IV of VIII: Funk
by IfeOluwa Nihinlola
One of the fantasies of my childhood was that I would someday be so ill that I would be confined to the bed for an extended period, enough to afford me the time needed to read up all the things that life interrupted me from indulging in. I thought my mind was more resilient than my body. What a fool I was.
After about twenty minutes of standing in a gallery at CCA in Yaba, three months after I had been admitted into the hospital and a month after I was cleared for travel, I felt an ache in my legs I thought would cripple me on the spot. I staggered from the photograph exhibition into the street, and flagged down a keke to take me to Jibowu. I folded my body into the back of the tricycle, pain shooting tiny pins into my lower back and limbs. Never in my life had the limits of my physical condition been as drawn out as they were at that moment.
I have had my fair share of pain in life: a stomach ulcer that chose to fling me to the floor once in a while, and aches from the growing tooth that terrorized two years of my mid-teens. But these came only intermittently, and I would be back in the world acting like nothing had happened. The lesson in sustained pain and fatigue that my body was dishing out to me was entirely new to me.
I now know that when the body is besieged by pain, there is little the mind can do. I used to think that Murakami’s habit of treating his body like a professional athlete’s so his mind could be free to write was hogwash, but now I know better. My mind became sluggish and I could barely read a page of text without pausing and feeling the urge to throw the book through the window. In three months, I read just one novel from start to finish: Blackass. The last time I read less than one in two weeks was 2013, usually coupled with an average of one short story and an essay per day.
Not reading well enough was causing my mind just as much pain as the illness was causing my body. In the days of lying on the bed at the hospital and studying the ceiling, I’d thought of how much refuge I would find in books after being discharged. Then I got home and even with the CS Lewis biography, two back Issues of Granta, Blackass, an unfinished manuscript on my bed beside my laptop and tablet, books and their words offered me nothing.
While in this funk, I asked someone to take me to the house where our stuff was stored to look for my Dostoyevsky novels from 2012. He was the person who I wanted, and thought had the words to speak to me. It took about two days for someone to be free to take me there, and then we found out painters had worked in the house in 2015 and moved everything around. Dostoyevsky was nowhere to be found and I had no one else to turn to. I would later read Susan Sontag’s ‘Illness as Metaphor’, and find some refreshment in her combative intellectual stance while speaking about illness. It was as if I had finally found someone with the presence of mind to do the things I should have been doing when I was ill.
But I abandoned Sontag too.
There’s a little irony in how my pain could only be reduced by exercise, putting my limbs to work. To make this work, I started to go on long walks with my Dad. Hoodie wrapped around my head, I kept my eyes on the sidewalk as he greeted people walking past us. I wanted to be sure nothing on the floor would trip me. An activity that had till then been carried out by pure instinct suddenly became a labor. Like body, like mind. First my hands had to be held as I stepped out of the house and walked a few meters and returned, then my feet had to be watched as I stumbled forward though the path. Two months later, I could finally be allowed to walk unsupervised. My body finally stopped aching so much, and even if it sometimes remembered that it was not in full strength yet, it could now survive 30 minutes of standing in an art gallery. Unfortunately, six months after, my mind is still not where it should be when I’m reading, but the body is on its way to full recovery. The string of mind was taking its time snapping back into place. Perhaps minds aren’t as resilient as we were told.
Last- Part III: Death Himself
Next- Part V of VIII: V is for Vortex
Illustration- Milan Rynt: An Exclamation Mark, 2014, oil on canvas, 50 x 70
By Milan.reptile (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons