There is something tragic about running away from who you are supposed to be. You think that you are the only one paying the price to be someone else and you forget that there are men and women, teenagers and children watching you with keen interest, waiting for you to find yourself so that they too can find themselves.
You wanted to be a painter when you were younger. You painted with grace and ease, brush strokes gentle and precise, images coming together in your head in surges of sight and sound and light.
You wanted to save the world when you were less jaded. You made placards from the old television boxes tossed out at the back of the house and scribbled stuff like “cockroaches have a right to live” or some other expression of the outrage you felt at the injustice around you. You drew indulgent smiles from the milling adults who gathered for drinks in your parent’s home but you were undeterred, a little fire burned in your chest and you knew that you would be the one to save the world.
You wanted to be a dancer when your innocence was untainted. You choreographed Michael Jackson’s Jam song with your siblings and ordered them to get the steps right even when they complained that they were tired and needed to rest. You had a move for every beat, every song, legs and arms twitching; a faraway look in your eyes as songs came pouring out of the radio like water cascading over you under a waterfall. You could see the stage, hear the sounds, feel the burning lights on your skin and you could hear the crowd screaming. You would dance for hours and feel energy coursing through your veins still. You were unstoppable.
You wanted to be a model when you could dream without fear of barriers. Your legs were marred with scars but all you saw were the long limbs that could grace international runways. You strutted in practice each day, wearing your mother’s oversized clothes and picturing them moulding your body until they were a designer’s dream. You saw your sculpted face on the covers of international magazines and imagined yourself casually handing one over to your father sometime. That kind of gesture that would say “look at me now dad”.
You wanted to be many things at eight, then fifteen, then twenty, thirty. Now you look in the mirror and do not recognise the image staring back at you. You avoid the eyes of the image in the mirror because you see them accusing you as you get brush your hair. Accusing you of lying, of giving up, of giving in…of falling asleep.
You see yourself encased in a cocoon of reality. “Let’s be realistic”, you say to the image in the mirror whenever you manage to meet its eyes for more than five seconds.
“Let’s be realistic”! I couldn’t be a painter because dad wanted me to be a doctor. Am I not making money now? Have I not bought a house and a car way ahead of my peers? Am I not important? Do women not run after me when I flash my credit card?
“Let’s be realistic”! I couldn’t be a dancer because I was born a Nigerian. And besides, I am a woman. People will say that I am loose, that I bared my feminity for the world to see without shame. I would not have gotten married if I had become a dancer. Am I not the envy of my friends? Married to a rich man who takes me out for vacations?
“Let’s be realistic”! I would never have been a good model. My father’s family would have disowned me. I am a Muslim and I must honour my Islamic heritage.
You go on and on until you realise that you are talking to yourself in the mirror. Until you realise that there is a lump of emotions deep down in the pit of your belly that has been there since you gave up your dreams and pursued the “right” things, the “approved” things.
You do not forget the dreams you had and sometimes when you watch the television and see a dance video you say “what crappy steps to a perfectly good song, I could do better!
You say this without realising that you have said it until your husband looks at you, or his mother, and then you remember the right things…the approved things.
You have wrapped yourself in a cocoon of reality so that you will not weep every day when you think of what you could have been.
You have buried your dreams under the pile of obligations and duties and expectations and you do not realise that you have died and are simply existing, that your purpose is gone.
Only the brave and daring chase these dreams and you look out for them.
You Google the top models of the year or the best song of the year and you read about them, inflicting pain on yourself but relishing it all the same. It is punishment for being the weakling that you think you are.
Only the brave and daring chase their dreams, pushing expectations to the ground, sidestepping good and approved things, thrusting the middle finger into the faces of those who expect otherwise. And you are there on the side-lines cheering them on, pumping your fist in the air and yelling till you are hoarse.
And when they win their trophies, you turn and walk back into your cocoon of reality, the lump growing bigger in the pit of your belly.
It is all you have after all. It is all you have.