The project attempts to take you on a journey that is planned around how the life of a man is at different stages of his life. We use the lives of different men, some of which are intertwined to paint this picture. The stages are in ten-year intervals, hence the name project name.
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Today shall be a ceremony of words. I’d be introducing ‘Laconics’ – terse wisdom from some of my favorite word-artists to usher us into this conclusion.
“These imprints my wrinkled sole(soul) has left in the grains of this draining hourglass… should they be cast in stone? Should they be blown away?…”
Age is just a number, they say. Don’t believe it. My joints ache with every movement. I can’t see anything without glasses the thickness of bulletproof windows, and about the same weight. I can’t grasp anything without the willpower of an infant determined to suckle. I fall asleep at the most un-serendipitous moments, and then lie in bed for hours unable to close my eyes. I want it to end.
I was happy once, and the memories haunt me. I had left Nigeria with my girlfriend when I was in my thirties, all high hopes and big dreams. She was hardly out of her teens, but she loved me dearly, and I her. I was a bright young man, my hair a splendiferous afro to match my sweetheart’s. I called myself Ethelbert, and her Dorothy. Those weren’t our real names of course, but strangely they felt more real than the names our parents had given us. I see her face in my mind’s eye, and I fall asleep again.
I can’t escape her. I dream, a continuation of my memory. Sydney is a growing city, and skilled labour is in high demand. A structural engineer is wanted to join Arup in working on the Sydney Opera House. I apply, and I’m not surprised when I get the job – my head is full of crazy notions of my indestructibility.
I work hard, and play harder. I become popular in Sydney, and go on to work with Arup full time, making a whopping great fortune. My Dorothy feels like she’s travelled the Yellow Brick Road, met the Wizard and had all her dreams come true.
Our joy is complete when we have a little girl, many years after we settle in Sydney. I am 48, but I have the disposition of a Clooney. Nobody believes I’m that old, even when they see the lines on my face and flecks of grey in my afro. She’s as beautiful as her mother, and as dashing as her father. She grows and we love her dearly. We get married soon after she is born – many of our friends are amazed we weren’t already. It’s a wonderful day, and a representative of the prime minister gives a marvellous speech – all is tremendously well with the world.
I meet the prime minister a few minutes later. He wants to personally congratulate me on my daughter and my marriage. He invites me to play, and my life takes a decisive turn for the worse.
Casinos are mesmerising places – the noise, the adrenaline, the girls, and the sheer exuberance of it all. The prime minister’s entourage are shown in by a side door, out of the public glare. We’re in a private room. I am taught how to play poker, and I fall in love with it. I start to gamble. I become an expert in Poker and Blackjack. I learn to love Russian Roulette. It starts off slowly, but within a year I’m completely addicted.
I awake with tears in my eyes as I remember what happens next. I’m at the casino, at the roulette table. I’m making a rather large loss. A woman walks up, engages me in conversation and we have drinks. Before I know we’re in a hotel room having wild sex. I wake up to the sight of my wife. She doesn’t know I have a gambling addiction, as I’ve been lying to her for years. It’s a triple whammy for her as she discovers I’ve plunged us into debt, my job lost a few months ago and carefully hidden from her. As she stands over a hungover me, shots ring out. I’m hit twice, and she freaks out. The next few moments are quite honestly the very worst I live through. The pain, the tears, the sense of despair, the knowledge that I have single-handedly destroyed everything I’d spent years working to build.
She tends me lovingly as I recover in hospital, care etched into every line of her face. She looks older, and seldom smiles except to encourage me. I feel miserable, apologising again and again. She always says I should gather my strength in the same quiet, dead, dull voice. I recover rather quicker than I’d like to, as I’ve been enjoying my wife’s attention. I get home to a small pile of packed bags. My daughter has tears in her eyes, and so does my Dorothy. She tells me she’s leaving, that she can’t believe I spent so long lying to her. She gets in a cab and goes to the airport. I get in my car and try to drive after her, but the stress and the fact I’m still convalescing make me collapse at the wheel. It’s a miracle I’m pulled from the totalled vehicle alive. I spend another period in hospital, alone this time. My misery knows no bounds.
I return to Nigeria when I recover, a broken and contrite man. I determine to find my wife and daughter and win back their love. My hair, which had been carefully coiffed while life was good, has grown out into an afro again, but this time it isn’t luxurious, just rough.
I spend years searching for Dorothy but my efforts are in vain. Her parents resent me for my actions, and they are right to do so. I am made aware when they die one after the other. They hear my apologies before they pass, but they rebuff all my efforts to see my Dorothy. Her other relatives are similarly, and understandably, cold. I feel like an actor in a corny Nollywood movie, and the irony doesn’t make me smile.
I get a new job in government and start to rebuild my fortune. I meet a promising young lawyer and think I’ve found a friend. I share my life story with him, and it helps him get his life in order. He promises to help me in my search for Dorothy and Yewande. Eventually we lose touch, and I don’t see him again. I work until I’m sixty, and retire a rich, respected but friendless man.
