Running away. Being academically gifted, and born in a country where that matters, I can say I have something I’m good at. Not many, like the way you find people with a dancing, singing and composing ability all in one. But enough to make me feel okay in who I am.
But if there is something I had perfected my art in besides academics, it has to be running away.
I first learnt how to run away when my father bought me a bicycle. It was a green, sparkling new and hardy little but not so little bike. In 3 days time I knew how to ride it. And so with no destination in mind, my holidays were spent cruising through the village pathways. I went and went, with an aim to go the furthest I could. I only came back when my chest hurt and it couldn’t take it anymore.
Its not the rush of the wind that made me cycle to infinity. Nor the scenery. For a 7yr old I really didn’t care whether it was green or dry or beautiful. I just wanted to get lost. From the paths I knew. From the people I knew. I wanted to go to places that neither I knew or anyone who knew me knew. I wanted to get lost.
The second time ,I had to invent new ways of getting lost. In boarding schools there were no bikes to ride, nor the freedom to get out of the gates of our prison. So once in a while, after supper- which we took at 5.30pm and just before the evening preps at 7pm, I used to go to the field and take a walk. And I would walk and walk until the bell rang.
I was walking away from people, I’ve never been one to stay with human beings for a while without feeling suffocated if I don’t get time out. I was walking away from the normality of reading, eating and sleeping and a repeat of the same day in, day out. I was walking away from my mind. Giving it fodder for new adventures. You see at the end of our field, there was a raised mound of soil, and since the field was only fenced with a few lines of wires, standing on top of that raised point, I could see a bit of the landscape.
And my mind would try and figure out how the people in those homesteads lived like. Did they have kids? And where did those kids sleep in seeing how small the main wooden house was? Was that their only cow? Where would they take all that maize when they harvested it? Why couldn’t I see chicken in their compound?
For an 11yr old, that was heaven. That break that I got to run away from my circumstances and just get lost in new worlds. Even if unlike my bicycle escapades , this time I was physically barred from just going and going. So I learnt how to just see, and let my mind do the going for me. But nice things don’t last, and human beings can’t let others be. With time a friend or two started coming along for my walks. And they talked while at it. And just like that I had to find other means of running away.
Since now I couldn’t cycle, nor take a walk alone, or even go anywhere, something had to provide inspiration for my mind. I’ve never been one to just stay still. Physically I definitely can, but my mind just can’t survive routine. Especially routine that adds nothing to what I know or I’ve already seen. My brain lashes out. It needs new fodder for thinking. It makes me restless till I can find a means of transport for it to run away, and a place for it to run away to.
The sky. And at 12yrs of age, I found the sky. It was the only thing really that I could indulge in at that point. We had duties to wash the dining hall after every supper. And the school running from class 4-8 saw every class being assigned a specific day. I don’t remember what ours was. If I remember well, no one liked to go get wet at 8pm in the evening when it was particularly cold all the time. But I loved it.
I mustered the art of ensuring that I washed the front most part of the dining hall. This left me with an hour or so as the others washed the rest. And for that one hour, I would stare up in the sky and get lost. My eyesight was good then. I could make out patterns and shapes from the sky. The stars were my home. They would take me away from the monotonous nature of reading and eating, and drop me in world’s thousands and millions of kilometres away.
Standing there staring into the night above, I was home in the vastness of it. I was home in the blackness of it. I found myself in the millions of stars that tried their best to light up the night. Once I looked up, my whole being rested. I was at peace. I had managed to run away. I was home.
A friend of mine lost her mother when I was in class 7. I felt for her. We went for the burial and we could tell she was broken by it. The next term when we came to school , though sad, she had kinda moved on. We were too young to comprehend what it means to lose a mother, so we only skirted around her and tried not to offend her lest we make her feel bad for losing her mother.
And one of those days as I was looking up into my world of stars and infinite possibilities, she came and stood by me to watch the stars with me. And took one huge shining star and said that her mum had now become a star and was watching over her. Now I couldn’t look at the stars again without seeing her mother watching over her. I had to find a means of running away again.
In class 8, we were all supposed to be reading. And more reading. And only reading. We didn’t even have that much physical duties like washing the dining hall anymore. So no free time. Unless we were being herded out of the class to go run. But only to make our minds more fresh for reading. Or being taught under a tree. I had nothing to do to run away or nowhere to look to, to get lost. But my mind can’t survive just like that. It would die off but after fighting for my sanity. And i wasn’t ready for a die off or a fight.
So we invented a new kind of running away. Me, myself and I. One that couldn’t be taken away from me. One that wouldn’t require a means of transport nor a vastness to look at. One that could operate under the strict routine of reading, sleeping, eating and more reading. One that could go undetected by human beings who just can’t stand seeing a fellow human being alone.
Thoughts. The genius 13yr old me came up with that. I could run away in my thoughts. I could make worlds in my mind and leave inside there and break them and make others without anyone disturbing me. And it worked like magic. I became more quiet. I had found my opium. My English teacher might have been the only one who noticed something, because he started calling me ‘Yes and No’. He had observed that anytime he asked me a question outside class of late, instead of a lengthy reply as before, I only said Yes or No and moved on.
I didn’t want my train of thoughts to be disturbed. Not when I was making castles and living in them in my head. So the more minimal interaction I had with the reality down here, the better for my created world up there.
But this time round I was here to stay. I just didn’t know it yet. What started out as a way of killing boredom and routine to at least feed my active mind with more colorful things turned into a prison as life handed me tonnes of things to run away from.
I ran away from home. From the midnight quarrels at night between my parents whose choice of words left me scathed and choice of time to fight ensured we listened. I ran away from myself , I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was in a school with the brightest girls in my country and I was doubtful of my place among them. I was growing fatter every day and more pimpled by the hour and it wasn’t something I was doing or not doing. It just was.
So I ran away. And each passing month gave me something to run away from. A biology chapter I couldn’t understand? I built one in my head that I could understand. Bad enough grades, I created a school and good enough grades in my head. Quarrel with someone? I created peace in my mind. Lack of a boyfriend? I made one according to my own specifications and dated them the way I wanted.
And for all my teenage hood , I lived in my mind. It was easier. Way more peaceful. Just the way I wanted it to be. I could uncreate and create unlike the real world which was beyond my grasp. I could be the me I wanted to be, unlike on earth where who I was ,was determined by many interconnecting stuff beyond me.
I had set out to run away. I got lost in the process. And my legs that got me there got cut off. I couldn’t run anymore. I was stuck in destination ‘Lost’. It would take me years to actually realise I was lost. More years to actually accept it. And to date,I’m still trying to find my legs. I need to get unlost. I miss running away. But I have nothing to run away from.
I can only run away if I have a normal to run away from. But I’m already at my abnormal,I’m already lost. I’ve stopped running. I’m now looking at my surroundings to see if I can get back. Or at least if there is a different way out.
Is there a way out?