Help! I am in love with an epileptic
When I think about it now, a part of me screams at my naivety, another part whispers I was actually in love, with an epileptic. But you know what they say about whispers and truths.
It isn’t something I’ve given much thought but since I’ve had a ray of “Lights of Pointe-Noire” by Alain Mabanckou, I feel “I have to distance myself from this lie”; that my first feelings were for a normal girl, one who didn’t have to deal with temporary spells of shame.
Like every youth that year, I finally wobbled with the bandwagon of 2go users. Father’s phone – an LG-look-like-a-blackberry mobile – was collateral damage for my overdue membership. Looking back, I have a vague memory of why I wanted to be a part of the social movement. Perhaps it just had something to do with the adolescent urge to feel among; those unnecessary obligations to do what others were doing. I remember my friends always boasting to me about the number of girls they had wooed and dated on the platform. I was in awe of them, saliva never failing to sluice the insides of my mouth and accumulate into a big lump inside my throat, whenever I was shown despicable nudes of certain girls. I wanted to have the same feeling as theirs. I wanted to tell the same stories. I wanted to show them my own collection of pictures too. I played badminton with un-ideal notions in my head; that a boy never became a guy until his phone was a museum filled with naked female bodies.
So, one day in class, during my third year in the university, I downloaded the app. Rooms were joined; 20+ (because I falsified my age), flirt zone, singlez, romance, and love. These were in-app hangouts where I spent a large chunk of the semester chatting with girls from different parts of the country. My lectures and grades would later suffer for this new found abode. I would also be disappointed when I discovered my friends over-praised their prowess in the art of wooing ladies. They had been paying for the nudes I was being shown. I discovered when I requested for a girl’s friendship on flirtzone. She accepted. Immediately, I was sent a message asking me to send recharge cards in exchange for nude pictures. I hissed and then laughed, partly at my guilelessness in believing it was that easy and partly at my friends’ stupidity, for paying to get naked pictures.
“Una no tell me say person dey pay for dose nudes nah,” I said one afternoon over a meal of rice concoction. The two of them looked at me like I had just suggested the murder of someone.
“So you wan see woman breast and toto for free? You don mad!” one of them said amidst laughter.
In my mind, they were still gods when it came to girls. And I would always be the omo pastor they always called me. This is why I switched my wild adventures for mild and cupid-agreeing ones. And this is how I met Kate, who this story is actually for, and about.
It is a difficult thing to come to terms with, the emerging pressures that come with growing up. The inevitable swell of cocoons at the sight of endowed women and in my own case, how my tongue and legs become tied by a mysterious rope that drags me very deep into myself so that I am always unable to tell female counterparts how I feel about them. My friends would tease me whenever they see a girl I am crushing on with another boy saying “you know say na you suppose dey with am now if to say u don sharp up since”. Most times, I am seeing myself walking towards a certain girl carefully trying to build lines from the harlequin romance novels I have read and suddenly, this mysterious rope jerks me backwards. Sometimes it just comes from the front and races me past girl, every step I take a reduction in confidence.
Maybe this is why I have come to find solace in this 2go thing. Because I become somebody else, an unfamiliar beast, when I do not have to speak with my mouth. In my phone, fear is lost, and self is discovered. But a lot of girls here do not meet my taste. All they want is airtime in exchange for their naked pictures. Most times, I am thinking: this cannot be real people and this is what I tell my friends whenever we argue about the validity and ownership of these pictures but they would say do I think everybody is a child of a clergyman like me. Then the rope comes again, ties just my tongue and I cannot argue further. My friends also joke about how the cute girls have left 2go and joined whatsapp and bbm. But my phone cannot contain whatsapp and bbm. It is an old version.
