On The Year Ahead


Per the internet, if you are not Donald Trump or Andy Murray, 2016 was probably a rough year. It was for me. Amongst other things, Mum left earth and there was nothing I could do about it. We can only control a small fraction of life and that sucks. We do our bit, life does hers and if we are lucky enough, the stars align to create something that is without an untimely and a sorrowful conclusion. But everything ends and sorrow is ingrained in the fabric of life. 

It seems, we are perpetually warring for and against life’s uncertainties: success and failure, Joy and sorrow, and so on. We do have (to an extent) control of the work put in, the friendships we make and break, the places we go and books we read. But, life is a careless wind unperturbed by people's dedication to happiness. A curve ball could be thrown at any time and God save the one who is unable to catch it. Yet faith teaches us to believe, in spite of and in protest against fear and defeat. I suppose it is what drags us, weary athletes, to the end of the marathon, heaving with punctured lungs and broken bones. Faith is why we look forward to things that are not there. And we must hold on to it like our lives depend on it. It is what fuels the New Year’s optimism. 

It is ever-present in the congregation at a church’s crossover service. Churches are usually packed to the rafters with faithful and exceptionally jolly people, excited about the new start January 1 provides. The pastor will declare the New Year a year of success, promotion and victory, and we will shout thunderous Amens! And dance profusely, sweating away former anxieties and putting on latent ones, that will, if we are lucky enough, remain latent. For me, the best part of the service has always been peering through the swarm of bodies for my parents, especially mum, at the dawn of the New Year. She was hardly happier than she was on January 1 and thus beamed between 11:30pm and 12:30am. Maybe it was because every year of being alive was miraculous. We hugged her in turns– my brothers and I, and she often smiled with her lips folded in, as if to hold a reckless laugh or hide a dangerous blush.

We recently moved to a much bigger church. The kind that holds two Sunday services and has a mid-week morning event with over 1000 attendees. If we weave through the avalanche of bodies in one piece, my brothers and I will make it to dad in time to keep half of the tradition alive. And although one never really 'moves on' from the loss of a loved one, life does. The speed of life means that there is a hesitation to celebrate the start of a new year. In a way it feels like I am leaving mum behind with the year. Ah, but life goes on.

As for 2017, I hope we look after our mental healths. I have learnt the hard way to protect mine at all costs. The brain is the CPU and can, like every other organ in the body, become unwell. I hope we protect our faiths and ruminate on knowledge like never before. I hope we ask questions of our beliefs and pursue personal understanding and that we are not overwhelmed by the multitude of doctrines in our religious or spiritual spaces. I hope we are kind to one another and that we help others without fanfare and the want of reciprocation. I hope we protect our dreams. And realise that the fear of failure is fine if we have figured out what we want to do. I hope we figure it out if we already haven't. And who knows? perhaps 2017 will be the year that our stars align. I hope we all hold on to hope and faith.

I hope we all have a happy new year and beyond. 

Photo source: Pintrest




I preserve my time with people as events and more importantly, places. Goodbyes have become a permanent fixture over the years: migration, graduation, death, etc. Distance soon turns friends into strangers. Easy pleasantries become quadratic equations: “I haven't seen x in while; I should probably check up on y." And the people I (we) shared laughs and tears with, become vestiges of good times: the good old days. Nostalgia.

I collect these experiences as places because even when the nuances of the stories and moments slip out of my hands, I do not misplace the where. It means that when the what and how escape memory, there is a place to build from. A foundation to lay old bricks upon. A road map to a house of lost treasures and old possibilities.

When my mum passed on in May, I rushed to recollect our last time together, the last place we breathed together. It was on her 50th birthday and she was being discharged post-surgery from a hospital in the States. How poetic. She was frail but cheery, flashing a smile to the extent the pain would permit. Cancer be dammed. This was recovery. I did not think a hospital room in Maryland would be our last place. It was. When I think of November 2015, I'll remember that place.

I did not see her until February or March: via Facetime. I was in my room. She was in hers, an ocean away, asking about my wellbeing. “How are your friends?” as though she knew any of them. Her room is now a landmark in my memory.

I had a strange dream as a kid. A type of apocalypse had happened but mummy and I remained, alone in the world. Frightened. But we had ourselves. I fail at recalling the rest of the dream but I remember that we stood at the front of her shop in Iba, waiting for something to happen. Anything.

