Institutionalized Addicts (A Long Short Story)

Note: I had so much fun writing this story. Special thanks to @OZionn and @Afadjato for giving me constructive advice on its drafts.

Institutionalized Addicts

Francis Jeyne’s death wasn’t a shock because it was unexpected; it was a shock because it was unwanted. And it wasn’t irritating because it wasn’t preventable; it was irritating because it wasn’t prevented.

The ones without power – classmates, hostel mates, friends – had done all that they thought was within their power to keep it from happening, while managing not to think too deeply about the possibility of its occurrence. Death was too serious a matter; too far away from the ordinary lives of teenagers who were just fighting the barest of middle-class battles: passing high school.

The ones with the real power to help Francis – the teachers and other relevant authorities – had brushed it aside as easily as they brushed away all the problems they didn’t immediately want to deal with, for the simple reason that they had their priorities all arranged in a list, and the wellbeing of an at least acceptably passing student was not even near the top of it.

Damon walked into the bedroom and immediately scrunched up his nose in disgust. It stank, both of drugs and body odour, as if Francis had not taken a shower in at least a month. He grimaced, wishing he was wearing something more protective than chalewote, when he accidentally stepped on something unidentifiable, with strange texture – squishy and rubbery, like a mushroom. All the windows were closed, adding to the mustiness. Nobody ever bothered to come and check that everything was in order. Each person who had been delegated this responsibility simply skipped over this door whenever it was time for inspection, as if it was invisible. This wasn’t surprising. In this institution, when problems were too big to handle, people simply dealt with them by ignoring them.

Francis’ books and dirty clothes were strewn all over the room, adding to the already too-powerful stench. He had long since ceased to bother about hiding his illicit practices. There was some strange, powdery substance to be found in various places, on his desk and on the floors, and crumpled up leaves torn from his notebooks in every nook and cranny.

“What the hell, Francis,” complained Damon to the unresponsive body sprawled out on one of the two beds in the room. “You smell worse than a dead rat. I don’t even know what you’ve been inhaling this time.”

That wasn’t a surprise. Francis didn’t tell him anything at all anymore – a fact that sometimes stung Damon, since he and Francis had once been practically joint at the hip. Damon only knew what weed and cocaine looked like, and whatever Francis was on was neither of those. He wondered if even the boy himself was aware of what he was injecting into his bloodstream.

His roommate was knocked out. Since it happened so often, at first, Damon found no cause for alarm. Francis’ routine was to come in, snort and smoke various things, then pass out without warning (and also without showering). Most of the time, Damon couldn’t even stand to be in the room. Now, its functionality was mainly as his wardrobe, and a storeroom for his belongings. He could leave the use of sleeping to Francis, who was, apparently, impervious to the mess that he had created. Quite literally, he lay in the bed that he’d made. Damon himself unofficially lived in his friends’ rooms for the time being. None of the authorities had as yet complained. Their selective blindness was noteworthy.

Damon and all other friends involved, had tried especially hard to rid Francis of his horrible habits – except to go to the extent of spilling the beans to faculty members. That was the one thing they couldn’t do: snitch. Why should they jeopardize his future that way? It was one thing to advise your friend against destroying himself; it was another thing entirely to destroy him by reporting him, under the guise of helping. They were caged in by the lack of choices. This was the trap. Snitching could never be considered helping. No matter how high your morals were, this was the un-crossable line – the ultimate breaching of unwritten “code” of the High School Bible; a sin worse than adultery, for which being stoned wasn’t even a punishment severe enough.

Of course, none of them were under the illusion that the teachers did not know exactly what was going on. But lots of people did drugs from time to time, and more often than not, they ended up academically fine. If the staff were going to choose to let their senses work selectively, the only thing that could disrupt their act was if the students themselves pretended to have functional eyes. Evidently, for Francis’ friends also, wilful blindness was their only sensible option.

They’d cooked up so many schemes. They had tried hiding his supply of badly produced, low-quality concoction of powders, thereby putting themselves at risk – for if it was discovered, it would have been discovered on them. However, as friends in solidarity with Francis’ plight, it had been a sacrifice they had been willing to make. It was better that all took the fall for innocence than a single person for guiltiness. Unfortunately, the hopeless addict had merely discovered their hiding spot, which they had mistakenly assumed was fool proof.

For their next attempt, they had tried dumping all of his drugs that they could find into a nearby lagoon. Somehow, he always managed to acquire more in at least two days, and during the wait, he would be the crabbiest, sulkiest, most unsociable boy they had ever met. Some days, he wouldn’t talk to anyone at all, or he would simply lock himself up in his room, where the rest of the boys could hear him sobbing occasionally. They never mentioned the crying, though. If ever anyone even hinted at it, Francis would deliver acidic, murderous stares that could shut everyone in the room up in a second.

The other strategy they had attempted to employ was to physically hold him back from a roll. During those instances, Francis had nearly punched, kicked and bitten all their limbs off.

Half the time, the boy wasn’t even acting human – a stark contrast to the bubbly personality he used to have. Now, he was a wild animal in a boy’s body, with primal instincts and reactions. The beast inside him had now become him. Damon and his friends had all thought that it was amazing the kind of strength desperation could bring out in a person.

When they had concluded that their efforts and methods were to no avail, the boys had taken a hiatus, to try to get their own lives under control (for of course they had lives too), and used the break from keeping Francis from self-destructing to see if they could come up with anything more genius.

They had all relaxed on the matter perhaps a little too much, when they discovered that the headmaster had gotten him a therapist, whom he saw twice a week. None of them knew for sure how well it was working, but for now, Francis seemed docile enough. He was missing far fewer classes than he used to, and he was mostly quiet when he was alone in his room. In any case, the boys were greatly relieved that the staff had acknowledged the pressing issue without them ever having had to have reported. But they would continue to dutifully act like the problem didn’t exist, so far as the solution seemed to be coming from elsewhere, without need of their intervention.

