The Smell of Fear

Fear has a smell. The realization that you’ve lived with it for the bulk of your existence dawns gradually. The familiarity of it. It’s like an old friend you do not like but have to stick with because no one else will be with you.

It was there, hovering just around your nostrils, one of those nights when you had been locked out of the house, again, and you witnessed a murder in your notorious neighborhood. You plastered your body against the wall of your fence, as if to merge with it and prayed not to be seen. Continue reading

Facing Fear

He woke up afraid. Fear has been his companion for a while now. The paper he pasted on the wall called his attention but he didn’t need to look. He knew every word by heart now.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

He recited it again, this time out loud.

“This day I’ll face my fear”

“Bode no dey disturb person ah. Na everyday you dey face this fear. You never tell am wetin you want tell am finish? Abeg make I sleep.”

“Five o’clock you still dey sleep, no stand up go find work.”

 The reply he got was a snore. He shook his head and made his way through the bodies spread out on the floor, careful not to step on anyone or wake them. At the door he looked at the room they all slept in, all seven of them. This has to end starting today.

He had a quick but thorough bath brought out his rumpled shirt and trousers from the hanger.

To successfully carry out his assignment he had to look smart. Feeling driven, he made his way to the small outer room which served as parlour, kitchen and store, illuminating his path with the torch light of his Nokia phone. Reaching for the stove iron, he lit the stove. The flames went wild for a bit then dimmed. No kerosene.

“Damn”

He thought about knocking on Kanayo’s door and pleading with him to power his gen so he could iron. He knew Kanayo was awake, because he had gone into the bathroom just after Bode had used it and they had greeted.

“The time is five thirty” that automated voice of his phone informed. No time, he thought.

 Besides it’s this begging for favours from his neighbours that had brought him plenty insult in the past.

Plan B.

Whipping out his sponge he dipped it into a bowl of water and used it to scrub his clothes spread out on a mat. Considerably satisfied he threw on his damp work cloth and was ready to leave.

His heart was thudding uncontrollably and his stomach was clenched up in knots. Fear. He knew the symptoms all too well. He made his way back into the room and read the reminder on the wall affirming in his heart that he was powerful beyond measure and could face anything. His heart quieted a bit but his stomach was still in turmoil.

Grasping for courage he reached for his bible, held it closed in his laps and prayed for God to direct him to a bible verse that will speak his promise to him. Eyes closed, he opened the bible, then his eyes. They fell on Jeremiah 30: 14 and he began reading.

All your lovers have forgotten you; they no longer care about you. I have attacked you like an enemy; your punishment has been harsh because your sins are many and your wickedness is great.

He closed it immediately. No, not this part. Can’t be God speaking to him right now. He opened it again, this time consciously navigating to a verse that gave him hope. Jeremiah 29:11

For I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.

“The time is five fifty”

He closed his bible and grabbed his bag. Before he left he looked himself in the mirror and a tall, handsome confident gentle man with lots of potential stared back at him. All he had to do was let the world see this part of him.

Ikorodu garage was rowdy as always. Buses came and the clean and corporate looking men and women momentarily turned into expert touts as they pushed and swore their way into the buses. Once in, they straightened their clothes rumpled from the struggle and went back to being professional.

I’m not about this life any more Bode thought remembering something he had read “if you want to be it start acting it.” He was a successful gentleman.

After seven buses had gone and the sun began peeking out of the sky Bode found himself using his hand to block the entrance of the next bus that came and shoving as many people as he could for the only available space in the bus. He got in, dusted his shoes which had suffered the most from the struggle and went back to gentleman mode.

The bus slowly progressed through heavy traffic, moving from the streets of mile 12 with its old houses and worn out paints to magnificent houses telling that they were at Maryland. Admiring the neighbourhood he began dreaming of the life he wanted.

A big house in a beautiful quiet suburb. A parrot in the cage just by the door of the anteroom. Two beautiful daughters and a son, running around the lawn with the Labrador. Him driving his jeep in through the gate the security man has open for him and his beautiful wife coming towards him with a smile. Today he will work towards getting that life.

