The thing about deformities — a heavily redacted essay

'Kúnlé Adébàjò
8 min readJun 2, 2024

Originally written on Sunday, May 14, 2023.

Result of chest x-ray done in November 2022. ‘Gentle dorsolumbar scoliosis with concavity to the right noted,’ the radiologist noted.

[Redacted]

There are so many things about ourselves that we take for granted. For example, a straight spine.

I only know this because I lack one, and — as a result — I know too well all the ways this simple deficiency can fuck with you. You look in the mirror, and the image that stares back at you is both familiar and foreign. It is not quite a monster, but it is also not quite human. You twist and turn. Maybe you can correct this abnormality, even if it’s just for a few delusional seconds. But, no matter how hard you pull and stretch, like a piece of kponmo folding into itself, it returns to its original shape.

You look at other people, especially shirtless people, and gawk at their flawless backs. Maybe they’re at the swimming pool or the gym. Maybe it’s a video on social media. That ordinary yet extraordinary back just grabs your attention. Of course, it is not one of the things they’re grateful for. How could they be? A straight back is as common as having ten fingers or hair on your head. But you look at them, and you see God’s favourites.

You take pictures and try to “correct” your posture, so you seem straighter than usual. But sometimes you forget. Or the pictures come back to taunt you anyway and you cuss the world for making you crooked.

Weeks back when I read an article by Socrates Mbamalu, I immediately took a note to write myself on the topic of scars. Why, I have some of my own too. And they seem to have defined more of my personality than I care to admit.

It all started with a fire accident when I was eight or nine. It peeled off nearly all the skin on my left leg. I had to learn to walk again. Standing alone was painful. It was years later I got to connect the dots between this tragedy and my twisted spine. Apparently, because my left leg itched whenever I stood for long, I would rest my weight on the right foot. I guess, eventually, my body registered this posture as permanent and my back became pretzeled. It twisted sideways on two axes. One hip became taller than the other and one half of my rib cage pushed forward. I felt more comfort from wearing one flip-flop on a particular leg than both pairs.

I noticed that my trousers jumped on one leg. Initially, I thought it was a problem with the trousers. Eventually, I came around. My mom remembers me complaining to her that my body was asymmetrical. (Side note: I recently realised my habit of placing my left hand in my pocket may have stemmed from this as a way of correcting the skewed trouser length.) One day in 2011, while I was at the hospital for something else, we mentioned the problem to a doctor. He asked me to take off my shirt and examined my back. The diagnosis was simple. Scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic is just jargon for “we don’t know what the fucking cause is”. Take him to the orthopedic hospital in Lagos, he advised. First, I went for an X-ray to measure how bad it was. 20 degrees, said the result. I’ve not really checked since. I did another X-ray last year, but I don’t know how many degrees it was. It just looked egregiously bad (the radiologist even had to conduct the examination twice to be certain). I don’t feel significantly unwell compared to a decade earlier, though.

My mom and I went to Igbobi to see an expert who moulded a thick brace for my body. I remember it was a bit expensive. The days and months I wore it were likely the worst periods of my life, after the fire incident. It was super uncomfortable. Reminded me of the time my brother broke his arm and had to wear POP for months. It always itched. He would drive a comb or any slender object in it to ease the pain. And I imagined then it would drive me insane to be in his shoes.

I couldn’t move freely. I could not sit on the floor without great discomfort. Breathing, too, was difficult. My chest was constricted. And since I sweat a lot, that was a problem, too. I was supposed to wear it everywhere, including to sleep. I was only supposed to remove it while bathing. Having scoliosis and being a law student is a terrible combination (you know, because of the strict dress code).

I wore it less frequently when I gained admission to Olabisi Onabanjo University. When I transferred to the University of Ibadan a year later, as soon as mom dropped me off at Mellanby Hall, I dumped it inside a cupboard and never looked back. Google had told me braces don’t help to correct scoliosis anyway, they only help to prevent it from getting worse. And it doesn’t tend to worsen after a certain age when physical growth has ceased. At UI, I felt like a new man, though my deformity went nowhere.

