Kuukua and the Magical Markers

(Update: individual OTC stories are no longer available, but you can download them all in a single PDF collection on my OTC site.)

Kuukua and the Magical Markers back

The first thing I do when I enter a room is try to figure out what the best way to get onto the ceiling is. It’s an automatic, reflexive thing; I walk into a room, I look up. Most people look around, but I’ve always felt that if anything potentially dangerous or interesting were dwelling in a room, it would most likely be on the ceiling, wouldn’t it? But hardly anyone ever looks up.

I stood precariously on a chair that had two wooden tables underneath it, stacked on top of each other, just so I could reach the ceiling of this classroom. My makeshift ladder was dangerously wobbly, and I was lowkey scared for my life, but Kess was below me on the ground, holding a steadying hand to one of the bottom tables’ legs, and ready to catch me if I fell. Yaw was standing guard in front of the open classroom door, ready to whisper a warning if he saw anyone who might catch and report us to authorities approaching.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this,” Kess said.

“Don’t you know by now that Kuukua’s a badass that does everything she thinks up, the moment she thinks of it?” Yaw said from the door.

I took the piece of clear tape from between my teeth and stuck it on the ceiling to hold the thread in place, so that my mouth was free to form words.

“Yes, what Yaw said,” I concurred. “Kess, hand me another strip of Sellotape.”

“Kuuks, I really don’t think this is going to work,” Kess continued to object.

“Of course it’s going to work,” I replied, as I tied the string of thread into another knot. “When is the last time a plan of mine failed? In any case, that’s why I have you and your big head, so you can poke all the holes in my plans for me to see them and fix them, isn’t it?”

“Hmm,” Kess grunted, though it was clear he was somewhat placated by the praise. The second you said something good about Kess, it went straight to his head and made him bend back into your will when it looked like he was straying. Yaw was always telling me that what I did to Kess was wicked manipulation, but the way I saw it, it was just a resourceful application of someone else’s character traits to accomplish whatever needed to be accomplished – and if buffering Kess’ fragile ego got me what I wanted, I would continue to do it.

Besides, Kess didn’t really have any friends; Yaw and I were the only ones in the class who were nice to him, so he stuck around us a lot, helped us with our plans even though he didn’t agree with them, and kept our secrets. At least I treated him better than the rest of the class had been doing since he came to the school in Class 4.

His real name was Keshawn, but when he had arrived as a new student, everyone had thought his whole body to be too skinny and his head to be too large, so they called him, cruelly, “Ti Kɛseɛ” – “Big Head,” which had eventually been shortened to “Kess.” It had stuck. (If you asked him, though, he would always lie that Kess was only short for Keshawn, which, I admit, was a conveniently clever alibi.) Additionally, Kess had never been the brightest child in the room, and our Class 4 math teacher had used this joke often: “Ti Kɛseɛ nanso wonni nyansa” – “Big head, but you still don’t possess wisdom.” Most people had laughed and gone along with it. But, as skewed as Yaw was constantly telling me my moral compass was, I had refused to laugh along with them.

“I’m ready to get down,” I said to Kess. “Then we can start with the floor.”

“Can you jump?” he asked.

“Yep.” My voice sounded confident, but I prayed a quick, silent prayer before I launched myself off the chair and nimbly landed on all four limbs.

“Oh, Jesus!” I heard Kess yell, and then he dashed to catch the toppling wooden chair before it fell on me and crushed my skull. As he caught the chair by a seat’s edge, I swiftly scuttled out of the way, and once I caught my breath and recovered from the shock, I exhaled, “See, that wasn’t so bad.”

“Sis, you almost died.”

“But the point is that I didn’t die. And look, this wouldn’t even be a problem if the school would just pay for quality furniture. One hour sitting on those wooden contraptions in class, and my botoss feels like it’s ready to drop off my body. Mtchew.”

Yaw cleared his throat from the doorpost. “Can we cut the banter and hurry up, please? It’s getting to seven-thirty. People will start coming upstairs soon.”

