“The last time we spoke, you told me that you felt like you were trapped in tight lid jar, care to elaborate on that ?” he said, tilting his green horn rimmed glasses on the edge of his nose and rubbing his hands as if under imaginary running water. These sessions began with him pulling out a red Reynolds pen, an item he shipped in cartons from Lagos. He usually placed them in a black calabash on his desk, away from what he called ” prying nostalgic Nigerian hands.”He did everything with an eagerness, a vigor that only came from a place that was genuine and pure, and that made her uncomfortable. Where professionalism failed, flamboyance intervened, every thing he did, from the stroke of his pen, to the way he blew cigarette ashes off his shoulder was outlined in elegance. He always crossed his legs, revealing the cleanest socks lined with eccentricities, and when he listened to her problems, his right hand casually creating stories of her demons on paper, he did it painlessly, perhaps that was why she was here. There was a small hole in his left ear, which indicated that at some time in his life, when youth did not prepare for age, he had thrown caution to the wind, said “fuck you” to expectations and gauged it. He rarely ate in front of her, but what he did do was smoke packets of cigarettes and apologize profusely for what he called ” bad therapist behavior” as he gave her a shoulder pat on her way out, even though this was a ritual they both practiced . She had been open from the beginning, willing to let herself be exorcised by this unfamiliar creature, an experience she never let herself have with other therapists. When she asked her school’s counseling center to be matched with a university counselor ,she wasgiven a list, and without much thought, picked the name Klaus Nzeogwu . What Nigerian in their right mind was named ” Klaus”?
” I dont know if I feel like that anymore” . she replied lightly, scraping her fingers at the bottom of her purse in search of a cigarette. ” Am I still allowed to smoke in here.. want one? “
” Call me Klaus, we have to establish a more personal space for you here”
“You’re a Nigerian counselor, there will always be a wall ” she said.
” If I was an American white counsellor would it be any different?”
” It would, but then there wouldn’t be alligator peppers”
“You made allusions to me performing, what do you mean?” he ignored her.
” yes perform, we’re all performing here, me , you and your hidden tattoos and peacock feathers, it’s all a performance” she said , fishing the broken end of a Marlboro from her purse and lighting it anyway.
“You think that life is a performance?”
” Is it not? Everything we do is for the front stage, the real cracker barrel is who we are when the curtains go down”. She unraveled the giant braid bun on her head and lit individual braids on end with her cigarette.
” so we are not who we are when we are performing?” he asked. ” Who you are with me , is not who you are with your parents, they don’t know the intricacies about you”
” They don’t care to know, so who I am is limited to my graduate school degree, potential job offers, and when the time comes ….a husband” she said, blowing circles in his direction.
” Is the equation really that simple Njideka? I mean you are generalizing Nigerian parenthood based on your experience”
” With Nigerian parents.. yes klaus.. yes it is” she continued. ” They don’t care that I like to draw with chalk on the sidewalk, or that I’ve been published several times in the literary journal or that my sophmore year my hair was falling out in chunks because I was stressed. This is our middle class curse. I’m here as a representative of all the things they failed to accomplish, and the moment I embody anything disgraceful, I am silenced, I am no longer a part of them.”
” Is that what you feel like now? silenced”
“I was raped.. I was raped by my own father, and the shame fell on me anyway. It was my fault. somehow it was my fault.”
The room was silent now, as if a forbidden secret had been shared. Both parties stared at each other wondering how the whisper had changed the moment. Klaus wondered why she had not cried. Her face was stoic, void of all emotion. She admitted to the horror as simply as she did everything else.
” I remember what it felt like. My head pressed against the glass screen door.. it felt like an outer body experience…like I could see myself being raped. I still can. I remember it every single day, and because I remember, I dream about it . I remember my mother watching from the corner in their room”
” You tried to hang yourself in your father’s bedroom”
” I was just trying to see what it would be like to have a noose around my neck, his ceiling is the highest”she replied, a small smirk forming on her face.
” lets not make this an amusement Nji”
” It was a performance”she replied. ” I wanted to punish him, the way he had punished me.”
“So now you want to quit? You feel that taking your own life is the best option , even after all the things you have accomplished at your age?”
‘ Yes Klaus.. I want to quit.” She replied.