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By Dorcas Akobundu

Content Warnings: Mental illness.


Since the very awareness of my existence, I have been twice my number. One personality multiplied by two equals two. Makes for a double package: buy one get one free sort of thing.

I’m not mad, I promise.

I know they say if you say this, it only means you are, but trust me, I’m not. 

Trust: a strong word Friend doesn’t like. But Friend is asleep, and I’m free to use it. I trust you’ll find this of utmost importance because even as we cohabit in this body, we differ, and it’s in our differences we thrive. (Speech of the week. And the crowd goes wild!)

This is the first time I’ll do this: sit in front of a camera and #walkthetalk. But this country I live in and its misconceptions of what it means to deviate from the regular tear me apart – me and Friend. There’s Twitter to voice our grievances and Instagram to post our bizarre pictures. But, doing this – staring into a camera to create a video where we’ll share who we are and remember how it all began – is a first. 

Here’s to firsts. 

There’s a half-eaten beef burger on the table-in-disarray with all kinds of books and make-up and sticky-note packs (one can tell that I own neither of the last two), and Roommate’s ring light is shining brightly as I sneak a little bit of the more-bun-than-beef burger into my big mouth – the one Tope said is too big and the lips too fleshy to call me his friend (but that was in Level 100, and I should let it go). I should cut this part out while editing. Should. But since Friend’s the one with the editing skills, I doubt that will happen. 

A slow, laboured breath. I lick my lips and count how much equipment I’m using in this square corner, trying to calculate how not to leave any trace of what I’m doing when Roommate comes back.

Now, I look straight at my phone’s selfie camera dot. 

Where do I begin? 







It starts as a whisper.


have you smiled today?

I am five, underweight and short. I know this because Mami keeps shouting, Cheta, you better eat so you’ll stop looking like I don’t feed you! I clutch my pillow, tiny fingers caressing the silk. Mami insists all females should use satin pillowcases so that our hair’s moisture is not stolen by cotton. So, I clutch the pillow, embracing the feel of satin on soft skin, wondering why I’ve been hearing things. Do all females hear things? 


don’t you want to… escape?

I put my hands on both of my ears, my stomach in a knot. 

I want to scream, not escape. But Dadi is at home, and he will not be happy if I make noise. He says noise is bad and little girls are to be quiet and good and not disturb their parents. Dadi has to be happy. He has to know I’m a good girl, see?

but I am your friend.

I can still hear her. 

hi. friend.

She’s still talking.

I frown. I am somebody’s friend?

My cheeks are cool when I touch them. I smile, feeling the movement of my lips with my fingers. I am somebody’s friend. 

Then I reply softly, conscious of the open door and hoping my voice doesn’t drift down the corridor and into Dadi’s room, ‘Hello, friend. I cannot read, so I won’t be able to read stories to you like Mami does.’

There’s a soft giggle, and it doesn’t seem entirely in my head.

I like lullabies, not stories, silly.

smile again.

My lips don’t need much coercion to move.


I count to five before I ask, ‘What’s your name?’

friend. I’m your friend.


After the whispers comes the choking pressure of something sneaky and frightening altogether: sleep paralysis, they call it.


Held down.

What wrong did I do to deserve this? Are Dadi’s hateful words not enough? Did Mami not arrange my room right? Am I beginning to die? Have I been a bad girl? Oh, no! Is it because I finally hit Lola for always calling me a weird fool in the school’s general girls’ bathroom?

Fifteen now. Friend is ten. We are best friends for life. But I am dying. I’ll never make it to Senior Secondary Three. I’ll never be loved or held or tour the world with Friend and somebody we love.

I’ll never live.

Usually, it occurs in a crescendo. Sudden realisation that I’m on a bed, then the scream that never makes it out of my mouth. Next comes that choke-hold of I-cannot-move-help-me. Then, I’m floating out of my body, frantic, confused, falling. It’s like that fat bully, Lola, is sitting on my chest. Like she’s finally coming to haunt me day after day for reporting her to Mrs Sarah even after hitting her into silence. It’s like Dadi is coming to beat me for eating that meatloaf he forgot before his trip to Abia State. It’s like Mami is coming to squeeze me into one of those suffocating hugs while whispering those godforsaken words: My sweet, good girl. My good girl. Stay good for Mommy. Chetachi, don’t forget Mommy.

Then I’m an old woman, tagged crazy for always talking to herself. 

Don’t they understand that I’m talking to Friend? 

Then I’m no longer here. Segregating. Handing Friend the reins to my body.







And the scream is released.






into existence



like it’s the easiest thing to do.

Friend’s whimpering always brings me back to Earth. 

you’re hurting me!

My chest is not yet empty: there’s still a truckload of fear left over from my night spent struggling with the monsters that press me down.


