I get a roommate, two yellow shirts and out of myself. Briefly I wonder if the email I have just sent to my boss will guarantee my being sacked. Then I stop wondering and look up. Yellow light from hanging chandeliers. Poised and bright and sure. I assume that the chandelier is aware of self. It knows that first it was sand, then crystals, then light. In this way, looking up makes me feeling better. Inside of my Abẹ́òkuta dream I decide to try, like the chandelier, and form myself.
Welcome to Aké Arts and Book Festival.
Buy me books is the shawarma here. Young interested-in-arts girls are hot. They know what freedom looks like; uncased minds and breasts. Established authors and interested-in-arts men play the game. They came for nag free beer and lack of strings fuck. Sometimes. Mostly, just intelligent conversation while looking up and down upright boobies.
And in the middle of this is the Aké Bookstore. Where the wires meet. Where the one line flirt test ends in a let-me-buy-that-for-you. And laughter walks to hotel rooms booked thanks to Mark Essien. Love at Aké.
The men who have written things are fragile and light weight. The women are liquid fire unconcerned by your discomfort at their brightness. You should invite only women next year I say to Lọlá when my heart is expanding, full with Títílọpẹ́ and Lebo’s words. The panel with Panashe and Chinelo. Kadaria Ahmed. The women are busy! A truth Títílọpẹ́ tells.
There is talk about labia and clitoris. About mental health and terrorism. Science fiction and horror. Prison stories and what not.
It is not all good. For one, I end up on the last day after the closing ceremony with blue balls. I am yet to forget his shoes or shirt and I have never wanted like I did there. Another bad is the food which has the appeal of perfectly warmed cardboard paper. The lines for the food are long, it sells out, and hungry feet shuffle to the next panel to get their minds filled.
Let us not talk about Brymo. Or Fálànà or Àdùnní Nefertiti. Words in virtual ink seated on glowing screens cannot describe feeling evoked by these musicians audio beauty.
A film of torture victims who talk in victory chants summoned by courageous sputters of languages you cannot inhibit, is shown. Aké Festival is about freedom. The finding of borderless spaces beneath your skin. Everyone’s vulnerability scouting the rooms and halls, feeling corners for awkward that fit theirs. It is space to remember you are not alone in being. Space to reject your not-enough-ness. It is six days of flirting with Moje and laughing with Títí, staring at Fọpẹ́’s ass, meeting Kọ́lá and Fu’ad. Hearing, “how long have you had your hair for?” Seeing authors handle their fame and remembering that a compliment is an unfortunate thing. Six days of wanting to sit next to Ráyọ̀ and say ‘I worry if you are happy in the evenings. I am happy for your existence in life and on Twitter. ‘
On many afternoons, in between tweeting, I run walk behind the big rectangle with brand names, push out tears and lock the toilet door. Then I slip to the floor and start to cry. This is new. I feel as though I am tilting to the left, like the world is flat but flapping, side to side and I am tilting. My back is firm against the thing that separates this stall from the next and I part my curtain tears and ask God when the thing separating me in life from me in death will tilt and fall.
“Nobody has ever fallen while climbing Olúmọ rock”, the tour guide assures as we near the peak. His sing-song voice brings to mind the praise singer of the Aláké of Ẹ̀gbáland whom we have just visited.
Near the Etisalat lounge I play a game of guess-whose-smile-is-a-function-of-their-perceived-need-to-portray-societally-acceptable-demeanor. I count 5 in all.
On the day that we form a most inefficient assembling line and haul 6,000 plus plastic bottles of carbonated poison to the store, I find joy. I meet Phidelia with the nice breasts. Somebody throws a crate out of tangent and breaks the showglass where the food is displayed. I discover that if I shake my head Justin Bieber-ish enough and sit cross-legged on the floor, I can convince self that self is cool. We are too tired to feign regret for long.
There are arguments about homophobia and second time volunteers are a bit disillusioned. Lọlá is like lightning sharing space with coconut candy balls in tight plastic and Ify has nice shoes. Jessica wears quiet smiles accentuated with almost black lip sticks and Tósin is the saner, meaner version of crazy Ayọ̀. I don’t know about Nanzing, mostly because he is the only one of the team who is this line of thought is not fully formed.
I wake up one day and it is Sunday. Aké festival has ended with a brown envelope in my bag packed full with books. I find that the person who responded to my tweet for a ride to Lagos is a man I curved politely the night before. He had very bad things in mind. I block him on Twitter where he went to find me, and refuse to ask “why me”, although I desperately want to.
I want to know why, somehow, the rapey crowd hovers around me.
But if you are female and have just experienced Aké you are firmly situated in yourself. No person, irrespective of the happenings between their legs and lack of sense upstairs can make your notion of self waver. Inside my 6 day-dream in Abẹ́òkuta, the goal is a success. I have found self.
Me – lover of books and men with red shoes – return to Lagos, armed with new friends. My name is Stephanie.
Stephanie Ohumu is a writer who doesn’t understand why bios have to be written in third person. She currently lives on Twitter: @SI_Ohumu.