One morning, during assembly, our principal told us that a man will be coming to make some changes around our school. Our exams were approaching, and she thought we made too much noise. Two days later, his effects could be seen and felt: the corridors were deathly quiet, stirring of sheets the only sounds from the insides of filled classrooms and, back in the dorms, students slept with their feet in half buckets of water and on the springs of bunks deprived of their mattresses. Sleep was for the unserious, he said. You should be able to survive on 4 hours of sleep. I tried only the first day and went back to bed before I could fill in the sleep logsheets he had shared to everyone to document their times.

Lack of sleep made me tired, grumpy, and unfocused. It took twice the rate of my productivity, decision making, and processing to get anything done and I was more inclined to act out rashly and eat poorly when I was sleep deprived. Even worse, I craved more sleep. Years later, I would come across an article reinforcing why I was never able to function quite effectively, and I would remember it again, a few months later, standing in the sweltering heat of a nearby buka where I got food when I was taking a hiatus from cooking.

Everyone who came in had to walk to a small window where money was exchanged for plastic tags with the money’s value written on it. Then, like a buffet without the fine dining, we would walk from one glass enclosure to the other and then to charred pots of soup to decide what will go into the plastic square transparent packs we held.

A man murmured a greeting as I collected a blue tag and I murmured back, a little less wary than usual because this was my third time here, and everyone was usually here for the food.

“Which food are you buying,” he asks after his eyes roam over and around me.
“Am I not talking to you?” he prods to my retreating back.
“Are we quarrelling?”

I’m on my way to the coolers with jollof rice in them, thinking of a perfect retort and whether it was even necessary to deign this stranger with a response. I could have quickly mustered one up if I was well suited up like I usually was navigating overcrowded streets and surging markets, or when alone under the blanket of night, and in the crevices of unfamiliar walkways. This, added to the fact that it had been so long since I was reproached harshly in a similar manner for paying my own bus fare because a stranger wanted to be chivalrous. The stutter rose and then fell as the long hand of time ran away from its companion.

A hard hand grabbed me on my arm, forcing me to look away from the serving girl’s spoon of warmly coloured rice into the folds of a dark, jiggly face.

“Is the food you’re buying enough for you?”

I could only manage a weak, affirmative nod before freeing my arm, reaching for my pack and heading further into the buka. Money—that would have been the perfect retort. Offer to buy the whole buka for a man like that and he would tear the whole building down while calling you an ashewo because his ego was hurt, almost as if ashamed with the idea that someone could buy him.

The patriarchy gives no days off. No days to sleep, rest and recuperate. No days to gather your wits about you to prepare for yet another affront, another debasement, another question of your worth and value on God’s green earth. You only manage to sleep after being spent, burnt out from the effects of its constant glare and then, the resulting consequences from slow actions and poor decisions in sleep-deprived moments come back to haunt you and hammer feelings somewhat forgotten into the back of your mind.

But never mind, for tomorrow you will be well rested. You will pick up the mantle yet again and rededicate it to smashing the patriarchy in the balls. And what’s more: you will have a closer reminder, in case there were any doubts; a deeper resolve, in case you were twiddling your toes; and a quick retort for the next time someone thinks that being ‘woke’ is an insult.

Photo by Godisable Jacob from Pexels

Adaku Nwakanma
Twitter and Instagram: @adakanma.