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Our Grass Tale: Embracing our Communal Struggles

…Soldier please don’t go to war

If they lose you, they only lost one soldier

But if mama lose you, she lost her whole damn world — Chike “Soldier”

As the song plays on my headphones, I am taken back to 2016 and the routine that was my everyday life. I’d trek to Shasha to Bros Dapo’s place where I was guaranteed a meal and internet access to submit application for jobs — and to download movies covertly. It was always a dreary trek back and forth, one that I’d often start at 10am to arrive at his place by 11am and then at 9pm, I’d leave and be back in my face-me-I-slap-you cubicle of an apartment at 10:30pm or later.

Chances are if you’ve read anything from me that is remotely personal, then this story would likely seem very familiar. Because you’d most likely be able to predict what comes next — it’s the typical grass-to-grace story, where I trekked when things were rough and dark in my life (job loss, just out of school and the whole shebang) and now, after so much toil, I now cruise in my Benz around town after fate smiled on me and I hit it big in the city of dreams as a big-shot podcaster or Genevieve Nnaji’s boytoy. That would probably have been the most logical conclusion, no thanks to Nollywood’s cliché portrayal, and if this was ideally a typical grass-to-grace story. But it isn’t. This is something else.

My “grass” story was never typically the kind of grass tale that would illicit “ehyas” or “peles” from my audience. It was not as dreary as I tend to paint it whenever I recount these tales of times past. Nah, my grass was probably akin to Axonopus — a little weed sprout here and there but still well-groomed and mighty comfortable to lay down on and still get a wink of sleep and some peace of mind. And it’s for this reason I always make an effort to try to be honest about my story whenever I tell it because I reckon it is very tempting to overcompensate on “suffering” in the sense of humble beginnings and often lose our sense of truth in the cracks of trying to weave a compelling and motivating anecdote. So, I have chosen to be as truthful as I can be about the truth of my struggle because in all honesty, my struggle pales in comparison to those of a lot of people and as comforting as it is to say “everybody’s struggle is unique”, these days I tend to see that as probably our own sly way of trying inevitably to stay as the centre of the universe in a conversation that should be more cosmic; because God forbid someone were to find out that our haloed struggles could easily have been someone else’s highlight reel.

But I digress. I write this because I have been thinking a lot about how much my struggle was never really mine to start with, but more a compilation of the struggles of almost everyone that I came across and encountered during that time period in my life. From the woman who had a store in front of my apartment back in 2016 who was often kind enough to let me pay for things I bought from her at some later date, probably because she could read the hunger in my eyes and the desperation in my voice whenever I told her “I go pay you later, ma”. Maybe on some of those days –and even in that very moment — she was struggling with something so profound that anybody else would have been able to see it in her eyes, if they –like me — were not already so blinded by their own struggles to even look up and take note. And maybe instead of me making another request for assistance for a hunger that would probably have not killed me in that instance, sharing a simple greeting like “how you dey today, ma?” may have been the best thing she would have heard all day. And maybe that profound and probably dreary thing may have seemed somewhat bearable in those moments.

But then imagine how much courage she even had to muster to still express kindness to me despite having –I would say — every right to dismiss me and say, “I too I am going through shit”. And yes, I call it courage because sometimes the pain of our struggles never let’s go of its hold of our necks but still making sure to breathe despite it, is what always keeps us from jumping off the ledge. And I bet if you critically analyze this hypothetical, you would be able to see just how much she was a part of my struggle as truthfully, I may have been a part of hers as well.

Fast forward two or maybe three days later in 2016 and I am sure I’d have been at Bros Dapo’s apartment basically shortening his ration of food and internet data and he, although within every right to, would never throw me out and tell me never to show up at his door again. And in my struggle, I would have informed him that my NEPA bill was due –800 naira — and he would look at me and smile and playfully berate me by asking “wetin you dey use light do sef?” And after a few minutes of back and forth, he would then hand me a 1000 naira note from his pocket and I would thank him profusely. And in that moment I reckon I would have quickly pocketed the cash and looked away and most likely fail to see that as he dips his hands back in his pocket, he’d have felt the emptiness of it and a wane smirk would be spread across his face as he realized he has just 200naira left and had probably given me the last of the money he had for the next three days.

But again this is a hypothetical, but still not an impossibility because often we are so eager to have a typical grass-to-grace story that shines the light on our struggles as some dreary and pain-ridden experience that we fail to acknowledge the people in and around us in that time whose struggles as well played a huge role in ours. And this goes across the board because they too may likely not include us as part of their struggles because as human beings, we crave the idealistic feel of being a lone struggler that we lose sight of the fact that as humans our struggle is more often communal than anything else.

Truth is if I struggle, it does not just affect me, it affects the bike man who was kind enough to cut his fare from 100 naira to 50 naira for me that one time, because he noticed I was truly short on cash and needed a lift even though he had been under the sun for hours and that extra fifty naira would have been a very welcome addition to his pocket change. But alas, my autobiography may likely not include him simply because he’s bearing of my struggle seems almost infinitesimal. And for this reason you find that a lot of us have lost the virtue of empathy because we have adopted the ideology that our struggle is unique not in the sense of how it makes us feel but in the sense of how we should relay it to the world. We are so bent on no one else raining on our parade that we have come to almost want to be greedy with our grass stories because we feel it makes the grace part more special.

But does it really? Do we really have a better grace tale because our grass is a culmination of all the wrong things that happened to “us” neglecting all its sprouts that spilled into others’ lives? I would like to think my story is unique because thinking about it any differently would not have the nostalgic feel that reminiscing about it brings to my thoughts.

But guess what? I’ve come to discover that thinking about it less uniquely and more encompassing of all the other lives that had partook in it makes for an even more compelling tale. This allows me to empathize with the beauty in the struggle and the entire process that is my life. And with this realization, I now smile more broadly whenever I come across the woman who still sells in front of my previous apartment and I never fail to ask her, “how you dey? How business, mommy? How life?” I now take bike rides and sometimes pay 150 naira to the bike man even though the agreed upon price had been 100 naira at the start of the trip; and smile back at the kind smile that spreads across the man’s face as he thanks me wholeheartedly.

Basically, realizing that my struggle is and always will be communal in it’s uniqueness has made empathy more accessible for me to dish out to even the most out of touch stranger, simply because in understanding that my struggles will not be mine without whatever brief chance encounter we may have had, it allows me to ensure that even if they may never add me to their own grass tale, I can take solace in the fact that I was part of theirs and my part –just like Bros Dapo’s, the Bike man and the woman with a shop across my former apartment — was one of courageous kindness that was spurn by my active decision to smile through the pain of my own struggle in other to give a brief and sometimes forgotten reprieve to the struggle of the next person.

By Mifa for Urban Central follow him on Twitter @Mifaunuagbo

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Urban Central

Urban Central is the Internet Magazine for the millennial mind, focused on the issues that matter for an evolving generation. Do follow us, Urban Central.