New Cities. Old Memories.
There is a certain freedom in exploring cities when you haven't inhaled their fear. You spend time seeing in awe and imagining possibilities instead of clutching bag and walking at your quickest pace while your thighs burn. Last year, one midnight, I stood on the shores of a beach in Dakar, talking to a boy I’d met on the queue for the bathroom (my life is a RomCom), and thinking that it was all so beautiful I could let myself fall in love—whether with the city or the boy, remained undefined.
How easily, un-thought we slip into, “my dad is…” “When I was in…” “my mum used to…" our beings irreversibly tied to the ones who gave us birth, the places we have been and come from, no matter how much we think ourselves our own people, say, “I don't give a damn”, “I’m free…” “I don't let what people think influence me”. But whether we acknowledge it or not, process it or not, we do, we are, in each moment, a cumulation of all that we have been and seen and all that we hope to be. The past is always present. The future too. There is no present. Time is a continuum.
In November, I threaded gold in my hair and walked around Abeokuta enjoying talking to market women about why Itoku was named so. On the morning of my last day there, I took out the necklace I had threaded through my ‘fro. I cannot wear gold in my hair in Lagos. One night there, as I drove home, inching along in the terrible Friday night traffic. Salam and Richard in my car. I had watched a guy break the window of a car just two cars ahead of me. He broke it with his hand like it was nothing. Then he started tugging at the woman in the passenger side. Almost as if he wanted to drag her out by the window. We all sat watching, I didn't even realise I was whispering ‘Jesus Jesus Jesus’ and swerving into the next lane until a hawker crossed in front of me and accosted the guy, who pulled a knife and shouted, “Ki lo fe se?” till the hawker backed down. Then as though he had lost interest in the woman whose car had inched forward a little, the thief just walked and stood on the median.
When we drove next to the woman, the shards of glass glinted in the window frame or maybe the glint was from her earrings and we saw all three women sitting in the Kia.
“Are you ok?” We chorused as we wound down.
“I'm fine,” she said.
But how could she be fine when my left leg was numb all the way home and I wasn't even the one who had been pulled at like a stubborn Salah ram?
I cannot stare at my father's face too long. We exist in brief glances and sighs begging for words to fill the distance. It's how we were raised. In silence, failing to speak important things. Maybe this is why I rushed to say, "I love you" to the boys I dated, trying to force myself to break a mold and feel. Maybe this is why I feel the need to talk out every emotion, spit the words out like strings and pull them till they are straight and laid side by side, clear, unlike the mud in my mind, unlike the silence in my family. Maybe this is why I was quick to let tears spill like libation, begging the earth to free me from the heaviness of emotions when they started to leave the taste of other women in my mouth. Maybe this is why I did not stay, because I am already tied to blood by silence and if it starts to stretch with lovers I cannot bear to strengthen that commitment in any way.
It was cold out yesternight as I waited for Bus 18. I spent the time making a list of where to go soon. The cold was all I worried about till a group of loud-talking boys walked by and I remembered what De said when I visited in October, “I can’t raise my son in London because of the gangs”. Suddenly, I was no longer looking around marking potential spots to visit in daytime; I was clutching my tote and waiting impatiently for the bus to come.
I was afraid it would break me worse than the others if you saw my soul. Sometimes, I whisper to myself, "I wanted to say I love you", and I imagine what the response will be. In a world imagined, all there is are possibilities, no fear. In my head, it’s never no, or I have to think about this. The answer is always, I love you too.
I want to call my father and ask why. Why love is the feel of my tongue tethered to fear.