I die every night and, if I'm lucky, I’m reborn in the morning. Call it karmic pot-luck, call it spiritual cleansing, call it by any other name than what it actually is: the banal symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.
My memory loss is a side effect of continuously popping a cocktail of pills that would make the most hardened head-case dive deep-deep-deep into a Rip Van Winkle-style coma. This shit ain't for the faint of heart, hence why so many folks with mental health problems never get better. Not to sound like a Downer Dombiro, but having to hoover up a buffet of Benzos, SSRIs and anti-psychotics for the rest of your limited life span is no-one's idea of a soirée. That shit is like weight-training or long ting tantric sex: you need the stamina of an ox – at least until it becomes as habitual as calling your hooyo or smoking hashish, the latter of which in my case happens twice a day.
The first thing I do when I wake up, and the last thing before heading off to The Land of Nod, is take the following tablets:
Three 1mg Risperidone (because having hallucinations and hearing voices is sweat-inducing and I generally don’t aspire to perspire).
Two 500 mg Clonazepam (because anxiety and panic attacks age you by a hundred years and these beauties make me feel like an ice-cool whippersnapper).
Two 50mg Sertraline (because my depression is not only boring for me but for the people in my life too).
One 20mg Omeprazole (because gastro-intestinal mess is the most natural endpoint when your insides are essentially a bootleg pharmacy).
One 25μg vitamin D (because I’m a black man in a white man’s land and my fly/ sensual self don’t see no sun).
One 15mg high strength zinc (because the quack suggested that such exorbitantly priced and needless supplements were good for my chakras or summink of that sort).
One 120mg of coenzyme Q-10 (because the health food store salesman was a sexy Brazilian bloke who could have convinced me that having my organs harvested was my life’s purpose, like those poor sods in that grim Kazuo Ishiguro novel).
Naturally, I sugar this Scheiße with two shots of scotch and the fattest spliff. I always go into work with cherubs strumming Sun Ra melodies in my ear, making me feel finer and saucier (not to mention saner) than Rick James at his super freakiest.
Loathe though I am to morph into a Moaning Musa, one of the side effects of all this medication is you gain an obscene amount of avoirdupois. Belly becomes rounder, butt grows bigger, thighs get thicker and before you know it you’re the size of a baby walrus. Not that I’m complaining too much, mind. Before I became sick, I was a scraggly little creature, but now I’ve got bounce in my booty and a sex-drive that could rival a bonobo’s, which makes all the rude bwoys ride up to my yard fienin’ for a hit of my pretty boy rock.
Scope this scenario: I'm minding mi business, strutting to work in leopard-print batty riders, when this coterie of young bucks squawks outside Rooster's Hut chicken shop, 'Eh-eh, papi, where you going with all that juiciness? You know it's illegal to walk around packing all that heat.' I pivot with the swagger of Prince circa the Lovesexy album, stamp out my smoke with a twist of my toe-tip, and step to the commander of the crew: a pretty-like-money Mejicano with a nose ring, neck a mosaic of tattoos, lips as red as a danger signal. I lean in and pick up his scent: chicken grease, Hydro and sexual hunger. He licks his lower lip and pushes up against me. I reach into my messenger bag, pull out my business card and press it into his palm. I then whisper in his ear, ‘I dare you to bell me,’ before slinking away to a chorus of catcalls.
Homeboy didn’t buzz me. He simply rocked up to the Bussey Building, where my offices are based, after work, and waited for me outside the Rye Wax bar and record store, smoking a spliff. I said arrivederci to the last of my co-workers and walked over to my gentleman caller.
‘I’ll take that spliff and your name, señor,’ I said.
He smiled and passed me the zut as a group of gormless hipsters gave us the evils and hurried away.
‘You can have my smoke,’ he said, pressing me against the wall, ‘but you’re going to have to work a little harder for my name.’
I took a puff of the magic dragon and said, ‘Is that so?’
‘Mais oui. You need to come better, beauty. Show your boy some love.’
‘Your words make Keats sound pedestrian.’
‘I don’t know who that is, papi,’ he said. ‘Is Keats your man? Tell this Keats coño that your ass has upgraded. Feel how hard I am for you. I ain’t never been this hard before.’
‘Shut up,’ I whispered and ground out the blunt against the wall. ‘Follow me.’
