How I Discovered Books;
If I am to be honest with myself, all my life I’ve suffered from one form of depression or anxiety about being depressed or an extreme form of mania, I can’t say when it started but I grew up with a form of fear and darkness.
To be a man and battle with mental illness in Nigeria is not an easy task, you have to be strong to be able to face people who look down on you, who think you are just seeking attention, who think you are less a man for trying to stay alive, thrice I’ve tried to kill myself, thrice I’ve failed, so you might call me a coward or something close to that.
I started reading from a young age, by nine I had read Iliad of Homer, I had fallen in love with Achilles and Helen. The freedom to live, to love on your terms even if it burns the world moves me in a way few stories have moved me since then. For weeks I was in Troy, in that city close to the sea where Paris escaped a fallen city and went on to build one that will be called the most beautiful city in the world ( if myths could be believed).
I didn’t fall in love with books because I loved it, I fell in love with books because I was lonely, because I could be someone for hours without getting up to face the world.
My first book was Things Fall Apart, it had a red cover with a drawing of an anthill. Father left it on the dining table and I took it and read it and didn’t stop because it was one of the few things my father was proud of about me, that at a very young age I could read and discuss books or newspapers. I had to always come first in exams to stay in his love and if a girl beats me for the rest of the new term I had to fight to come back into his love.
Reading was survival, it was a way of saying alive.
When I lost my father it became more than survival it became my world. I didn’t want to leave, I stole my Mother’s money to buy books, I went to a dilapidated library to read, some of the books will be wet because the roof was leaking but I didn’t mind, as long as I could turn a page I read it.
At school my teachers were worried, they felt I was intelligent but I was not trying enough, I was not trying at all. I went on quizzes without preparing, didn’t care if we lost or won. I had a teacher who was really interested in me but she was transferred and then no one could talk to me because I was always outside playing football at the cemetery or riding bicycles.
The first time I broke down it was with a book in my hand, the doctor said I needed to see the world, that I am living in my head but I didn’t care, all I wanted was the drugs, you can only need healing when you start to want life, when you demand to stay alive. It took a while to get to this stage.
I love traveling because it gives me chance to see the world through the eyes of others, maybe I also do it to run away from me. I started traveling because the doctor said I needed to get my head out of books.
Today I read because I love books, because I can’t do without it, because I’ve found a way to love it without harming myself.
There’s still the struggle to be sane, my sister calls and reminds me of hospital dates and drugs and some days the world is just too sad I feel like not getting up but I’m here, I’m alive.
These days I travel with my bag of books and when friends like Hymar pick some, I laugh because it’s a gesture of love. On my way from Abuja I looked my bag and smiled because I was travelling with these friends that I love.
Romeo Oriogun poems, which mostly deal with what it means to live as a queer man in Nigeria, have been featured in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Expound, Praxis, and others. He is the author of Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis Magazine Online. He is the Brunel International African Poetry Prize Winner 2017.
This was first published on his Facebook Page.
Book Affairs is a MONTHLY series of essays where book lovers explore their unique relationships with books, the pivotal role books play in their lives and their love for all things literature. These essays that promise to be as intense as they are engaging will be published on the FIRST DAY of every MONTH. This is the SECOND in the series.