Fireworks Dream: a New Year Story
A short story by Tobi Akanni
My name is Toluwanimi, yet I do not feel I belong to God.
My life is in shambles. Standing here and staring into space, the walls seem to be closing in on me, with the classroom’s windows like metallic hands reaching for my lungs.
I turn away from the bookshelf with a copy of Afterlives. My eyes glaze over its cover, and I fling it away. I do not like the half-face staring back at me. Or is it four halves? I can’t tell. The book also seemed to be shimmering, disappearing from my vision, and coming back into focus.
I stagger back to the front of the deserted classroom, my senses spinning like a Ferris wheel. I find my way to the left corner of the darkened room and collapse onto the floor under a venetian blind, where ghostly stripes of yellow light from the schoolyard trickle in. I flip my gaze from desk to desk, ceiling to floor, and door to whiteboard.
The summary of my existence - an unfulfilled assistant teacher at thirty-five, drinking her life away on New Year's Eve - has turned me into this lonesome being. My ankara blazer is like a worksite coat, and my braids fall around my face like a curtain, unkempt with tiny knots and strands of hair sticking out. My jeans look like a piece of mourning cloth.
A stab shoots through my heart, and my chest heaves on a choked breath. The pain keeps twisting, sucking my eyeballs inward at the sides until I can no longer bear it. I feel taut veins spring up all over my head and arms, and I throw my face down to my arched knees.
A tear slips out.
In the distance, the red wine I'd drunk halfway in a champagne flute seems to mock me – glinting red, smoothly lounging in the flute’s glass bowl on my desk, as if it has nothing more to do than offer sweet comfort. I imagine my blood must be the opposite of its bright colour – a harsh red and stickier than usual. Maybe mouldy because I feel cold from my inside, and it has nothing to do with the harmattan. Not that I am generally a warm soul, anyway, as my partner of five years has proven: breaking up with me hours before the new year.
Why is this drink not working? How much alcohol does it contain again? I only want to be numb! I don't want to think about anything. I don't. Not about my lack of self-awareness nor about the mechanical life I have led these eight years. Now the only connection I have to another person - even though our relationship was convenient and dim at best - has been snipped.
It felt like being in a tunnel of work, sleep, work and suddenly being pushed out of it to fall by the wayside of reality’s railroads as the harsh light of my decisions prods me stark in the eye(s).
Teaching has always been my love, but it has become a rutting cage. A nightmare I am living over and over without knowing.
I’d shrunken myself into survival mode – hopeless, poor, waddling through the rot of a mental canal and gulping muddy dirt of misery.
How did my bubbly aura drip away to become this?
I am alone.
Sunken below the threshold of normalcy.
I shift on my now tingling butt and try to adjust my aching spine. A turd goes off to my right, and my eyes flit to it. My hand flies out to catch the bottle of wine I'd forgotten, now knocked down, its content guzzling to the floor. I grip the bottle's neck and bring it to my tear-smeared face. My reflection shows one swollen red eye and a mascara-streaked one before it blurs, and I am staring into an enchanting abyss of nothingness.
Shaking my head to clear the image, I swallowed a spittle accidentally. The bitter, acidic taste down my throat sends me into another throe of discomfort and a painful realisation.
I mean, look at me. Really. Drunk, smelly, and alone in Saviour Day's High on the thirty-first of December, save for a few security guards likely here only because they are on duty.
I thought I could work the crossover night away, but how darn wrong I was. All I have done is sit here and trudge my way into depression since that one phone call from . . .
I am tired.
But I don't want to be anymore, and I know I could be so much happier, healthier...
I mean, I was that girl once. A long time ago.
Oh, God. Now I regret ever drinking this much.
Disgust wells up inside me, and I smell a faint nasty odour of my body. Perhaps I should just keep talking to myself in my head and enunciating everything I want to do. It may help some.
I know I have a long way to go in finding that girl.
The lost me.
I could go for therapy. Rediscover my love for teaching.
I raise my wrist, spotted with dark blotches and sporting a cracked watch, to my face.
I am desperate for a change.
I do not, or should I say, I cannot go back to my family. Not until I make something of myself, at least.
I imagine a life of freedom and bright orange-blue skies in a far, faraway land where I am teaching lovely children.
Walking on red-hued sand, by a stretching green sea. I see different people all around me, welcoming.
A fresh start.
But nowhere here. And it hit me.
Relocation. Relocation! I could—I can relocate.
I hear the flaps of a bird's wings, and as I swing my neck to look at it, its perching coincides with fireworks exploding in the night sky.
It is the prettiest sight ever; a cute little birdy in vibrant colours on the windowsill, framed by hanging flowers, leaves, and twigs stretching from tall trees in the orchard outside. More celebratory explosions sent it flying away, its trajectory cutting into and beautifying the lightning streaks falling.
I am impressed with an overwhelming sense of calmness and clarity, an epiphany of what I am capable of and of the beautiful world and the amazing people in it. My heart swells within me and appears to be pumping positive energies and waves that are wafting up to clear the clouds of despondency that had built a castle over my crown for years.
My eyes water, but not from pain or hurt this time. I glance at my wristwatch, and the time reads 11:58 p.m.
Two minutes until the new year…
I suddenly chuckle out loud, a foreign sound that spooked me. How long ago since I last did that?
I could seek greener pastures, apply for a work-and-study visa, or one of those things. Given that I am a stellar scholar and an undoubtedly dedicated teacher, I believe I can attract positive recommendations, referrals, and bigger opportunities.
Of course, I have zero idea how I will go about any of these, but all I know and am deeply aware of on a very sensual and spiritual level is my RESOLVE.
I lift my arm again.
Sunday, January 1, 2023
Happy freaking new year, Toluwanimi. You've been lost for far too long, but I believe in you, and I am rooting for you this time.
What would dare stand in your way with your side-kicking, cheerleading, pep-talking alter ego back in place?