Olumide Owoo | Klo3
As I write this, snow is falling outside my window. I am a long way from the place I grew up. A long way from the streets that I walked through so many times that every building, every turn, every tree, every bus-stop became as familiar and as warm to me as a mother’s embrace. The names come back to me easily- Adelabu. Adeniran Ogunsanya. Anjorin. Alhaji Masha. Adisa Bashua. Akerele. My memories are etched along these streets. Here on Adeniran Ogunsanya, in the parking lot in front of Tastee Fried Chicken is where I took a date in my mother’s car … before I learnt how to drive. It is the same place I drove the car into the bumper of an old man’s black Mercedes Benz. And the same place where I prostrated and begged the old man. Here is the Post Office on Western Avenue where I would check the family mail-box daily for letters from American universities-oping for scholarships. Walking back with my stash of envelopes, dreaming not of education, but of women in universities like the ones on The Cosby Show and It’s a Different World.
The Surulere of my mind has acquired the hue and patina of a cherished memory. Its colours are diffuse and pleasing, like a faded Polaroid picture. All harsh unpleasantness is conveniently out of focus. There are no armed robberies. No traffic jams. No corrupt police men. No floods. No mosquitoes buzzing angrily above refuse-clogged gutters. Surulere was, and is, my beautiful place. And it is from this beautiful place that I ventured out into the harsh cold reality of the rest of the world.
This cannot be altogether strange. For many of us the arc of our existence is often defined by two places: Our beautiful place and our jungle. We leave our beautiful places. It is the jungle that makes us. It is an amazing mental feat when one stops to think about it. To imbue a physical landscape- any city, any town, any village, a mere collection of buildings and streets- to imbue that space with the qualities of paradise. We discard or blur everything that does not fit. We store the place in our minds. And there we shape and perfect it, and keep it safe where no one can shatter or challenge what we have created. And then we leave to confront reality in strange places.
My father, for instance, grew up along the Osun River in Osogbo. It is, even till today, a charming and quiet place, full of artisans and devotees of Osun. He often tells me of leaving for boarding school in bigger, more boisterous Ibadan. How his older brother spent days teaching him how he should walk when he got to the mean streets of Ibadan. Making him practice the “omo’ta” gait till he got it just right. His older brother taught him how he should always keep his hands firmly tucked into his trousers to thwart pickpockets. And how in Ibadan, if you shouted that they had stolen your money, rather than help you find the thief, the crowd would berate you for being stupid enough to have been a victim. For my father, Ibadan, a city that I find quaint and courtly, was for him, a jungle, a teeming place where he needed to make his mark while he comforted himself with warm memories of Osogbo.
And so for generations we hopscotch in this world. From city to city, from town to town;beach landscape real, but each just as much a creation of our imagination- a good and remembered place, a bad and necessary place. We are always stretching, venturing outside of our paradises. Many of our fathers and mothers left their small towns for cities and many of us, a new twitterized global youth, have left, or are trying to leave, the cities of our fathers and mothers, for other foreign lands. It is a necessary thing.
As I write this, it is still snowing. I should mention that across the room from me is a door. The door is shut. Behind that door my daughter is sleeping, cradled in the arms of her mother, my wife. My daughter is barely two years old, just becoming aware of the world that exists around her. When she can understand, I want to be able to tell her to stay home. To not venture. To never leave her beautiful place. Her “Surulere”, where she remembers all the street names and all the bus stops, and where the landscape is etched with her fondest memories. But if I do tell her that, I hope she will not listen. I hope she, like those before her, will seek her own jungle. I hope she will take this snowy, shivering city that is so new to her father, make it beautiful in her mind, and then move on to the rest of the waiting world.