One afternoon, I saw a mannequin in a building that was falling apart. The outstretched wrists were tied to the railings with a thin red piece of clothing. The mannequin appeared as though a gentle wind would topple it, but at the very moment it was the only thing in the building standing, as if by being upright—shoulders square, chest out, empty eyes fixed on the rowdy road before it—it could compensate for everything else crumbling.
A schoolboy bent and gently rubbed the skin around a small open wound on his left leg. Then he stood, hands on hip, eyes faraway into the distance, perhaps wondering why the school seemed unusually far today, and if his legs would be able to carry him all the way. The sun rose behind him, pink and warm, oblivious of the world that breaks people open and breaks them apart.
Something had been happening inside his body. But it was not until something went wrong in his spine and he could not walk properly, that he started to pay attention. And so for many months, after several surgeries, and severe pain was eating into his back and legs, he took evening walks in the compound. He needed to exercise, strengthen his muscles. With a neck brace and a walking stick in hand, he walked, slowly, his footfalls making a crunchy sound on the granite. I stood behind the blue curtains, watching him struggle to lift one leg after another, one after another—all the while crying and praying quietly: God please, don’t let him fall.
A woman on Twitter left her husband because he told her to cook. She had gone into the kitchen and, as she was washing the chicken, something snapped inside her. She had just been discharged from the hospital, you see, after having a preemie. She wrote that although she was strong enough to prepare the food, she left the chicken in the sink, washed her hands, went into the room and packed her things. She just knew she had to leave.
Snap. I have often thought about the woman’s choice of that word. I imagine this snap to have a soul. A small voice—small, but with a certain conviction and finality. Like the still, small voice that spoke to Elijah on Mount Horeb. Every part of her soul assembled to speak to her as she prepared to cook, and all she could do was save herself.
Things snap when they no longer have room to take more. A stretched rubber band exceeding its elastic limit; skin, following an abrasion; a weak artery in the brain, after years of pressure. The day the blood vessel would give way and spill its content into the brain would be like any other day. You could stand from where you’ve been sitting, as my step-sister did that morning, and only manage to open your mouth to tell the people around you have a splitting headache, before falling, slipping into a coma, and then into death the following day: Aneurysm. Bodies snap too.
Fear crept in one night, quietly, as stream water meandering on a hot day. It whispered something into my ears and I turned to look back. I saw the period my eyes suddenly started twitching; the times my thumb and index finger had a life of their own, moving of their own will – the same way my father’s fingers twitched many years before the anomaly manifested in his spinal cord. It turned to me and asked: what manner of grief lay quietly in your genes now, moving with your blood, convoluted with your neurons?
Fear came after the third strike, which came with a mass. After years of unrelenting headaches, my sister discovered the migraine diagnosis she’d been medicating for was wrong after all; there was a tumour in her brain. The surgery came and I began to think to myself, are these all connected, or is this some baseless fear?
One is an occurrence.
Two is a coincidence.
Three is a pattern.
Blood is an efficient messenger.
The surgery went. And I replaced the fear with an absurd hope that nothing was going to happen to me.
That afternoon, as I walked away from the building, I kept thinking about the mannequin. Oh god, it’ll fall. It’ll fall soon. And it bothered me deeply. So deeply I fought the urge to weep. But in that brief moment that I watched, it stood upright. And oh, it was such a relief, seeing it stand tall like that in the midst of chaos. And isn’t it such a wonder, that in a world that offers pain until one falls apart, life’s small joys serve as banisters so we can journey on?
For so long, I carried with me a dread of falling. Not my own fall—the final fall—but of those I love. But to live in fear is to suffer.
I never saw my father fall. For many years, I have watched him, as Dylan wrote, rage, rage, against the dying of the light. Oh, what a relief to have him still standing. Because to live is to rage.
Kemi Falodun has been published in Electric Literature, Saraba Magazine, Africa is a Country, Wawa Book Review and Kalahari Review. “A Life in Transit,” her essay chapbook on Invisible Borders Trans-Nigerian road trip was recently published. Twitter – @kemifalodun Instagram – kemifalodun
This entry appeared in The Limits Issue
Cover Photo by Sanketh Rao from Pexels