Story. Ivana Akotowaa Ofori | Photography. Josephine Ngminvielu Kuuire
Before knowledge of the Inverse was common among the Jaloi people, everyone in my grandmother’s village just assumed she was a crazy sculptor. All her clay figures were of perfectly erect humans with their arms straight up, like it was perfectly natural for humans to stand with their arms reaching for the sky. They all had flat palms, too. If you turned the human figures upside down, they balanced just as well on a horizontal surface as they did on their feet.
But even when trips between the realms had become daily occurrences, nobody bothered to tell my mother that giving birth in the Inverse was a horrible idea, that it left children permanently disoriented in the Upright, that we ended up being spiritually split between worlds, and would have to keep moving back and forth throughout our lives, just to stop ourselves from going mad.
Although disorientation was a standard characteristic of Invertible kids, I was the only one I knew of with this damn phobia. Having to cross worlds, for them, was a mere nuisance, an occasional inconvenience. For me, inverting was like having to slay a demon with infinite lives over and over again.
I still had both feet on the ground, but my heart was already pummeling in my chest. My anxiety threatened to choke me. I slid my right leg back and transferred weight between my legs rhythmically, merely procrastinating before the final motion. Beads of sweat formed on my face. I looked like I was preparing for a fist-fight. I still couldn’t bring myself to do the stupid handstand that would send me back towards sanity.
Finally, the strength of my compulsion towards the other side overpowered my phobia. I raised my trembling arms, wondering if they would be steady enough to hold me at all. Then I lifted my front foot, shifting all my weight to the one behind, then swung all of it forward again as forcefully as I could.
I saw the whole world steadily flip on me and dizziness flooded my senses. My palms at last made contact with the ground and my feet slammed against the wall one after the other. I was upside-down, and the panic was incapacitating. Let it be over, let it be over let it be over, I pleaded. The unpainted clay walls of the room transformed before
me, and my senses slowly reoriented. I was now standing in a vibrant garden of green grass, balanced on the balls of my feet. A few feet ahead of me lay the road to the metropolis. My hands were raised erect and parallel to my ears, but above my palms was nothing but endless blue sky. My braids and dangling earrings were being stubborn, standing upright as if I were still upside down. A few shakes and pats later, they too had readjusted to inversion.
Originally published June 20, 2018