But now, in Damon’s room, at that moment, the scent was unpardonable. Any passer-by would surely be able to catch a whiff of the ungodly scent. Then who’d be in trouble? wondered Damon. He quickly formulated a plan: to rouse Francis and somehow get him into the shower while he opened all the windows and sprayed air freshener everywhere. That way, if anybody came by, they would at least meet a scent that was receding, rather than emanating from a living, sleeping body.

Holding his breath, he approached the odorous sleeper and prodded him urgently – because “gentle” had ceased to work a long time ago. “Francis,” he said. “Get up. The room smells like an effing stable, and you’re the horse-shit.”

Francis didn’t even stir. There was no response, not even the least movement in his eyeballs. There were no half-hearted, semi-conscious insults, telling Damon to go and do something physically and sexually impossible. It was all very uncharacteristic.

“Come on,” groaned Damon. “Don’t tell me you’ve gone into a comatose sleep again. We can hear you from the next room every time you inhale…”

And that was when it occurred to Damon that Francis was not snoring. Whenever he went into a sleep state that he would not be roused from for several hours, he snored like a freaking Dragon with asthma – and yet, here he lay now, still as a stone. Damon really began to panic then. He put his hand, then his ear, on Francis’ chest and felt nothing. Then he tried to locate a pulse in his limp wrist. Nothing. He put his ear to his nose. Not a breath. A cold shiver ran down Damon’s spine.

“Holy crap.”

 

 

The pastor relieved his bowels in the lavatory after returning from his church service that Sunday evening. His dual lives as a pastor as well as a teacher had never been difficult for him to integrate into each other. He preached to his students, and taught his congregation. During a service like today’s, the line between the two aspects of his life was even more obviously blurred. His sermon had been about diligence and perseverance. Diligence was what would give you the A’s in your life. Perseverance was what got you back up and running every time the world dealt you a bad grade. The tests of life would weed off the faithless from the chosen. For we were not put on this earth to be losers, to accept F’s in complacency, but to be victorious, honour students of life.

Today had been a family service too. What a joy it had been to speak the word of God to the children and interact with them, and to remove those tempestuous expressions on their faces that were the consequence of having been dragged to church by their parents on a Sunday night they could have spent playing video games. Yet he brought pure joy and ecstasy to them through his voice, and in his message. Unfailingly, he made the congregation burst out in laughter. It wasn’t a wonder that the children loved it when he preached. After all, wasn’t he around children most of his life?

“Children, at this stage, do you know what the most important thing in your life is?” he had asked. “Do you know? It is to do well in school and make mummy and daddy and God proud. Eh? Do you understand? Do not allow any powers and forces to get in the way of your education! Eh? The devil wants you to fail, but no weapon fashioned against you shall prosper! Say Amen!”

Yes, it had been quite a fruitful and relevant sermon, and an altogether bountiful church service. Except for the choir. There had been something off about their performance today. Someone too close to the microphone had been singing off key for too long – way too high. At some point, he had begun to wonder if there was a legitimately tone-deaf member of the choir.

But as for him, he had carried out his part well. After a service like that, he felt like a stellar performer after a concert.

Yet after the text, the depressant he had received after he had flushed the toilet, he felt like what he had flushed down the toilet. A simple message from a fellow teacher, so concise, but laden with such heavy implications: “Francis is dead.”

The phone flew out of his hands and he barely noticed. Luckily, it did not enter the lavatory bowl. It did, however, dismantle as it crashed to the tiled bathroom floor. The battery flew out with a velocity equivalent to the speed at which the energy appeared to be draining from the pastor himself. Francis? Dead? What did “dead” mean? As in, no longer living? No! It couldn’t be! How could he be dead, when he hadn’t even written his end of term exams yet? And…no! It simply couldn’t be! After everything they’d done for him? The expensive therapist they’d hired to counsel him, just so that he wouldn’t slack on his schoolwork… So it had all been to no avail? Ah, heavens, no!

The teacher felt sick to his stomach. So much money wasted. And the school had already paid in advance for his registration for the international examinations. That was non-refundable money. The school’s statistics…They would suffer after their nearly-spotless records of the past decade. All that was happening right now was really beyond unfortunate; Francis had been a potential distinction student. He could have gotten a distinction, as easy as koko! Now, all chances were completely lost. With the total number of registered students down, they would never be able to beat last year’s record of distinctions. Time they’d never get back. Money they’d never get back. A reputation that they couldn’t un-tarnish.

God, why have you brought this calamity upon me and my school? he lamented as he crumpled in shock and devastation to the floor. His expectations had just gone up in smoke.

 

 

Francis’ parents, Mr and Mrs Jeyne, were in the private room with the headmaster, switching nearly comically from loud and livid, to silently stunned, and back again, in unpredictable intervals.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU DO ANYTHING?” his mother screamed, nearly out of her mind. “YOU LET HIM DIE. YOU KILLED HIM!”

The headmaster told himself sternly to refrain from replying, “No, madam, the foolish boy killed himself.” He thought, if the reports he had received from Damon and the others during the post-mortem interrogations from students were true, he could definitely see where Francis had gotten his temper and tirade qualities from. Indeed, he wouldn’t want to have to hold this woman back if she wanted to inhale something illicit. Out loud, he said, “Mrs Jeyne, I believe that you too were aware that your very own child was engaged in drugs – not any less aware than any of us in this academic institution.”

He thought he was being pragmatic. He thought pragmatism would save him in the worst of situations, that it would get the most inflamed people to calm down and feel foolish in front of him. That’s what they had taught at the charismatic training sessions, anyway. He had not had his well-remembered lessons put to the test as intensively as they were being tested now. For this opportunity, at least he was grateful. Ah yes, optimism: the ability to see the benefit in the absolute worst of situations – another well-remembered quality that he was putting to use when it was needed. Deep down the man was very proud of himself. He felt diplomatic, like the President of somewhere important. Hell, he felt like the African Bush.