I led him into the Rye Wax men’s bathroom, pulled down his pants, and proceeded to blow his mind. His dick was thick, curved. I got my knees dirty. He creamed all over my lips and, like a cat, I licked it off, then got to my feet. He kissed me on the mouth. The man tasted like melancholy and mint. He tasted familiar. We cleaned ourselves up at the sinks and hit the road. Dusk had fallen. As we were scurrying out onto the high street, he said, ‘I’m Octavio.’
‘Papi, I got to say, you’re a beast. When can I get some more of that good loving?’
I scanned him and smiled. ‘I’m no good for you.’
‘I want someone who smells like trouble,’ he said.
‘You have my number,’ I said, turning away from him and strutting towards the bus stop. ‘I dare you to bell me.’
‘Later, Bonito Applebum.’
Earth to reader, earth to reader: give me your hand. Go on, you can do it. Now follow me as we skedaddle from this scene. Things are about to get seriously funkadelic.
Octavio came to my flat two nights later and we fucked on the kitchen floor, up against the fridge, on my creaky bed until we cracked the frame. Homie was hungry and I was too, so we devoured each other until we were both in a state of sweat-dipped splendour. His skin was as soft as a ballad, booty round and just right, body built like a baseballer who lived on empanadas and chilaquiles. He cuddled me afterwards and cooed in my ear:
‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep/ A bower quiet for us, and a sleep / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.’
I smiled and kissed him. ‘A brother who knows his Keats from his Common is hard to find.’
‘I can spit some Common lyrics for another kiss, if that’s what it takes.’
I kissed him again and he starting rhyming the opening bars of ‘Retrospect for Life’. I stopped him half-way through, foolish ting that I am, and allowed him to hit another home run. He wanted to lay up in my cribo afterwards and savour my sweetness, smoke me out, but I wasn’t ready for a sleepover. As he was putting his pants back on, I smacked his patootie and said, ‘No te pierdas.’
‘Got it, guapo,’ he said, tonguing me one time before the brother boogied.
Afterwards my flat became smaller, constrictive, and the air assumed a mephitic dimension. Goose pimples erupted all over my skin and I realised that I was having a panic attack. I tried to gulp down oxygen. I tried to crouch and breathe slowly. I remembered what my Hooyo had said: ‘Count to ten calmly until your breath normalizes.’ I counted like so:
1. I’m not broken.
2. I’m stronger than a goddam bull-hound and I can withstand this shit.
3. I’m not broken.
4. Dear life, fuck you (and your baby’s mama’s mama too).
5. I’m not broken.
6. Goddam it, why does this keep happening?
7. I’m not broken.
8. In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, my ass will survive this shart.
9. I’m not broken.
10. If I’m not broken, why does it feel like I am?
I lay on the floor for a few minutos. My bones hurt and I was trembling like a hymn. I got up, weak-kneed and weary, which was when the phone rang. I had clocked that it was Hooyo before I had even checked the caller ID.
‘Beautiful, how’s your day been?’ she said.
‘Fantastic,’ I said, fighting back tears. ‘It’s been a really great day.’
‘How’re you feeling, health-wise?’
I laughed a little as I wiped my eyes. ‘I’m really lucky that I’ve got my health sorted out. No panic attacks, no voices, no nothing.’
‘I’m so thrilled,’ she said, before delving into the ins and outs of her shift at the hospital. As she blathered on, I pressed my palm over the mouthpiece of the receiver so that my blues wouldn’t bleed through in my breath. I listened and cleaned myself up as she told me that her wife, my Habo Fahma, had bought her a bloodstone necklace to add to her jewellery collection.
‘I’m jealous,’ I said.
‘I’ll lend it to you sometime but only on the condition that you bring it back. You’re a piss-taker like zat.’
‘Thanks for the sunny vibes, Hooyo,’ I said, ‘and please give my love to Habo.’
‘Stay golden, habibi.’
After hanging up, I took my medication and smoked some sensi. My body felt like it had been through a street fight. Once the meds and Mary Jane hit me, I breathed deep and ran a bath. As I sank into the tub, I thought, what a travesty. What a shame that all the struggles and souped-up glory of the day wouldn’t be remembered in the morning. Quel dommage that I would forget the texture of Octavio’s tongue inside me, the smell of his breath, his Picasso marble-coloured eyes, and pectorals that were a wonderland of pointillist tattoos. All of that beauty and bleakness would be erased, a mandala wiped away by a defective memory. I got out of the tub and dried myself off before moisturising, slipping into my peejays, and plonking myself onto my bed.