She turned up at 8pm for my first visiting day at boarding school. Visiting hours ended moons ago. Lagos was 2 hours away. I thought they had forgotten. There was a mix up, I think. I can’t quite remember. We sat at the front of my school’s chapel. Coke or Fanta and meat pie in hand; the wind gusting against our faces in the silent darkness.

The last time I saw her, we were at the funeral service, hours before the internment. She was resting in the casket. Her quiet yet striking beauty beaming as much in death as it did when she was alive. Her body decaying and soul on a journey. That she was “going to a better place,” brought me little to no consolation. Every time I heard it, no matter how true it rung, it fell off my skin like dead hair. How could the place be better without me? Without us?

But of course, she has a place in my heart (our hearts). And perhaps that is everything. Perhaps it matters that even as the upper bulb of the hourglass empties and memories become blurrier, the places we lived, left and loved ourselves, are etched as footprints in the sands; guiding and teaching me how to put the pieces together; how to repaint over and over, the marvellous picture of our time together.

Seize It


Life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die.

It also does when you grow up. One day you are building mud houses with your feet, the next you are ruminating on real estate and mortgages. Your life flashes in the transition to and when adulthood is reached. Childhood and adolescence perish in record time. Innocence is tested and responsibility is realised. 

When I was a child, a teenager seemed an adult. As a teenager, an adult seemed even more of an adult. Now that I’m an adult, a teenager is a child and sometimes, an adult. Weird huh? how our shoes look different when we’ve outgrown them; how throwback pictures reveal terrible fashion choices that leave us with: “what was I thinking?”

One moment you are 12-years-old growing hair in smelly and covered places, the next you are shaving and waxing. People start to say things like “wow! you have grown” and soon you become the annoying relative who always comments:“you are now a big boy oo,” at family gatherings.

Marriage, kids and you become your parents. Trying to live out your dreams whilst burdened – albeit lovingly – with having to feed new stomachs. Watering seeds into trees. And all these experiences – looking backwards – are etched as synopses not novels. Screen shots not movies. Snippets not full songs. Just salient, distinct moments of joy—but grief,  stress—but tranquil, love—and despair, and if lucky, random moments like the time it rained on a Thursday after school.

Life does not only flash when you’re about to die. It does as time passes: day by day, year by year. Carpe diem they say, carpe diem!

Image from quotesgram.com

Dr Olugbemi?


“Good afternoon sir”

“Our doctor! how is school?”

An awkward silence ensues. On a good day, I’ll spend minutes justifying my decision to leave med school. On a not-so-good day, I’ll answer: “school is fine, thank you.”Besides, if anything, med school gave up on me, so I left (finally!).

Everything changes when you change your degree, and hence, career path. “What do you want to specialise in?” suddenly becomes “so, what are you going to do now?” You often become defensive when being harmlessly queried about your decision.

My reply always adds sourness to their seemingly masked disappointment. “Oh that’s interesting.” sounds like code for “really? how are you going to make money?” or “what are you going to do with such a degree?”. Or maybe I have become cynical. For these reasons, I have over the past two years, proactively avoided conversations with some relatives, friends and family friends.

Most people are encouraging about it, and even if they weren’t, why should it matter? What fuels the need to seek validation for our decisions? Maybe people’s opinions are the checks and balances of our judgements. It is strange not being on that grind anymore but I have not missed it. Of course, the regret of wasted years pursue my day-to-day but it is not unexpected. It is human nature to long for what is lost.

“Why are we here?” marks its territory in my mind. A thousand motivational quotes and trite coping mechanisms lay siege on my dejection. Sometimes they win, sometimes they are conquered. The need to make money as one ages; provide for one’s family; and repay one’s parents for their labour of love, are permanent fixtures in my musings. These things are not peculiar to anyone; I suppose we all deliberate such concerns, some of us more than others.

By December next year, I will be writing my last exam as an undergraduate. I think of the day just over two years ago, when I agonised and decided to heck with it, as I wrote that long desperate forlorn email to my dad, and I marvel that I’m one year away from concluding this ‘new’ chapter.  The torment of having stayed at home for six months waiting for something to happen is now unrecognisable.

Regrets persist and I have learnt to accept them for what they are: regrets. “We can’t change the past” is an exhaustive truth, but a truth nonetheless. There’s a spring in my step; it will often reach its elastic limit when melancholy and the stringent force of mediocrity fall upon me. But that’s okay, I guess. The darkness of the night does not affect the brightness of sunrise.

Thank you to everyone that has followed this blog over the years, for reading my poetry and occasional prose – the good and the terrible.