Francis’ father stood up looking like he was ready to punch someone’s teeth out of his skull. “Now, don’t give me that bull-crap, do you hear me? My son is dead, and if we’re going to play the blame-game, Mary and I are going to put it where it’s due. Of course we were aware that he was on drugs. But the drugs were not coming into the house; they were coming into the damn school. What the hell could we do about it? Don’t act like we were more responsible than you were. Our son spends –” He choked and continued, “Spent three times more of his life at school he did at home. And unless you’ve caught some bloody f***ing amnesia, you should recall that when we found out, we notified you immediately. We asked for your f***ing assessment. We asked if he needed to come home. We asked for everything. Mary called you nearly every day! And what did you say? You said that the school would take care of it, that he was well enough to continue to attend classes, that he would undergo therapy, that you’d take care of everything, that he would be FINE! AND NOW HE’S NOT BLOODY BREATHING!” By the end of his speech, he was roaring louder than his wife had been earlier.

“Mr Jeyne,” said the overwhelmed headmaster, who was beginning to feel that the air conditioner was not nearly functional enough. This meeting was not going anything like the way he had expected it to, the way he had prepared in his mind. The man’s tirade had driven his calm, prepared speech way out of his head. “If you’ll just calm down, I’m sure we can…”

“CALM DOWN!” shrieked Mary. “CALM WHAT DOWN? How can you tell anyone to calm down when you’ve just finished murdering their son?”

“Madam, this is being blown out of proportion. You make it seem like I held a gun to his head and shot him.”

“OUT OF PROPORTION?” she roared. “I enrolled my baby in a school run by idiots! The loss of a teenage life should be proportional to what, now? You killed him with your high and mighty ‘we can take care of him’ when you knew he was in need. Ahiaa therapist! A person who doesn’t even know him, and only sees him for one hour a week? Are you mad? You might as well have held a gun to his head. You murdered my son!

“I assure you, she was perfectly qualified for the job. She holds a PhD in…”

I don’t give a damn about her PhD. Did her PhD fix my son? Can her PhD bring my son back to life?”

“Madam, you won’t let me explain,” said the nearly helpless headmaster, dabbing at the sweat on his face with a handkerchief. “All that we did was in the best interest of your son. We wanted to keep his life going as smoothly and as normally as possible. He was due to write his A-levels this May. We couldn’t let him lag behind the academic schedule. So we got him the best therapist available, and allowed him to continue with his school life. The students don’t know that we know this, but lots of them do drugs and still get A-stars. We didn’t want to rush into anything drastic. We had hoped that eventually, he would realise he was jeopardizing himself and his grades, but he didn’t. But even as his grades continued to drop, we organized remedial classes for him to improve. Unfortunately, he could not realise what was at stake, and took that fatal dose.”

His hyperventilating receded a bit. Yes, he had given a rational explanation for what had happened. They had indeed expended their efforts and resources into keeping Francis’ life on track. That was undeniable. His parents had to see the sense in it. They had to be appeased somehow. He looked at them tentatively. None of them had resumed yelling in his face again, so that was a good sign.

Mr and Mrs Jeyne had only let the rambler go on for this long because they had relapsed back into silently stunned shock-states. To add to the shock was the absurdity of the principal not realising that everything coming out of his mouth was excrement. Excrement made of food that was so improperly digested that it was coming out in great big particles, the same way it had gone in; unbroken-down lumps of food that the body was unable to refine before it ejected, as if his digestive tract had turned itself upside down.

For a few seconds, everything was silent. Then the woman blinked and said, incredulous, “So you think you’ve said something aama.”

The headmaster did not respond.

She put her hands on her head, fell to her knees and wailed, “This is the man we paid school fees to, o! Awurade!”

Francis’ father said coolly to the headmaster, “Do you not realise that you expended far more resources on keeping my son’s eyes glued to textbooks than you did on fixing his mind? Is the cure for an addiction an A-star? Is the rehabilitation centre a classroom? Is examination a counter-active measure for addiction? A life was just lost, and as it was being lost, all you were concerned about was his A-levels and his academic performance. You’re not running a school; you’re running a diploma-producing factory. I swear, I would have forced him to drop out of school myself, if it meant he could keep his life. Ah, but it’s all the same with you academics. You inhale marks, self-medicate with examinations, and get high off distinctions. And maybe my son’s death would have meant even a meagre fraction of what his life was worth, if only it was able to serve as a wake-up call for you monkeys. But you people are incorrigible. I’m taking you to court. And I swear, I won’t quit until I see your school bankrupt.

With that, he picked up all he had come with and left the room, while his struck and sobered wife absently followed his lead.

When they were gone, the headmaster felt uneasy. He felt unpleasant, and he did not appreciate feeling unpleasant. He needed something to consume the guilt and pain, take his mind off the things he wasn’t ready to think about. He would go mad if he didn’t get something – anything – to distract him – immediately. So he pulled out his computer, and browsed through at least forty high-school transcripts, until he could breathe normally again. Then, exhausted and tranquilized, he fell asleep at his desk, dreaming of Paradise.

-Akotowaa

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Awesome Spoken Wordists Akotowaa Thinks You Should Know

Yo, I don’t even know if “spoken wordist” is the legitimate term. Let’s roll with it. Most of us who got into it got in by accident anyway.

Today is World Poetry Day! And in commemoration of that, I have decided to make a post featuring spoken wordists who make me happy. So, in no particular order, let’s go!

JACKIE HILL-PERRY

If you know me, you know she rocks my world. I think the first poem I ever saw from her was A Poem About Weed, which you should definitely check out. But even after that poem, she has grown exponentially. Check out Jig-a-boo, and American Persecution as well, which are all stellar.JHP

Oh, I love how spoken word can so easily translate into rap, so it’s cool how she raps too. She has a free album out called The Art Of Joy. And once you decide to check that out, just check out everything else Humble Beast has, because I mean, it’s all free anyway.

