This is what people say of memories: they slip away with time. They disintegrate. Like sand castles molded on river banks, they get lost with the sea at nights.

This is not so with the memories that you possess. You forget things, granted, things normal people should not forget. You like to think your mind is cruel, you like to think you are not mentally ailing. Your mind forgets easily, even when it remembers things, they are in pieces. Distorted images that shy themselves away from the light.

But there are certain memories that have refused to leave. Even when you fight to forget them, to make them remain, you know, memories, they refuse to go. Instead, they pitch a tent somewhere at the base of your brain, lie dormant and pretty till the day they decide to manifest. The day they finally say in unison to themselves, “come, it is time. Let us haunt him; let us make him remember that we’re here, always. That we’re not going no-where.” Memories like your beloved Aunty Akwanya’s death.


How are you? She asks, your sister.

Have you eaten?

How are you, really? I heard people are killing themselves in your school?
You snicker.
Please, stay safe. Do not kill yourself. It’s not worth it, dying. I love you, she says. The phone beeps.
Does she know? Are you marked? How did she know?

This afternoon, you tied your roommate’s jointed bathing sponge round your neck, tightened the knot, suspended it to the curtain rail. A rehearsal. You laughed. What does dying look like? Freedom? An unending abyss? Hell? Will God open the gates when He sees you’re the one asking to enter? Does God care? Does he even exist? Or is he just an idea intertwined seamlessly within the fabrics of our consciousness to keep our excesses in check. You laughed, again, then untethered yourself. You moron!

You are six or seven, running through the aisle in an oversized coat that almost swallows you. You, tiny, insignificant, little but fierce, runs into your mother’s arms. The woman sitting beside her smiles, she, in a teasing manner, calls you “Man of God!”, and in that moment your head swells. She laughs a quiet laugh, your mother, then tickles you. She must have been proud, this faithful Christian woman who soon will become the mother of a God’s messenger. You are fascinated by the Priest’s mesmerizing acrobatics on the pulpit, his jumping, screaming, gesticulations, his fierceness. His ability to “command angels” with ordinary words, and the immaculacy of his soutane, sparkling. You, who will sneak into the Church at night through the windows, and for the first time, climb the pulpit to recreate what you’d watched the priest perform earlier. Each utterance, each movement, each action. Not minding that you were too short and your hands could barely reach the edge of the pulpit.  

You, eleven, who for the first time discovers Nora Roberts from a classmate, and by impulse, skips through several pages and chapters in search of what will, for as long as you breathe, dull your senses and cast a beleaguering shadow over your existence. Behind closed toilet doors, dark lonely rooms, drawn quilts, you will imagine lasciviousness, and touch yourself in ways the Sunday School teacher will later describe as sinful and unclean. 

“When you touch yourself in secret, stimulating your sex organs, you are fornicating with demons and inviting the devil into your life…. Such persons will burn in the everlasting lake of fire!”

You try to count the number of times you’ve touched yourself, that way you could approximate the number of demons you house within your body, but you lose count. It scares you. You are sprawled in bitterness before the man, before God. Asking him to forgive you, to cleanse you to become white as snow. Of course you’ve never seen snow, except on “Home Alone.” Its purity, you were taught, was meant to be your aspiration, a commensurate yardstick for measuring the extent of your righteousness. You promise to not touch yourself in such vile manner anymore. A promise you have never been able to keep. The next week in Church, before the altar, you are weeping in profusion, making same promise. At camp meetings, at vigils. Being infinitely merciful, this God washes you with his unebbing blood to purity. Always.


‘Is your roommate around?’


‘Can I use your mirror?’


Beautiful girl strides past you into the kitchen. She draws the curtain, standing before the mirror, she admires herself. Adjusts her makeup, her dress, her hair. Five minutes. 

‘Are you seeing me?’ she asks.

‘No.’ You continue reading.

She professes undying love for herself before the mirror. She rehearses her day, each greeting, each compliment; “You’re so beautiful!” “Oh! I know”. She laughs. You laugh, too. You want to tell her how brave she is, how so much you admire her courage to stand unashamedly before the framed glass that indicts you. Twenty and something minutes later. She walks out, completely unchanged. Patting her hair, she asks;

‘Do you ever admire yourself in front of a mirror?’


‘Why? You should do that often.’ She kisses her teeth, says a goodbye, then catwalks out of the room, high spirited. 