One day, I am lucky. My friend request isn’t to some small-scale porn star. I laugh at this. My laughter is one of satisfaction. A beautiful girl that is not a nude picture trader? It is an alien thing. All the veins in my body become willing carriers of serotonin. Her replies are surprisingly prompt and I take a quick look at my profile picture. I cannot find a connection. I have grown up having to agree that I am not really a fine boy. People, mostly girls, have made that clear. “Your brother is finer than you sha,” they would say on meeting my brother and immediately switch attentions even before they complete the statement. The mysterious rope probably has its roots from statements like that.
Her name is Kate, she tells me. I feign awesomeness. I also lie about liking the name Kate and how Kate Winslet is my favorite actress because of her performance in Titanic. She prefers Julia Roberts. I am not surprised; Julia is almost every girl’s obsession. By the time Kate goes offline without notification I am now literally awestruck. She has a great mind, I whisper to myself. Like me, she doesn’t listen to Nigerian music. She says it is garbage. I agree. She also reads Harlequin. We discuss some of the books and how unreal they are. There’s a lot of “smiles” and “lol” in our conversation. I feel fulfilled and like I’ve known her for years but there are only a few things I know about her including her age (she is nineteen) and the fact that she is still seeking admission. I say a prayer for her. This is when she suddenly goes offline. I am unhappy and immediately become happy again. I also realize I forgot a thing called time. It is some minutes past ten. I save her profile picture and sleep to the crooning of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko over Stay.
Three days have passed and Kate is still offline. I am cursing at my stupidity for not asking for her mobile number. I am unable to pay attention during lectures and I keep checking her profile for her last seen. A random girl sends me a friend request. I ignore it. I know when they are nude picture traders. Their names always ended with XXX. It is on my way home that my phone beeps again and I check it in a rush. It is an “hi” from Kate. The serotonins gush in again. I can feel them splattering all over the walls of my brain. I smilingly reply her message.
If she feels my absence, she does not show it. I am a little disappointed but it isn’t for long. The serotonins have come in large dizzying doses. I ask her why she’s been offline for that long. She types a vague statement about something she’s had to deal with at home. I tease her into disclosure but she would not budge. She says it is personal and everything is okay now. I am illogically impressed by her inner strength. She asks me what I’ve been up to. I cannot think of something reasonable because nothing reasonable has happened to me over the past three days. Only if hallucinating over her picture is a reasonable thing to do. So, I lie about having to deal with lectures and meeting deadlines for assignments. I am about to ask for her number just in case she wasn’t available again when she goes offline again. I am surprised. I am angry.
She does not appear again until the following morning. This time, she apologizes for going off unannounced. I say it is okay and ask her if everything is okay. She says it is. I do not pester despite an opposite gut feeling. We exchange plans for the day. She is going to plant flowers with their gardener and then read a book. I tell her I have a test in the afternoon. She asks if I am not supposed to be reading. I lie that I spent the whole night reading and that I do not even like the course. She says something about how someone who has a cap does not have a head and vice-versa. I smile and assure her she would soon start to feel the same way once she entered university. I remember wanting to ask for her number and I do so. She teases me for some minutes asking if my girlfriend won’t become mad at me for collecting another girl’s number. I tell her I do not have one. “A fine boy like you,” she says. I do not know if I feel humiliated or surprised. I only send her a smiley. She finally gives me her number. I thank her and ask why she has not left 2go like every other fine girl. “I’m that weird,” she says. She repeats to me the same question. I do not lie; my phone is a small one. She sends me a laughing smiley. I laugh back.
I am scared of the mysterious rope coming to tie my tongue and fold it into a knot again so that it is days before I am able to muster a grain-sized courage to call Kate. Our conversation is one halted at intervals by my stammering but one piped by her dulcet voice, one I would continue to hear in my dreams for days. We barter stories about our families and I am almost sure I would not remember a lot of it because I am somewhat captured by her celestial diction and I tell her. One call becomes two, three, and then I am losing count. There is a revival in confidence. My tongue does not fold into a tight knot again. The serotonins have become an abundant part of my system. It is however after one of this calls that Kate says she wants to tell me something important. She says it is very important. Hope is quickly secreted in the pits of my stomach. I can feel such mechanism.