Jackie’s subject matter is always culturally relevant, and rooted in scripture, which you can learn from, whether or not you are a Christian. And I must say, her wordplay blows me away. If there’s anything greater than speaking sense, it’s speaking sense in the most intelligently artistic way. Don’t give up if you don’t get it; rewind and figure it out, man!

PROPAGANDA

prophiphopHe’s another person I knew from spoken word, even before I knew he was a rapper. But Prop is one of those guys who makes the two similar art forms seamlessly integrate into one. He’s also very scripture rooted, and loves to say things that get people mad. Shamelessly. Check out Be Present, and his apparently most controversial song, Precious Puritans.

You would notice that both of the people I have mentioned so far have dreadlocks. Coincidence? There’s just something about us that rocks. LOL, don’t even fight me. *flips dreads*

I almost forgot! Don’t even leave here without watching Bored of Education! Don’t!

AKUA NARU

akua_naru_2_1443Strictly speaking, Akua Naru isn’t a spoken wordist, but she happens to be classified in my mind as one, because the first time I saw anything of hers was on Youtube, and it was a poem. At least I think it’s a poem. It was called Poetry; How Does It Feel? And I was absolutely blown away. Well now I have two albums of hers – the only ones whose existence I am aware of – The Journey Aflame and The Miner’s Canary. Check them out. Her sound is amazing. She’s like jazzy hip-hop. And her messages are also pretty relevant.

Oh, and look what hairstyle she’s got. Hee-hee!

SOPHIA THAKUR

sophia-thakur-iiJust yesterday, I was being blasted by a friend for lamenting that Sophia Thakur is way too cool, because she’s so young and getting it, and I’m stuck in boarding school, doing the IB. I think she’s probably about 20, and so I must have heard of her when she was like 18.

Generally, everything she does is fire, so I’m going to recommend the video she performed at a Tedx event, My Boyfriend Isn’t Allowed To Cry, Unfortunately, but honestly don’t stop there. Search her until you’ve listened to everything she has, including and especially Beatbox, and her EP, called the Silver Linings 3P.

POETRA ASANTEWA

Important note: Don’t spell her name with two a’s. (Side note: don’t spell mine with opoetrane.) Poetra impresses me time and time again. She’s so extraordinary – and it’s even more confounding because she’s so ordinary. I’ve met her and I’ve talked to her and I don’t know how you can be so normal and so brilliant at the same time. There are a million things that she does and I could write an entire blog post on her alone, but obviously I have to focus on her spoken word, over here.

The most important place I feel I can direct you to is her EP, released a few months ago, called Motherfuckitude: The Naked Ones. Some people have heard the name and expected truckloads of swearing and sex or whatever, but if that’s what you’re expecting you’ll be disappointed. Yes, Poetra is badass – but in the way that she says the things that actually need to be said, and I swear she isn’t just trying to please an audience. So after you’re done with Motherfuckitude, follow her on all her social media, and stalk her, like I do.

Eventually I’m going to write an extended blog post on Motherfuckitude alone. (I know I’ve been saying this for months, but chale, life is hard.)

DZYADZORM

dzyadzormThis woman is the reason I do poetry in the first place, and the reason I fell in love with spoken word. And somehow, she seems to be everyone’s favourite female poet. It might be something to do with how easily she can get you into your feelings. I don’t know man, if Dzyadzorm went into acting, she’s probably be just as natural at it. It’s like she was built for the stage. The first thing I ever saw her perform was Stay, and if you see that live and you don’t fall in love with her, I don’t know what is wrong with you. Also, listen to her piece, called War.

Dzyadzorm is brilliant.

 

100% – HONDRED PERCENT

ydbmeuo9I don’t even care that he’s married. He was supposed to marry me, and I’ll keep saying this. Hundred is super cool because he’s an entertainer all round. Another natural performer, and word-player, who can deliver the most clever jokes with the straightest face and not a pause in his flow. I don’t know how he does it. He can freestyle anything and make it look like it was ten times rehearsed. I am telling you, I do not understand it.

Watch his collabo poem, Power, with Poetra Asantewa.

When he comes out with officially downloadable content, I promise I’m going to be on that faster than Harmattan dust on a horizontal surface.

He’s also a really cool person in real life and happens to be my favourite adult in all the world. Don’t tell him I said this, but…he might be twice this age in reality, but somehow he still manages to be fifteen. Which is also why I love him.

TONYA INGRAM

maxresdefaultHer messages are so positive! I’m talking about pieces like Suicide (with Alyesha Wise and Ki NG), and This Is What It Feels Like To Be Depressed. Don’t think I’m being ironic. Go and find these pieces and listen to/watch them. Then go and find anything else you can find on her.

 

BEAUTIFUL EULOGY

beautiful eulogyIs it rap? Is it music? Is it spoken word? All I know is, they can talk over production and it sounds really cool. The first thing of theirs I found which hooked me is Signs and Symbols, which also happens to feature Propaganda. They’re Humble Beast too, so just go on their website and download all their stuff for free. It’s like listening to sermons with rhythm.

 

 

 

This list is by no means exhaustive and if I could mention all the poets I am in love with, this post would take two days to complete. So I’ll leave it here for now and hopefully through other blog posts, other loves of mine will be adequately exposed.

Happy World Poetry Day!

-Akotowaa

P.S. Ha! I bet you expected me to feature myself.

 

Open Books and the Immoterate

Strange,
these people appear
able to read with books closed.
strange, they seem
unable to realize
they too are pools of literature.
authors, each one
head of their own design committee,
arduous hours spent on
preparing the cover page.
yet how they write,
fill each notepad
lock the pages’
ink never overflows.
they are laden with burdens
of expectations
that others too may follow their lead.
but what use
is a story between pages
if the leaves
are never turned?
as if character flaws
don’t make the hero;
like emotions
don’t make the human.
why we shrink
from personal geneses
but embrace the destination,
love that there are details
but abhor their revelations…
perhaps they are frightened
of open books,
for their reactions
will reveal
the truth of their illiteracy,
for
they know not
how to read
Emotion.
-Akotowaa

BLISTERS: A SATYRICAL TRAGEDY

Note: Written for a friendly story-writing competition between @duafe, @Afadjato, @TrueCoaster and myself, with @Poetyk_Prynx as the referee!