The first time you sit before a mirror, you are home alone, holding your sister’s black opal, your heart is racing. You smear the brown powder on your face, even it out with the applier. You find her eyeliner, hold steady, draw thick lines beneath your lid, brush your lashes with her mascara, smear red lipstick on your lips. Smack, smack. By God, you are beautiful! You pout your lips, pose before the mirror. You aren’t done, yet. You search through her wardrobe, pick out a perfect gown, skimpy, just above the knee. You find her heels, step into them, and it fits perfectly. You are learning to catwalk, the long corridor of the three bedroom apartment is your walkway. And in this fleeting moment, you are Agbani Darego, you quietly think to yourself. What terrible mistake God must have made to bestow such beauty on a boy. When the loud banging on the door jolts you from your slumber, you are scampering about the house, pulling the gown, the heels, wiping every bit of makeup off your face. Burying every trace of your sinfulness before it is discovered. Perhaps, you weren’t able to bury them well enough. Enters your mother.

“Come here!” she barks, “Kedu onye tee gi eye pencil?”

Your sister, you say. A lie. She will never find out, she will never know. It breaks her when, three years later, she learns of your flaws.

“The devil has entered my son!”

Tears. Cussing. Frequent visits to the priest’s office. Unending counseling and deliverance sessions till she was convinced you no longer had a trace of that devil in you.


The mirror disapproves, you want to tell this girl. What you see when you stand before it isn’t something fascinating, isn’t something beautiful. It is shame, rather. Disappointment and uncertainty and doubt and insecurities mixed in unequal proportions, molded brazenly, roughly into human form by an unskilled sculptor. It is long years of believing that the world was always beneath your feet, but constantly waking with the acrid taste of melancholy resting heavily on your lips. It is long hours of crying, stalling, more crying for fear that you might not be able to become what you have long desired to become, what the world has long desired you to become. It is a throbbing headache before you manage to slip away from consciousness. It is a startling emptiness, a hollowness that almost robs you of your senses and plunges you skin deep into insanity. It is the mirror asking you to turn away, “There is nothing here for you!” It is watching all of your hopes collapse, cascading before you, engulfing your entirety, burying you beneath the sand dunes of your expectations. When you were little, no one had taught you to fall in love with your body. To worship it even when it was falling apart like a mannequin held loosely together at the joints with adhesive. So you sought to fall in love with the bodies of others like you, sought to make gods out of their bodies and worship within their temples. When you stand before the mirror, what you see is a do over of those unholy escapades; you, five years ago, in the chaplaincy sacristy, gasping for air as the flames of desire rise to your chest.

Your reflection cowers in shame at the sight of you standing in darkness before the consecrated image of the blessed Mother of God, exchanging saliva with another messenger of God, a chapel prefect. Moaning in unfeigned pleasure at the taste of his lips on yours. Your bodies struggling for release. In that split moment, you beg him to fill all of you. You mistake him for god, and plead his kingdom come. It is you, blessing the holy ground with your semen, a sacrifice. Perhaps, that was your own supposed way of pledging allegiance to God. Such foul lewdness!

When you catch a glimpse of your reflection before the mirror, panic swells within you. You are sworn enemies, the mirror and yourself. It is your past that it reminds you of. Unpleasant, sinful pasts that you strive not to remember. Again, the cruelness of memory. No future. Not even a bleak, flimsy revelation. You continuously ask that God forgives you, that he guides you through this slowly stupefying reality. It is a futile prayer, maybe. And you are gradually losing the concrete beneath your feet, intermittently shedding your faith in this God like wilting flesh with each staggering step.

Unearthing these mire memories give you more reason, more assurance that you need to, have to, end this tiresome charade. When someone, anyone who cares to know or even God asks why you did it, you would reaffirm, without thinking twice, what the mirror had said to you; “There is nothing here for you. Turn away!” And you would be convinced you’d done what needed to be done.


It began with restlessness. Her constant pissed-off nature at the slightest of occurrences. When they could not condone this new self any longer, the bank where she worked laid her off. Then inactivity. She would, for long hours, sit before an empty television screen, or facing a mirror or the window watching the busy streets. She was slowly sinking into herself. You would call her for hours without any response. When your mother took her to the hospital, the doctors said she suffered chronic depression.

“But how?”

That was the troubling question. What would make such young, full woman grow sullen all of a sudden, slowly slipping into nothingness? No one knew. No one will. For most family members, the idea of depression was a mere fancy, vague description. They believed her sickness was mostly spiritual, masked with a bogus white man name by doctors who’d forsaken their ancestral roots and knowledge. They began visiting deities on her father’s suggestion. And prayer houses, when their old gods couldn’t cure her. The prayers might have worked. Some days, she was normal; conversing with your mother, full of infectious laughter, arguing soccer with your brother. Other days, when you stared into her hollowed eyes, it was without life, held no emotions, no life form. She was no longer there. Her soul was no longer there. Three difficult months had passed. And on a Thursday morning, it was you who found her body in her room, afloat in her own blood. A kitchen knife in her left hand. She mutilated her body till she couldn’t any longer. She carved open her flesh, this cursed bag of meat and bones, and set her soul free! Her death shook you for a long time. It devastated your mother. The ever cheerful Aunty Akwanya, splayed open like a laboratory specimen from neck region to pelvis. It was the most horrid of sights. Most gruesome. You still dream of it. Perhaps, your mother does, too.