Reader, did you think I had forgotten you? Oh no, you’re much too valuable to me. Stick around and don’t forget to turn the lights out.
Snap, snap, snap: get off your hynie, reader, and get with your homeboy. We’re in my parents’ yard in the arse end of Peckham. My Hooyo, Amran, all rainbow-coloured fishtail braids and Amharic forehead tattoos, is sipping chai in her likkle garden. She gave up smoking a few years ago but Mommy Dearest is still rocking a nicotine patch courtesy of the NHS, where she works as a psychiatric nurse. She is what American Southern folks would call big-boned.
‘Boy, shut that fourth wall shit down,’ she says, glugging her tea like it’s a cup of glue, desperate for some kind of kick. ‘I’m not big-boned. My ass is fat. Just don’t shame me to your readers about it.’
‘Fair enough,’ I say.
Then there is her wife, my Habo Fahma, a beanpole of new-wave hippy extraction, all tarot cards and whiffs of hotepism, body a devoutly maintained temple. She rocks traditional Somali attire like garbasaar and guntiino even when she’s doing her rounds as a professional gardener. Everything about Habo Fahma is organic and vegan, down to her nail polish – which is the complete opposite of my Hooyo, who gulps down Glenfiddich whiskey like its water, enjoys sausage casseroles and corn beef seasoned with sensimilla. It’s fair to say that Habo Fahma thinks that my Hooyo and I are bad influences on each other and, more importantly, actual threats to the environment.
‘Have you eaten anything, my love?’ Habo Fahma asked.
‘What you cookin’?’
‘Tofu with lentils.’
‘Habo, love you long time but it’s a hard pass from me.’
‘You sure?’ she said. ‘You know all this trans-fat you consume on the daily is contributing to your depression. Have you considered seeing a spiritual healer?’
‘You mean like an imam?’
‘No, I mean like a sangoma or santeria,’ said Habo Fahma. ‘My sangoma is a constant revelation. She’s helped me realign all my energies – now my true essence has bubbled to the surface.’
‘I feel queasy just hearing this shit,’ said Hooyo, cradling her cup of tea.
‘Sniff all you want, Amran, but my sangoma is a continual source of much needed divinity in my life. She has allowed me to tap into my most powerful erogenous –’
‘Whoa, whoa,’ said my Aabo, stepping out into the garden. ‘What’s all this?’
Freeze the frame, reader. This here is my Aabo, Diini, a middle-aged BMX biker/ mailman. Bredrin is forty-six and more striking and svelte than I could ever be. He shares the house with my Hooyo, Habo and his husband, my Adeer, Anatoly, a former Russian soldier turned Caribbean cook. If this all sounds redonkulous, I would agree with you. Take a breath.
My Aabo married my Hooyo, his best friend, when they finished high school as a ruse to appease their homophobic parents. After a while, the ruse became long like boredom, and they both said sayonara to my grandparents and their złośliwy relatives before setting up the wonkiest, all-queer family this side of the Serengeti. I ain’t mad, though. They all get along well and are more loving and supportive of me than my straight friends’ folks are of them. Things do sometimes get hairy around the holidays when past grievances are aired like damp sheets. I’m always here for all that cornbread, grits and collard greens and I watch that shit getting served with dollops of hot sauce. It’s like having a front row seat for an insanely gripping episode of Dr. Who. You never know who’s going to kick off next. Unfreeze frame.
‘What are you beauties blathering on about?’ said Aabo, lighting a cigarette.
‘Beats me,’ said Hooyo. ‘Summink about erogenous zones, so I zoned out.’
‘I was just telling Migil about the transcendental value of seeing a spiritual healer,’ said Habo.
‘You mean like an imam?’
‘Why is everyone stuck in this suffocating Islamic-Judeo-Christian paradigm?’ said Habo.
‘Because most of us happen to be happy Muslims who enjoy the suffocation of the Islamic-Judeo-Christian paradigm,’ cackled Hooyo.
‘Amran is right, Fahma,’ said Aabo. ‘As a suffocated Muslim I, for one, am dying from sheer ecstasy.’
I laughed a little and Habo Fahma shot me a sharp look. I quickly composed myself.
