Home? Where’s that?
The end of the longest highway on the fringes of Benin boasts one of the quietest places in the city. At the intersection on the last street and the highway, before you begin to make your way out of the city, there’s a hotel/car wash/bar and club where the locals spend their best evenings. The loud music and chatter about politics and women are the only sounds you’d hear for miles after 9pm.
Snuggled somewhere down this street is a fifty-by-hundred bungalow with a hunter-green storey-high combination roof and a makeshift garden at the side. This is where I spent the major part of my life, including my teenage years and snippets of University life. Neighbors consisted mostly of farmers, traders, transport workers, self-proclaimed pastors and civil servants seeking solace from the busy-for-nothing city life.
Despite the utopian countryside status of this shoo-away community, I battled for years: with the people, the ways, the language. There was nothing that suggested I belonged there. Mother’s incessant complaints did nothing to temper my aversion, neither did the fact that the indigenes themselves hardly ever viewed me as a local. They’d ask each time: “Are you Igbo?” I’d say no, and they’d still be unconvinced.
Total ignorance of the language, total abhorrence of the defining traits of the ethnic group and of course, the total absence of embarrassing identifying tribal marks marked me (ironic, eh?). So, it was with great joy that I packed my bags and moved up north of the country when fatherland duties came calling after college.
Home? What’s that?
I lived up north for half a year longer than was required, a decision influenced by little else than my own desires. It was nice to be somewhere totally different for a change. A new language surprisingly easier to get by with than my own tongue. New friends. A new and welcome lifestyle (I mean, what beats having eleven pet ostriches and taking long night walks with little fear for security?). I think I picked up a few traits here and there too, for locals started to mistake me for one of them. Not just locals; outsiders too. I’d visit some other state, and people would ask if I was Hausa. I’d say nay, and they’d be unconvinced.
I left eventually, because that phase was completed. I was moving on to another; another that took me to a place I’d almost sworn I’d never settle for.
I was set up to hate Lagos. The traffic, the population, the choking haze of pretentiousness. I didn’t expect to be happy. I sought an excuse to be unsettled. I prayed for homesickness, to feel like I didn’t belong here. I wanted to want to go home.
Home? Where’s that?
Water bodies fascinate me. I’d always wanted to live close to the water. I never had the chance though, being inner-city bred and all. These days, however, my morning commute takes me over the bridge. It’s hard not to look over the parapet and gaze across the waters to the ocean beyond. Whenever this occurs, time, for me, is static thing, unmoving. I am connected; I want to not smile, but fail each time. The hardest feelings to fight are those that have no names.
Nothing else is changed, though. I have no particular affinity or attachment to any one place. I still show no traits of any specific group and speak no particular local tongue. Bunmi, my desk mate throws a random yoruba phrase at me, and I give a sarcastic nod in return. Her face registers shock: “You didn’t grow up here?”. I say no. “Lived here most of your life sha?” No. She muses and gives me a puzzled look. “Where’s your home, then? ‘Cause you look like you belong here…”
Home is under a hunter-green combination roof in the suburb of an ancient city, I want to say, but then it hits me. Where, really, is anybody from, other than everywhere they’ve been? Who, really, is anybody, other than pieces of everything they’ve seen?
Home. Where, really, is that, other than where your heart is? Right there, in your chest?
Osasuyi “Suyi Davies” Okungbowa lives in Lagos and dabbles in nonfiction when he’s not writing Suspense-Thrillers or SF/Dark Fantasy. His works appear on various online platforms and magazines. Some of these can be found at www.suyidavies.wordpress.com