“Chill,” I said, dusting myself off and getting up. “I’m almost done. Kess, put the chairs and table away, and make sure you don’t trip on the floor threads.”

As Yaw watched me put the finishing touches on the setup, he remarked, “Chale, you really know how to hold a grudge, oo.”

“Oh, me dier, I must get my revenge. How can you come and mark me down for such nonsense? Anka if it were something sensible that I was losing marks for, okay – but as for this one, I won’t take it. And since Mr Gaisie refuses to see sense, today, he will taste pepper.”

“I swear, I am terrified of what will happen to me the day I get on your bad side.”

For the rest of the story, download the file. It’s linked at the top of this post. Thanks!



My Newest Fiction Will Be On The Ceiling


For those who don’t know, I recently decided to become a spider. (For more information, read my About page.) And accompanying my recent metamorphosis is the launching of a new fictional character, Kuukua, who gets her own fiction series, On the Ceiling. And now I have a “pilot episode,” a story called Kuukua and the Magical Markers. I will graciously release it on Monday, 29th May, at 7pm GMT. It will be available for download as a very cute, smartphone-friendly PDF. (I apologize for how smartphone-unfriendly my previous PDFs have been, by the way.)

I would sincerely like to thank Xane Asiamah (follow him on Twitter and Instagram) for first of all, reaching out to me via a comment on this very blog, and secondly, for his amazing creation of the cover illustration.

BTW, how many of you are a bit tired of Kwaku Ananse? *raises own hand*


Americanah Has Levels of Relatability

I did say, in Reflections After My First Semester, that I would re-read this book. And I’ve ky33, but I finally have.

Americanah is probably one of the heaviest, most condensed books I have ever read. And I am not, in my opinion, hero-worshipping Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, though I certainly have a stupendous amount of admiration for her. I am simply stating my opinion, based on my second, more enlightened reading of the novel.


I first read Americanah near when it came out in 2013, borrowed from a friend’s parent. I was in my second year of high school at the time and had still never lived anywhere outside Ghana. I had visited England, the US, and Canada, but hardly stayed more than two weeks. I liked Chimamanda because I had already read Half of a Yellow Sun, and thought it was interesting, though I don’t think I have a natural affinity for books with events surrounding war. After my first read of Americanah, I was amused and entertained by all the complicated relationships the book held. The thing was, though, it was still all just fiction to me, and after reading it, I didn’t particularly know what to do with it.

Fast forward to the end of college freshman year, when I restart Americanah, get only a little way through, then watch all existing episodes of the Netflix series, Dear White People, after which I return to Americanah and complete it. Interesting (and probably irrelevant) observations: I went through the series much quicker than I intended to; the binge disease caught me – and I took a much longer time than I expected to complete the novel; it is way longer than I remembered.

These two things have at least one theme in common: the experience of being black in American college. I thought Dear White People was an excellent show, which, despite its apparent brevity, managed to condense a lot of key elements into ten episodes. I haven’t watched the movie yet, though I intend to soon. I enjoyed it immensely. There’s just one glaring flaw: Rashid, the Kenyan, the show’s token African. I first began watching DWP with a group of African girls, and legit, aside from that one time Rashid clapped back when some American insulted his English, we were all rather unimpressed by him. HashtagGetAfricansToWriteOnscreenAfricansAndStopYourNonsensePlease. Don’t get me started on his West-African-East-African-Generic-Hollywood-African hybrid of an accent. Anyway, I’m being tangential. Oya, back to the matter (open and close, touch your toes…).

So, that one thing they failed, Chimamanda nailed. I kept thinking how crazy lit the series would have been if Rashid had been replaced with Americanah’s Mwombeki, who, though a minor character, gave every newcomer African student his classic intro speech.