‘Enough blabber,’ said Hooyo. ‘Diini, come closer to me with that smoke.’
‘I could just give you a cigarette,’ said Aabo.
‘No, just stand nearby so I can luxuriate in your toxic fumes.’
Aabo stood next to where Hooyo was sitting and blew his cigarette smoke in her direction. Hooyo instantly looked more energized and alert. She sipped her tea and said, ‘Migil, you’re looking considerably souped up. Who’s the lucky man?’
‘Boundaries,’ I said.
‘Boy, I gave birth to you and you’re here bleating about boundaries? Now tell me who’s the lucky man in your life.’
I sealed my lips.
‘Are you using protection?’ said Habo Fahma.
‘Nunya,’ I snapped.
‘Hododo,’ said Habo Fahma.
‘You can tell he’s getting mad play,’ smiled Aabo, stubbing out his cigarette. ‘Migil always has someone on the go. Gosh, to be young again.’
My parents all sighed simultaneously.
I felt something kick inside me, a sense of desolation that coagulated in my belly and made my body twitch. I could feel my hands getting sweaty, so I politely excused myself to go to the bathroom. As I ran up the stairs, my body began to seize up. I tried to stabilize myself by sitting down for a spell. My breathing was erratic and my temperature was rising. On the one hand, I was hyperaware of what was happening and could feel a panic attack coming on. On the other, I felt helpless and infirm. I got to my feet and continued up the stairs until I reached the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and headed over to the mirror. My face resembled a bad Cubist painting: a collision of awkward shapes that would have made Picasso laugh with derision. I am now your God, said the Picasso in my head. When you behave, I’ll paint you a more pleasing face.
I ran the tap to splash some water on my face but something bizarro happened. It started raining inside the bathroom. I closed the tap and the rain stopped. The bathroom floor was wet, so I reached for a mop. The water vanished the minute I grabbed the mop. I accepted that this was the way I lived now. I felt becalmed by this cognition. I dried my hands and headed downstairs to have dinner.
As I walked down the hallway my fingers trembled. In the kitchen I stood still and closed my eyes, communed with the god within. I could feel the clouds opening up and thunder clap-clapping like the palms of a furious Zeus. I kept my eyes closed and imagined that it was raining exotic birds outside. I opened my eyes and I could still hear thunder crackling. I walked out into the garden and saw my parents basking in the sun. What was extraño about this scene was that Birds of Paradise were raining down from the sky and my family hadn’t noticed them. The birds fell all around them, crashing onto the grill and guava plants. Why couldn’t my parents see what I saw?
‘Migil, are you alright?’ said Hooyo.
‘I – yes.’
‘Come hang with us,’ said Aabo, lighting another cigarette as a clutch of feathers fell at his feet.
‘I can’t. I have somewhere to be. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.’
And with that, I dashed out as quickly as I could. When I stepped out of the front door, there were no Birds of Paradise falling from the sky, just a sea of bright feathers canvassing the entire street. I blinked. The scene remained unchanged. I walked home slowly, wary of what lay ahead.
That night Octavio stroked me deep, riding me until we caught the most delicious riddim. By the time we came, our bodies were as brilliantine as melted body butter. I licked him down until our lips met. He tasted like coconut milk. He sniffed me and smiled.
‘You smell of rain,’ he said.
‘Is that so?’
‘My Abuela, who is a seer, told me to be careful of men who smell of rain.’
‘She’s a wise woman, your Abuela.’
‘You’re going to break my heart, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I said, kissing him between his legs.
‘Be good to me,’ he said, ‘please.’
He proceeded to flex inside me, making me feel like I knew how to dance underwater. I caught each stroke, savouring his definitude until I could feel my buttocks clench, until sweat dribbled down my spine. As we built up to èxtasi, I pulled him close and clawed his back. He moaned in delight and dolor. Afterwards I looked at my fingers and they were mottled with black ink, traces of my inamorato’s tattoos. I went into the bathroom and washed my hands. The ink had sunk into my skin. I fixed myself up, fingers still soiled, and returned to my room to continue relishing Octavio’s tantrist sorcery.
‘I want to spend the night,’ he said.
‘You know I don’t encourage sleepovers.’
‘What are you so afraid of?’
I maintained my silence.
‘Yes,’ I whispered.
He looked wounded.
‘I’m a difficult person to love,’ I said, hoping that would explain everything.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘You’re easy to love but you don’t love easily. With you, I feel like I’m triumphing and toiling at the same time.’