BLISTERS: A SATYRICAL TRAGEDY

I’m kind of famous. Some may even say legendary. But anyone who has ever been called the Greatest of All Time before has probably gone through some major hell. I am no exception. This is my story. This is my song.

It was a few thousand years BC, and I was simply a little boy with dreams as big as the Athena Parthenon. My mum says I sang before I talked. Growing up, I had one ambition, and one ambition only: to become a star on the musical and drama scene in my country someday, making my debut by landing the lead role in an ancient, classical musical: Grease.

My family members were particular Zeus worshipers, so basically, every thunderstorm was a church service, and every bolt that sliced the sky was a sign or wonder. I personally took all these as signs of my god’s approval, and would pray fervently regarding the realization of my dream whenever a yellow bolt was thrown; I called the phenomenon Greased Lightning.

There was a point at which I believe I stopped being a believer. I’m still not sure whether your faithlessness is called unbelief when you stop believing in a deity’s existence, or when you stop believing in a deity’s ability to help you. All I know is that my unbelief was the latter. In my late teenage years, this god did something to me which forever darkened my disposition towards him. As many falling outs between males happen, ours was over a girl.

I started gymnasium late – at age sixteen, whereas most boys began at age 14. Although this was good for my career, the downside was that I really had no clue what exactly I was missing out on, when it came to girls. I’d never watched a lady bloom into adolescence, given that my eyes had been glued onto crotchets and semibreves for so long.

But when I started gym, I had my first real crush. This is how it happened. One of my gym mates, who claimed to have very special and selective dietary conditions, forgot to bring lunch from home. It was tragic, because he insisted that if he ate anything that was provided for us at the gym, he would swell up to the true size of Kronos – which was, needless to say, Titanic.

Fortunately for him, his mother had discovered this later in the day and had sent his pretty younger sister to deliver his food to him. It just so happened that we were on a break at that time, and so all of us got to get a load of her. And what a load we got.

Her demeanour was docile and unassuming enough. She hardly said a word, and didn’t even look at any of us as she gave her brother his food. But this is what gave her badass qualities away: she had worn a chiton with no peplos. I could have sculpted her just then, because I’d never seen a bust like that before.

It didn’t take long to formulate a plan. It was the first time I was fully being driven by hormones which refused to back down, making me bolder than I had ever been before. Her brother was a cool guy, too. He agreed to leave his food home a second time, then conveniently disappear to ease himself when his sister arrived, so that I could collect his food on his behalf. It worked seamlessly The second time as well, she had no peplos on.

That was the first chance I had to interact with her. She was almost as much into me as I was into her. Eventually, we started seeing each other way more often, without need of a guise to bring us together. Fortunately, she liked music, so there was always something to talk aobut.

About six months after our first interaction, when we were going steady, I told her about my Grease dream, and she was excited. She began helping me out with voice training sessions in my free time, occasionally also accompanying me with a musical instrument. Auditions were coming up, and the tension was getting overwhelming. She rehearsed with me tirelessly. I had plans to marry her when all this was over, if I was lucky enough to get the part. And then that son of a titan ruined everything.

If there is one thing you should know about the holy ones, it’s that you should never fight with them when they want something that you want.

I went over to hers one day and I immediately knew that something was very wrong, because it was the first time since I’d met her that she was wearing a peplos over her chiton. She was revealed to me that she’d gotten a visitation from Zeus the night before, and well, he thought she was hot. That was fair enough. But then he’d asked her that was she open to making babies with him, and that’s where the real line was crossed. So I asked her what she was planning to do about his offer. At that point, she burst into tears, saying that she didn’t know how it was possible to refuse a god.

That was the first night the recurring nightmare occurred. In it, there was a sculpture made of plastic, in the bright sunlight. The effect of the sun caused large welts to appear all over the plastic, horned monster. Occasionally, they burst and ichor leaked out. Whoever was tormenting me was a god in disguise. It didn’t take long to figure out which. The monster always spent the entirety of the dream breaking out into sunburnt welts and blistering me with harsh criticism of my singing.

“You’re off key.”

“Are you tone deaf?”

“You are flopping your favourite Grease song. You can’t ever land the part like that.”

After a week of this, I was exhausted, between sleeping badly, training hard, and tirelessly rehearsing on my own. But then, at the end of the seventh day, my weeping girlfriend showed up at my door, with her heart breaking because of the tragedy of the situation she was caught in.

She couldn’t refuse Zeus, but she didn’t love him; she loved me. So, she had come up with a plan, in order to make Zeus refuse her; he couldn’t get her pregnant if she already was. And, well, seeing as I was going to marry her anyway…

Before she had completely finished illustrating her idea, I was enveloping her into a tight embrace. We would have lost our virginity that very night if only she hadn’t been unclean during that week. So we had to wait, while she held Mr Big Shot off. We planned to make love for the first time on the day of the audition, which was nigh.

The day arrived, and I was in high spirits. Until she came over, once again in tears, because she said the gods had found out about us, and Zeus was going to punish me for conspiring against him. But I didn’t have time to worry about that; the audition was in a few hours. I couldn’t lose my composure now. So I tried to push Zeus’ threat out of my mind, assuring her that we’d deal with it all after the audition.

The Grease audition was the largest and most famous audition in the whole of Athens. Almost as many people showed up to watch the audition as they did to the actual musical production. And as soon as the audition began, so did a rainstorm. Greased Lightning, indeed. Could it be a sign of forgiveness? Or a further threat?

I blocked my ears to all the others’ voices, focusing on meditation on my own upcoming performance. Nothing, not even Zeus, could throw me off.

