I am so happy… I want to die

Mo Isu
9 min readNov 30, 2023

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Watching Yasmine walk away did it. I suspected I might cry. I almost did when Neel and I hugged. We breathed into each other. His hair sprayed over my shoulder, I heard him say he would write to me soon. I felt my body crack then. The sadness welled up inside me and prayed to escape. Then we let go and the sadness simply stayed there, hanging. This was before we got into our cab. The four of us, Yasmine, Mahsheed, Kaka and I waved goodbye to our Indian friends, Neel and Ved. It then all quickly became real. The end of the summer. In the cab, Yasmine, Kaka and Mahsheed sat together, I sat alone, sadness sat on my chest, heavy. It was a quiet ride to the airport. One after the other, we said goodbye, breaking away to a different part of sprawling Charles De Gaule. Till it was just Yasmean and I. One last time we did things together. We called Mahsheed together. We shopped together. Smoked together — Yasmine smoked, I kept her company. We drank champagne together. Then we walked together for the last time. Then I stood and I watched her walk up to immigration, watched her turn around, watched her wave at me, slowly and then I was alone.

Now, I cried.

Paris felt new; when It was not. I was here the previous spring, and the two life-changing nights from 2021 still flashed through my mind — the two nights that made me believe life could be something other than what I knew — the two nights that made me want to live in this city.

I rolled my two luggage bags down Montparnasse Boulevard on the morning of July 7th. The city felt new but familiar. I hadn't ever been here like this before, here without an immediate return date. Here, alone.

I, of course, wouldn’t be alone for much longer. I would meet Pascaline, the coordinator, in a few minutes. She would walk up to me as I searched for the code to unlock the door to my building. We would hug the hug of strangers who have been texting. Later, I’d meet Kgomotso, with whom I would share the experience of my first Starbucks order. They would mess it up, she would say I should go back and get it fixed, but I wouldn’t. Then I’d meet Raghad, whom I would guide to all the places I only just learnt existed hours ago, the Western Union for cash, the Tabac store for a sim card, and the supermarket. Then four of us would sit down for lunch and take a picture to send our mates still in transit.

In 2022, I learned about a Residency for Sound Documentary that happened in Paris over the summer. It was 6 weeks with 12 participants from countries across the globe, learning to make creative sound docs. In 2022, Nigeria was not one of the countries eligible for this residency. I saw the application form on the school’s website and applied anyway. Typically, you had to apply through your country’s French embassy but given Nigeria’s non-inclusion, I sent my application directly to the Head of the Residency program. The next edition, the one I was just a part of, had Nigeria listed as a participating country. I would learn later that after receiving a number of applications from Nigeria, they decided to include her. In a small way, it makes me responsible for my good luck.

I met Kaka next. Then Vedvanti, whose room was adjacent to mine. I met Rafael when he joined Raghad and me on a walk to the Seine. Then I met Mahseed, who is deceitfully quiet and meek at first impression. We would end up spending a lot of time together working on a documentary about an Iranian writer who died 70 years ago. Then I met Konstatine and Neel by the door of the residence on different occasions. I met Zohar at the supermarket opposite our building. I met Yasmine on the bench and sort of hated her immediately because I could tell she’d be the heart of the group — I could tell I’d love her painfully. Dimitris, I met last, making 12 of us.

Day 1: ENS Summer School

On the plane, I watched the third Volume of the Guardians and the Galaxy movie. And I cried three times. I cried during one of the flashbacks with young Rocket losing his friends. I cried again when Rocket was sick and his friends were doing everything they could to save him. If you’ve watched this GOG, then you know it’s not a particularly sad movie, it doesn’t call for all the tears that I wept. I was at least lucky enough to have some privacy. On long flights, my height is a problem. One of the hostesses noticed this early on in the flight and offered me the option of sitting alone in a vacant row at the back of the plane. I took it and now I sat there, with Rocket and Starlord and tears and memories that would soon start to fade. I cried again.

in the park

There was one day during the summer; one day when we had not just arrived but also were not going to leave soon; one day when the summer felt like it might last forever. We’d returned from class early that day. Yasmine, Mahsheed and I chose the park for its peace to share silence. Neel joined us later but not before the incident.

The incident.

The incident came after our ice creams, something with mango, had slowly disappeared from our cups. It came when my book about friends (that would later be about pain) had become too tiresome to read on my Kindle. It came when the sun had slipped away and the park sounded childish and we talked about our families and homes and languages and each other. It came when we least expected it.

