All The Vain Labour Of This Hero Present: By Gabriella Chidiogo

What the fuck even is this life

                                               — Me, 2022

I am starting with a colorful excerpt from my diary because cuss words are the spice that hold tasteless bits of my life together. The times I try hard and fail; the times I play at detachment but still get hurt; the times I give and get nothing in return; the times I hide but my truth seeks me out. Finds me.

In 2022, I was the picture of composure in classy italics—hair done, shirt pressed, smile wide—until I walked through my doors and unraveled.



I am wearing my wine-colored shirt. The one with the checkered patterns that Ihuoma cannot stand. It is 7:45 a.m. so my movements are hurried. I put on my black flats, first one leg and then the other, struggling to keep my balance because I’m wearing a straight skirt that locks my knees together in properschoolmarm fashion.

Outside, there is a woman who sells crispy fries at the end of my close. She’s right at the edge of the corner that turns into the main street. We call her Mma Wisdom; I and the two other corpers who share a flat in my compound. I am almost at Mma’s shop. I perceive the aroma of her morning akara, and I hear her yelling at her son, Wisdom, to go and buy lylon.

There is a niggling worry in my chest that I have not locked my doors. I try to keep walking, but the anxiety eats at me. I know it will continue all day, so I turn to go back home.

At home, I twist the handle on my door this way and that. The door is locked, of course

Some days ago it was the gas. I worried that I had left the cylinder on, so I walked all the way back from the express to make sure. Tomorrow it will be a window; the day after, it will be the doors again. Ihuoma said the anxiety is a symptom of OCD. She had read aloud a paragraph from her phone, tryin to diagnose me off Google’s SEO winners. I had watched her with slight annoyance, only half paying attention. She was talking with her mouth full; bits of wheat bread kept falling onto my desk.

It is 7:58 a.m. now and sign-in ends at 8:10 a.m.

Again, I make my way down the close, into the street, and across the express. It’s a 10-minute walk from this point to the school, but I have only five minutes left. I try to board one of the Kekes lined up beside the fruit stalls. 

“GMS,” I say. 

The driver closest to me shakes his head. The others say nothing. They call out for passengers headed to the market, into town, and toward the bridge. Nobody is going my way.

My shoes already have a fine coating of dust, but that’s okay. I do a lot of walking, so I have the pieces I use to clean my shoes in my bag. One deep breath to tighten my stomach muscles, and I start walking briskly.

“Excuse me, sorry. One moment.”

A man is calling my attention from behind. I see from the corner of my eyes that he’s trying to catch up to me. I wonder what he wants and I can already feel my irritation rising. His style is very 40-something; a plain white polo, suit pants, and white shoes that proudly curl upwards at their tip. 

“Yes? Good morning.” My voice is calculatedly dry with just the right dose of impatience. I don’t stop walking.

“Sorry to disturb you, but do you play football?”

He is squinting up at me and I can see sweat in the creases between his brows. The man is very fair and reddish patches of sunburn adorn his face. His question reminds me of my first year in the university and how my athletic build had gotten me into some trouble. I briefly consider lying to him; it would amuse me and I never have to see him again anyway.

I mentally shake off the smile forming around my lips. I want to keep the conversation short. 

“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?”

I’m curious, and my vanity is asking to be fed. If he is a marketer, he now has my attention. Is he? I swear, if he pulls out a review form for an energy drink, I will be pissed.

“Oh, it’s just the way you walk. Your steps are like that of a sportswoman.”

I hold his gaze to see if this is a compliment or not. I cannot tell because he’s wearing glasses and his eyes are half-closed behind them. I nod and flash him a half smile that might come off as a sneer. I don’t care.

He starts to say something else and I pick up my pace. 

The bell for the first period has gone off before I arrive. I missed sign-in, so I’m officially absent today. 

Ihuoma is eating at my desk again. There is a pile of assignments which I have to grade before my class at noon. I’ll have to face sixty-something sweaty students tired from the adrenaline they expelled at break. I sigh.



Erhoba Godwin never brings his notes to class. 

I’m asking him for the third time this month and he hasn’t got it on him. His grandmother packs his school bag everyday and she cannot read his school timetable pasted above his desk at home. He tells me that the writing is bold; black marker on white cardboard paper, but nana mixes it up still.

“Godwin, you are old enough to pack your school bag yourself.” I never miss a chance to remind JS1 Silver that they are no longer in primary school. 

I have a long cane in my right hand. I carry it to protect myself from this class of little bloodsuckers who laugh when I talk. They say I’m funny when I’m angry and that I cannot be scary, no matter how serious my expression is. I crack my cane against the table once in a while to remind them who is boss.

Today, I’m angry enough to launch into a lecture on the finer points of responsibility. When you’re a pastors’ kid whose mother is a teacher and psychologist, you pick up a few habits for conflict resolution. Where my siblings picked up healthy dialogue, I picked up dissociation and lengthy monologues.

Miss, we can’t hear you.”

They are making noise outside.”

Some senior students are gathered by the windows to my left, at the school backyard. They are skipping classes to smoke and exchange their infamous love letters. I have heard tales of horror from corpers assigned to the senior classes, so I’m often hesitant to interact with them. 

Today, I am angry enough to not care so I walk over to the windows and scold them loudly.

“It’s like you want to try me. All of you! Come to my class now!”

My yelling has startled them; they run off in different directions. Most of them. The next minute, three boys walk into my class. I can’t tell if they’re brave or just brazen, but I would give a lot to wrap up my service year this instant. 

“What are your names?”

