It happened, like most things do, slowly at first, and then all at once.
Upon waking one morning, as the dancing reflections of a new dawn played games on the walls, a strange darkness began to glacially consume the world. The bright red SUVs parked outside began to change hue and the flowers wilted in deference as the world’s color was tuned down a shade or two. The Kitchen, where there was already a natural darkness from its poor logistical design in the corner of the apartment, almost disappeared entirely. The darkness was happening both inside the apartment and outside in the world beyond.
This darkness was primeval, something that was trying in vain to be born; its new heart beat to a rhythm that was impossible to ignore. It grew louder, its deep base thump-thumping all around. The walls—of the world and the apartment—shook and split, creating a breach between the real and unreal. I looked out the window, and knew then that, now that the power of the darkness had begun to warp the view (not unlike what a heavy downpour does to a window pane), nothing would be the same ever again. It entered my body, whiplashing itself into my organs. There, it began to burrow deep into the absence between who I was at the moment and who I used to be—a phantom stuck between my past successes and future potential.
It felt like a worm, a parasite that I accidentally ingested while eating spiders in Nimbus, or picked up while trekking towards Celestial Lake on worn-out shoes. I could both see it and not see it at the same time. It began to eat and grow, gaining agency and becoming denser the more I acknowledged it. It looked through me with a deliberate expression: not a smile or a frown, but something deeper, more contemplative and more scheming. Its face, frighteningly, started to take shape. It looked like a skewed version of me. Just something more sinister, something dark and damned. There was an ancientness to it, glued together by vitriol and revenge, that I simply could not handle.
Of course, I tried to speak to it, an action that, in some way, would prove to the universe I was still in control.
“Hello? Who are you?” I said aloud.
The answer I received was something only the sickest of minds and darkest of imaginations could conjure into existence. It was purposefully torturous: surgery without anesthetic. It took me to a new realm of anger. How dare it— this darkness, this parasite—answer me in this way. I was the one with a life! It was me who got us this far. I got us through the blinding tedium of algebra and the forced complexities of biology. It was me who trained and fought off the dyslexia to learn how to read on my own. That black and white of the sad old man playing the violin? I painstakingly shaded the sadness into those eyes, even when everyone told me not to.
And the best answer that the darkness could come up with, the only dialogue the parasite seemed versed in, was:
The universe is a fickle thing. People say it is indifferent, that it does not care about you and the life you live. It does not think about what colour the sky is or why coffee tastes so different than it smells. Besides, it may not even think at all. It just is. I am not a quantum physicist, so I cannot say for sure, but it seems that the universe is indeed nothing, and the interpretations of that “nothing” are too scary to contemplate. Most people are warned not to contemplate it too long for, should the nothingness be discovered, then a deep sadness may ascend upon the world and a doorway where demons may enter be discovered.
Sometimes though, the universe is not indifferent. It can scheme and take an active part in someone’s life. Sometimes, it can intervene directly, as I think it tried to do with my parents.
Before I was forced into existence, my parents had three children. All three died immediately or a few days after birth. Naturally, a deep sadness came over Mama and Papa. They would have fallen into a deeper depression, had it not been for their unmatchable optimism. Nothing, then or even now, breaks their spirits. It is admirable to be part of something so powerful. I was granted none of that power in my life, but the admiration for it is certainly there. So, quite against the wishes of the universe, and the evidence at hand, my parents tried again to have another baby—me—and this time, it seemed to be a forgone conclusion that nothing would stop me from being born.
This is where, I believe, the universe decided to dust off its old mittens and attempt to change things. Perhaps it was not an act of maliciousness but, rather, of altruistic intention meant to spare me pain. Maybe the universe knew the darkness—that damned parasite who speaks only silence—would one day cover my world and cause the most intense pain and anguish. Peering into the future, it may have decided that it would be better not to have someone live through that. (Thank you, Universe, for trying to save me.)
Therefore, instead of nine months of physical and cognitive in utero development, I was allowed only seven. Technically, I was nine weeks premature, so for six months and three weeks, I was deprived of development. Not that I remember it, but I was told that it was a difficult birth. My tiny body, resting in the palm of the doctor’s bloody hand, seemed to exhibit no signs of life. The Universe, it seemed, had saved me.
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There was a silence in the operating room, pregnant with anticipation as everybody waited for this tiny premature thing to announce its arrival. I could imagine my parents being somewhat stoic during this time, holding their breath and waiting for either something or nothing to happen. Papa is a noble and genuine soul, so gentle and loving. I imagined a tear escaping from his eye while he tried to fight back the inevitable emotion of losing another child with dignity. Mama’s face, no doubt, was scarred with worry as she watched this tiny thing turned upside down attempt to have life smacked into its behind.
There was a faint gasp at first, almost like a whisper, I was told. Then, quite in spite of the interventions of the universe, I cried out, announcing to the world that I was alive, that I had made it. The probability of being born, some say, is around 1 in 400 trillion. Couple that, no triple that, with the deaths of three babies before me, and that is 1 in more than a quadrillion. My existence, quite literally, is impossible.
What if the darkness—this parasitic worm devouring my eternity—is not mental illness but the essence of those humans who never got to be? What if my resistance to my life—anxiety, depression—is their way of exacting revenge upon me for a life that I got to have but they were deprived of? Are they my demons? I don’t believe in demons. I don’t believe in angels, either. So how can I have demons or angels infesting or saving the soul that I do not know I have?
Have I conjured into existence a religion that gives agency to my parent’s unborn children?
-AKINSANYA ADENIYI AYOSOJUMI