The Hunt for Chimamanda

I haven’t been myself lately. I hunkered down in my Holy Sanctum aka my tornado destroyed room (I’m the tornado, and the room is my victim) and hid from the world. I’m not quite sure why I was hiding. It could have been an unwillingness to see myself repeatedly through the eyes of others, or it could have been my shame at failing at several commitments that I was supposed to be excited about. Needless to say my phone has become the graveyard of messages, and my following has grown lazy. I do not blame them for abandoning me. I will probably always be undeserving of their affection. Be that as it may, I shall court them one word at a time. I shall delight them with the bits of myself that escape my own scrutiny. The reason why you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone’s instagram or anyone’s blog is because you cannot compete with the highlight reel of somebody else’s life. I find myself caught between displaying my best moments and my real moments, because my real moments aren’t nearly as attractive as my best ones. The real moments cannot be packaged and sold as anything but what they are, and I fear that they reveal too much. As implausible as it sounds there’s a bit that I’d like to keep for me.

The hunt for Chimamanda

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Let the words roll of your tongue. Caress them with your lips and kiss them with your teeth. I do not know what the name means, but now that I say it, I do not think that there was any way that she would not have been great. There are people like that; god kissed. Their names resonate with you long after their deeds fade from memory. I loved her at first for giving me Kambili. I ignored Olanna for she had little or nothing to do with me, and I mocked her for Ifemelu. I idolised her for giving voice to my ideas. She gathered them, repackaged them, and then she said them back to me in a way that I could not have thought to articulate them. As my adulation grew so did my loathing of her, only that it wasn’t hatred it was fear and envy. When an eagle flies swifter and soars higher than you ever dared dream, how can there be room for two. She is both the sky and the limit. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Chinua Achebe’s daughter in all but blood. The right sort of angry, the right sort of feminist and the right sort of African black. I never thought that I’d meet her, only to find that in Lagos with all its intersecting circles I did. I imagined that if I met her it would be equals, in a place where we could actually speak. She would know as much of me as I would of her but those plans were shattered by a hand greater than my own. My will is only so small. It cannot change the hand cast by fate. I looked at her perfectly made up face as she smiled her very Chimamanda smile and wished that we would all go away.

It was the Farafina graduation event. I don’t know that calling it a graduation is correct because it doesn’t make sense that you should graduate from a workshop. It would be more appropriate to call it a certificate giving ceremony but that’s altogether too long and too unwieldy for anyone with half a brain to say it time and time again without replacing it with its shorter cousin, graduation. I can’t tell you that I know why I went. As a one time Farafina Workshop rejectee it should have been the sunlight to my vampire. And as someone who’d developed and nursed an ill-supported grudge against the entire program because of the afore mentioned rejection, I should have announced my displeasure and screamed my disdain, but I didn’t. I tucked my tail between my legs, draped my clothes on my malaria subdued frame, got into the car and drove there. I crept in there like a thief in the night and took my place at the back, where family, friends, and other people who had more reason to be there than I sat.

Olisa the radio personality was the host. I tuned out his too many accents to discern his past voice and turned my eyes from his potbelly to look at the hall. I planned to be partially aware of everything that was going on. I thought that the distance would save me from the inferiority thrust on me from every corner. You didn’t get in, so your words are not among the the best that live and die in Chimamanda’s inbox. You didn’t get in, so you haven’t been touched by her brilliance, you won’t carry the spark that she undoubtedly gives everyone that she deigns to critique or mentor. I busied myself with Nigeria Breweries attempt to decorate the hall. This was much better suited to my negativity than any attention spent on Olisa. To say that it was a disaster would be putting it mildly. I do not joke when I say that Jesus was lucky that his manger was not visited by whoever  Nigerian Breweries employed to decorate it. Who knew that cerulean could be so insipid or that amber could be more reminiscent of the Harmattan haze than fabric? Who knew that one of Nigeria’s biggest companies couldn’t be bothered to completely drape a not very large hall in fabric that looked cheaper with every glance? It’s often said that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but sometimes it is better to do nothing lest the little you do spoil the part that already exists.

My attention returned to Olisa when he began his lengthy introduction of her. He listed every achievement she’d ever had to the extent that I believed that she wasn’t there, because I didn’t understand how anyone could sit through that and not be embarrassed. I expected her to grab the microphone and unclasp his mouth from her left arse cheek, but he didn’t. When he was done she rose to applause and thanked him for his glorification. I didn’t see then that she was proud of everything that she’d accomplished, or that modesty from her would be just as unattractive as gloating. Her speech wasn’t as powerful as others she’d given but it had a certain Chimamandaness about it that made it worth listening to all the same. Even more notable was her voice, delivering her opinions so smoothly that the very idea of doubting her could not possibly occur to anyone in attendance. If anyone there was successful they’d have to have worked hard for a skepticism that far outclassed mine. And then she called each member of the workshop to the stage by name, describing her impressions of them as they climbed. After that she held a question and answer session with Binyavanga Wanaina, another prominent African writer. I didn’t have ears for him. All he got from me were my eyes. I could not look at anything but his hat, a decoration that would perhaps have been more apt atop a Christmas tree owned by people who’d only heard of the notion of Christmas and trees, but lay largely free from its globalised premise.

I wanted to ask a question but I found that I couldn’t. All the questions I had that day had answers that could be found elsewhere, and I could not bear to shame myself by asking something foolish. When the whole thing was said and done, I made my way to where she sat. A pair of girls had made their way there with their parents in tow. They stood beside her as their mother took pictures with her phone. All I did was look at her Chimamanda studied smile, and note that she had a pimple on her brow. I would save the introduction for next time, when I was also a somebody; when she’d seen my work and longed for a conversation. It wasn’t the motivation of a sermon, but the fraction of a dream worth holding on to.

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