Image Source: turbosquid.com


Maami is Mad

Maami is mad. She bites her nails while she eats, and counts the grains of rice on her plate. She never eats beyond 100 grains of rice. Baami says he still loves her, but that even love cannot conquer madness, and that eventually, something has to give. Yewande only likes the bad boys at school, the ones who sag their trousers and hold their crotch. The ones who smoke weed behind the library during recess; the boys who have money, and yet, steal sausage rolls from tuck shop. I don’t have time for Yewande’s misguidance, I can’t guard or guide her because Maami is mad. I need to save Maami.

I am the 17-year old first child and only son of Mr. & Mrs. Olanerewaju. Olanrewaju translates to wealth walks before me (or wealth is imminent). The universe has taken this name seriously and allowed wealth to walk miles away from our home. My sister, Yewande, thinks Baami is a selfish man, who likes to mince money when it comes to family matters. I try to convince her that Baami does not have much, but she does not want to hear it. It will help if Baami stopped visiting the cheap brothel next to our street, and coming home drunk at late hours. I know the brothel is cheap because Baami is poor; else, how can he afford it?

Tomorrow, we are going to take maami to a hospital. The kind of hospital where the patients are prisoners and the doctors are wardens. The kind where drugs numb feelings as opposed to curing diseases. I know maami hates it because she has been there before, we have been here before, she has been admitted before. She will cry tomorrow, Yewande will wail, Baami will beg his father to financially assist the hospital bills, and I will write a poem about it. A poem like one I have written before.

my mother is mad,
my sister is sad,
the boys she likes are bad,
things are tough, things are hard

my mother is crazy
my father is drunk and lazy
he calls my mother his lady
but a whore is having his baby

my mother is mentally ill,
tender, and beautiful still
I hope that someday she’ll
smile, and happiness, she’ll feel

Rotimi Olanrewaju

Tomorrow is going to be grim. I will go to sleep now.

My hairy face and other stereotypes II


Yes, this is your quintessential ‘do not judge by the cover’ discourse. So strap-on, get your ‘hmms’ and ‘ahhs’ ready, as you revisit what you already know, or perhaps, and hopefully, learn something new.

“As-salamu alaykum” — a man who I presume to be muslim said to me, as I strolled through the fruits-section of a Tesco store. I nodded my head in acknowledgement of his greeting: 1)because I did not know how to answer, and 2) because I am not a muslim. Carrying a full beard comes with certain presumptions, and I have no qualms with it.

Bigotry however, is the thorn in my flesh.
“They should go back to their village and develop it” — a Nigerian acquaintance said to me on a bus headed to town. My frontal lobe experienced several explosions, as I gazed at him to gauge the level of his seriousness and how oblivious of his bigotry he had become. I argued that Lagos belonged to all Nigerians, including the igbos, and not just the yorubas. I dared to bring up the atrocities of the Biafra War, — starving igbo children and dry-breasted nursing mothers, to which he replied: “so we should have let them take our oil away?”

Why is Lagos ours, but the oil on eastern land not theirs?

Behind this seeming bigot, is a nice, church-going guy, who I think is an absolute gentleman. Maybe I am being judgemental in calling him a bigot.

Are we selectively bigoted or prejudice? Do you have a deep resentment for the transgender folk, but bear no grudges against homosexuals? Do you hate racism but view tribalism as fair game? Is there a line between bigotry and opposing another’s lifestyle choice? and where is this line drawn?

Whilst we do have our innate and subconscious propensities towards certain prejudices, can’t we live harmoniously? Can we accept that society has problems to be discussed and discoursed? Can’t we agree, and agree to disagree, without disagreeing to agree?

So, whether or not my goatee makes me look like a stereotypical mallam; or I like to talk about Christ, the least you can do is treat me the way you want to be treated: It is the golden rule.



..and other stereotypes I

The Throwback Series: Rage

I often felt inferior but barely showed my complex/
words can’t really describe: it’s complex/
i blew things out of proportion and took words out of context/
i guess i lost my way, yes: that i confess/
A wise man said a silent fool is perceived as wise/
i found an escape in silent pain and writing/
And sometimes a tear would fall from my eyes/
but the victory is worth all the fighting/
this light of mine is no longer little/
everything changes when you grow up/
not when you’re 13, 18, 40 or no longer single/
everything changes when you grow up/
fear and all his friends still come knocking/
but i’ve erased the writings off that page/
the windows to doubt are all broken/
but sometimes silence is my only form of rage/

Tomi.O 2012

Ps, watch this space as I’ll be featuring a few poems I wrote and shared (on another platform) some years back.