28: Death, Nostalgia & the Inbetweens.

Victor Daniel
8 min readJul 11, 2022

I have no new pictures to post this year. Today’s my birthday and I’m going to handle it delicately. I’ll not be doing much and I hope I don’t have to. I’ll be drinking a lot of coffee at Mambaah Café and having profound conversations with strangers who overextend themselves towards me.

And when I’m left alone long enough, I’ll be slipping in and out of nostalgia like I always do.

Nostalgia.

I miss the 80s; I wasn’t born then. I wish I were. I have stopped evolving in many ways. My taste in music has stopped adapting to new sounds, so I compulsively listen to songs that remind me of much better times. Tuface Idibia has the most logs on my Spotify search history. Every smell reminds me of a moment that used to mean the world to me; like the scent of my room when I had my PlayStation. Sometimes if I think hard enough I can hold these memories in their most solid forms, for just a while, then they disintegrate into sweet nothingness, like the dying guitar strings of an enchanting song you can only hear once.

I wish I were conscious enough to savour those moments I now desperately try to hold in my grasp. But then I also recognize that I’m creating new memories right now, and I’m letting the moment pass by me, and that one day a song will remind me of these times and I will close my eyes and try to will myself back to this space.

I don’t want to grow old to be the grumpy uncle who talks crap about conventional music. I fear I will bore the young people around me with talks about how “music these days suck.” Axel insists that he’s living his best life now. I want to be like Axel when I get to his age; if I get to that age. He’s a middle-aged German with silvery hair and healthy teeth. Well-traveled, like many Europeans his age. He is adjusted to the Nigerian culture, like other Europeans who hang out at Mambaah Cafe. One day he’s asked when he had the best moment of his life. He says he’s having it at the moment. The women are more beautiful, the food is better, and he’s currently having the time of his life. I hope the rest of my life stretches out that positively. He doesn’t attribute his current satisfaction to any grand purpose. I wish my life were that simple.

For now, I’m rewatching Glamour Girls (1994) on YouTube after seeing Charles Play’s abomination. The Eucheria/Zach Orji sex scene takes me back to 2001, in our marbled living room in GRA Okaito. My mother lurks around faintly in the periphery of my memory. On my birthday the previous year (exactly this day 22 years ago), we watched Full Moon together while I donned my red suit and blue-patterned tie. It was a big party and everyone came around. It’s my favourite ever birthday. My father used to have a picture of himself and his friends from that day — all wearing tucked-in shirts and patterned ties. The picture is long gone and so are some of the men in that frame. The older I grow, the faster my father ages, and the more friends he loses to the grim certainty of death. The uncles from my childhood are becoming memories.

Loss in 2022.

Dealing with loss in 2022 is different. There’s everything to remind you of them. The last time I lost a friend was 2014, and back then you didn’t have splatters of their memories and moments everywhere you looked. In 2022, you lose your friend and you still see their chatbox on your GMAIL every time you sign in. You still see their portraits on mutual playlists on Apple Music. You will have Snapchat sending you notifications about the picture they took with your phone on this day last year. If you scroll up far enough into your gallery you will find pictures and pictures and pictures and even videos of them doing the most random shit, like making paper crowns. Like folding a book into a microphone and singing their hearts off. Like Bukunmi, being Bukunmi.

I have not the words in me to describe who Bukunmi was or what she meant to us at the office. But we remember her over little gestures of love, like how she always had enough sugar or milk for your coffee, or how she would extend to you a sachet of Panadol if she ever saw a sign of strain in you. Like bringing an extra sandwich for you if you liked the one she made yesterday. In the grand scheme of all, the littlest gestures of care make for the biggest currencies of humanity. We exchanged emails at the end of January, and then a week later she just went and died.

Crushing.

But like most people my age living in Nigeria, I have developed an apathy for death, and I’ve lost enough people to concede to the brutal finality of death. It’s ironic how reluctant we are with coming to terms with death. I don’t know what else needs to happen for us to fully accept that anyone can die at any fucking time. There’s no formula; no fool-proof method for the prevention of sudden death. Your life is so fickle that you could do everything right and still end up dying from someone else’s negligence. You’re driving sober on the freeway, real slow, and then someone rams into your car and that’s it.

Nothing in the antecedents of mortality shows that your relationship with your deity of choice can extend your life. People that believe in, and love God, die suddenly, and sometimes painfully too. Children who don’t know sin also meet sudden death.

Death is only a tragedy for people who are alive, and I’ve lived through this too many times to not develop an emotional resistance.

