The Last Solitude

By Amarachukwu Okpunobi

Today I woke up late and observed the light fading early into the darkness. I spend my days reading. On the television it seems the masters of the earth have won complete control of the world. Everywhere they have gained power. They now form one unified chain of control across the main centers of the Western world.

They control the news channels, most of the newspapers, and have penetrated our digital life and spy on our every move and listen in on our every conversation. And how did I vote in the last election? Did I vote against their candidate? Did I vote for the other candidate who wanted to make modern life more transparent and had a good program for the environment?

No. And why not? Well, all the newspapers made any alternative sound like the end of the world. They frightened me. So I voted with my fear. Afterwards I regretted it. But if it were to happen again, they would get to me again. I now accept that I am a prisoner of something, but I don’t know what it is.

I wake up and drink green tea and go to the gym. I work out hard to keep my body fit and to keep my weight down. I starve through the day and measure my calorie intake and do a little yoga and breathe deeply by the window.

No matter how much I try I can’t avoid breathing in the daily death of the world. I try to avoid the news. It seems to me now that every news item brings one ever closer to death. I don’t think they mean to, but every story they report seems to help us die a little. Sometimes it is death by hopelessness.

Other times it is death by despair, or indifference, or obsession. For a hundred years now, they have been saying there are too many people on the planet. At night I cannot sleep. I wonder where we will fit all the people jostling on the limited space of this earth. In my dreams I sometimes see them crowding over me, people standing side by side with nowhere to move and no air to breathe.

I eat less each day because I fear that there won’t be enough food to go round. I am aware that this does not help the situation one bit, but I can’t help it.

I work at home. There are days when I do not speak to another human being. I admit that I find human beings frightening. I think that they are the most frightening thing in the whole world. They are scarier than cancer, diseases, wild animals, ghosts, or monsters.

I can’t think of anything scarier than us. The world existed for hundreds of thousands of years before we came along. Then we evolved and created civilizations, and in the last hundred years, we have done more to destroy our habitat than our own worst enemies could ever have done to us. You meet a human being and they seem normal and fine and even quite harmless.

But all the evil in the world has come from humans. It didn’t come from anywhere else. We hate our own kind and would leave them to die if they threatened us. We hate those who are different from us and would get rid of them if they intimidated us in any way. We have eaten this planet to extinction.

I joined an organization to help save the planet not that long ago, but I found many of the people so secretly obnoxious and judgmental that it seemed to me they were part of the problem too.

Now when I meet human beings, something in me flinches. I do not know who I am meeting. I do not know their heart. People frighten me because of the things they passively allow to happen, the things they turn a blind eye to, the things they can’t be bothered to care about. We should be the blessing of the planet, should add our beauty to the earth’s beauty.

But all we have done is add pollution, and waste, and evil, and destruction. We make filth everywhere with our ambitions. Everest was pristine till, with our ambition for conquest, we turned those rare heights into one of the dustbins of the world. Dolphins gag on our plastic waste. Sea turtles choke on it. The radioactive stuff we have accumulated will be toxic for thousands of years after we have vacated the earth. Day by day we believe in less and less.

My father had nothing to teach me about life except getting ahead and looking after myself first. I grew up in the aridity of that philosophy, till a day came when I had no reason to go on living. I did not care enough about looking after myself, and it got too exhausting and stressful living only to get ahead.

I was not so sure that number one was how I should refer to myself. Why should I put myself ahead of others? Isn’t that what everyone else is doing, making the world a constant battleground between individuals, between states, between races, classes, age groups? We are raised with war in our hearts, with war at the depth of our dreams, and war is what we reap every day.

I watched my father grow old in the dryness of his philosophy. Nothing flowered from him. His insight didn’t get richer. He said the same things at eighty that he had said at thirty-five. He seemed to have learned little in his long sojourn on this planet. I think the philosophy we are living by is choking the life out of us. We are now barely alive as people. This is perhaps why it is easier for us to spread death in our politics and our foreign policies.

I watch the world every day and wonder what went wrong with those fine dreams that the race had in its infancy. We have over-complicated ourselves. I now have more allergies now than I had when I was a child. There are more sicknesses around, more than there ever were fifty years ago.

Where are they coming from? We are proliferating diseases and illnesses. I think it is nature’s revenge for strangling her, for tampering with her, and for being divorced from her. We are isolated and rootless in our lack of belief in anything, our world ripe only for rapists and serial killers and mass murderers and the murderers of children in their schools and people in their mosques and churches.

The murder at the heart of our culture has been unknowingly sanctioned by our philosophy. Meanwhile we refine our food and our tastes, we kill ourselves trying to join the rich one percent, and we despise the poor; and if we are poor ourselves, we live without hope, in council estates, succumbing to the consolation of drugs and too many children.

It’s why I have decided not to have children. Whenever I see a child, I can’t stop myself crying afterwards. I love them so much. There’s nothing I want more than a child. We human beings have abdicated the responsibility of being human. We claim the status of gods without being as wise as horses or as intelligent as flowers. Our bloated egos make us as stupid as fleas. How can one entrust a child to such a species? How can I bring such a precious being into—

Written by Ben Okri, a Nigerian poet and novelist.

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