I organised a public reading for my latest book “Where is Your Wrapper?” towards the end of April. Just before the event, I had a conversation with one of the panelists who would be asking me questions about the book. She wanted to know if I feel inspired every time I sit down to write, or if I just sit in front of my laptop and the words start to come. I thought about it and I told her it is a bit of both.
There are things that happen on a daily basis at home and abroad worth talking about. And sometimes I just draw a blank till I sit down and set my mind to writing. Recently, I have not felt much inspiration though. There is so much death, terror, sadness, pain and fear going around. When I sit down to think and write, I don’t know where to begin. How do I express my anger, frustration and fear?
What I can do is continue to be hopeful that a time will come when things will be much better. On June 11, 2021, I will be 58. Fifty-eight. I usually joke that you will get to an age when you can be a badass and tell someone to go to hell and they will ask you for the bus fare and even directions. I think 58 pretty much qualifies for that.
Sometime in 1988, I went into the Wimpy fast food restaurant at Piccadilly Circus, London. I picked up my meal and sat down to eat my burger and milk shake. As I was trying to place my bag by my side, my elbow hit the milk shake, which tipped over and sent my burger flying on the floor. The bread roll went in one direction, the burger flew somewhere else and the lettuce and pickles…There was such a mess. You can’t begin to imagine how I felt. Horror, embarrassment, shame, panic, I felt it all.
Of course, it was an accident, but I blamed myself for being clumsy enough to send my lunch crashing all over the floor in a busy restaurant. I felt so many eyes on me, judging a young black woman who did not know how to comport herself in a public space. I felt like an intruder who did not belong, but was allowed in anyway and, of course, proved to be unworthy of the ‘honour.’ I was too confused to think clearly about what to do next, so I panicked and ran out of the place.
For a long time after I asked myself why I ran away. Why did I not simply ask for the ruined lunch to be cleaned up and order another meal? What was the big deal in dropping your food?
I have always been a confident person but at that time in my life I was feeling vulnerable and uncertain. I had just left Nigeria to go and live in London and was homesick.
I was trying to adjust to life in a new place. I was not happy with the place I was staying at the time and I was still looking for a job. I was unsure of what the future held for me. I had never lived in London. I was born and grew up in Liverpool. My boyfriend was back in Nigeria and I missed him terribly, though he joined me a few months later and we got married shortly after.
What did I learn over the years about what happened in that restaurant, and my reaction? I learnt that self-esteem is not meant to be armour you put on in the morning and take off at night. Self-esteem is just like your skin, and you should not be able to shed it like a snake, even when someone tries to peel it off you. I learnt that things crash to the ground all the time, and it does not have to be our fault. That when we see things crashing and burning around us, we are not immune if we are not affected, it is simply not our turn. That there is no such thing as a tidy and clean world to live in, there will always be a mess to be cleaned up. Sometimes it will be your job to clean up the mess or at least seek out those who can. That no matter what you do, you will be judged from the hair on your head to your toenails, so don’t worry about being judged, focus on being you. That when you tip something over or you yourself get tipped over, you can stand and fight or you can live to fight another day. At least, you have a choice. Not having choices is one of the worst conditions to be in as a human being. I learnt that it is okay to feel unsure or uncertain, but not if you give someone else permission to make you feel that way. I learnt that one of the worst things you can do to yourself is make yourself feel small. If you do that, you become a midget in everyone’s eyes.
I have no intention of walking into a restaurant and have my meal land on the floor, ever again. However, should it happen again, the 5.8 version of me would smile and calmly call the attention of the waiter to the mess. I would order another meal, slowly enjoy it with a cold glass of Chardonnay, leave a hefty tip and sashay out of the place with my ‘Know your mate’ handbag on my arm. Life is too short. Way too short, especially these days.
As I mark another year, I am grateful to God for the mercy and grace I have received. I do not take every new dawn I rise to see for granted. With this comes the responsibility to ensure that I teach young women that it is okay to drop things, as long as you learn how to pick them, and yourself, up again. Running away is not an option. There is still a loooooooooong way to go. Amen.
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State and can be reached at [email protected]