I fall asleep again, and this time I’m well and truly exhausted. No dreams disturb my slumber, no memories show themselves. I should rest. My subconscious must be glad of a moment without regret.
I awake in hospital. The maid found me unconscious in my easy chair and phoned the hospital. I had a cerebral infarction due to an arterial embolism – a stroke. I’m not smart – I just overhear the doctor saying that. They say I’m lucky to be alive. Lucky? Hmph! I lost luck decades ago. I wish I could see Dorothy again. I’m in pain. Well I’ve been in pain for years. It’s worse now. Every part of me hurts every time I move. There’s a television in my room. I ask them to leave it on CNN. It’s not that I like watching TV, but perchance I might see my Dorothy’s face some day. It’s a long shot, even by long shot standards, but I don’t have any regular shots left.
The hours pass into days, then weeks, then I’m not sure what time means anymore. By some twist of fate I make a good recovery, rehabilitating better than the doctors had expected. I don’t bother to go home, I like the way days pass in the hospital. My maid comes every day. I’m rather fond of her; she’s the closest thing to family I’ve got.
“…Inspired by failure, motivated by greed;
Yet all u see is a man driven by honor & duty…”
I’m 75. I bet you thought I was older. I’m sure I look it. Everyone says I don’t look a day over 60. I definitely feel at least twice that. But I have to perk up. I have a visitor. It’s Leke, my lawyer friend. I’m rather pleased to see him. He’s with another man, and… Dorothy? It can’t be! I try to sit up on my bed, but it’s still rather difficult. The nurse notices my agitation and tries to make them leave. I stop her. I want to see these people.
They approach my bed, and my eyes are fixed on… oh… now I see it’s not her. There are differences. This girl is much too young. Leke speaks.
“Hello Ethelbert,” he says.
“My old friend,” I say with a sneer, even though my heart is beating wildly. I’ve had to relearn mobility due to my stroke, and I often have to overdo AND exaggerate actions to make them happen. My sneer may not even show on my face. I realise this, and sigh.
He tells me he’s moved up in the world. He’s now a judge, a highly respected one at that. He tells me that he found my daughter, completely by chance. She’s marrying his former driver – the man I don’t recognise. My hearing stops when I hear the word daughter.
“Yewande?” I say, hardly daring to believe it’s true, but knowing it in my heart. Her resemblance to Dorothy is uncanny, but I sense a worldly-wisdom in her eyes that Dorothy never had. Dorothy had been as straight as a rule, and far more loving. This girl, my daughter, my Yewande, has obviously learnt a few things. I try to talk to her, to explain why I went so horribly astray, but the words are stuck in my throat. She tells me not to stress myself and sits down beside me. She’s extremely graceful, and tells me about her childhood, about her mother’s death from a broken heart, living with her grandparents until they died, and being abandoned after that. She tells me she finally found a home in a private school whose proprietress had compassion on her. She tells me about selling snacks to students to make ends meet, of wearing clothes till they were full of holes, becoming a teacher through sheer determination and hardwork, of dreams of happiness and playing with a man who must be her father in a strange and beautiful house.
I’ve been silently weeping for minutes, knowing it’s my lack self-control that’s led to this. I still have a fortune and I’m determined to put it right. She tells me she’s getting married to Samuel. He’s the former driver, now teacher that’s been standing quietly by all day. He comes forward and speaks eloquently as he tells me he wishes we could have met under better circumstances. I’m impressed by his manner and hastily beckon Leke closer.
“Can you draft a will right now?” I ask.
“Of course,” he says, and I smile.
“Better make your fee extortionate, I’m pretty loaded.” He chuckles but says nothing. I leave everything to my daughter and her progeny. I’m truly happy for the first time in so many years.
All I’ve said so far I’ve recited from memory, but here we are today. I am 80. White haired (it’s still an afro, but now it looks amazing), fully recovered from my stroke, living with my daughter and her husband. They named their twins Ethelbert and Dorothy, and I love them like no grandparent ever loved a child. I spoil them rotten. They love me back, and I’ve completely changed. No longer am I sad, and now when I think of Dorothy I only regret that she’s not here to see them as well.
Samuel is hard working and with a little help is making his own way up in the world. I’m glad he’s with my daughter. He’s totally honest, something I should have been all those years ago.
It’s a harmattan morning, and I call them all up to my room early, before the sun lights up the sky. I pray, something I haven’t done in public in a long long time. I’m fading, and I know it. They all sense it; even Leke’s here, dropping by on his way to court. My daughter cradles my head in her arms, and I look up and I see Dorothy. I tell her I love her, and that I’m sorry. She tells me there’s nothing to be sorry about, and that she loves me too. The littler Dorothy and Ethelbert crawl on to my bed and lay their little heads on my chest. Samuel and Leke are solemn, each lost in their own thoughts.
The light fades; I smile wide as Yewande kisses my forehead, tears glistening on her cheeks. I remember the first day I met Dorothy. She’d been hit by a runner on her morning jog and I had helped her to her feet and made her smile before jogging briskly by.
