The Root of Brokenness

I am at Puccino’s to get a cappuccino (I just noticed what they did with the name) on my way to Coventry when I meet Amjad. During our short chat, he tells me he is from Pakistan.

    “I’m from Nigeria,” I say.

    “My landlord is from Gambia.”

    I want to have an ‘Africa is not a country’ moment but then I realise that beyond knowing Pakistan is in the Middle East, I really do not know much about where he comes from either and if I’d groped to find something to say, I’d probably have said something about Palestine or Iran.

    When I tell him I am a writer who studied Law, he seems impressed, “You can make big money as a lawyer here, you know. Lawyers and accountants make big money.” I smile and ask if he likes being a Barista.

    “We don’t make money like lawyers.” We share a laugh. I want to tell him I studied it because of my parents, but my train is already being announced as the next at the platform so I take the biscuit he offers and tell him to have a nice day.

***

It’s hard to trace the root of brokenness. When I was 16, she said to me, “I almost lost my marriage because of you.” I wanted to ask if I had asked her to do what she did. I was 9, I wanted to say. I would have been ok if you had gone with what he chose. Neither of you asked what I wanted. Instead, I sat in silence staring at the shut doors of her wardrobe. 

    But that’s not what broke me. I was empty long before then.

    Maybe we are all born empty, so that love and life can find us and fill us up as we go along. If you’re lucky, it happens early. If you’re not, God looks at you and shrugs off his robes of light to sit with you in your darkness so that you may know that death is neither something to want nor fear. What do I know at 16? I am desperate for something. To do something right. To be approved, and earn love, so I quietly do what is expected. 

***

On my way home, I stop for a hot chocolate. 

    “Do you want some marshmallows or cream?”

    It’s not Amjad this time. He’s an older man whose face tells me to drop my baggage and lean on the counter.

    “Put in everything,” I tell him. I’m desperate for warmth to fill me up. “I met Ahmjad this morning,” I say to him. “What’s your name?”

    “Imran,” he says. “Do you live around here? Is today your first time here? Sorry, I’m a bit nosy.”

    Our laugh is easy. I can’t pull his apart from mine. We chit-chat about the area and he tells me he has been here for 12 years. “I’m also from Pakistan. Like Ahmjad.” He places the cup of hot chocolate of the counter then fizzes whipped cream generously till it is a small cloud floating above the cup.

    “Do you go back often?” 

    The sound that comes out of him is short and sorry, “No.” Then, as if to prevent silence from invading like bacteria and souring the word, he says, “Tell me what kind of stories you write.”

    “Short stories. Short stories set in Nigeria,” I answer, because I can’t explain that it is hard to trace the root of brokenness, yet my mind won’t stop time traveling to figure out these things.

    “Where in Nigeria? Accra?”

    “No, Lagos. Accra is in Ghana, they’re our neighbours.”

    “Ha, Ghanaians don’t like to be called Nigerians.”

    He stops and says my name over and again, sounding it out and trying to match my intonation when I repeat it after him.

    “With an ‘o’ not ‘a’ at the end.”

Oh, you know, she gave me her name. Because she loved me, she said. “You were the one I gave my name”. As if that should have made me more careful through life. Made me walk worthy, instead of stumbling unsure.