“Who are you?”
I freeze and look into my brain –looking through the numerous characters I wear and deciding which I think is appropriate for that particular situation– whenever I hear or see this question because each day, at sunrise, I become someone different. I find pieces of myself in movie characters and distant mentors. I wear a person, becoming a character for a period of time until that person wears out, and then it’s time to wear someone else.
When I was six years old, my nanny would tell me that I was special whenever she touched me, and when my parents would come home, I wouldn’t tell them what had happened because at that age I didn’t quite understand what it meant to be abused. It wasn’t until later in life that I realised how much these childhood abuses had affected me and touch, to me, became a thing I’d come to question.
I was 12 when I experienced real mockery because I looked and behaved a certain way. For, to behave anything other than masculine as a man, was –and still is– considered a crime. My classmates would laugh and ask me to join the female group whenever the class got divided for a project; this was just one of the many torments. I would walk into the school gate consciously walking and speaking differently because I wanted to fit in. Tearing away pieces of myself to a point where I didn’t know where the acting started and where I ended, and if I were to survive, it was important I embodied these characters.
I started throwing up after eating meals when I was 13. Eating once or not at all in a day became the norm because having fat on your skin was considered a sin by my classmates. A sin I wasn’t willing to commit as a teenager. After two years of starvation, I had to go to the hospital for problems including malnutrition and ulcer. I had lost all my fat but it didn’t quite satisfy my classmates, for everyone whispered that I had HIV.
At 15, my father died. When I first heard the news, a wave of relief went through me; we lived in the same house all my life but never had a relationship. I keep seeing flashes of his funeral in my head, the moment of him being lowered into the ground and I, not crying. Not because I didn’t want to, but because prior to his death I had cried all the tears I had for him. Loss heightens love but when love is dead, loss becomes a welcomed war. And you can neither lose that which was never yours nor can you truly love in a state of indifference. Every now and then I catch myself looking for him in strangers with familiar faces.
I became fascinated by death when I was 18. On days when I was happy, it scared me and on days when I was sad, I would crave nothing more. Soon after, the sadness swallowed the happiness and the only way to live was to be numb. Numb is the invisible line between happiness and sadness, the feeling you get when you don’t know what to feel. Numb, to me, became fine when I didn’t really know what fine meant.
I’ve thought about myself dead, more often than I’d really like to admit. I imagine a car crash whenever I am in a car. I imagine being hit by a stray bullet. I imagine what it feels like to slice open the vein on my wrist with a kitchen knife and lay down as blood drips onto the floor.
At 21, I got into my first romantic relationship. On days I didn’t know what to do with myself; I’d call to say “I love you.” And every time I’d say those words, the fifteen-year-old inside me really meant “please, don’t abandon me.” But to love was to consume and I didn’t consume myself enough. How can you really claim you love someone else when the only thing you want to do is take off your skin and run away from yourself?
When I got the call, I had just gotten to work. “Have you heard?” the caller asked, “… he died the day before yesterday. I’m so sorry.” That was how I found out that my best friend, whom I’ve known all my life, was dead. Prior to his death, we had a quarrel and didn’t speak for months. The last message he sent me asked if I would throw away our friendship over a little fight. I read it, over and over again, but never replied. This message still plays in my head, a small punishment for my sin. How trivial his death made everything? I quit my job and started pursuing the things that mattered to me. It took a soul leaving a body to make me become whole. And even at death, he still grows me. But we both lost, eventually. He lost me to life, and I lost him to death.
At 23, I’m beginning to know what feels like to be a human being, one without limits. And who am I? I am infinite.
Christopher Ebuka is a fashion designer, creative writer and poet based in Lagos, Nigeria. Officially starting his career in 2017, Ebuka worked as a Social Media Manager and Contributing Writer for Guardian Life Magazine until recently. He focuses his time on self-healing, writing poems and working on his debut collection.