The incident.

Caught unaware In the middle of a conversation about the difference between Maroc Arabic, sweet Persian and the rest of the dialects in the Middle East. A bird, as if French, as if angry that we spoke so openly about something so un-french, dropped, with all its might, enough poop that it made an audible plop when it landed on my Kindle. Heavy enough, voluminous enough was it that all of us felt some of it. It was in Mahsheed’s hair, it was on my Kindle case, my kimono, my shorts, it was on Yasmine’s phone. It was everywhere. We all laughed. None of us was so distraught by this that it upset our moods even in the slightest. This was a joy if anything. A great story about the racist bird that did not like us — did not like me. Neel came soon after and we told him about it. And ‘that’s racist’ became an inside joke.

This moment is fleeting if anything but it gave us an inside joke with an edge (for its acknowledgement of race). And it gave us a forever moment of nothing.

This one day, closer to the end, a few days to the end, the day of our trip to the beach. We, Neel, Yasmine and I, were waiting by the bus stop and playing taboo(the word description game). Yasmine tried to describe a word by saying “I really like it.” Without batting an eye, knowing this was definitely not the answer, I said ‘couscous’ and Yasmine looked at me and said ‘That’s racist’. A forever moment of nothing.

At the airport, I called Chidi, who was waiting for me In Lagos. We hadn’t seen each other in 7 weeks and with her coming move, there was a longer period of distance awaiting us. She’d been looking forward to seeing me. She was excited when I called and then she realised I was crying.

This was the first wave of it. I sat in the airport and realised I was alone in a new but lasting way. I watched the video of Yasmean again, the slow walk, the wave and then nothing.

Sadness comes in waves. First, there was the heft of it and now, there was all of it trying to come out through my face. As if it was possible to cry away this new feeling of loss. It wasn’t possible but this did not stop my body from trying. Not now, not on the plane, not for months later.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to go to the Seine and watch the sunset.

Beer, Sprite and chips were brought along for the walk. There were first, 6 of us, till there were 8. Also, there was waving at tourists on boats.

The sunset left us still be the seine. Then Night came and left us as well. Left us dancing with strangers to electro music.

We got back to our rooms at 4 am and looked horrible the next morning in class. It was totally worth it.

How do I tell you about the summer? How do I tell you about the residents? How do I tell you about the ping pong players? The commuters of M13? The sound recordists? Drinkers of Orange Juice? Dancers of the night? Some of them smokers. Some of them not. How do I tell you about these people?

I can’t tell you all of the stories, not about the unending Bastille day, or about the night at Petit Bain. I can’t tell you about the rain dancers or the visits to the cemetery, the time at the cemetery, the friends at the cemetery. I can’t tell you about the beach or the night we rode bikes through this sleepless city. I can’t tell you about any of our picnics or the 7th-floor jam session. I can’t tell you because I don’t have enough time; because we didn’t have enough time.

We spoke about it for a long time, about the 4th floor party. 4 of us had rooms on the 4th floor, it was one of only two floors in our building like this. It meant that on the 4th floor, we could make all the noise we wanted without disturbing anyone else. We could have a party on the 4th floor with all the doors open and chairs on the landing and food and music and it could be all of us.

On our last day, with the sight of an early morning flight, we stayed up all night to have this party.

The 4th floor party.

All the things we wanted were there plus more. There was Rafael with music and Kaka in her nighttime glasses. Konstantine and his friend, Dimistris and his. Mahsheed and a beer. Ved and love. Yasmine and Neel. Me and the same thought I have had all summer.

“This is nice. I hope it lasts”

A few weeks after returning to Lagos, after the summer, I was telling a friend about how much I cried on the plane leaving Paris. She responded with encouragement and a push to consider a move to Paris. I clearly like the city a lot, maybe I should live there.

The problem was, and I told her this, true as my love for Paris is, this is not what I mourned. What I mourned was the summer.

“I was crying for all the friends I was leaving there (not in Paris, in the summer) I can always go back to Paris. I can never return to this summer — to these people.”

Writer’s note: It has sat in my draft for months. The intention was to write a long piece to immortalise the summer. But it’s been hard to write and the memories are starting to fade. This summer’s immortality lies in the fact that it happened.

The title is a brilliant sentence Mahsheed said after a day of shopping

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Mo Isu

Writing what I can| Being Vulnerable and confused| Making podcasts