Edwin Okolo: Living in fear of the Tiger [NEW VOICES]

by Edwin Okolo


St Vincent’s Year of The Tiger, best explains the phase of my life right now.

‘Italian Shoes like these rubes know the difference….

I had to be the best of the bourgeoisie, now my kingdom for a cup of coffee…

The Chinese Year of the Tiger is a year dedicated to adventurous exploration and a move away from inhibition. The people born in the cyclical year of the Tiger are leaders and swashbuckling adventurers, they are fighters and lovers and all the fancy stuff. I was born in the year of the Rabbit, which is inverse just as timid as it sounds and also not. I’m a Rabbit living in the year of the tiger

I experience an acute kind of dissociation with my own body, a disconnect from my own emotions and actions. People called me quiet, but they didn’t realise that while I was quiet because I had tried and failed to do the appropriate thing in most situation and had become disillusioned with trying. Growing up with a twin helped a lot in this regard, he was the more vocal of the two of us, spoke for me, reacted for me, fought for me occasionally when the need arose. But I knew that I wouldn’t survive very long if I didn’t learn how to mimic my predators.

This is where America and the hundreds of books I inhaled as a child came in. They provided (though painfully inaccurate sometimes) a good enough model of how I was supposed to react or respond in most situations. I learnt that sarcasm was great foil through which to live, the best sarcasm cut through the bullshit and went straight to the heart of the situation and often mirrored how I really felt about situations. I learnt to read wide, and read well, form tangential associations with the things you read. I learnt that people fear and respect intelligence, even when it is a facsimile of the real thing, proximity to it is enough to get their bodies tingling. But more than anything else, I learnt that cultural literacy will get you literally anywhere.

So I became the best of the bourgeoisie. It wasn’t hard, there was little you wanted insight on that the internet couldn’t provide. For colloquial context, literature from those countries would suffice. So I read voraciously and with my best friend on my arm, slid into the sacred spaces of the cultured, associating Nietzche with Chinese Mah-jong art. That solved my social problem but didn’t solve my dissociation, if anything it made it worse. Because now, I wasn’t only having to dress up in a persona that was close enough to the real me to fool the wolves, I got a rare opportunity; to see how people respond to different versions of who they thought was me.

Social experiments are great, provided you can put away your apparatus at night, end the trials and return to your boring life. But when you are the test animal and the control animal, there is no reprieve.

So I’m abandoning the project altogether, giving up my kingdom for a cup of coffee. I’m speaking my mind, even though I’ll admit, the things I have to say are usually quite dour and depressing. The bourgeoisie are ducks floating in a pool, they seem serene from above, but they’re frantically paddling to stay afloat in the unforgiving sea of social graces, ready to drown you at the moment of weakness. A cup of coffee might mean solitude, or company, it might mean neither. But I get to find out, and a path that is truly uncharted is something I am truly grateful for. Perhaps one day, I can look down on myself and find that I am at least in concert with the meat suit that is navigating my life for me.

Edwin writes to explore concepts that he seeks to understand but cannot directly experience because of gender and genetics. He used to run the experimental fiction column ‘The Alchemist’s Corner’ and created the YA series Seams at The Naked Convos and serves as a fiction editor at Stories NG. He has written for Thelonelycrowd, Sable Lit Mag,Omenana and the Kalahari Review and was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize. He is obsessed with children, cats and Paternak, exactly in that order.


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