‘That sounds about right,’ I said, sparking a cigarette.
‘What are you so afraid of?’
I stared at him and said, ‘This.’
‘I’m not going to let you get away from me tan fácilmente,’ he smiled, grabbing a toke of my cigarette. ‘In fact, you’re coming with me to meet my Abuela this weekend. She said that if you don’t come, she’ll put a curse on you and your children’s children.’
‘It’s a good ting I don’t plan on having any kids,’ I said, giving him a shot gun kiss.
‘Oh, you don’t want to piss off my Abuela, papi. Besides, you’ll have fun and she makes the most yum-yum cheesy beef quesadillas.’
‘Sold,’ I laughed. I stubbed out my cigarette and lay in bed with him. His phone vibrated. He checked his messages and immediately got up and got dressed.
‘I’ve got to shoot the crow, papi,’ he said. ‘The restaurant needs me to pick up someone’s shift. So, I’ll see you this Saturday? I’ll come pick you up at five.’
And with that, he kissed me, grabbed his scooter helmet and hit the road, not knowing that both our lives would be forever altered that night.
Reader, why are you hanging around the corner? Come keep your homeboy company as I burn some incense in my Hooyo’s dabqad. As vanilla-scented smoke wafted into the afrosphere, I lit a spliff and sat cross-legged on the carpet. I closed my eyes and conjured up the numen within. All my fears and follies fell away, rendering me as naked as a new moon. In this space there was the possibility of renewal. In this space, the shame of a life lived in the shadows dissipated. Holy water dripped down from the ceiling and turned torrential, until I was soaked in divine supposition, until I was drowning in my own sacred imagination.
I took my medication and grabbed Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, the El Daoud from my vinyl shelf. I put the record on and got turned out by ‘Turiya and Ramakrishna’, one of my favourite tunes. I smoked my la-la and got high on Señora Coltrane’s harp-hypnosis. She described ‘Turiya’ as ‘a state of consciousness — the high state of Nirvana, the goal of human life.’ As the music transported me to foreign frequencies, I imagined parakeets, kingfishers, silktails and Salvadoris raining down from the sky, an omen from a provoked Phantasos.
As the record kinked my curls, I cushioned a comb in my afro and smoked ridicolo quantities of sticky-icky. The phone rang at 4am. It was Octavio’s number. I ignored the call but homie wouldn’t let me enjoy my steeched state and buzzed me again and again. I eventually picked up. An elderly woman’s breathless voice filtered through the receiver.
‘Is that Migil? This is Juana García, Octavio’s Abuela.’
I sat up. ‘Is he okay? What’s happened?’
Juana started crying. ‘Octavio’s been in an accident.’
‘Is he –?’
‘No, he’s alive. I’m sorry.’ Juana was struggling to speak. ‘Someone threw acid in his face as he was –’
‘Where are you now?’ I asked, frantically pulling on my loafers.
‘The A&E, King’s College Hospital.’
‘I’ll be there in ten,’ I said, hanging up on her and ordering a cab. My heart was palpitating and I was struggling to breathe right. As the cab sped towards the hospital, Juana’s words spun around in my consciousness. Acid. Face. Acid. Face. Someone threw acid in his face. When the cab pulled up outside Accident and Emergency, I paid the driver and dashed inside.
Although the A&E was crowded with patients and paramedics, I immediately recognized Octavio’s Abuela. She had my bredrin’s cream moonstone complexion, Gazania-red lips, hair slick as a raven’s feathers. She sat in a corner, praying quietly. La anciana clung to her cross necklace, wiped her eyes and muttered to a higher power that had refused to heed her call.
‘Juana?’ I said, walking up to her.
‘Yes?’ she said, jumping up. When she saw that I was not a doctor, she looked deflated.
Juana grabbed hold of my hands and pressed them against her cheek.
‘You have cold hands.’
‘How’s he doing?’ I asked.
‘Not great,’ said Juana. ‘The doctors are treating him now.’
‘He was delivering a takeaway in Camberwell and –’
She started crying until her body shook with grief. ‘Who would do this? Who would be so cruel as to throw acid in someone’s face? His beautiful face. Dios mío, I’m terrified.’
‘I know,’ I said, holding her close.
‘He loves you, you know?’ said Juana. ‘He talked about you like you were the sea to his sand.