I obey. And lose consciousness.


I start going for deliverance services on Mami’s demand when we move to Eliozu Town, to another part of Port Harcourt City – this city that reeks of familiarity and unpredictable rainfall. It’s definitive: familiar black soot, market and road-side shops, bus park crammed by the side of the bridge we pass every day, every time. And one of the days, as Mami drives us to another service, I fantasise about running away with the big ABC Transport bus that passes by. I cannot do it, but I can wish. Friend loves it here (temporary, as is her control over my body some days). 

Dadi has never believed in going to church, but Mami, she never ceases the church-going expeditions, never ceases the prayers. My rife memories of her are akara balls, round to almost-perfection, on Saturday mornings, satin this and that, speaking in tongues.

It’s something of a scattered process, this deliverance service in the wooden-structured church with its countable lightbulbs that always have flies hovering around. Mami throwing herself under the anointing, not caring when her turban head wrap comes undone, then she’s crying in that voice that haunts me in my dreams, saying, God, please deliver my daughter. God, please deliver my family. God, please help me. Please! then more language I cannot decipher.

I believe in God. Friend isn’t so sure about Him. We clash in this area. 

I believe in Him like I believe in a dream that’s hazy yet bright at morn. I talk to him sometimes, when Friend relegates to the background, and I know that most times Mami talks to him the wrong way: you don’t beg God; you communicate with him – like a friend. And He gifted me Friend.

But this deliverance pastor, with his sharp, red eyes and piercing stare, fills Mami’s head with lies and holy coconut water. 

I cannot allow myself to lose guard. Never. 

Until I awake in my bed, smelling like incense, with no recollection of the last four hours.


Eighteen. I pack my things to head off to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, under the guise of getting a degree in English and Literary Studies, the first week of seeing my name on the admission list. The preparation happens in a flurry: booking off-campus accommodation through a friend of a friend of Mami, opening a student bank account, packing my endless books on nature, The Philosophy of Life and Why Were You Created? The goodbye is strange: Dadi is not present, of course. Mami cries and fills me with akara and coconut milk, whispering prayers on my head covered with a flowery satin scarf. 

See, English fascinates me and Friend, but it is more like an excuse never to return home again.


It’s the first time I obey Friend without question in a long, long time. 

I run. 

we run



an unknown



It’s strange here: I have met people. The earth is red, red, muddy. I have a friend called Mide who’s brutally fine – finer than all those boys that taunted me in secondary school for my big lips and fragile demeanour – and he thinks I have haunting eyes that pin him down to the spot (his exact words). I coexist with a girl named Tee (everyone calls her this) in a four-by-four room outside the university’s campus. 

It’s strange here: I feel I blend in. I’m still double, but it’s not so obvious anymore. Everybody minds their business (unless it’s their business to not mind their business).

Just as I’m done packing up everything I used to make the video and trying my best to tidy the room, Roommate comes back, and thunder and lightning follow suit outside the door. She sighs softly, untying her afro from her signature pineapple updo with shivering fingers. 

Chineke o. Chetachi, it’s so cold,’ she says, rubbing her skin beneath her native sleeves. God o.

‘Welcome. Yes, it’s cold.’ I’ve never bothered to learn Igbo. Friend is given to Igbo more than I am, so I just sit there and watch Roommate undress, fascinated at how free she is about it, how welcoming she is of her scars.

She dumps her damp clothing on the floor near the bathroom, and just before she puts on the robe she uses for her skincare and make-up tutorial YouTube videos, I see the stretch marks that decorate her shoulders and breasts, and I hug myself closer.

cold. bold.

I rub my palms together. Would’ve been cold and wet like her, but I skipped class because nobody, not even Roommate, can tell me what to do in this place. She lifts the blanket that has stayed useless at the edge of our shared bed, and we huddle together to keep warm. I stay silent, listening to her even breathing as she falls asleep. My phone rings, but I don’t pick up. Only Mide calls me. I make a side note to call him back for shawarma when the rain has subsided – he doesn’t want to give up on a possibility of an us (which involves going to church together, nothing more o), and I want free food.

you miss what his innocent touch does to you: it revives your dead heart.

Maybe that, too: revival.

The blanket is not as big as Mami’s at home, but it covers us. I allow it to because I have a choice now, and I choose warmth.

Friend sighs. this is nice.

And it is.

It’s like weather for two, except for the fact that only I am aware of: 




Dorcas Akobundu

Dorcas Akobundu is a pharmacy student by day and a writer by night. She lives by God and curiosity. Other things fall into place after. She weaves music, food, individuality and mental/personality disorders into [most of] her stories while simultaneously exploring mundane Nigeria. Her short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Kalahari review, Afro Literary Magazine, Pabpub, Illino, 49th street and more. She writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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