9:20 am.

He was late. Again. He ran towards the elevator cursing the Lagos traffic. While waiting for the elevator he wiped the sweat off his face and raised each arm sniffing at his armpit. He was on the second armpit when the elevator door opened and he was staring into the face of one of his fears. Momentarily embarrassed that he had been caught in the act he stepped in and called out a hearty hello. A bit too hearty actually because Chris looked at him like he was weird then gave him a tepid response.

Chris is the guy he wants to be. The guy he is inside but no one else sees. He also feels very uncomfortable around Chris. He was too perfect and made him feel so inadequate. He recalled a tweet he read “Make friends with people who are already where you want to be.”

“So how was your weekend Chris my man” too hearty again.

Chris frowned “You are acting really weird today”

That killed his spirit and he couldn’t wait to get off the elevator.

The first hadn’t gone so well but he wouldn’t fail at the others. At his desk in the cubicle he shared with eight other staff he inwardly rehearsed his lines. He could do better at this office. He deserved better and just needs to be believed in and to be given a chance to be a part of the decision making and execution process.  But he needed more than words, he needed action.

He went to the secretary’s desk

“Call united and tell them we will cease work on their project if they do not pay the remaining 40 percent they owe us before close of business today.”

“Line manager didn’t ask me to tell them that” she replied defiantly

“Well I’m telling you, do it!” he said with authority.

“Ok sir”

He smiled and moved towards his desk. Confidence really works.

“Excuse me”

He knew it was her even before he turned, the woman with whom he will have that beautiful home. His fear number two. He was shaking in his cheap shoes.

“Sorry” he moved aside for her to pass. ‘Do it now!’ his inner voice said.

“Wait Habibat”

“Yes Bode?” she gave him a cool look laced with impatience and he nearly lost his nerves. ‘Confidence is sexy’ that same inner voice told him so he squared his shoulders and dove in.

“Hope you had a great weekend?”

“I did” The monotonous answers should have been warning enough but that inner voice kept him going.

“It’s funny that we are colleagues but we barely know each other. Let’s remedy that today at lunch?”

‘God almighty see insult o’ was the look on her face but she pursed her lips and said nothing. He read the message clearly. A part of him warned “give up and escape with dignity intact” the other encouraged “if you give up now you’ll never conquer your fear.” He obeyed

“So what do you think?”

She pointed towards the right.

“What? We can go now?” he asked hopefully

“Danjuma is calling you” she turned and walked away.

“Do not make me call you a third time Bode” Danjuma warned “In my office now.”

He knew he was in trouble from the look on his face. Heart thudding so much that his chest ached he opened the door and went in.

“I’ll like to know when and how you became the line manager “

“I’m so sorry sir. You weren’t around and I thought I was doing the right thing.”

“The right thing? Have you got no brain? How does that seem right to you”

He wanted to explain that he thought it was the best for the company and that he believed if they did it that way the company wouldn’t have as much loss as it has now. He wanted to put into practice what he learnt in school and be a useful asset to this company. He wanted to explain all of that to his line manager and ask him to have some faith in his plan that it will work eventually, but looking at Danjuma’s thunderous face he opened his mouth but the right words wouldn’t come out. All the lines he had practised and the winning speech he planned were frozen with his heart.

“Get out of my office now and go home. You are on one week suspension without pay. That will teach you to never go over my head to take decisions.”

As he turned to leave the office he saw all eyes trained on him through the glass doors. He forced his feet to move and not buckle under him. He saw Habibat and Chris look at him for a while and shake their heads at his foolishness then almost immediately just as if he didn’t exist they went back to talking and laughing.

Feeling rejected by everyone, including by the ground which refused to open and swallow him, he made his way out of the office.

“Ha! e be like say you conquer this fear sharp sharp today this one wey you come back early”

Ignoring his brother he went straight into their dingy room, passing by the mirror. He looked in it and a stooped man with shabby clothes and sweaty face looked back. That man isn’t me. His eyes went to that paper and he made to tear it off the wall, but his eyes fell on “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Tomorrow I’ll face my fear.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same