He kept telling me, “Abuela, Migil acts tough but he’s the kindest, most loving person I know.” He was in awe of you.’
I didn’t know what to say. I cared about Octavio but we had only been dating for a few weeks. I couldn’t say that I loved him. Not now, not in this moment where truth mattered. I kept shtum and held Juana for what seemed like hours. She told me that Octavio was named after the Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet, Octavio Paz. His parents still lived in Guadalajara and Juana was dreading telling them the news.
‘It was my idea to bring him to the UK,’ said Juana. ‘I wanted him to have the life that we never had. He wanted to open his own tattoo shop. Did you know that?’
I said yes although I did not know Octavio wanted to be a tattooist. I wondered if his sight had been damaged or destroyed.
‘I know you’re a Muslim but will you pray with me?’ said Juana.
Juana began reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. Her voice grew unsteady and desperate as she called out to God. Ignoring the side-eyes of others in the waiting room, I bowed my head.
‘Padre nuestro/ que estás en el cielo. / Santificado sea tu nombre. / Venga tu reino. / Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo. / Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día. / Perdona nuestras ofensas, / como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden. / No nos dejes caer en tentación y líbranos del mal. / Amén.’
I said amen and she turned towards me.
‘Could you say a prayer as well?’ she asked.
I shifted in my seat.
‘It would mean a lot to me,’ she said.
I cleared my throat, closed my eyes and held her hands.
‘Ya Allah, we come to you in this moment of quiet surrender. Thank you for the many mercies you have shown us. Ya Allah, we implore you to save Octavio. We have laid down our weapons and we now stand before you as naked as newborns. Please continue to endow us with compassion. Amin.’
‘Amin,’ said Juana, kissing my hands. ‘That was gorgeous. Gracias.’
We sat and soaked up the tensile energy of the waiting room: two unlikely comrades cradling each other. But Death kept tapping our shoulders. I was not ready for Octavio to die. I was also not prepared to take care of a permanently disfigured man whom I had only known for a few weeks, out of some long ting guilt. ¿Qué hacer?
‘You smell of rain, Migil,’ said Juana. Her tone was suddenly hostile. ‘Why do you smell of rain?’
‘It’s Elizabeth Arden,’ I said. ‘It’s a fabulous perfume, no?’
‘I don’t like men who smell of rain: you carry loneliness in your bones.’
‘Why are you saying such strange things?’ I asked, even though I knew her words had the bite of accuracy.
‘Loneliness is a disease,’ said Juana. ‘You can try to mask it with perfumes and ointments but the stench can’t be got rid of. Men who smell of rain are born lonely and desperate for something they can never attain: a soul. Loneliness is soullessness. You will spend your life clinging to others for companionship, pretending to crave intimacy and love, when what you really want is to consume their souls. I call men like you “rain gatherers”. You must leave at once. Octavio will survive this but he will not survive you and your soul-leaching ways. Piérdase, I don’t want you here.’
‘Are you being for real?’ I said.
‘Piérdase,’ screamed Juana.
Two hospital orderlies rushed to her side to see if she was okay, to protect her from me. I quickly boogied before the scene escalated. When I stepped outside I found it was dawn and there was a slight drizzle. I figured I could walk home. I rolled up a spliff and schlepped down the backroads of Denmark Hill towards Peckham.
Juana’s words were oddly clarifying. I was lonely in that hit-you-in-the-heart-until-you-struggle-to-breathe kinda way. I could taste the acridity of this loneliness on my tongue. It clung to my hair and clothes and no amount of perfume or pills could cloak or dull it. I wanted to scream, release the poison from within, but no sound came out of my mouth. Instead, the clouds opened and it starting raining dead butterflies. The corpses of swallowtails fell from the sky and the moment they hit the ground they burst into gold ash. I wondered, in that instance, whether there was some kind of sorcery to being a solitary human being. With loneliness, you may feel the ache and hunger but you also tap into something stranger and more mysterious: a part of your wild humanity that no-one else has access to. This untethered quality might make others wary and afraid of you but it doesn’t diminish you. I smiled at this realisation as I made my way down the street, trudging through mounds of gold ash that only I could see. Every struggle, every heartache and loss, had culminated in this moment.
We’ll be alright, dear reader. We’ll be alright.
DIRIYE OSMAN is photographed by JAROSLAV SCHOLTZ.