Voici, an excerpt:

“Very soon, you will start to adopt an American accent, because you don’t want customer service people on the phone to keep asking you, ‘What? What?’ You will start to admire Africans who have perfect American accents, like our brother here, Kofi. Kofi’s parents came from Ghana when he was two years old, but do not be fooled by the way he sounds. If you go to their house, they eat kenkey every day. His father slapped him when he got a C in class. There’s no American nonsense in that house. He goes back to Ghana every year. We call people like Kofi American-African, not African-American, which is what we call our brothers and sisters whose ancestors were slaves.” -Mwombeki

Anyway, the question of who the story is for is important: Dear White People, though we (Africans) are able to relate a lot to the content of the series, was not intended for us. Americanah, on the other hand, I believe, was. I am also not postulating the idea that it is every African-in-America’s experience. It’s a fictional story, mostly based on one-and-a-half main characters from Nigeria. (And I’m proud of it for that; attempting to be general and all-encompassing can make a story rather useless.) I have no doubt that a man from Nigeria’s experience would be different, a Tanzanian’s different etc.

So, with all this context – the combination of my experience and the media I had consumed – Americanah took on a whole new level of relatability for me. It’s the second level.

The first level was just the classic West African upbringing: seeing fiercely religious adults who will blindly but willfully attribute society’s kuluulu to God’s blessings, the adults that are too ashamed of their (lack of) education to use anything “inferior” to unnecessarily long words, the secondary school romance, the squad boys of the class etc. etc.

Then I reached the second level: the transition from West Africa to America. The liberal nature of college classes. The race politics, inside the classroom and out. the burden of being frugal when everyone around you seems to be splashing money around. The stress of searching for a job. The onset of depression in college etc. etc.

There was a lot of stuff that was more generally relatable – by which I mean not restricted to the college experience – like Ifemelu’s encounter with the too-known white woman in the hair salon.

But then, after level two, for the most part, a lot of the story starts calmly feeling like a fiction novel again, to me; a relevant fiction novel, but still just a novel. There is a knowledge you can only acquire with experience.

For example, if I were to start and end a relationship with a half-woke, half-baffling, doting, rich white boy and I read the book again, I’d have unlocked another level. If I were to start and end a relationship with a high-principled, academic, African-American man and I read the book again, yet another level unlocked. If I were to witness any of my African-but-raised-in-American cousins go through severe, mental-health-affecting identity crises, another level, and so on.

This is why I intend to keep rereading Americanah as my college career and life progress, to see what potential levels I can unlock. It’s a ridiculously heavy book, I swear.


Life Goals and Growing Old

Here we go, the obligatory birthday post. Time to unleash my time anxieties on the world in a timely manner and such.

I’m only 19 years old, which I think is way too young to already be dreading birthdays but…oops, look where we are. Yes, birthdays already give me anxiety. They have since my fifteenth. And it’s because the pressure I put on myself to be some sort of youth prodigy is kind of wild.

Sometimes, I think the worst thing I could have done to myself is put my aspirations and life goals on a time schedule. You know what I’m talking about. “By the time I’m [insert age here] I should have done [insert achievement here]” and so on. Those motivational speakers and stuff hired to come and talk to (pre)teen hopeful entrepreneurs stay telling us to make a 10-year plan and blah blah blah. So me and my foolish head, I actually did. (At least a vague one.) And it’s the perpetual tormenter of my life, because I feel like I fail every time-bound life goal I set for myself. Heck, even the ones that are set for me. I stay submitting college assignments two weeks late, but don’t tell my parents. In any case, if I eventually get kicked out, they’ll find out themselves. the point is, deadlines and I are not friends.

The future is one of my biggest fears. And imagine, it’s constantly approaching. And it’s easier to ignore it sometimes than other times. it’s hardest on milestones like anniversaries or birthdays. Because suddenly, your answers to lots of questions have to change. Like, “How old are you?” or “How long has it been since you graduated?” And if you’re an anxious little worrier like me, a lot of such questions are translated in your mind as, “So all this time has passed, and what have you done with your life?” This, my friends, is not the healthiest thing in the world.