I see her in her short shorts and tank top, her Pam Grier afro laced with sweat where it meets her forehead, her hips marvellously proportioned. I look at myself wondering why I was thinking about her sexiness at this kind of time. I am young again, all smooth flesh and rippling muscles – a fine boy in every respect. I can see my family gathered around my body, tears flowing freely. It hits me – I am dead. I look up again, and Dorothy is still standing there looking an absolute treat. She reaches out her hand to me and I take it, no words exchanged, none needed. We walk off down the path, out of this love and into the next.
“…We are all pencil in the hands of the creator..”
YOU MADE DECADES A SUCCESS THANK YOU!
WE DON’T HAVE ANY SOUND TRACKS, BUT WE’D LOVE TO SHARE MORE ART HERE. ENJOY
“Au bord de l’existence” (“at the edge of existence”).
Standing at the edge of my life, peering over the cliffs of existence
Unsure where I would take up eternal residence
Meaningless nothing or endless bliss, perhaps pain everlasting
At least I could smile for the fragments of my humanity I had retrieved
I made my peace. Apologized to the people I had hurt and despised.
Some laughed, some rejoiced at my perceived senility, some actually cried.
But it mattered not, It was for me, my soul was weary with the burden of a thousand sins.
I had finally let go. I could no longer hold on to all the regret.
Regret for the golden jubilee that should have been marked with celebration
But was laced with so much pain my soul shook in convulsion
Mistakes of years past staring back at me in the mirror
When did love and beauty degenerate into such horror?
I know I hurt the ones I love,
And I had to right my wrongs no matter what happened
Wrong decisions that set me on a path of self-destruction
Like the decision to do whatever it took to rise above my peers
Shouldering responsibilities beyond what was possible, in spite of the tears
And so I forsook my many blessings to pursue the mirage of more
Faith made me move mountains,wisdom made me stronger
Opportunities in the midst of distress made me tougher
A worthy sacrifice of pleasure, to secure a legacy of achievements in torrents
Desperately trying to hold on to the success I had once shared with a family
The family she gave me…
She whose inner beauty money could not buy
Flesh of my flesh, I had worn my heart on my sleeves and sold it for the charm of an angel
The romance of youth in love fused with dreams woven from a spell
Never had I felt such passion that overshadowed early years of mistakes
Reproduction was necessary, raising our offspring was fraught with agony
The vices of a first son brought back painful memories
A broken home displayed the shards mirrored by my broken heart
What really did tear us apart?
And so my thoughts made me weary, as I walked along memory lane
past my inner mind’s city streets, dim-lit, they were so shadowed with grief
I shook with tears when I recalled the early days of youth
The challenges of life dealing me blow after blow, ever so rough
My tears mixed with my dreams, an elixir with a bittersweet taste
But it made me strong with a confidence that little could shake
I was once a naïve young man looking forward to a life of pure bliss
I had a plan for my life, a map, drawn with ink of good intentions
I had mapped out a plan of action, a map with an unknown destination
Yet with every obstruction, came small deviations
And still I carried on, wondering what indeed lay yonder?
The teenage years had been filled with confusion and wonder
The mysteries of my own body and others I did ponder
Drawn to explore everything by a strange and powerful curiosity
Constantly trying to live responsibly when irresponsibly called to me so sweetly
The will to succeed, to please those who mattered, to live a good life
wrestled daily with the consuming fires of lust, the green fangs of envy
The germinating seeds of careless character planted early
As then confused, soon to be consolidated
But there was then no consolidation in the mind of a child
the harbinger of both sorrow and joy.
The seeds that would yield a harvest of emotions for me were sown early.
The seemingly benign acts of parents that lived fearfully
The rod and the staff that did not comfort me but dealt harsh retribution
for every perceived transgression.
At least I was not alone then…
I was surrounded by friends with whom I shared the joys of discovery
We stole kisses from girls, Morsels of meat from pots.
Learnt to reason, absorb information and thoughts.
Such benign beginnings, I remember when we played together, smiling.
But into this world we each came alone
Escaping from the ocean that did not drown
Breaking the chain that did not bind
Coming to seek that which we did not know how to find.
Alone we came.
Alone I came.
And now, alone, empty-handed and naked,
Liberated from the weight of my world, I must return.
And so I stand here smiling, at the edge of my life waiting to fall off the cliffs of existence.
FIND THE ART OF @tomboxe here
– The AfroSays team (thatAfroSays, thatDarkBetty)
– All the decade writers: @kevinwithanl, @thetoolsman, @ekwem, @qurr, @capoeirapanda, @jibolal, @tomboxe
– Special contribution (“Au bord de l’existence”) : @_thinkthank_, @awizii
– All the laconic writers: @olatoxic, @freshprinzvick, @kevinwithanl
– The banner designs (thatAfroSays, IXart)
– the twitter RT team (We love all of you!)
– @bule_jr (ad-hoc project team member)
The Decades Project II (for women) coming soon…