I was more concentrated than sun rays on a magnifying glass during my audition, blanking out completely until I had come to the end of the song. And then everything was silent. Not a clap, not a whisper. Then, someone in the crowd yelled out, “Tragos!

A goat? Where was the goat? In confusion, I tried to turn around, to see if I would find a goat suddenly charging up at me. And instead of two legs rotating me, four hooves did. It took at least a minute to sink in. I was the tragos. The goat was me.

Technically, that was only partially true. I was only a goat from the waist down. At the top, I was still human. This was like a sick, twisted comedy skit. I was a satyr.

I seethed with anger and embarrassment. Which girl would willingly be penetrated by…a goat? Who would want to make love to a man with a tail and four hooves?

To push the irony further, the judges announced later that night that my audition was probably one of the best performances the Athens Concert Hall had ever heard. Oh yes, of course, I got the part. And many more parts after that. For centuries after my death, I remained the most famous singer in Grease, in Greece and beyond. But I never married, instead had to suffer the blisters of watching my ex-girlfriend give birth to Lightning-spawn.

I refused to let my story remain untold, though. So I wrote a song. A long epic, a solo show, nearly two hours long, in which I told my story of being transformed and frauded by Zeus. I left it untitled, but the world titled it for me: Tragedy. An ode by a tragos, a tragodia, the Song of a Goat. And to this day, it is through this tragodia that my story, the story of a poor satyr’s blisters, is told.

-Akotowaa

 

 

The School’s Puppets Want to Turn Us into Harry Potter

Note: I’m not even going to try to be nice in this post.

One weekday, last week, I sat at my designated table for formal breakfast, and was already having a relatively bad morning, when a monitor/prefect (I don’t remember who) said, “There is too much movement in the d-hall. Could everyone please take their seats now.” This announcement was repeated at last two more times, and I was flabbergasted. And then, suddenly, I was seething with anger.

Let me tell you what formal breakfast is like. You’ve got your designated table, where you have to sit for every formal breakfast and formal lunch. On your table is cutlery, milk, sugar, bread and margarine. We’re getting to the catch now.

There are water heaters at specific points in the d-hall for hot water. So you have to get up to fetch it.

The d-hall department has Milo available if you don’t want the tea or coffee beside the heaters. But the Milo trays are always placed on or near the stage. So you have to get up to get it.

On certain days of the week, there’s porridge or boiled eggs, or salad available. They are either in the front of the room, or at the back. So you have to get up to get them.

And sometimes, the d-hall kitchen staff do strange things like provide three plates, six cups and no knives for a table meant to be set for eight to ten people. If you want to get what you’re missing, you have to get up and walk to the counter for it.

There are more factors, but I’m sure you can see by now that on any ordinary morning, there may be a need to get up and walk a fair distance across the room at least once.

So when I heard this nonsense about “There is too much movement in the d-hall” coming from a prefect/monitor’s mouth over the microphone, I was like, alright, who’s pulling the strings here? And what possible logical motive could they have for pulling them in the first place? There is absolutely no identifiable reason not to just let the strings be, slack.

I am telling you, this “too much movement” business was killing me. People were moving about exactly how they moved about each morning, and even if they weren’t, I failed to see how this was a legitimate problem.

  1. Would the number of A*s and grade 7s have decreased if people overly utilized their legs before 7am?
  2. Did every extra step a student took cause one more patient to die quicker in the hospital?
  3. Would the world freaking end unless people’s botosses were firmly glued to their chairs (while they starved because they couldn’t get to their food)?

Now, you see, I don’t believe whoever made that announcement was silly enough to have thought of it him/herself. The idea that our student population is “an intellectual community” has already been established to be a fallacy, but we aren’t that silly – not on our own, at least. No, this was an obvious case of Idea Postulation. Some teacher had gotten it into his/her head, straight from the invisible speakers manned by the Controllers, to try fixing ish that ain’t broken. He/she had, in turn, whispered into a monitor/prefect puppet’s ear the instruction to do the dirty-work of announcing it, and just like that, all their strings were pulled at once.

And so I was there, not so quietly ranting out of bewilderment and frustration to my table-mates about what a splendid show of daftness this was, until I realized, much later, what the truth was:

The school’s puppets were trying to turn us into Harry Potter!

It was all a trick, a gimmick! They’d all realized, in terms of magic powers, some of us were blossoming too late, and so took it upon themselves to awaken our powers by force/necessity. It all makes sense now. All we need to do is start practicing our summoning spells, sitting down!

Accio, Milo!

Accio, hot water!

Accio, Tom Brown!

And boom, the stuff is on your table like you’re a certified witch/wizard. A simple stunt to sift off the Muggles from the gifted Purebloods, right?

3-expectopatronum

Ugh. I’m tired of it all. Seriously.

Last Wednesday, I went to semi-formal supper (which is like a formal meal, except with slightly more relaxed dress codes, and you can sit at whichever table you want), to find that there were pieces of paper distributed to each table, demanding the name of the table and all its members.

Later, the explanatory announcement came from a monitor. Somewhat paraphrased:

“It has come to the attention of the d-hall department that there is too much movement during formal supper. So there are papers placed on your tables – write the name of the table and the names of everyone sitting on them, and these lists will be printed and sent to the whole school. From now on, this is where you will have to sit every Wednesday night.”

LOL, I was legit going mad in my head. There were so, so many reasons why this was all bull.

For one thing, the d-hall on Wednesday nights has half the tables set with rice, and the other half with fried yam. What if I want yam this week, and rice next week? Yet if I sit on a yam table and walk over to a rice table to get food to bring back, I’d probably get either a “Why didn’t you just sit on a rice table in the first place?” or a “There is too much movement in the d-hall!” Absolute nonsense.

Secondly, what on earth do you gain from taking away an aspect of our freedom that isn’t even harming anybody? Of course, during semi-formal supper, people tend to sit with their friends, or people they’re comfortable with. And in fact, the way humans are, we fall easily into trends – so much that it’s likely that 90% of students sit in the same positions every week, anyway. So you might think it’s not a big deal to make us do something we were going to do already.

