I moved into this apartment in early October 2014. In mid-November, I traveled to Nigeria for a weekend, and lost a bunch of keys in the process; it included a key to the apartment building, my apartment, and my room. I paid almost $200 to a locksmith who helped break open my room. Although I got a new set of keys, I am yet to request for a new key to the building. Since then, I’ve always waited, reliant on chance, for neighbors who are entering or leaving.
Yesterday, April 3, I left the keys to my apartment in my room. Each time I’ve forgotten the bunch of keys, I’ve depended on my roommates to help open the door. But yesterday they were out of town.
I took the elevator to the basement, and knocked on the superintendent’s door. After about five minutes of knocking, a young man thrice my size opened, and I explained my predicament. He asked for a minute. Seconds later, the superintendent stood in front of me. He explained to me, straightaway, that he didn’t know who I was. I’d have to call the owner of the apartment to speak to him, and then he’ll consider letting me in. I called my roommate, whose uncle had transferred ownership to us. He spoke to the superintendent, and the matter was settled. The portly young man rode upstairs with me to open the door. I said my solemn thanks, truly grateful.
While I readied for bed, I felt disconsolately bitter at myself, for steady insouciance. First I imagined the conversation my roommates would now have about me, behind my back. They were likely to discuss my life as off-kilter: I couldn’t remember an item as essential as my keys. And then I imagined how I might have appeared to the superintendent: an unrecognizable black male, new to the city, surviving only through magnanimity. Otherwise homeless.
This is how I’ve lived: dependent and potentially disposable, even for a night.
I’ve returned to this photograph many times without looking at it; it’s installed somewhere in my understanding of the ways I could erase myself, or become anonymous.1
I rarely think of committing suicide; but there are times I want to comprehend the burden of those who are nameless in death, whose identity are summarized in a set of numbers.
- Image credit: Dilemma of the New Age, (c) Emeka Okereke, 2012 [↩]