‘Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir,’ by Akwaeke Emezi: An Excerpt

[ Return to the review of “Dear Senthuran.” ]

She was right: once I realized I was a small deity, I had to move differently. If my whole mother is the Ala of Odinaala, of Omenala, the one who is everywhere, a shrine in every compound? Ahahn. It’s enough. Birthright loops a quick knot around doubt and strangles it. I can’t move afraid when I’m a god. In this flesh world? The fear doesn’t make sense. I can do what I want—who can touch me? A human can’t enact consequences against things like us, we’re not even moving in the same dimensions.

Back when I was studying Rumi, I tried reaching for humility, a sort of grace, rising above things, deep wells of compassion and all that shit. I’m not saying there aren’t gods like that; I’m just saying I’m not one of them. Maybe it’s also an ogbanje thing; my brothersisters are terrible little spirit children, you know? I think they gave me some trickster residue—not the actual trickery, but the unrepentant part has to come with that kind of mischief the petty and vindictive. Quick to burn things down. If you take traits like impatience and a hot temper, and plug them into a god already annoyed at being put into flesh, you end up with a nature I can’t believe I spent so much energy trying to repent from. What god doesn’t come with a streak of brutal?

But it’s fine, I’m still mostly sweet, I think. This is just one of the faces—the bratty deity.

If we allow our respective birthrights, how else can we move but as mad and arrogant gods? Rightness sits strong in your bones when your parent is divine. Between you and me, our temperings are different—siblings are never the same—but we’ve both been taught fear, conditioned by the humans. They had their reasons, but you can’t keep things like us folded for too long, the creases can’t hold. I know you’ve felt the seams bursting, too, how much it hurts, how terrifying it is because we know how terrifying we are, they must have folded us for a reason, we’re going to hurt the humans if we expand fully, we’re going to burn everyone we care about, we burn too bright, it’s not safe to exist, we’re dangerous, we’re dangerous, we’re dangerous!

The only right thing to do is cage ourselves, wrap the collar around our throats and pull it tight, lash our own backs, save them all from us. How many times have we tried to stand up fully only for them to tell us that we’re being violent for just trying to be whole, that our attempted wholeness was hurting them? They’ve lied to us for such a long time. And I think when we’ve been taught to be afraid of ourselves in such ways, we absorb some of our teachers’ fear. I wonder what terrified them about us, like I kind of want to know the fine details. Is it that our spirits were too large to control? Had they just never seen anything like us before? I’m so glad we found each other at the end of the day; being witness to you is one of the joys of my life, I swear.

My therapist told me that when people think about power, they think about the choices that power will give them: options, resources, things like that. What they don’t often think about are the consequences of power. The things you lose, the things you sacrifice, the costs. It was great hearing that, because of course I knew about the costs but it makes such a difference to hear them framed as a direct consequence of power. No one has patience for hearing about the consequences unless they’re experiencing them as well; otherwise, all they can see are the choices. As in, life must be sweet where you are! That’s one of the more insidious ways this kind of power just isolates you from other people: it’s like they become blind to what’s actually happening with you, replacing it with an illusion they created, their imagination of what your life is like, which is really a fantasy of how they think their life would be if they had what you have. The magician explained this to me. You and I know it well, it’s why we’re taking our time to become the beasts we are. Consequences are things we’re learning to handle in small doses.

Like that thing where you show someone just a little bit and they run, and then you think, wow, if just this terrified you—the tip of a feather—how am I supposed to open up entire wings? If I’m already so alone with this useless human face pressed over mine to make you more comfortable, how bad will it get if I show you my nonhuman faces? Ann worries about this, too, all the time, because the hurt the humans feel will pierce its way through her as well. I hate that pain. I spent the other day sobbing for hours on my bathroom floor, because my human mother will never see me and all she knows is that the child she bore does not want to be close to her, and I can feel her hurt and she doesn’t think I know, but of course I know, it just changes nothing, the woman suffers for being a deity’s surrogate. There is no lonely like a god’s lonely; I suffer in different directions.

We should just become utter and complete beasts, anyway, fuck it all.

These humans are so loud in how they press down, in how they enforce their realities. What would it look like if we took up our own space, all of our space, planets and planets worth of it? They won’t like it, I know, but Elo, how long can we stay dungeoned just because they’re afraid of us? Let them look at us, let their eyes bleed, they don’t see us anyway. It’s actually impressive, how someone can work so hard to crush a thing they can’t see. Maybe they use their other senses, maybe they can smell things more powerful than them, feel the danger in the small hairs of their necks. I do think we’re dangerous, just not in the way they told us we were. In this their world, it’s dangerous to not be afraid. Do you know what kind of things we can do without fear? You can’t control a thing that doesn’t understand fear, you can’t condition a thing that doesn’t experience consequences.

Must Read