But it is a big deal, to take away my freedom to choose! Say your favourite dessert was ice cream, which you ate every Saturday afternoon, by choice. How would you feel if you were suddenly told, “Okay, now you are not allowed to have anything but ice cream every Saturday afternoon for the rest of your life, and if you decide one Saturday that you don’t feel like ice cream, you will be punished”? Like, what effery.

And every time something like this happens, I find myself willing in my head to whoever is announcing, “Please take a moment to listen to the nonfa [redacted] coming out of your mouth and stop pretending like you think it’s worthwhile and sensible. Use your head. Use your power to fight back to the puppeteers. Please, please fight back.”

Never happens.

Interestingly, this school is a place where I’ve realized the prefects and SRC have no power.

The dining hall appears to be where majority of the puppet activity happens. I remember when one of the daftest instructions for formal supper seating came a year or two ago, the prefects were told to enforce it. But it was stupid, and some of the ordinary students tried to tell some of the prefects that it was stupid, but I remember being shocked speechless when one of the prefects (which, by the way, achieved major recognition for her fantastic IGCSE performance) responded, “It’s not me o – orders from a higher power.”

Higher power.

HIGHER POWER.

I’m telling you, that day, I gave up.

Anyway, what am I doing, still ranting about this? I need to go off and practice my summoning charms. Accio, yam! Accio shito!

-Akotowaa

If you’re still not getting any of the Puppets analogies, refer to this post which has the link to my novella, here.

The Girl Called Vanessa Who Needs Lexivism

You don’t know what lexivism is? Get up to speed, la!

Lexivism: Activism/advocacy for the recognized significance of words, literature, or things related to them. Also, a general love for these things. (At least until I find a more eloquent and adequate way to define it.)

Last week, the school received a visit from Akosombo International School, for no sensible reason other than that they wanted to see how our “good” school operates and implement what they liked back in theirs. More staff members came for the visit than students, evidence of their (unhidden) agenda. They were probably taking notes attentively, too. All I hope is that they were able to see, at least partially, through the façade that this institution knows so well how to put up.

Anyway, as I was enjoying my Saturday sleep, continued from early Friday night, broken only briefly for the sake of breakfast, I received a visit in my room. I bet the AIS girl was wondering what I was doing in my pyjamas at 3pm, but was too polite to say anything.

She was there to speak to me for a very specific reason, sent by a classmate of mine, with whom she was boarding, Sophia. Sophia sent her to me because this girl had an interest in writing. To a certain degree, this was really cool, because I seem finally to have reached that point where people around me think, “Oh, it’s about writing? Refer to Akotowaa.” Yay for recognition. Although I know that this will start to cause a lot of typecasting problems.

So this sweet girl came in and introduced herself as Vanessa, and said, “Sophia sent me to talk to you because she said you are a writer, and I also like writing. And I’ve written a drama.”

Vanessa was one of those people that I immediately liked. This is an infrequent occurrence, because I don’t immediately like a lot of people I just met.

So we entered a brief discussion about the production of literature, and Vanessa revealed to me that her play wasn’t actually completely finished and it would be done by June (?) and that after that, she had plans to begin a novel. I was in love, and so, so proud of her. I asked her what she planned to do with her finished play, and she said, “Publish it.” Which is cool – even though I was looking for more of an answer concerning where and when it would be staged – but I don’t think she had thought that far.

I encouraged her, if she could, to one day go and see an Ebo Whyte play, and stay behind to talk to him afterwards, because he’s amazingly friendly and responsive.

It was nearing the end of our short and fast-paced exchange that she began to (unintentionally) break my heart. She had been so enthusiastically caught up in declaring her literary ambitions to me, when suddenly, she paused and said almost penitently that she was intending, however, on studying law after high school, and that the writing thing was just “on the side”. Do you, or do you not understand why that made me want to cry?

  1. Why, oh God, why did she sound so freaking apologetic all of a sudden, as if her literary ambitions were not enough, and had to be compensated for, as if having these dreams as main goals was sinful, but acceptable as side-things? Who taught her to be sorry for liking what she liked? It’s a mere guess on my part, but I highly suspect she was told the same things, very early on, that I was. This is Africa, where that’s not a proper career, you won’t earn money, et cetera.
  2. Was she lying? What if she was lying? What if she wasn’t even lying to me, but was lying to herself about what she really wanted? I suspect my own bias comes into play here, because I want so badly for her to want what I want. And I saw some fire in her. Some light, when she talked about literary ambitions nearly as fervently as…me. Pardon me if I’m wrong (and I probably am), but people don’t have ambitions as large as hers for what they regard as “side things”. “Side things” don’t require that much passion, do they?

Sigh. I wanted to go deeper into the conversation, into questions like, “Who indoctrinated you?” But she was already getting ready to leave. There was not enough space, time, depth to get her to unlearn her miseducation. Anyway, we exchanged emails, and I’m going to hit her up as soon as her WASSCE is over. (By the way, I’d just like to say that I love that she’s writing right in the middle of her freaking final exams. That’s exactly the kind of dumb stuff that I do, when everyone else is seriously stroffing!)

Whether her dreams are professional-sized or side-thing-sized, Vanessa needs support. Vanessa needs lexivism. And I want her to get at least some of it from me.

