This piece is a deliberate opening of a tiny space across the large curtain of my person; a revelation into my being.
It struck me as strange that I never actually do open up. I’m like a closed book. What made this realization more startling was that I never took time to think about it. The thought came during a cold morning bath. One would say that’s a weird place to get these very profound thoughts. And during this bath, as I introspected further on my reality — a process which, more often than not involved my speaking aloud and placing myself at the risk of being called insane, I wondered at the deep psychological domino cards that fall at childbirth and precipitate the fall of several other cards right until adulthood. And perhaps the cards kept falling. Who knows?
The core of that early morning exercise of introspection — or may I say retrospection, caused me to ponder quite unnaturally on the one singular flaw of the human mind: its vindictiveness.
The mind is one vindictive creation, and it holds on to the hurts and pains of many years and never lets go of any, carefully causing chain reactions in its victim. And sometimes, too, the mind is one confused creature, ignorant of the simple progression of alphabets. The moment it is expected to stamp down its letter A, it casts down a B; and when it is meant, by sheer rule of normalcy, to cast a B, it sets down an A. So was my deduction that fateful morning.
But I’d be doing a great disfavour to my introspections if I continue on my voyage into the workings of the human mind. This piece is about me. Many people know me. Many have seen me. Many have lived with me. Many know what I think and when I’m not thinking. Many love me. Many hate me. But I won’t be too forward as to absolve anyone of any blame in the hate or love business. I mean, everyone’s beliefs are their own personal, unique prerogatives. Rather than convert the many who hate to the Love camp, this piece merely does the job of making a first time explanation on the complex phenomenon on the figure of Nzube Harry Nlebedim.
I’m not a great talker. I have never been. I stuttered terribly as a child and still do, although almost unnoticeably in regular conversations. I have been one to write more than speak. I wrote my hurts down, with the future consequences I’d mete out on the wrongdoers: a stone throw to the head, a slap from behind, a knock on their heads, stealing of their food (for family alone), spitting into their teacups, down to full fledged physical war. I had even served poisoned bone to a dog that bit me. But I wrote them all down, anyways, or else I’d forget.
Growing up, I had very few friends and I stayed alone in my quite big head. More times than none, as a younger boy, I found the fist a better option than speaking. Speaking was too much of work in moments of rage (and they were many), and so in those heated moments, when the words couldn’t come out quickly enough in sharp stutters, I resorted to fighting the words out with my hands. As a boy, I made lots of “enemies,” many still outstanding who haven’t had a chance for a recent conversation with me. They still hold grudges of a decade and many years ago, with me in their heads still the young imp.
But over the years, many things changed, and I learned how to speak more slowly when angry, taking deep breaths in the process and resisting the urge to fight my words out. The stutter came out less. Otherwise, I simply keep mum and argue in my head the rage I can’t utter. I still rarely speak about myself and the true workings of my mind to anyone. Truthfully, I don’t know what I know about myself. To myself, I’m one large maze I’m trying to reach the end. And everyday presents new turnings. I hope one day I see the end.
I grew up with older ones: uncles, aunties, cousins and far living relatives who would come visiting. And this is where the core of this story lies. These people stayed close to us and I with them. And in my being with them, these elders made occasional promises: to buy sweets, take me out, get me a gift, the lot of things you gave a boy of below twelve. And it gets interesting here. These people never came through with what they promised. They said these things, and naturally, I believed them. Who wouldn’t believe a big uncle? But voila! They would go AWOL, never again to be seen to keep to their promises. They told me to wait for them, but they never returned. Those were the older folks I grew up with, the type that granted you access to trust but who broke it each time. An uncle who promised to take my brothers and I out to a beach died some weeks before he was to come do so. In my head, that was merely another tragic case of a failed promise.
Many people would have predicted I’d grow up to be like those people, too. But then the mind pays no respect to order. It does what it wills, flipping a Q card instead of a B. Those childhood experiences granted me a great package as I reached the entry border of adulthood. And this pack came with both good and bad gifts.
I had come to realize I took an almost diabolic interest in keeping to my words and keeping to them in time, at the time promised. I tell a kid I’d get them a doll on their 9th birthday, and I come through on their 9th and not the 14th. I tell my baby sister I’d take her out to the movies on a Tuesday at 10am and we are right in the cinema hall at that time. I get an assignment to be submitted at 10am, and I find myself presenting it at 9:50am!
Without knowing it, my mind had been programmed into a moving calculator whose dials must never be toyed with. I set schedules in my head, and I killed myself to meet them. Pressure of goals unmet jerked me up every time I sat down, and I’d make haste to clear the grass under my feet. Keeping to my words then became the price I paid for peace, a redemption from the nagging voices in my head to not be like the men I saw growing up. I make a promise, and come hell and thunder, I come through, beat and drained, but there with my promise. And for what? Subconsciously, without even thinking, I never wanted to be the people I grew up with. Great stuff, yes. I come up tops in teams. Medals and praises for doing jobs in two hours others would do in two months. Great guy!
But this came at a cost, one not so great as the shiny medals on the shelf. The mind is like the devil. It goes through the experiences in your head, sieves them out, separating opposite consequences, and saves them up, ready to serve them in time. We just wait. Over time, I had come to realize I never could trust. While I had become successful in being the fastest folk in the team, I became the most distrustful one, distrustful of the intention of others as well as their capabilities to work as efficiently as I would. I found myself always doubting the words people said, always confirming in my head that people were up to no good. I found myself unable to work with a team because people were too slow for me. I felt uncomfortable because I worked as a locomotive on overdrive and many worked at the pace of snails.
When I am told to wait so a task would be done, I say, “oh no, I’m going with you!” I say, “No, I’m going to watch you do it.” Because I know, deep down (and many times I have been right), they never would return. I am convinced they would forget. And while some returned, many never returned still.
I have become too aware of the weakness of the other person that I usually ignored their good. In my mind, they would never come through. So I found myself doing the work, because I know I’d never disappoint myself. It’s an almost suicidal task, but I can say I have become used to it. But that’s one terrible thing to get used to. I’d always get to work with people, and I must learn to trust people to do things well, the way I feel I’d do them, and better.
And so about two years ago, I thought to stop my clock for a minute, pick up a monkey wrench and begin to work to recreate my mind.
I work on this everyday. To trust people more, to know that some folks would come back with those sweets they promised, with the books they said they’d get, with the request they promised to do. I try, push myself to believe people would be good, that people can be good and would do the things set for them to do. It’s work that involves me learning to let people just do it! It’s work that has led me to deciding to stop waiting for people to fall on their words and then I say, “aha! I said it.” It’s work that forces me to believe that humanity is beautiful, and that other people are just like me, flawed and imperfect, working to perfection. But moreso, that everyone else is also a victim of their pasts, and of the confusion of the vindictive human mind.