At the same time, it makes me have to acknowledge my laziness, pay attention to all the time I spend doing literally nothing. You have no idea how much I wish I worked harder, did more, or at the very least, did the things I said I was going to do.

I wish a lot of things. Like I wish I didn’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself at every milestone. I wish I’d managed to remain mentally healthy since I declared I’d run in the opposite direction from depression on my birthday last year (I’ve discovered that it isn’t a thing that cares much about your running.) I wish my mind wasn’t prone to comparison, especially not to other youth prodigies. I wish people didn’t already consider me a youth prodigy sometimes, because pressure really dey on, LOL.

I am, however, grateful for life. And I’m not a fan of declaring resolutions, but what I hope for myself is to henceforth be less uptight, not as constantly worried as I am while I frequently check my physical and metaphorical watch, to be relaxed enough to stop and smell the roses (and the abɛnkwan, because I really love the scent of abɛnkwan), and the confidence to keep moving forward because I am on the right track. I’m not here to talk plenty, just to offload this stuff that’s been bugging me, and make myself re-read “Your Journey Is No One Else’s. Face Forward.” And with that said, happy nineteenth to me.


P.S. Welcome to my next crazy phase, since there seems to be a new one every birthday: Akotz the Spider Kid.

P.P.S. The whole “Life Goals and Growing Old” distin might turn into my next spoken word project, judging from the stuff I’ve been writing since last year. Don’t take my word for it. Just know that I’m spinning. 😉 In the meantime, keep listening to Solitaire!

So I Have A Problem With Nice People…

I know the title sounds strange, but hopefully, the content makes sense.

Honestly, I write things that I’m afraid of so often, but it always shocks me when I receive the feedback of people who can relate but not articulate. I never know when it will happen, but I post my distins, try to be as genuine as possible, and allow what happens to happen.

So I have a problem with nice people. Several problems, actually. And it makes all the sense in the world to me, how repulsive nice people can be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a sin to be nice or generous or have genuine concern for human beings other than yourself. But you have to admit that there is a point at which a perpetual smile starts to make people wonder how your facial muscles aren’t screaming at you to let them rest for at least five minutes.

There are several people I have gotten tired of lately, because they are just too nice. In my previous blog post, I called some people “too nice and too happy to be real” and I meant exactly what I said. They ask all the nice, polite questions, and give all the nice, polite answers, and you wonder if they are really that simple – if they have a limited range of all the natural human emotions or maybe just an imbalance in favor of the cheerful spectrum – or they are merely pre-programmed robots in humanoid costumes.

When college first started, I was kind of okay with it. It was natural to be nervous around all these new people; it would take a while for folks to ease into being themselves, I assumed. But as I eased back into my comfortably private-to-the-point-of-seeming-rude and moderately savage (at least in my opinion; others seem to think I’m a ruthless beast) self, I realized that a lot of the nice people were still too damn nice. Wozzop?

The thing about being so nice is that I can’t freaking talk to you. It’s not just that I’m not used to it; it’s that I don’t even want to get used to it. And it’s not that I admire deliberately or even unconsciously rude people either; it’s just that I need an actual personality to show before I start feeling comfortable around you. I hate small talk, and I think it is an unnecessary waste of time and energy. However, if you are going to tell me of an interesting, funny or shocking personal experience and I have time and care, I won’t object. But I get exhausted of being asked how my day was, and even in my less depressive moods, “How have you been?” has the power to agitate me. For people who actually know me and are trying to genuinely keep up, the question of what my summer plans are is not burdensome. For everyone else, it feels like you are reaching into a pit that would be perfectly fine if left alone to find something to talk about to someone whom you can’t see might not even want to talk at all.

