There are about 30 cars in the library car park where I have come to read. They are all parked with their boots backed up to the curb in two rows facing each other. As I drive into the car park, I pull up into an empty spot deliberately parking bonnet to curb in the opposite direction to the rest of the 30 cars. There are no guards or security in the parking lot and there are no visible rules that say I can’t do otherwise. Scanning the car park one last time before walking into the library reception, I observe a striking visual allegory of my approach to life — one that has become my default setting in most instances.
I go in the opposite direction to the crowd.
A short story that explains this typical Ifelanwa behaviour, albeit in gorier details is an attack that happened in my secondary school. A gang of students had laid siege outside the dining where all other students were observing prep (night reading). It had started with a single pane of louvre glass thrown into the hall through the empty window opening and smashing into a wall. The projectile had shattered the graveyard silence characteristic of a hall full of students struggling to stay awake to read under the threat of the leather belts of school prefects and their batons. As the glass shattered, it called out to pandemonium and degenerated quickly into a stampede as more and more projectiles whizzed in from the darkness outside the hall. As everyone ran, I didn’t move. I sat there for a moment, watching, studying where the threat was coming from to identify what I was running from and in what direction I ought to run. Many students got hurt that night, a few from flying shrapnel but most from the stampede. I escaped unhurt that day 14 years ago but little has changed of my predilection for pausing to think in a world afflicted with impulsiveness, always prone to stampede scenarios.
There is much to be said about my life choices. Hopefully someday soon, I will put it in a book to be read and studied. I will give it a title like ‘Suspended Animation’ or one more suited to describing my state of mind in those brief moments when all is quiet in my head and I am trying to make sense of the madness around me before making a move. I will write about what others have seen to be an absence of fear in me when I head for that lonely path into the dark forest and they ask me, “So this path you are onto, others haven’t walked this route before. What if you die? What if you don’t succeed? What if you don’t make it?” I will tell about an argument we once had at work back in the day when a fake NASA ad had made the rounds asking for volunteers who would like to go on a no-return mission to colonize Mars and how my position of leaving my family to join this mission riled up most of my colleagues who thought I had lost my mind.
In that book, I will also be honest to say that I feel fear whenever I face the unconventional. Whether it is following a band of merry explorers to the desert and almost getting caught in the diplomatic cross-hairs of a coup in Niger; or teaching myself to ride a superbike; or not having had a regular job since University. I feel fear too — fear of dying, losing my source of income, not seeing my family again. But my biggest fear is not living and whenever I weigh these other fears against my biggest fear, they pale in emphasis and their pull is heavily discounted. I will rather be the first of my lineage on Mars than be a dad, a husband, a son in Nigeria till the end of my life. Heck, even after I have gone to Mars, I would still be these things anyway.
So, I have trained myself consciously over almost my entire life to take smaller not-so important decisions and be deliberate in going against the grain in my everyday life. This way, when the big decisions come, it wouldn’t feel so difficult jumping off that cliff.
From consciously sitting, backing the television when I am in a public space; to eating my first snake; to staying away from Social Media for months; to parking in the opposite direction to everyone in a car park; to deliberately getting lost to see if I can find my way out, I have always leaned towards the more unconventional side of this life. There I have found excitement. Or better said, there I have found the many stories that make my life the colorful one I always dreamt about as a child. The same stories I tell to my children now as bedtime stories and my son asks me, “How come all these things have happened to you?” It is in this space that the world perfectly resonates to my frequency. This is where I find my peace.