I am naive and I know it but these days I do not think I care much, not since I read somewhere that naivety is a sexy thing. Although it is a western thing, I still do not care. This is why when Kate says she wants to tell me something important, I think she wants to confess her feelings for me. Something I never cease to tell her on 2go and during calls. She would laugh gently albeit knowingly at my admission and then I am trying to understand and bending to the logic of her soft laughs; we have never met before, I am but a virtual being.
It is on 2go that Kate drops a bombshell on my overly expectant soul. She starts by asking me, and rather awkwardly, if I have ever heard of epilepsy. I have. I have read about it and seen people with it in movies. I remember my mother telling us stories of how witches use epilepsy to inflict ills on their victims. Mother also often referred to it as the disease of shame. According to her, warapa, which is my local language for epilepsy, is used to demean certain individuals and which is why it usually happens to such individuals in public places so that everyone could witness their shame. Mother never saw it as a medical condition and for so long I led the same belief.
I tell her I’ve heard of epilepsy before. She then says she has one. I am dumbfounded. I send her a confused smiley because I think it is a romantic joke. She sends me an angry one. I say I’m sorry. I do not know what to say and I stupidly check her profile picture again for something resembling epilepsy but obviously there isn’t. The girl in the picture defies every notion of it. For the first time, I am fully aware of Kate in the picture. A gentle smile is playing on her full lips and she is standing one arm akimbo, the other hand caressing her telephone wired hair. Her head is tilted to the right, her breasts facing the opposite direction while she looks dizzyingly at the camera. How can someone like this have warapa? I want to tell her I am sorry again but she is no longer online. Telling me must have taken a large part of her pride but I do not stop typing to tell her I am sorry again.
At night, I am still looking at her picture and I am having a lot of feelings. I want to pull kate out of the screen and hold her. I want to kiss those lips. I want to bury my head in the smell of her telephone wired hair. I want to be Kate. I want her to be sorry for me instead. I surf the internet for more information about epilepsy. It says somewhere that some epilepsy can be chronic and lead to death. There is subtler information but this is what I am more aware of. I spend most of the night forming bad images in my head, turning and curling as I capture them. I am finally lulled to sleep by Alanis Morissette’s Ironic. In my dream, I and Kate are walking down a crowded road holding hands and laughing together. Suddenly she slumps to the ground, her slender figure jerking violently to the rhythm of the seizures, spittle foaming down her cheeks, teeth clanking at each other. I am shouting for help but everybody is running away. They are saying she has offended someone who is a witch and they advise me to run for my safety too. I cannot. I do not. The jerking stops. I wake up.
It is now days and I have not heard anything from Kate. She is refusing to pick my calls and is still offline on 2go. I send her texts saying I do not care if she has epilepsy or not. No reply. I miss a test because I forgot. I do not bother because I am thinking things again. Bad thoughts. Is she dead? Is she having marathon seizures? I cannot give answers. I sleep. I have dreams. Bad dreams. I wake. I sleep again. My phone beeps. It is a text.
Dear Ademola. I have seen your calls and text messages but I cannot pick or reply them. Because then I would have to struggle with this feelings I have for you. You might feel strong enough to handle an epileptic but you cannot. Mine is chronic, since I was born. Even my father thinks I’m an ill-child and I’ve been sent to suck his money. However, you are the best thing that has happened to me. I love you but continuing to do so would be hurting you. Please do forget me. Kate.
I cannot comprehend this so I sleep yet again. I read the text message again when I wake up and I am able to understand that Kate’s decision is a resolute one. I try my luck at calling her again, this time her phone is switched off. And this is how I know it is over. I am trying hard to understand all of these but I know I never will. I won’t because I am not an epileptic and I would never have to make decisions under such circumstances. But from my short voyage with Kate, I have learnt how to live and this is how to live; it is knowing how to case bad memories and let them burn in a small confinement of our hearts.