I am not a nice person. I do not say this as an insult to myself, and the acknowledgement of this fact is separate from the acknowledgement of my obvious flaws which I have to work on. My not-niceness is me being comfortable and relaxed in myself. I throw the question “how are you/how’ve you been?” around extra-sparsely. I don’t ask it of everyone I meet; I only ask when I like you and have time to listen to the answer. Sometimes, I slip and fall into the sinking sand of the pretentious politeness of obligation – but then I feel like crap afterwards because as soon as it slips from my mouth, I know I don’t really care. It’s not really something to feel guilty about; people have friends closer to them who will care more, and I care more about my friends than other people will etc. But forcing social intimacy where it doesn’t exist really no dey hia. This thing that I do where I hold off from asking generic questions is not what I consider rudeness; I consider it treating others how I want to be treated, and isn’t that the golden rule?

I realize that some people might have differing opinions on all of this, which is fine. I still feel that a lot of us are too locked in the expectations and obligations of culture, but I would love it if people prioritized being real over being nice. Ironically, maybe, I think it would make the world a better place. So I start with myself. Once again: this does not encourage people turning into vile human beings because Akotowaa said nice people are whatever. All I am trying to do is push forward the idea of relaxing into being yourself, not to try to act like you have to be extra-super-smiley-nice to everyone as if, if you don’t do it, you’re going to hell or something.

Speaking of which, the Christians are a problem. [Disclaimer: this is not to state that a belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and personal Savior automatically makes one a problematic human being in Akotowaa’s eyes. Akotowaa herself is a Christian, so…] I have realized that the whole niceness thing is an aspect of the Christian college community, at least where I am, that acts as a repulsive force on me, which seems rather counter-intuitive. Isn’t niceness supposed to attract? In this matter, at least, I know I am not alone in my discomfort amidst all the niceness. I know of others (believers included) who have been driven away – and it’s such a weird problem that it’s nearly impossible to know how to approach it.

I met a senior in the Christian fellowship (whom I suspect will read this eventually – if she does, congratulations once more on your graduation!) who, in a conversation with me, called my year-mates in the fellowship nice, and she said it almost with a grimace, like it was an uncomfortable quality to have. LOL, I tell you, I felt like I’d never related more with anyone in college until that point. She also gave me hope, though, by being a senior who was both real enough to talk to, and still Christian and part of the community. Talking to her gave me hope because she was evidence that it can be done at all.

A week after this conversation, I really felt like I’d had it with all the niceness. It was a Friday night and the worship team was rehearsing, and I was sitting outside in a pretty bad mood for some reason I now cannot remember. Beside me was a woman who was interning with the fellowship’s parent organization, slightly older, who had graduated university elsewhere already. I think she asked me what was up or something, and I must have given vague reply like, “I’m not in the best of moods today.” And she said something like, “Tell me more about you not being in the best of moods today” or some other request that began with “tell me more” and I legit got so mad I surprised even myself by my internal reaction. In hindsight, it seems very silly that a mere phrase could send me off. But I know it was a cumulative reaction.

“Why do you do that?” I asked, frustrated. “Why can’t you just ask me “why” and be straightforward?” I was irritated because “tell me more” sounded like a rehearsed phrase, like something an interviewer would say to a potential employee or client, maybe even a psychotherapist to a patient, but in my mind, that was not how ordinary conversation worked. I felt like I could sense it in the nature of her response, too, how measured and carefully the sentence had been processed before it came out. It was not a heartbeat reaction, and that annoyed me.

She told me “why” sounded confrontational, and I think she had taken, like, a leadership or team building seminar or training session that had involved teaching people to phrase questions this way instead. Or something. (Lots of “or”s, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to say something with certianty and be wrong.) I was having none of it. I had been exhausted of all of everyone’s freaking carefulness since college started. Atmospheres tended to feel overly fragile in certain rooms with certain people in certain contexts – as if a wrong word from anyone would shatter something invisible but precious. The whole “tell me more” thing was just one more drop in the cup of j’ai en marre. I wanted to talk to people in ways that didn’t make everything feel like fine china.

