Shade ascended up the stairs with sheer uncertainty. Do…I want to do this? She asked herself, muttering under her breath as she climbed. Taking laborious steps, she chewed gum so loudly that, on closer look, a wall gecko on the stained wall cringed in disgust. She ranted angrily as she made way for the therapist’s office. This is absolute bullshit, she retorted. The office with the red door. No 35 in the building. She was at the office. She had to do this. There was no other choice.
A gentle knock on the door sent a shock down her spine. She could have pressed the bell on the wall, but she reasoned not to. Alarms and bells had a way of triggering her — a trauma that has clung to her from childhood. A memory from her childhood danced in her mind: her mother’s alarm ringing and steering her to wake up for school. Such a nightmare. She squelched it immediately while putting her phone on silent. She walked into the reception and waited her turn.
The receptionist was a bespectacled young lady who packed her hair into a bun and had a barely decent makeup on. Shade studied her for a moment and concluded that there was a wobe beneath the bourgeois look she feigned. A shepeteri waiting to be unleashed at the first call of Slimcase. On the seat that was opposite Shade, a middle-aged man who was draped in an oversized shirt sat restlessly. His fingers trembled as he soliloquized, rambling. He was obviously troubled and Shade could only imagine what he was going through. He looked like he needed to purge something out of his mind. As if he had experienced firsthand the traumatic event of someone dipping their bread in tea. The image played in Shade’s head and she recoiled on her seat.
[a couple of minutes after waiting].
“Shade,” a plump woman with a toned skin called, stepping out from her office.
The woman briefly scanned the reception and made a mental note of people waiting. The receptionist was glued to her phone, just as she had been since Shade came in. She had a lackadaisical attitude and only seemed to care for her reputation on social media. Judging from her stance, she looked like a typical Facebook girl who texted like an internet crackhead. Shade counted her steps as she sauntered into the therapist’s office.
Walking into the office, she could feel the chokehold of the therapist, extracting all the scenes of her private life without saying not more than a few words. Shade held a belief that there was hardly any difference between therapy and torture only with the exception of methods. Where torture involved the use of force, therapy subtly and suavely retrieved information from you. She heard the faint echoes of people divulging the secrets they had kept hidden for eons to the therapist. When she took a proper look at the office, she noticed the serenity within the enclosed space. The calming colors that the walls were painted in. A feeling of tranquility hit her. There was a framed picture of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti on the opposite wall from where she sat. Beside the picture was a quote inscribed on the wall: “Unburden your mind and you’ll be free.”
“Hi Shade, I’m Doctor Idowu Bello. I’ll be your therapist.”
The words entered into the recesses of Shade’s mind. They pierced through her heart and flowed into her bloodstream. She did not need a therapist. Not when she was only repaying a fellow worker for not minding his business.
“Nothing is wrong with me. I don’t need a therapist,” she responded angrily.
Shade had built a wall to prevent people from gaining access to her heart. Hardened herself against intruders who liked to peep into the lives of others. There was nothing she cherished as much as her personal space. Maybe Anime. She lived for anime and could go hours watching without taking a break. However, adulthood cared less about a person’s interests. It could give no fucks. She could have had it easier if she lived with her parents but the years she stayed at home with them were nothing short of disastrous. She had to take care of herself by earning a living. So she worked as a creative consultant in a fashion company, jeopardizing her personal space.
Just as it is the order of the day in Nigeria, many of her co-workers thrived on gossip. Her exposure to a toxic environment (similar to what she faced while growing up albeit in a different form) triggered psychopathic thoughts in her head. One of them being dismembering any co-worker who crossed any of her boundaries. She thought about what she did to land herself in the therapist’s office. It was not dismembering but it was equally as bad. The therapist stared at her and Shade could feel her eyes scanning her, probing every tiny detail that led her to this very moment, glimpsing her soul through her eyes.
“Why are you here, Shade?”
The therapist tossed the question her way. It was like an attack. The question rattled her. Her cold stare unflinching. Her voice, on the other hand, was soothing. It spoke to Shade’s fears and calmed her worries. She cracked under the therapist’s gaze.
“You tell me. Like I said I don’t need a therapist. I’m fine.”
“Well, your boss called. He said you were involved in a minor conflict at work this morning.”
Did he? Ehen?
“It’s nothing, really. Just needed to make a scapegoat out of someone. I’m fine.”
Shade expected the therapist to be pushy with her request to know what had happened at work earlier. She was not. She was gentle in her approach. She allowed Shade to express herself freely without interrupting. The words came naturally and flowed without any obstruction. This must be why people go for therapy, she thought. She felt a sense of relief just from being seated in the office. Having someone listen without any judgment following afterward was genuinely therapeutic. It was like eating a well-prepared plate of Amala and Egusi, embellished with little pieces of meat and fish, after a long day of work. She thought deeply about Amala and her intestines churned rejoicefully.
