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She sits on the lone dining chair in her apartment studio - phone in one hand  - absentmindedly scrolling through pictures of perfect strangers. With her free hand she reaches into the slouch tote bag hanging on the side of the chair and starts feeling around inside it for some winter morning motivation. She shifts her weight slightly, shoves her right hand deeper into the bag so that it reaches past her elbow and searches reflexively without looking up from the stream of pictures on the phone's screen. As her fingers trace the familiar contours of the rectangular box, her posture relaxes and she sighs audibly. She pulls out one cigarette from the packet, puts the phone down on the crowded table and heads to the kitchenette to look for one of her hotel-branded matches in the drawer with the take out menus and coupons.

 

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Back home, she had never smoked. She thought it pretentiously unfeminine and ultimately pointless. That is until one numbingly frigid morning while waiting inside the bus shelter, she felt the allure of swallowing fire, as her mother mockingly referred to it.  There was an unremarkably generic man smoking outside the shelter. He wore a coat that was much thinner than hers and yet he stood in the midst of the wild winds as if oblivious to the cold. Fascinated and envious, she watched him from inside the glass box. As he stood there with his collar turned up, shoulders hunched, occasionally twisting away from the erratic gusts, she wanted to feel as invincible as he looked. That very same day she picked up her first pack. It only took one embarrassing cough-laden trial run for her to discover that the fire in a cigarette could not keep her warm but the foggy nicotine high took her mind off the cold so the habit stuck.

 

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She finds the matches and heads for the window where she can smoke without triggering the new hyper-sensitive smoke alarm that her landlord had recently installed. He probably suspected by now that she was no longer the non-smoking tenant he had advertised for. She pulls back the blinds and immediately sees the irregular pulsating imprint of the wind's violent thrust against the mesh screen. It presses so hard on the large window panes that she can hear the sound of the glass wincing under pressure as if it is about to burst. Coming from outside, she can hear the muffled whoosh of what sounds like a giant fanning himself with a massive vinyl record. The surreal sounds send a shudder down her spine. She cannot bring herself to face the cold yet and decides to postpone her smoke until she's outside.

 

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She places the cigarette and matches inside the concealed front pouch of her sweatshirt and drags herself back to put the kettle on the stove. She returns to the window and pensively takes in the scene below. There isn't much to see in this early morning light that could easily pass for evening. The streets are deserted except for the garbage disposal truck making its way along the curb and up the road with its two man neon crew in tow. The naked trees on either side of the street are reluctantly bending to the dangerous whims of the wind. There is hardly any snow on the ground but winter is definitely here in all its joy-sucking glory. This one in particular seemed to stretch on infinitely and nobody could say with any certainty when it would come to an end. Her shoulders involuntarily contract at the thought of trading places with the neon guys. Hell is not a hot place.

 

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The shrill whistle of the kettle cuts through her reverie. She heads back to the stove but first she makes a detour to put on some motivational music.  She sets her "Music to live for!!!" playlist to shuffle, slides her phone into the dock sitting on the table and dials up the volume as the bouncy bassline of a deep house instrumental resonates through the wooden table and down to the hardwood floors. The tenant downstairs used to tap his ceiling to signal his disapproval of the music or its volume and sometimes she would stomp back in retaliation.  This winter seems to have brought about an unspoken truce. His threshold of tolerance for morning noise now hovered at around 15 minutes or 4 songs and she tried her best to respect it. She makes a cup of black instant coffee and takes a quick sip before heading into the washroom to apply her make-up.

 

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The face that looks back at her in the mirror is winter-worn and uninspired. She notices the sadness in her eyes and takes a few sustained breaths to stave off the melancholy and push the thoughts of him to the outer limits of her consciousness. She lightly slaps her cheeks with both palms to bring herself back to the moment and gulps down the rest of the coffee. As she pulls and wraps her braids into a conical knot, the next song on the playlist start to play. It has an irresistibly catchy melody and syncopation that releases a rush of adrenaline through her and compels her to jubilantly azonto-step her way through the rest of her ritual. She lightly sponges on the foundation and expertly starts erasing the tiredness around her eyes with eye shadow, concealer and a pencil eyeliner. For her lips, she picks a defiantly summery color and indulges in a few puckered poses before putting away her kit.

 

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Fully dressed and still swaying to the music, she stands in front of the closet adjacent to the door and contemplates which coat to wear. She briefly visualizes the scene unfolding outside her door - the somber procession enshrouded in the color of mourning, uniformly cheerless and barely distinguishable. In many ways winter is the great homogenizer. As she thumbs through her treasured collection of bold tartans and indigo-dyed bogolans, she relishes her little act of colorful resistance. NO MORE BLACK COATS! She makes her selection and centers herself in the mirrored sliding door of the closet. With the deliberate pace of a knight donning his armor before battle, she buttons, fastens and zips up her outfit. Next, she winds and tucks a long piece of fabric around her head and over her ears until it frames her face in a beautifully stolid oval. One last look in the mirror and she's finally ready to brave the world outside. She grabs the bag from the chair, yanks the phone off the dock and locks the door behind her. With one sharp breath she inhales the crisp frosty air and exhales a single word prayer, "God!"

 

 
           

 

 

The Braving Ritual is a fall/winter collection by Chinedesign.

Creative Direction/Styling/Writing: Chinedu Ukabam

Photography: Adeyemi "SoTeeOh" Adegbasan

Model: Aluad Deng Anei

Made to Order available from shop.supafrik.com