Now it appears to me that several people who self-identify as introverts do not seem to agree on what exactly an introvert is. I don’t know who it was that gave me the statistics at the beginning of the academic year, but someone told me something like “about 70% of the Christian fellowship members are introverts.” I’m like, oh, okay, cool, maybe I can be comfortable here. But when, after the actual fellowships, nearly everyone hung around snacking and chatting about nothing in particular for about an hour, I started getting confused. I can barely last ten minutes before I start getting overwhelming urges to run away and be alone. And the culture is such that I hardly ever feel safe to just get up and go – not without having to explain myself or being asked to do so, or coming up with an excuse to leave; a better one than “I don’t like people,” which I have said often enough anyway. I’m just not sure if people actually believe me. Maybe I’m just introverted and antisocial, although I don’t think this is true.

A general culture of niceness tends to start feeling claustrophobic because it doesn’t give people enough space. I want to be able to miss an event or not sign up for an activity, for instance, without a bunch of people blowing up my texts or Facebook messages with niceness or even at all. Of course, it doesn’t feel like “blowing up” to those on the sending end. But if, for example, ten people each independently send one text, at the end of the day, you’ve still received ten text messages, and that can feel overwhelming. I mean, it’s nice to know that people care. But I don’t have a lot of friends, so chances are, if you care (or feel obliged to care), but I’m not close to you, opening up or even responding sometimes feels like a burden I don’t want to have to deal with. I don’t even know how much of this makes sense. All I know is that somewhere along the semester, I turned off all my phone notifications, except those that require my Ghanaian phone number, which most people who didn’t know me in Ghana do not have. And that was pretty liberating. I think I’ll turn them back on again soon, now that school is over.

Anyway, I would like to conclude by mentioning that I have actually heard testimonies from people of how the niceness of the very same communities that I have tension with has created loving and welcoming new social and spiritual environments for them to dwell in. I acknowledge that my sentiments, although valid, are personal, and that different things work for different people.

Now, after publishing this, the part that I am not looking forward to: people wondering, after reading, if they are part of the “nice” population that I’m so apparently agitated about. Sigh. It’s like whenever I post on my blog or on Facebook, at least one person will come and apologize for something they didn’t do. Chill, please. Please chill.


The Initial Illusion of Being in the Pictures

It is a lot easier to feel a sense of belonging in the pictures when one barely knows anyone they are taking the pictures with.

So it happens, you allow yourself to be carried along with the wave of excitement – an uncertain amount of which is genuine – and you wordlessly acquiesce to the suggestions to stand, to pose, with this assigned group, then that one, then another. Straight face. Silly face. Cover-of-a-magazine face. You are not yet sure if you belong, but you are not yet strongly feeling the sense that you don’t. You stand there as the shutters go off and the phone screen buttons are clicked. You are tagged in Facebook photos. You don’t look bad in them.

You answer several of the same questions for a few days, then a few weeks, then a few months. Nearly all of them are shallow, but people seem so politely entertained by the answers, and they press onward with the obviously pointless and boring conversation more often than you wish. When, you wonder, will people finally get past asking you of your nationality and your accent? But it is okay, you conclude. It is early, and most relationships haven’t fully formed yet, you tell yourself. When it happens, it will happen – and it will happen soon. You take more pictures and don’t think too much about them.

Relationships have formed now. Just not with you. You are partly too private, but also partly uninterested. The people you took pictures with have weekly dinners. They get along with each other more than you do with them, or so it appears. If that is not the case, then they must be superb actors. But then, who wastes all that acting power on hours of conversation past midnight that you can hear outside your door when you are trying to sleep? Or going to amusement parks and restaurants and festivals together? You always know where they’ve been because they always take pictures. This cannot be acting.

You attend the weekly dinners, but are always disengaged. The same superficial questions are asked to you, and they are always asking out of politeness – but politeness stopped making sense to you long ago; you are looking for meaning. However, you already know that meaningful conversations cannot easily be had between yourself and these people. Despite all the pictures, something between you has not clicked, and it probably never will. It isn’t sad. It’s an easily acceptable fact.


