Edwin Okolo: Speak of dragons [NEW VOICES]

Yesterday Toye asked me why I seem like I ‘gave up on the world’ and I told him I didn’t, because I haven’t. It’s not that simple. I tried as best I could, but my explanations only seemed to answer how I came to be this way, but not why.

-Peyton Sawyer


Everything ends, everyone leaves, your love will never be enough, you will never learn enough.
I learnt that in 2012, after Paternak (who I thought was the love of my life but turned out just to be a great love) and I ended things amicably. I knew the end was coming, had time to process my feelings, through blog posts and narratives that asked the questions I thought needed answering. And though I had made observations and come to my conclusions, we still needed to have the ‘talk’. Two hours of unvarnished words, the closest I think we ever came to true honesty. I think I was able to accept the end because I knew I had nothing left to give, I had nothing left to say. Our worlds were changing drastically, but having that talk provided context and gave motive, a manifesto by which I could gauge us.

Even so. I still despaired, for want of a better word. Even while I committed to the love of my life, who is still the love of my life until someone takes that pedestal. I despaired quietly, even as I threw myself into proving to that I was there, upended my life to provide stability for Nos. I turned myself into scaffolding, into a skeleton, a spine.
It still wasn’t enough.

Nothing ever is.

When things ended with the love of my life, it was in front of an audience. At least Paternak and I had had the illusion of privacy. With Nos, we whispered furiously at each other in a mutual friend’s kitchen as she washed dishes, circling the room as casualness of predators so she wouldn’t notice we were uncoupling.
“When I said I wanted a break, I didn’t mean it.” Nos said, “I just wanted… I didn’t want you to feel like I was forcing you to stay with me.”

“But I’ve already given you the break.” I said back.
“I don’t want it anymore.”
“That’s not how life works.”
We sat at the table after, avoiding eye contact as we ate, uncoupled but still committed to the illusion of friendship.
Is it Masochism to stay friends with someone you love? To deny yourself the volatility, those surging emotions and settle instead for a paltry friendship, clasped hands when you could get a hug. Nos slept in my bed for a month, wrapped in my arms, my ‘friend’. Sex was a suggestion away, a tilted hip, my breath wet against Nos’s naked shoulder. But the closest we came was kissing, my hips straddled like a horse broken, long and wet, lower lip then upper then tongue, my lessons well learnt. It was enough of the past to make me pause, just enough.

I was the villain in that story, but I didn’t fight it, though I desperately wanted to. It was easier that way.
Because you see, I was learning that consequences of our actions often never line up with our intentions. You are always the hero of your own story, the swashbuckling prince who saves the maiden and vanquishes the dragon. Your intentions are often noble, if misguided. But to save the princess, you must leave a trail of blood, faceless men who only have seconds of interaction with you before they taste your sword. Their full, rich lives are done away with so they can become a mere footnote in yours. To the supporting cast of their lives, you are a madman, a serial killer, a marauder. To them, you are the very thing you seek to vanquish.

This is why the villain gives the grand speech, the one we gripe about and consider unnecessary, the one that gets him killed. We already know the story of our hero, so he can afford to sit quietly and wait for a moment to strike. The person who has to become the villain so our hero can have a dragon to slay doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt so every chance he gets, he tries to tell you who he really is. It never works, but there is the rare chance that hearing his noble intentions will allow you absolve him of the consequences of his actions, much like you are already absolved of yours. So he tries. He gives the ‘talk’.

Sometimes you’re the hero, and sometimes you’re the dragon.

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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