I sat in the boxy room, staring at the young woman lounging on the worn couch in front of me. She was clicking away at her phone, acting like she couldn’t be bothered that I was there in the room with her. The only thing of interest in the room was the wall at one end of the room that seemed made entirely of polished wood. The other walls adjoining it were painted olive green and bare.
I had a pen in my hand and a small white writing pad on my thighs, with the same sentence written on it over and over again.
Conversation is the beginning of healing.
The woman had tasked me to write that again and again with the intent that I’d get tired of it sometime and start talking to her.
And that was the reason I was here, why I’d been coming here – to talk to her. but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.
I scratched another line of the sentence. Conversation is the beginning of healing.
Suddenly irritated, I looked up and stabbed her with a glower. “I’ve been doing this for days, what exactly is the point?” I snapped.
“Healing you,” she said without looking up from her phone.
“I thought there was more to therapy than this?”
The therapist smiled. “Never believe all you see in movies. And oh, welcome to Nigeria.”
I sat back and continued glaring at her.
She must have felt the heat of my stare because she finally looked up and sighed. “See, there aren’t many therapists in this country. This alone does not pay my bills, trust me, I’m not having any fun. But we won’t get anywhere if you refuse to communicate.”
“Things haven’t been so good for my family. I’m surprised my father would waste money, paying so much for me to sit and talk,” I grumbled.
“Well, if you’re ready to talk, I’m here and I’ll listen, and it’ll just be me and you.” She looked into my eyes, her gaze at once beseeching and invading me, poking me, attempting to ferret out my secrets and all the things I should say to her but couldn’t.
I looked at my watch. My time with her was up. Without a word, I took up my shoulder bag and left the small office.
Later in the evening, I was in the company of my cousin Amaka. She’d complained once about being hungry but hadn’t left to go forage for food. I knew this was because of me; she’d learned not to eat before me.
“How was therapy today?” she asked with the tone of someone stepping on glass.
I chewed my lips.”She’s getting close. I can’t let her know.”
“That you’re gay or you developed an eating disorder because the man you loved dumped you for a lekpa?”
I recoiled inside me, even though I knew she didn’t mean anything mean with her words.
“Darling,” she said softly, “you’ve got to beat this. You have to talk to her. Whatever you say to her is protected by doctor-client confidentiality. So you don’t have to fear your secrets getting out to anyone else.”
I looked at her. “Amaka, maybe not for the minor stuff, but once she learns this, I’m pretty sure she’ll run to my father with her report. Doctor-patient confidentiality, my ass! Such things don’t work in Nigeria abeg. This isn’t the movies where I’ll hold hands with her and sing kumbaya, and all will be well and safe with her. And she may just be prejudiced. She could end up disgusted if I tell her.”
My cousin sighed. “I wasn’t disgusted when you told me.”
I smiled at the most loyal person in my life. Amaka was ride-or-die all the way. Sometimes, I think that if I kill a man, all she’d do is buy bleach and help me get rid of the body.
“You’re different,” I told her.
She smiled. “How does it feel though? I’d never even heard of anorexia before now. Why do you do it? Why do you starve?”
I fixed my eyes on the TV screen for a few seconds. “I don’t know. For awhile, it was something I had to do – starving to lose the pounds. After a while, it sort of stayed with me, became a habit. I guess I began to see it this way – food is the enemy, the cause of all my problems.”
She held my hand. “For what it’s worth, you have a rocking body now.”
We burst into laughter together. And my eye caught my reflection in the mirror nearby – sallow, hollow, haunted.
A month later, I met Afam. Our meeting was odd. I was recuperating. I was eating. (Okay, granted most of my meals were secretly going to the dog, but I was better). I kind of liked the slim torso and big lower body effect that my weight had settled into. I had gone from bloated to rail thin, and now to this. “Amber Rose,” Amaka called me to make me feel better. I was getting compliments, questions: “How did you lose weight?” “Give me your diet plan…” “I love your new body…” I didn’t know what to tell them. I was always tongue-tied when peppered with such questions. “You owe them no explanation,” my sweet cousin would tell me.
I met Afam during an evening walk with Amaka. A car pulled up next to us. He was tall, very tall, big-framed and looked to be in his thirties. I eventually got to find out that he wasn’t; he was in fact just a couple of years older than me at my twenty-six years of age. We got acquainted. He invited me out the next day. I agreed. We drove to an old church; I’d call it a graveyard but in truth, just the founder of the church and his wife and young baby were buried there. We talked and played songs for hours. I talked like never before. I was very open to him. Then he kissed me and I discarded my usual reserve and kissed him back. We made love right there and then. (Thank God he had condoms in his car)
“How did it go?” Amaka asked me later, after Afam brought me home.
“Very uneventful,” I replied, avoiding her eyes.
She sneered, her expression telling me she didn’t believe me. But she let it go.
Afam and I carried on for two blissful months. And then the bliss began to wane. He started hitting on my girlfriends. His bisexuality was a startling discovery he hadn’t let on early in our relationship. Then, he began introducing me as “his friend”, started asking me to keep our relationship a secret even from Amaka. And then, came the cheating, when I found out he’d had sex with two of my girlfriends.
The coup de grace came when he texted me the devastating words that ended our relationship. I was struggling to finish my lunch when the text came in.
I think you’ve mistaken our intimacy for a relationship. I just wanted to make you feel better after your illness. I love you but it’s better we remain just friends.
I sat there transfixed, staring at my phone screen. Then I got up and staggered out of the dining room to my bedroom. I heard the sounds of my family coming back home, first Amaka, then my mother, and my father. I didn’t go out to let them know I was home, to greet them. I was in the bathroom, clutching a pen, getting ready to shove it down my throat and get rid of the little food I’d earlier eaten. The enemy had reared its ugly head again. I had to get it out of me. I had to puke out that threat.
A knock came then on the door, startling me. I dropped the pen.
“Kainene, are you in there?” came Mum’s voice.
I composed myself. “Yes ma,” I called back.
She grunted and shuffled away from the door. Then I turned to stare at my naked form in front of the mirror, absentmindedly reciting Aunty Ifeka’s words from Half Of A Yellow Sun.
You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Your life is yours and yours alone. Soso gi!
I was uncertain of my future, but I knew I’d have to hang in there and see how it would all play out. Kainene ihe echi g’abu. Let us see what tomorrow will bring. That became my motto.
And then I knew one thing. From then onwards, I’d be fine. I’d be absolutely fine.
Written by Kainene