There is a boy that everybody loves. He is Asian. He is sweet. You started to love him too because he smiled so innocently and happily at you, and that smile captured your heart. His friends, at some point, start to consider you his friend, for reasons you are unsure of. You notice a few things that are strange about his friends, though:

  1. They are all Asian.
  2. They are too nice and too happy (at least, this is how you see them) to be real.
  3. They all seem to orbit around him like they are planetary satellites and he is a humble sun. He certainly smiles like the sun.

At the end of the year, before Christmas, you take group pictures, like a family. Your smile in those photos is fake. You are bored and uncomfortable, and you know, though you refuse to bring this to the forefront of your mind, that you don’t belong in these pictures. They release the photos on Facebook the night they were taken. A few days later, a friend – an African, a person who looks like you – tells you that those photos were awkward, it looks as if someone cut and pasted you there. You don’t need to look at the photo again to know you agree. And it is not just because you are the only brown spot in the Asian ocean; it is also because of the social dynamics that are not represented by the camera, but which the camera has come to know anyway.

After those photos, you resolve not to be in any more of their pictures, any group chats, or attend any more events. No one really knows you, and there is none among them that you deeply like or know anyway. Let the planets revolve around their sun. You are going off to be your own sun in your solitary system. You begin to take more selfies.


Invisibility comes upon you suddenly, like when you are in a friend’s room. She is a friend because she smiles at you in the bathrooms and the hallways, and you were one of the first people to whom she introduced herself in this new, unfamiliar place. Does that not count for something? You are in her room maybe because you are lonely and idle, but you can’t quite recall how you got there. Did your legs carry you or did she invite you in? Did she feel obligated to?

Invisibility comes upon you suddenly as your friends’ friends – all of whom are very close to your friend’s ethnicity – show up and they start talking about what they did last night and what they’ll do tomorrow. But then it occurs to them: why even wait? They start discussing options for tonight. No one looks at you. No one speaks to you. No one throws you an invite, not just because you will certainly decline, but because you are not even in the room. When you say an abrupt goodbye, your “friend” says goodbye back, without a hint of shame or consciousness of what is happening.

You remember all the pictures you are in together. You were never there to her. Which is fine, because she is still partly two-dimensional in your own mind, frozen in the frame of an Android phone screen.


You have realized by now that people easily fall into cliques of ethnicity. You know, yourself, that you are most comfortable around Africans or other Ghanaians. But you are aware also that when you and others of your kind are gathered, and you suddenly become the most animated you ever are in conversation, there is usually someone outside the ethniclique who is in the pictures by virtue of their presence, but is a ghost to the photographer by virtue of their social exclusion. You never know how to handle these situations because:

  1. That is how you feel every day. You have begun to think of it as unfortunately normal.
  2. You hate exclusion, especially of this kind, and want to make a world where it is not experienced by people who can’t help it.
  3. You are never, ever prepared to be less of yourself for anybody’s sake, particularly because there are very few opportunities to be as much of yourself as you are in these moments.

Someone once told you that you seem to come more alive, sometimes even glow, whenever you are around other Africans. You do not need to see the pictures of yourself with them to know that this is true. In any case, you are always far too engaged in being natural to take pictures. There are no photos. The only photos you belong in, ironically, do not exist.


You are wise enough to know exactly which photos you do not belong in lately. You are satisfied and liberated by this knowledge. You have begun to learn how to decline offers to take pictures and not be racked with guilt as you do so. There is no need to create near-permanent memories of things that are not worth remembering; of things that exist solely for the purpose of the camera. I am proud of you, though. You used to wish, in the past, that you could have been bolder. Removing yourself from pictures you do not want to be in is one of the boldest things you could possibly do.



