at me, I realise that her clothes have changed and now she’s wearing just a simple gown, her hair now in a bushy ponytail.

“So, what was the point in all this?” I ask anger creeping into my voice. “All you did was show me all the low points in my life and the ways I could screw it up.”

Life is unfazed as she speaks. “Where you saw meaningless failures, sadness and pain. I saw a different story. I saw a boy finding his way, bumbling through a life he didn’t know much about. I saw lessons being learnt, resistance being built, character being formed.”

I let out a ‘humph’ but she goes on, undeterred.

“In the old days, people looked to mostly religion and their leaders to provide them a meaning but these were fickle things, in time, they all changed ad morphed into something else. Maybe it’s time you humans started looking inward for answers. I can’t promise you a happy ending, Tony, or even a happy life. Life is hard and unpredictable, you will make mistakes and mess things up. It’s fine, it’s okay.”

She lays her hand on my shoulder. “But you can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it. This may be a journey to death, but it doesn’t have to be meaningless. It doesn’t have to be a narrative that spells doom, every corner another heartbreak. You can take control of the story, right now, make the choices you feel are right, hoping you’re on the right path. You can fight the narrative, fight me. I can’t promise you’ll win but trust that it’ll be a hell of a ride.”

“So, what’s the meaning of life?” I ask, the sun coming up, resuming its haggard journey across the sky.

Life stares at me, “The meaning of life, is the meaning you give it. The meaning you allow it to have.”

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.