Somehow it calms you knowing she took the faster route. Although painful. But now when you think about it, you wonder if she too, like yourself, housed demons within her body, if her demons multiplied into legions and took siege of her body. You wonder what manner of sadness broods inside you, what grief lies waiting, flows through your veins, coils inside your organs.


When you were nine, during the annual family liberation, the prophet your mother invited into your home anointed your head, asked that a stool be set for you. He asked you to ascend the stool, then declared you ruler. There were evil forces, demons struggling to steal this mandate, he said, but you should always pray.
Same prophet, the next morning, forced himself inside your sister during a “private session.” You sometimes like to wonder you might have strayed at some point. His prophecy might have been true. (Or not.)

You are scared to admit the thought. But you think God must have abandoned you! You’ve heard stories of people who he’d sentenced to depravity for disobeying his commands. Men he’d surrendered to insanity for defying his supremacy. So you keep returning, hoping that his arms, as usual, welcome you in. Either they don’t want you back or you’re not returning the right way. You wonder when this conflicting relationship between you and God will end.


I’m fine


Lol. Yes. I’m fine.

It is all you say. Fine. You do not tell her that you, like your Aunt before you, now toy with the idea of death and the accompanying freedom. You do not tell her how, while standing before the kitchen mirror, you traced a knife down the veins running lengths on your discolored arm, watched them pulse in slow movements, like a thing about dying, caged birds longing to soar in the open air, chords begging to be cut free. Fine. You cannot tell her that every morning, you wake before your alarm goes and think about all the scenarios that could go wrong on that day, and the next. You no longer need alarms to wake you up; your inadequacies are already doing the job so well you want a break from all of it. You do not tell her that you’re constantly stuck between bargaining more soothing, less deliberate ways to escape living. On a motorcycle, back to your lodge, you imagine a truck crashing into your vehicle. You, spinning desperately in the air, diving ungracefully like an amateur athlete, crashing inelegantly to the ground like an arrow without balance or precision. Your brain matter serenading the hot sun, your skull dancing naked on the coal tar to the shambolic tune of a flower duet sung by searing screams of a roadside audience. A brief pain, yet a lasting solution.

But is this really how you want it to end?

Fine. You cannot tell her that you’re scared. Of everything and nothing. That you are tired, your soul is tired. That your roommate is standing over you, cracking unfunny jokes that he would deny telling the next day because he will not remember, because he is utterly drunk, but you laugh anyway, to reassure him of his sanity, even though you are not reassured of yours. You sometimes wonder how he is so unbothered, how life seems to be going so untroubling for him. Where does he draw his lifeblood full of hope from? Rizla in hand, he asks when it is you will start to smoke. And you can swear by everything you hold dear that this is the only thing he knows to do properly, wrap weed.

You do not tell your sister that you now constantly think of how your most loved aunt died. More constantly about the boy in your school who killed himself. How brave he was to must have chosen such detour out of mortality. That on your way to school, something unexplainable draws you to the tower where last he visited, and whispers something eerily cold that sends shivers through your spine. With a group of fellow literary friends, someone in the group, you cannot remember who in particular, had said, when you feel shivers run through your spine, it means someone is walking over your grave place, tending it, maybe.

You do not tell her you feel like the trajectory of your very existence has been altered at a fundamental level. The storyteller writing your story has written you into an unfamiliar neighborhood in the cold night, darkness rocking you senseless in its brazen arms. Said storyteller has spilt the ink, abandoned the pages and has, probably, gone on a long road trip with his lover, or perhaps, is terribly drunk in the cockpit of a mini bar, hysterically laughing at your predicament. You can never tell her. She will not know. So you just say you’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine; you say it till it echoes in your head, a breathy prayer you force yourself, your soul to believe.


‘No!’ A broken laugh. ‘I’m fine.’ You sigh deeply. ‘I won’t die. At least not today. Stay safe, too.’

No customary I love you passed in between. The phone beeps.

Daniel Ogba is currently on a quest for the self, God and essence. A short story writer whose works has appeared on Ilé Alo and The African Writers. Studies undergraduate Human Physiology at the University of Nigeria.