She Still Wants To Live

I sat in the psychiatrist’s office for maybe the fourth or fifth time, as mad at myself as I ever was for letting myself get this deep into the darkness all over again. This was a weekly appointment, and I had been coning for a month or longer – and so it had been six or seven weeks since my last major breakdown. Although I was acting better, and had accomplished a few more of the things expected of me since our first meeting and since our last, I did not feel better, especially not on this day. This day was one of the worst I’d had the entire semester.

I had been in better moods the last couple of meetings, which gave the illusion of improvement, but on this day, the world was bleak grayscale to me. Perhaps a day or two before, I had been writing half-finished, half-poems, half-letters to Jesus, asking when the [heaven] he was planning to come back, and could he please hurry up and show up now, just for me, because I was tired of the present, tired of repeating the past, and tired of all the tomorrows I hadn’t even seen yet. It was especially hard, that day, as I sat in the small, intimate office that promised me confidentiality, for me to see a point to doing anything at all.

In the moment, more than usual, I felt the weight of responsibilities I believed were too big for me. It was a wonder I had even made it to the meeting. I hadn’t wanted to this week, and had been contemplating, a few minutes before, just returning to my room after class and sleeping my life away again, but my abhorrence of being rude just happened, this one time, to win over my absence of desire.

Let me tell you something you might not know: if you have a moral conscience, tweets do have the power to keep you captive. Not just because the tweets exist, but because of how much you committed into composing and posting them sincerely. I realized it when my therapist asked me why I was still alive even though I didn’t think I wanted to be anymore. I told her the truth: I kept myself going because I had asked all my friends to keep themselves going, and now I was bound by the same law. At that time, I hadn’t realized how difficult this commitment would soon become.

The conversation soon shifted, as my therapist tried to figure out what was identifiably wrong with me and my life, at least today. As I listed my tangible, practical problems to the her uninterrupted – most of which had solutions that involved me somehow taking action – my despair grew, and before I knew it, my throat was choked and my eyes were cloudy. Until this point, I had not cried in a single therapy session.

She asked me, with regards to my problems, like any pragmatic adult with a functional mind would, “What do you want to do?”

That question sounded like the most idiotic thing in the world to me. Hadn’t she been listening to my rants for the past half-hour? Had she heard anything I’d said? I barely had any desire to wake up in the morning, and she was asking me what I wanted to do about my problems? It should have been clear, from my rants, that I knew what I had to do, but as for what I wanted? How about wanting a fairy godmother to wave her wand and then have my problems spontaneously vanish?

Exasperated and damn near cracking, I wailed, “I don’t want to do anything!”

She looked directly at me from the armchair that was opposite me and said, almost without skipping a beat, “You still want to write.”

It seems silly, but for a moment, I was far too shocked to speak. Ah? I still wanted to write? Why…yes. Hmm, interesting. I still wanted to write. Slightly amusing. When she said it, something that was constricting my chest freed up just a tiny bit, and although by that time, I think tears were already flowing down my face, I did crack a smile’ I couldn’t hold it back.

Despite my brief, positive reaction, I hadn’t realized the sentence’s full power then. The smile had faded quickly enough, and right after my therapy session, I dissolved into a miserable puddle of private tears lying on the ground on the second floor of the library. I was in the part of the library that was the most vibrantly decorated, and there was still no joy to be found in anything in that moment. The only person I wanted to talk to (my best friend) did not have access to the internet and/or was asleep. The only person I did talk to (my mother), I ended up unfairly yelling at, and feeling even more like crap for it afterwards.

However, several hours after therapy, and way into the next day, I could barely stop thinking about that moment.

“I don’t want to do anything!”

“You still want to write.”

Because it meant something profound; it confirmed something that, at the time, I was not sure about: that I still wanted to live. I knew, surely, that there was no other sentence that psychiatrist could have said that would have been as effective as that one in that moment.

It felt like God’s answer for all the times I asked Him why I was still here, what at all there was for me to do, why I hadn’t been terminated yet. Because “You still want to write.” And if, even in the midst of the bleakest, most discouraged state I had ever existed in, I could still locate that singular desire, that alone was a miracle.