Image by Omowero Agbor


“There are many pivotal aspects of your life that have made you who you are, my Ogiemwḗnva. It has not been easy, but you and I know you held pain by the hand in a vice grip. You were determined to answer questions that would not only wound you each time but take bits of your will to enjoy life.
Ogiemwḗnva, like your name, you are in two versions. There is me and there is you. I believe there is more depth to me because you refuse to face the consequences of your inquiry, but you have failed to understand that as long as I am tethered to you, you will never be free.
I was there when you asked your first question, ‘Why do I look like that?’ I wanted to scream that you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I wanted to warn you to listen to me only and ignore the names that were whispered in the shadows, ‘Orobo, biggie biggie, small big lady.’ I think that was when I knew I would not be able to save you. I still tried. I had questions too, but they were rooted in concern. Your heart was soft and childlike; you had to create a persona to sustain yourself, and I believe as a child, that was your first mistake.
Body image issues made you a liar. You lied to yourself constantly. I know you were too young to understand what self-deception was. To you, you were just making sure people associated you with your friendliness and hilarious over-exaggerations rather than your physical appearance. The day you understood that people cannot be taught thoughtfulness is when you understood that wickedness can, in fact, be taught. I heard you defend why you were left-handed when the little girl said she wouldn’t play with you because her mummy said, ‘left-handed people were of the devil.’ It made you more self-conscious and it gave root to the next question, ‘Why didn’t my parents change me?’ I was listening when your mama assured you that there was nothing wrong with being left-handed. She told you that you were born like that. Naturally, I knew your next question would be, ‘Why did God make me like that?’ But I saw your internal struggle; you knew it wasn’t okay to question God. I wish these questions didn’t stay with you, but as a young adult, I can see the irritation that crosses your face when a supposed elder asks why you’re handing them something with your left hand. The interaction surfaces at the back of your mind, reminding you that you can’t escape the things that have made you who you are currently.
You lost weight. It’s not like you really had a choice, and you were a boarder. Everyone had told you, ‘Ogi, you’ll lose all this baby fat. Don’t worry; you’ll look better.’ You heard it in so many variations, and it led to more questions, ‘What’s wrong with how I look like now?’ I didn’t know how to tell you that they’re all just projecting. I didn’t want to confuse you. I should’ve said something because I watched you grow into the insecurities cast on you. Being called fat and ugly, round and shapeless, standing in front of the mirror and being glad you’re finally skinny; maybe the pretty girls would be nice to you now. The aunties and uncles would praise you now, and you would be able to act freely in their presence; no one would make you feel like you were doing too much.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have to build a personality that people like just so they’d want to be around you. They didn’t. You still felt like an outsider. You realized later on that they were never going to include you; you were still the fat friend to them, to everyone. ‘Ahan, are you sure reading? You’ve not really lost enough weight. Are you eating other people’s food?’ It was not enough. That was when you realized it would never be enough, and that was the first real answer you had. I thought by then you would hear me, screaming encouragement. I wanted you to know you’re not alone, that I was here for you. You didn’t hear me, not even when you picked up the razor, and I said your name, pleading for you to drop it.
Body image issues made you a liar; it also gave you your first bout of depression. It is almost always hilarious when depression comes up, and people ask ‘Where is that coming from?’ Pain is adjacent to growth; it is not linear, and it’s like a plant, taking its time to fully root. I knew you were in pain; I knew you were lonely; I just didn’t know you were alone. The first time you cut, you didn’t scream, I did. You did it again and watched the blood flow, and you were fascinated with how numb you felt. You didn’t feel anything, and that was enough for you. What about me? That was my first question for you. I think you heard me because you didn’t do it again for some time. I was elated; I thought you would finally hear that I’ve been rooting for you from day one. I was a fool.