When I gained admission into secondary school, I started wearing knee-high socks just to cover the scar on my leg. It was difficult getting socks that were long enough. Some exposed the scar, if not immediately, then through the course of the day, and I had to constantly tug at the hem. Now that I think of it, it’s likely one of the reasons I lost interest in sports. Having to wear long socks all the time, which needed to be pulled at every few minutes. The alternative was explaining to every Tom, Dick, and Harry why my leg had this big scar. When I advanced into senior secondary school, I was ecstatic because the promotion came with a change in uniform. I could finally ditch the shorts for long trousers. This meant I could start wearing ankle socks or if I was feeling naughty maybe even no socks at all.

Me in my khaki pants in senior secondary school, walking to the podium to receive an award.
Because of the scoliosis, I became less inclined to tuck in my shirts without a jacket or cardigan as it would expose my curved frame.

[Redacted]

Recently, my brother shared a video with me on WhatsApp containing stretching exercise tips for people with scoliosis to relieve the pain. Thankfully, I don’t feel pain from the condition. At least not on most days. At least not sharp pain. I stretch every time I remember to. Maybe that has helped. ‘Don’t get worse; please don’t get worse,’ I pray silently with each stretch. I do feel pain, though. When I carry heavy items or contort my body in places such as overloaded taxis or have to cross those huge drainages demarcating lanes on highways in Abuja or when I’m on a bike carrying a huge object. I still remember one time I bought a new mattress back in school and that bike ride from the store in Sango to the campus gate. It was hell. I had to hold a position my body was not made for. The torture that lurks at the intersection of scoliosis and poverty is why I was excited to finally own a car in 2022. No more bike hailing or carrying things with my hand when they could be in the trunk.

[Redacted]

Now I’m starting to think maybe my screwed spine has something to do with my fear of commitments. Body dysmorphia, right? Maybe deep down, I don’t think I deserve the women I want and I’m not sure if I’m capable of being truly and completely loved. “All of me loves all of you,” you know that kind of thing. What right do I have to be picky when I’m no model myself?

It is one thing to undress yourself for the gaze and volatile judgment of a lover for one night or a few nights; it is another to do so regularly. It is like being a court clown to a dictator with mood swings. Every day you tell a different joke, hoping it doesn’t get you a ticket to the executioner’s workshop. And worse, it doesn’t only depend on whether the king considers the joke funny, sometimes it is you who sentences yourself to the blade before the king even has time to react.

I often say my spirit animal is a sloth because they always seem so chill and unbothered. Also, it rhymes with [redacted]. But maybe what it really is is an ogre destined to live all of its life alone, protecting itself from the world and protecting the world from itself.

Or maybe this is just another elaborate excuse I’ve come up with to avoid the responsibilities of loving and allowing oneself to be loved.

[Redacted]

It is difficult to have a big scar and feel loved. Love starts to look too much like pity. You can’t easily separate them — whether or not there are good intentions on the other side. Even when people love you with unquestionable sincerity, they do not do so because of who you are (unless they have a weird fetish); they do so despite the fact. Every now and then, they’d wonder if they would love you more if you were just a bit more tasteful to the eyes. They’d urge you to consider fixing yourself.

Sure, it is not that you loathe yourself. Sure, you can learn to love yourself more. But that feeling of inadequacy will always be there. A deformity is like that small piece of a 3D puzzle that would not fit in no matter how hard you try, and it drives you crazy because everything else is perfect. It is one little corner of a Rubik’s cube that is out of order. It is a speed bump on a smooth boulevard that is way too tall and too thin. You can love it all you want. You can take it slow. But it’ll still be a pain in the ass each time you cross it.

Socrates did two courageous things. He confronted his thoughts and vulnerabilities and captured them in an essay. Then, he sent the essay to a publisher, knowing it would cause people to have pity for him, even if they did not intend to.

I am afraid I am only capable of one of those things. At least for now.

Addendum

  • You know, one time (or rather several times), I considered tattooing over the scar on my leg. Maybe it would look cool and I could finally show it off. :)
  • As a child, I used to think that all great men had one great predicament or the other. It was my way of rationalising the ordeal I was facing. I would tell myself that it was only a rite of passage. No truly successful person had it easy. That coping mechanism was crucial for my mental health.
  • Over a year later and I am finally publishing this. It is likely the most vulnerable piece I have ever written. What’s the point? Well, perhaps, someone will read this and feel seen.

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'Kúnlé Adébàjò

An arcless half-a-wise-guy who happens to write. All you need to know is at: www.kunleadebajo.com.