“Let’s talk about it, Shade. Violence is never the answer,” she said in a soft tone. “I’m not blaming you for acting out. But it is not a good way to respond to your emotions.”
Her dark brown eyes shimmered behind her glasses as she spoke. Although her eyes appeared to be tender, the therapist had an unfaltering look. As if to tell you she knew you had things to say and it’s best you started talking or get stared at till you turned into a pile of salt.
“I don’t know your name, Doctor.”
“Dr. Idowu. It was the first thing I told you but it seems like you were troubled. Are you willing to talk now?” the doctor said while readjusting her sitting position.
“Take your time.” She added.
Shade looked at the second hand on the clock as it ticked humbly. Her boss, Mr. Adewale, had given her the day off to talk to the therapist and for her anger to simmer. He was a very understanding person and she appreciated him for that. The only problem she had with him was the strange colors of ties he wore that never matched the color of his shirts. Asides that, he was cool and she even found him cooler when she walked in on him dancing Zanku in his office.
She was really going to do this — willing to talk to the therapist and ‘unburden’ her mind. She took a deep breath and cocked her head back as if to communicate with the ceiling.
“Let’s start from what happened today, Shade.” Dr. Bello’s voice brought her back from her past.
Today. Tuesday. Very rough day. Rough at the bus park. Rough on the road to work. Rough for a Lagosian who had to constantly engage in disagreements in order to maintain a level of sanity.
Where was she to begin from?
Boarding a bus from Ilaje where she modestly inhabited, Shade basked in a beguiling activity — going through her explore page on Instagram. She watched a video of a puppy trying to fit itself into a pillowcase and her natural response to the video was a testament that she wasn’t entirely a cold bitch. In the background, Lagos bubbled in terrible traffic and discombobulation. Scrolling through her explore video, she came upon a video of an Instagram comedian with the moniker Lasisi Elenu. She hurriedly scrolled past as she was not ready to be shouted at. Out of the blue, a man whose mouth stank like rotten egg whispered from behind “Aunty, I fit see that guy video eh?” Shade found herself in a fight or flight situation. She couldn’t let this fly, but she also was not ready to commit murder on a public bus. In broad daylight. She closed her eyes, sighed heavily, and looked outside the bus. Sanwo Olu’s face intercepted her at every turn.
Shade took a break from narrating her ordeal. A break was needed from recalling such an unfortunate experience. The therapist offered Shade a glass of water which she immediately chugged down her throat. She caught a whiff of the time as she subconsciously soaked her surroundings in. She almost did not believe she had been talking for so long. What amazed Shade mostly was how the therapist’s curiosity had not dwindled in the slightest manner. She was seated in a position that encouraged any patient to talk. Shade winced at the thought of being a patient. There was nothing wrong with her except that she wouldn’t mind smacking a bitch in the face intermittently as a form of catharsis.
“What happened at your workplace, Shade?” The doctor asked firmly. Her eyes chiseled her soul and words seemed to leak out of every crevice in her body into the atmosphere. Yet the room was pregnant with unspoken words. Shade recoiled on her seat, trying desperately to muster the remains of the composure she had nearly lost. She knew that there was no way for her to avoid the therapist’s questions.
“I…lost it. I bottled up so many emotions that I couldn’t help but burst out.” Shade enounced, looking into her palms as if a clip from the scene at work played there.
The therapist nudged her with her affirmative words. “It’s fine. You’re human and we could all use the catharsis sometimes.” She removed her glasses, cleaned them and put them back on.
“Do you care to tell me what exactly your co-worker did or say to trigger you?” She continued, keeping her tone steady and firm.
Shade took a deep breath, pressed her hands on her thighs. She opened her mouth to talk but no words came forth. Thinking back to what her co-worker said, she wished she had eviscerated him. That would not still have been enough punishment or judgment for what he said, but it would have been better than smacking his head against his computer screen or making him drink a bottle of (warm) Bigi. Shade’s face creased into a frown as if she happened upon a pigsty.
When Shade was done recounting everything that happened (without missing a single detail), she couldn’t help but notice that the therapist was shivering as if she was locked outside her house as heavy rain pounded the earth.
“Shade…I…it’s…I…” Dr. Idowu stuttered like a broken vending machine.
“Dr. Idowu?” Shade, trying to make sense of Dr. Idowu’s shock, called out her name in a concerned manner.
The therapist was bamboozled, obviously traumatized from what Shade just narrated.
“Did your co-worker really say Amala is trash?” words managed to escape from Dr. Idowu’s lips.
Sirens blared outside the office. Shade smoothened the edges of her chiffon skirt. She could tell that the therapist stanned Amala hard. A smile rose from her heart and brightened her face. Nothing was as intimate as meeting a fellow Amala lover.
“So, you made him eat cold rice and Okra?” Dr. Idowu queried. “Yes,” Shade answered almost immediately.
The tension in the office dwindled. Dr. Idowu stood from her chair and walked around the office, stopping by the window side.
“No one slanders Amala and goes unhurt,” she remarked.