I looked to my left and there was a naked man. I am driving. It is about 7 p.m. I am at one of those chokepoints on the road where nothing explains the traffic. I can't wait to get out of my clothes. Fry bread (yes, I do. I fry bread). Drink cold Milo. Take a bath. I am alert as the feeling of being exposed follows me in Lagos traffic. And then, I looked to my left and there was a naked man.
It was a thing when I was much younger to see mad people around. They were the kings and queens of the dump. They walked past you and you know by their matted hair and nonsensical talk. You quickly cross to the other side. Of course, there was the tattered mismatched clothing and body odor. Task forces in Lagos rounded up mad people when they became a multitude in an area. I always wondered where they went. A psychiatric hospital I hoped. When I was much older, in university then, I heard of a van releasing mad people into the streets of Ile-Ife at night. I put two and two together and learnt that your favorite megacity gets rid of its mentally ill this way.
I don't use the word 'mad' anymore. I don't even think in the terms mad. The world is a little more complicated than that. So when I saw the man near my car, I just thought he was naked. Until I heard him. He was praying. He was calling on the name of Jesus, casting and binding the unseen. His eyes were unfocused. Okay. Definitely mad. A little too much information, but I noticed that his pubic area was clean-shaven. Who shaved him? I looked him over. He wasn't dirty. His hair was neat. He was just naked on Fusho Williams Avenue at 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening, trembling with pentecostal glossolalia.
I thought about him for the rest of my drive. I hoped he was okay. What if he wasn't mad? Old Nollywood riddled us with tales of many doing the unthinkable in quest of something — wealth, a child, a gubernatorial position, healing from an incurable disease, etc. Some Babaaláwo could tell you to bring the 4th toe on the left leg of your mother's cousin's childhood boyfriend and you just did it. What if this was one of those rituals that stripped you of your common sense, your dignity? I know some Christians pray naked. At night. It is a thing, as they feel like being as naked as the day you were born before your Creator moves Him to act on your behalf. Don't ask me. The desperation, the vulnerability rises to high heavens, maybe. Was this man performing such a rite?
But what if, what if he was actually mad? Why did his delusion, or paranoia, or psychosis settle for this? Settle for prayer? Prayer? Did he pray all the time in this state? What else does he do? Were there other states?
I am obsessive about the articulation of trauma.
A friend once mentioned that if he saw a demon in his dream, he would walk over and say hi. But if he saw the walls of his secondary school, he would know he was in the middle of a bad dream. He had a tough time as a teenager in boarding school and somehow all his bad dreams always took him back to that environment.
My grandmother was schizophrenic. During her episodes, she always fought with my long-dead grandfather about his other women. Last year, I came across his cache of documents; letters, receipts, the whole brouhaha and yeah, I get it. In his lifetime, the other woman was always her pain point. During a schizophrenic episode, my grandmother would lament the betrayal of my grandfather. In her delusions, he had taken on a much younger wife. There was a clear-cut sequence of events. The next delusive episode continued from where the last one stopped. One day, this younger wife pursued her with a cutlass. Another time, she followed her into the bathroom, taunting her. My grandmother broke the mirror she saw her through with a mopstick and fell on her hip. She did not recover from the corrective surgery.
In my low moments; whether of grief or regret, of longing or loneliness, of fragility or powerlessness — I know the waters I wade into and they are always the same. Same channel, same show, same people, same location, same music. Same trauma on repeat.
The brain is likened to a computer. You feed it data, it processes, and garbage out. It is a thing of wonder how the brain chooses fixed points of certain traumatic episodes in our lives as the starting point, the resting place, and a bedrock when we are mentally unwell. Your garbage out is garbage that has come in before. I'm just curious — why this garbage?
What if he was actually mad, why prayer? What part did ecclesiastical intercession play in his traumatic event? What, and why is it so salient that his brain said ah, yes, this one? There is a story here.