Life, in Retrospect
I had to buy myself perfume recently—like an outcast. It was when I started running out of my last bottle that I realised I had no idea how much perfumes cost because I’d never had to buy myself one. Lagos offered many people who handed them out as gifts but, suddenly, here I was dishing out my own money for a bottle of Si. I had not missed Lagos before then, and not since then.
At every point in our lives, we are just being, never quite realising the importance or otherwise of the moment till it has passed. In that way, we live or learn our lives in retrospect. Building one thing up in our heads, then having time tell us what things really are.
I was a child who liked to hide in the toilet, lie on my back with my legs up against the wall till the third or fourth time someone would scream my name or knock on the door. So, this would be anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours. To my family, I was escaping chores; to me, I was reading. What I would come to know in years of leaving guests in my own living room and hiding out in my bedroom was that I was escaping both people and life. Afraid to absorb too much conflict, or needing to release that which I’d absorbed by getting lost in other places.
My first boyfriend and I used to spend a lot of time together. I’d leave my hostel to spend the day at his BQ on campus and, when night came, we’d walk down till we found a cab that’d take me to my hostel. Some nights, we’d find none and on the walk down we’d talk.
“I can’t imagine you ever not being in my life,” he said one night.
“Even if we break up?”
“I don’t see us ever breaking up, but even if we did, I’d still have you in my life in some way.”
It was one of those relationships that everyone in the faculty and some outside knew about because, “Both of you are always doing 5 and 6” as a course mate once said.
When we did break up, he ignored me for a year and half even though we were in the same class and saw each other on the days I chose to attend lectures.
I used to think, that I could say, definitively, this is who I am. Increasingly, I am realising that who I am/what I do is dependent on external factors, more than I ever realised or cared to admit. For instance, I would say that I was not a people person because people get people-y. In Lagos, I barely go out, don’t talk to Uber drivers, don’t talk to strangers. However, in Watford, I followed a 77-year-old man off a train at a stop I did not know; In Nairobi, I got off the flight from Lamu and went to lunch with the guy who had been in the seat next to me.
I realise that I am hyper aware, in Lagos, of all the things that could go wrong. Too familiar with the news and the faults of the city—from kidnappings for ransom to ritual killings and rape—all things that probably happen elsewhere, but which are not in my consciousness elsewhere. Also, I’m not stressed by traffic or cranky from heat, and so I’m more patient and more likely to chit-chat with Uber drivers.
Love does not die calmly, even when it dies quietly. It is a storm that leaves someone asking whys and your heart skipping when the other person is in the vicinity. Hoping there’ll be no confrontations or that they’ve forgiven you.
How do you forgive yourself for the love you did not know how to receive most of your life, the one that left you with nothing to give to others? How do you learn to stop hiding or running? To stop being afraid?