One after another, they call out their names. They are in SS2 Gold. I write down their names in my notebook—the red hardback I carry around to look serious and forbidding. 

The tallest amongst them is KC—short for Kelechi. He’s the ringleader, I reckon. KC flashes me a lazy smile and tells me that I’m too beautiful to be stressing myself out. 

“Next time, just call me. I’ll chase everybody away for you, miss.”

He has his hands in his pockets, and his head is bobbing as he speaks. I’m reminded of lizards with their characteristic push-ups. I have teenage brothers, so I can recognize faux confidence when I see it. He cannot meet my eyes and I stare at him in silence until it gets awkward. He shifts his weight around on both legs.

“Go back to your class, three of you.”

Godwin is still standing at his desk, waiting for the rest of my lecture, but I’m too tired now. I have lost my anger, so I tell him to sit down. We revise traffic signs from the previous class. 

In my next class, Godwin still doesn’t bring his notes. 

Golden Hour


I can make my vision blurry; it’s a trick I learnt when I was a child. I would unfocus my eyes, so I did not have to see the neighbors when I walked through the street on another one of my mother’s countless errands. I’ve never gotten used to all that greeting. Ekáàrò. E kú àtàárò. Ẹ ǹlẹ́ o. Ekábò.

I’m doing it now. Sharon’s texts keep popping up in my notification box, but I don’t read them. I can’t read them if my vision stays blurry.

I clear my notifications again; it’s the fourth time in five minutes.

Last weekend, I installed an app because Chisom — a masculine woman who owns a shop down the street — said I can meet queer women there. She had called them ‘umu girls,’ and the phrase sent me down a rabbit hole of internet searches to find the Igbo word for queer women. There’s none.

The app wasn’t on the Play Store, so I had waited in front of her shop to collect the apk file, sweaty from my morning walk, swatting away the annoying flies that stuck around the foodstuff she shaded outside. People kept casting weird glances my way.

My social battery ran out in primary five. I remember the exact moment when I first felt this disconnect. I was walking home from school; there was the smell of new rain, my sister’s tiny hand clutching mine, and my left hand stuck in a wave. Jade had not returned my wave. She was the first friend I lost. The first one I loved.

The truth is I’d rather be anywhere but part of a conversation. I’d rather hold hands in silence; walk to and fro a long stretch of road; swap spit; make lengthy eye contact; run. People cannot tell because I mask it well enough.

Many women text me on the app, but there are a lot of fake profiles. Some have only scenery in their pictures, and I see the occasional oyibo profile who loves hiking and wants to make friends in Asaba. Several conversations happen that I cannot recall. My hands steer the conversation; my sense of humor, sometimes; my lady parts at full moon; never me.

Until Sharon.

Beautiful, dark-skinned Sharon who likes to sing in the choir. Her pictures look grainy, but I see the multiple piercings which line her ears. She says she is 22; the same age I turned last year. We text for a few days, feeling out each other in the tentative way that only church girls whose bodies bear memories of guilt can truly understand. 

I’m not sure what is too much, so I ask her where she lives. What is her favorite color? Would she rather have a dog or a cat?

We exchange numbers and our conversations stray into braver waters.

“I like that your bed is small. We can share it—get close and personal.” 

Sharon’s voice over the phone is shy and slightly accented. Her ‘r’s are silent, taking flight every time she evokes them. I can hear a noisy fan in her background that reminds me of the ceiling fans at my parents’ house.

We talk about what we’d do together when she comes to my house. It’s past 10:00 p.m. at night and my breathing is a little unsteady. I fear she can hear it over the phone, so I ask if we can text on Whatsapp instead. 

I ask her for a clear picture. She sends ten. 

Sharon likes figure-hugging black dresses that make her look like trouble. I ask her out on a movie date and she says she’s too shy to meet in public. When I ask for her social media, she balks.

She says she’s not comfortable with sharing more information about herself yet. She has mine, so I’m not sure why she is uncertain. I came out this month—in typical introvert style—adding a conspicuous little rainbow to my social media profiles along with the words ‘queer,’ or ‘sapphic.’

I expect that it would make my life harder in some ways, but it should make dating easier.

Today makes it three days since my last conversation with Sharon. She texts me again to say she wants to come over. I am not reading her messages, so she keeps texting.

‘I can see that you’re online.’

‘Are you angry about something?’

‘Just tell me if you no longer want to meet me.’

‘Fine. Here’s my full name, but I’m not really on social media.’

My body feels too leaden. The disconnect has hit again, and I’m powerless against it. Something is off about our interactions and I’m too tired to find out what it is. I no longer want to meet the pretty girl in the black dresses. I don’t want to dip our hands in the same bag of popcorn or trace the outline of her fingers in the dark. I want nothing. I quit.

My belly still does little dances of anxiety every time my notification tone chimes. 

Two weeks later, she sends me one last message. 

I don’t know what I did to you, but it’s cool sha. Take care.’

I don’t respond. 

I uninstall the app. Dating is hard.



Save for random snapshots of existence here and there, I have forgotten most of that year which threatened to swallow me. But, I have proof that I survived a storm; the kind that wraps you gently in its eye and kills your dream around you. 

This ache in my bones are growing pains. The hurried steps I took two years before have put me in the lead; now I walk slower to my destinations. The lessons I taught that never stuck have stayed with me, perfected by practice. My many dead-end searches for love have mapped out community.

What is the point?

Efforts are a constant for me—thankless, and exhausting at the moment. But every few years, I look back and see that pain has carried me into plenty.