You were clearly waiting to see how long you could ride on that numbness. I should’ve realized that it was another question that you needed an answer to. When you picked up the razor after 2 weeks, I knew you had your answer, and that was enough justification for you. You cut deeper, enough to leave a scar but not enough to draw attention. It was the first thing you did that was yours; it wasn’t cast on you; you had made your decision. I was there; I watched you, and that was the first time I experienced pity. I was foolish, but so were you; your decision wasn’t yours; it was theirs, their perception. I didn’t know what to do; you were hurting yourself; you were hurting me, us. I had to fight back, fight for us, since you were ready to destroy us. I waited till you rode the high, and at that climatic moment, I whispered, ‘Celine.'”
“Celine was a ray of sunshine in your very dim horizon. You told her everything; you loved her, and I was so excited that you were experiencing warmth for a change. You were convinced that you had formed a bond that was stronger than your pain. If I had known that I would be the one to take it from you, I would have never said anything. I don’t think I’ve actually admitted that it was my fault. I was afraid that you would leave me, and we didn’t even have a relationship. I will never forget that conversation; it was embarrassing. I watched you pull her away to one of your spots and whisper, ‘You have a problem.’ She asked what it was, and you said, ‘I cut myself, it frees me.’ I think you expected her to hug you and tell you everything would be okay. She didn’t; she laughed. The sound surprised us both; it was the loudest laugh you had heard in a while, or you probably felt my shock, so the sound echoed. She said, and I quote, ‘You’re too young to be doing such a stupid thing. You have a good home, food, and you’re healthy. What else are you looking for? So, what will you do when you become an adult? Hang yourself?’ That was the first time I knew I had to make you hear me. I shouted, ‘Ogi, get up.’ That was the last time you cut, but I had given you your first taste of betrayal, and I didn’t care.
Owning your body image issues were a direct result of my betrayal. Things were different now that I had pushed my way in, don’t you see? You needed me to save you. We would be a team now, or so I thought. You abandoned me when you started to experiment with your looks, your style. I wanted you to ask for my input; yes, baby tees are for you, no, I think you should let go of the baggy t-shirts. It didn’t matter; you had passed through puberty now; you had new questions. ‘Why do they still talk about me like that?’ I know it was difficult to grow into your body and still have to face backlash. You were tired of cowering behind clothes that were twice your size; wearing clothes that fit attracted judgment.
Your battle wasn’t yours; it was theirs. I tried to tell you that; you didn’t want my opinion. You were facing a new type of projection, fear. I know you’re familiar with fear; it was childlike, innocent, and beatable. This was different; you were facing fear that seduced you, and of course, you would fall. You had spent so long hiding, feeling less, unwanted, and unsure, standing in front of the mirror and being ashamed of your reflection.
Body dysmorphia isn’t something that goes away easily; it grows with time. It takes your progress and growth and latches on, waiting till you put that pretty dress on, that mini skirt on. It is a companion; I should know; you gave her to me.”
“The fear, you held on to that; you were determined to enjoy yourself and enjoy your newfound bravery. The attention was both terrifying and intimidating; you didn’t understand that just because you were brave, the pain would not stop. I watched you try short dresses for the first time and get called names, ‘Ashawo, Slut, Whore, Cheap and Easy.’ It hurt; I felt your pain; I wanted to hold your hand, but I didn’t want to burn both of us, so I gave you some of my bravery, and I saw your light shine. It didn’t matter if they called you names; you were finally beginning to understand that they were small words made by small people. Even if you say yes and confine yourself to their standards, they’ll still call you names. I wanted to help, so I pushed you down the route of Art; I knew you found solace in music, literature, cinema, plays, and paintings. I knew you needed to remind yourself that your experiences were still worth it. It helped; you took your hurt and relinquished it. You could finally stand in front of a mirror and not see despair looking back. It gave insight, a better voice. I was so proud of you; you were finally happy with your body; you thought you were beautiful, and you didn’t care about what anyone had to say. I thought things would get better; it was just the beginning, but we were happy.”

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Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine was founded in 2017 by Clara Jack to be a home for African writers, asking them to come as they are and giving them room for growth. The publication aims to give back to the Nigerian Literary scene for the things it has given us.