This exposition doesn’t lead to any philosophical resolution. I still don’t know how to live, knowing that my ultimate purpose is eventual death. I still go through life wearing my anxiety like a backpack. I always have a job to finish. I always have a text to reply to. I always have an email to respond to. I always wake up to every daylight feeling like I have a quota to fulfill. This is not a way to live, yet, lived have I. I wish I had the freedom to float, to pursue a grand ambition that gives me purpose. And what’s this freedom? Rubbers.

Money.

I tend to enjoy the things that money cannot buy; like the sunset. Like moments. Like the feverish thrill of creativity. Like beautiful conversations with strange people. I expend a lot of energy trying to avoid getting trapped in the mush of vanity. The internet is a vector for capitalism and everyone is in a blinding paper chase. I hate that money has become the centerpiece of all things romantic. I bitch a lot about how money has ruined true art, and now artists work for prizes and for the public purse rather than for the spirit of creation.

Yet, I work in a corporate organization so I can afford to live in a very middle-class part of the most expensive city in the country. I’m in the rat race to make the next bread. I don’t make a lot of money but I make enough to get by with. On weekends I lounge at a café whose menu 70% of Nigerians would consider luxury. So when, on one of those Saturday mornings, I started to mouth off pejoratives about capitalism, Axel reminds me that I too have set myself upon the same path as what I speak out against.

I argue that I don’t care much about money, but that’s not the whole truth. I want to make money because I live in a society that robs you of basic human decency if you are poor. I have convinced myself that if I were a European artist, I would have been content with the bare minimum. I too could make art for art’s sake, in a beautiful Nordic village with endless greenery and beautiful women.

Zainab quips that I could do that in Nigeria. That she returns to her village every now and then to enjoy the beautiful ambiance of nature. Yeah, but tell that to the people who actually live there without the option of getting out; whose every day realities have become our temporary romantic getaway. I too, can only enjoy the fuzzy gorgeousness of my village from a safe distance away, knowing that I’ll always be able to return back to the comfort of my city apartment when I can. You can only find happiness in little after you have tasted the vulgarity of abundance.

I’m now beginning to understand that some of the things I thought I could enjoy for free are no longer free. I thoroughly enjoy my conversations with the people at the cafè. We share similar tastes in arts. They’re well-traveled and open-minded. They’re curious and intelligent. But while I’m having these beautiful conversations with these brilliant folks from different countries, I’m sipping a ₦2000 cup of coffee, being reminded that I can only afford certain forms of beauty when I’m making money.

But while I’m at it, I’ll learn to navigate life and explore beauty with whatever I can afford. I’ll find my way around problems that I cannot solve with money. I will cultivate the social grace to wade through social interactions without the artificial sophistication of wealth. I will retain enough depth to enjoy intangible things like nature and love and the beautiful things only the mind can see.

Career.

I know I should be more ambitious. I know that it’s not enough to be gifted. I know I should be more confident — kicking my way into rooms I wasn’t invited to. I’ve caught myself sleeping on waves I should be riding. If the world was perfect I would just write and eat and sleep. I’m grateful for the little blessings of life and talent, and yet I live in morbid fear that the world would move past me. My friends, the ones who are unafraid to try, are moving in leaps and bounds. I want to live one day at a time, but I don’t want to wake up one morning to realize that I was late to the party and the wind has blown the caravan out of my reach.

I’ve been a bit more productive than I was last year. I have 10 articles in Zikoko, including that viral Mona Lisa piece. I have a short story coming out on the next issue of Lolwe. I’m writing reviews for a startup publication launching soon. I will wrap up these scripts and make a wobbly attempt at shooting a short film. Most importantly, my friends are winning. At least most of them.

28.

My most treasured trait is my ability to reflect on my life. It gives me an illusion of control. I take responsibility for my weaknesses because I recognize them. I know my strengths and how to maximize them, even though sometimes I’m not motivated to try. I try to learn more about how the world works, and I rationalize everything, especially people’s behavior towards me. Today, I’m 28, and I have an entire lifetime to learn new ways to live. Tomorrow may not exist, but then I’ll be thoroughly satisfied with the knowledge that I did the best I could within the limitations of habit.

(This was written on the 9th of July, my birthday.)

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Victor Daniel

Humour, social criticism, fiction, and reflection. Stories in Zikoko, Brittle Paper, Lolwe, Afrocritiks, & more. Newsletter: https://whichwayshome.substack.com/