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler

According to my research, this is Sarah Ockler’s latest book, and not necessarily her most popular. And even though I’d never heard of her before I randomly downloaded this (simply because I liked the cover and the title after seeing it on someone’s book blog), I am going to be extremely unfounded and biased, and say it should be her most popular. Before I even finished this book, there were reasons which, when put together, meant that I couldn’t possibly have disliked it.

the-summer-of-chasing-mermaids-9781481401272_hr

  1. It’s a fairytale remix! Yep, The Little mermaid. There was even a Sebastian and an Ursula in it. But do you know me and fairytales? Do you know me and fairytale remixes? Wo boa kraa. Once Upon A Time, most books by Alex Flinn, Cinder by Marissa Meyer…If there are fairytales involved, you’ve trapped me already.
  2. It’s YA fiction! Now, I had a lot of heavy, deeply profound fiction at my disposal, but I needed a book to read at a time when I was far too stressed out to decipher language involving racial, classist, political, societal issues, designed for readers 25 and above. That’s not what my brain wants when it needs rest. The fantastic thing about YA fiction is that it manages to be entertaining without being daft, and because of its target audience, you can tell that they’re not trying to fall into criteria that makes them eligible for a Pulitzer or a Caine prize or whatever.
  3. There was mythology involved! Do you know me and mythology? LOL, everything by Rick Riordan, Disney’s Hercules, et cetera. The deity involved here was the Syrian goddess (of whom I didn’t know before reading this), Atargatis, the goddess of fertility who is usually portrayed with a fish tail. The book compromised a bit on the identity of Atargatis that I read about from outside sources, but that’s fine with me. Fiction doesn’t have to be a history book. You can tweak the truth as much as you can tweak the myth.

Here’s the basic background of the story: A Tobagonian girl called Elyse d’Abreau had a near-fatal birth (the irony. Anyway, it was fatal actually – her mother died.) in the sea, and years later, a tragic accident involving a near-drowning experience which stole her voice. There was a surgery afterwards and her voice suffered permanent damage, making her mute. (As mute as Ariel when Ursula stole her voice. Except, in this book Ursula isn’t the bad-guy.) It was particularly devastating because she and her twin sister, Natalie, were planning their futures as world-famous singers.

Unable to deal with the emotional pain, she left Trinidad and Tobago to live with her aunt Ursula and her cousin Kirby. There, she meets Christian Kane, Stanford student, perfect guy, player of the century. The classic YA boy a YA-loving teenage girl will fall in love with. (Stop giving me side-eyes. Yes, I’m guilty.) And a bunch of stuff happens. It’s really fun.

I love how relaxed the book was. Even the most urgent scenes were quietly tense, not like action-movie-ish. Quietly tense? LOL, that must be why: the main character can’t be anything but quiet.  Haha. Bad joke? Okay. Sorry.

Sarah Ockler’s writing greatly impressed me. It was in no way dumbed-down or daft. In fact, words and expressions were very deliberately chosen. Throughout the whole book, there was all this beach and sea imagery. It was all so glaringly obvious; yet I feel that some readers may miss 50% of the wordplay. Heck, I might even have missed way more than I realized. But I thought it was fantastic that she had a punny, metaphorical theme going through the ENTIRE book. That’s actually really hard work.

Of course, if you’re interested, there was all that exciting, hot romance stuff that’s characteristic of a lot of YA fiction.

Some gender stuff was brought up, which I felt was noteworthy. The main character signed up to be the first mate to Christian Kane in a regatta, and the misogyny in certain characters was really brought out. A girl can’t be a sailor? A girl can’t be a “pirate”? Also, Christian’s little brother, Sebastian, is shunned for doing supposedly effeminate things like liking mermaids and wanting to dress as one (complete with the seashell bra) in a mermaid parade. It was all interesting, thought-provoking stuff, that was just deep enough to get a teenager thinking.

A note to prospective readers: there are a lot of questions you may ask, which will remain unanswered by the time the book ends. You may be dissatisfied like I was at first. But later on, after a period of reflection, I’ve decided I’m cool with the unanswered questions, because of how the omission certain details of the past shines a brighter spotlight on the events of the fictional present.

A few (a lot of) favourite quotes:

  • I’d seen bodies defy words, how a person’s eyes and hands revealed truths their mouths were trying so desperately to deny.

  • Crying never brought anything back from the dead. It only felt like the ocean trying to drown you from the inside out.

  • That’s what happens when you see yourself through someone else’s mirror, Elyse. You build your dreams for them, ignoring your own heart. One day you wake up and wonder how the fire went out.

  • Treacherous as the sea, yet fragile as a bubble.

  • …I realised just how many people would rather leave without their due than try to make conversation with a mute.

  • …she’d spent so much time cultivating an image, the real her was pushed down, locked away deep inside.

  • Voice and speech aren’t the same thing. You’ve lost your ability to speak, to sing. But the only thing that can take your voice away – your true voice – is you.

  • Anger was easier to hold, to focus on, than grief. Anger was sharp-edged and clear. Grief was messy, blurry. But in the end both left you hollowed out inside.

  • Sorry for all the little ways that the people who were supposed to love us most could hurt us so deeply, despite their shared heritage and blood, as though their knowledge of our pasts gave them unlimited access to all the most tender places, the old wounds that could be so easily reopened with no more than a glance, a comment, a passing reminder of all the ways in which we’d failed to live up to their expectations.

  • Sometimes love was a tonic. Sometimes it was a weapon. And so often it was nearly impossible to tell the difference.

  • Putting a thing to words gave it power; it pulled the maybe from the mist and gave it form, solid and black.

  • The sign of a deep connection wasn’t necessarily outward affection, but silence. The ability to sit still with another, wholly aware of him, neither needing nor desiring anything but his presence, the shape of him, his breath in the air between you.

And finally, a poem by the narrator:

“For all the strength of men,

And the divine power of their gods

But for a spell in a pale blue dream

Not even the wisest among them

Can harness the silver moon

Nor cease with thoughts or words

The beating of their own fragile hearts.”

 

In summary: This book was beautiful! Read it!

-Akotowaa

Update: I don’t know how I missed this thing that I had meant to add but somehow forgot: the aspect of diversity. The author is white, yes, but the fact that the narrator is Tobagonian and speaks of home a lot makes a reader at least a little curious about what life and culture is in Trinidad and Tobago, and so I think that’s a fun way of fuelling diversity and curiousity of other people’s cultures. For example, I’d like to find out more about all those festivals, and what soca music is, et cetera.