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22 Nov Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

A Room Full of Trash

In the otherwise empty state library in Lokoja, I found an anthology containing an E.M. Forster essay, ‘My Wood’, in which the writer asked, and attempted to answer the question, ‘if you own things, what's their effect on you?’ Property makes one fussy, possessive and greedy, he argued.

Forster was convincing. I took his thoughts and internalised them. Perhaps I took them too far, sprinting from materialism towards asceticism so that when I was moving into my apartment, it took the intervention of concerned family members and friends to convince me I needed a bed, and not a duvet to be folded away in the morning as I planned. My ideal room is uncluttered, unoccupied, empty to the point of echoing. The contention of the interveners was: what would I do when I have visitors? I would spread the duvet thin, I thought. Well, they prevailed. I bought a bed, a pillow, and naturally, bed sheets.

So now that I have bed sheets I have to make the bed every so often― not to mention the addition to the laundry basket. Before I lie down and after I wake I tidy up grudgingly, knowing I have become servant to my possession. The knowledge is not liberating though. Being wary of the implications of ownership does not prevent further acquisition and fussing endlessly about them. This would be only the beginning of many more items I would buy, and the further invasion of my space.

They are not delivered in truck-loads. They are brought in one piece at a time, one purchase necessitating the other. Property begets property. It behoved on me, now that I had a house, to stop eating out and start cooking, to set up the kitchen. I bought a gas cylinder and foodstuff, some in containers too sexy to be disposed off immediately. They are stowed with the excuse that they are for incidental uses. So under the sink is full with empty containers of groundnut oil and such unnamed items with no imminent purpose. Slowly, the hitherto empty house becomes furnished and filled with trash.

A pair of gold earrings that would outlive eternity and is suited to all dresses and every occasion is cast off for a variety of trendy jewelleries. And then there is this yellow pearl needing a dark blue gown to match and would be otherwise useless. More clothes require more boxes and more hangers. Slowly the wardrobe becomes a boutique. More bags, more watches, more shoes, to complete the ensemble. A pair of black wedge heel is nice, two is merrier. There would be no end to aspirations. It must not be asked, 'how many shoes can a man wear at a time?' The days of man is few and full of wanting more. Needs fulfilled creates an appetite for more. You have a house in Lagos, it is only logical to have one in Abuja as well, two maybe, one in Maitama, one in Asokoro.

For the bibliophile, acquiring so many books is a virtue and not greed. It began as an honest pursuit of knowledge, now it is a hobby. Never in human history has so many books been available to one man. Though he will never find the time to read them all, he would want to have them all the same, in every possible format. He spends time scanning the pages of a book, admiring the design, savouring the print and the beauty of randomly chosen sentences. There is no hope of reading the entire tome. There are so many of such in different cities that a shelf would be required to harmonise his libraries.

In every way, money has the same impact on the owner as property, perhaps a more heightened impact. If you own money, what's its effect on you? Surely you fuss over it, counting, estimating, budgeting, accounting. With enormous, sudden wealth, even when out of sight, stashed in the bank, the thought of it lingers in the mind and may even cause insomnia. It doesn’t feel real until it is fiddled and spent. Does one want more of anything than money, especially when you think of the property it can acquire?

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