Number 16, Memory lane
On some days, I feel like my life is a movie. Today was one of such days. It honestly felt like a scene from a movie. In this movie, I was paying a visit to the past, sitting in the front seat of an old car, reading a funny book, and throwing occasional glances at the road. In real life, I was visiting my family in the village. I had not seen them in years. The lie I tell anyone who cares to ask is my family, and I disagree on many things (we do), but my not visiting home is more of my cowardice than fear of disagreements. I left memories in different corners of my hometown and was too cowardly to face them.
Memories of me being Margaret (the name my parents gave me) instead of Megan (The new name I coined for myself). Memories of me skipping classes to pluck mango fruits from Mr. Okoro’s Mango tree and talk about foolish things with Okechukwu under the tree. Sigh Okechukwu. He was my favorite thing about being Margaret.
He followed me everywhere, acting as my apprentice even when we came from two different worlds. His parents were embarrassingly wealthy. His father was a politician, and his mother owned chains of salons. Paint the picture yourself. He was my friend. He was my accomplice and my first of everything.
He was my first crush, my first kiss too, on my 16th birthday. I still remember it clear as day. It was sloppy and had no bearing. He had said it was something he saw on tv, and I broke the silence that followed the act by saying that I would get pregnant and crying that we would both go to hell. He looked at me bemused, pushed my head slightly, and called me an olodo. Then, he helped me up, told me to stop crying, and walked me home.
He walked me home every day till the day I walked out of his life. The day I told him I was going to run away from home. He looked at me, Mango in his hand, suspended midair. “What did you just say?” He asked. “I said I want to run from home. I want to go to Lagos”. He laughed but, it sounded foreign. “Magie, who do you know in Lagos?”. I didn’t know anybody in Lagos, but I knew that I couldn’t stay one more day being the family’s black sheep, the daughter who a son was wanted in her place. The one her mother begged her father to try to love every single day.
I told him this. I also told him I had stolen some money from my dad, which would give me a head start. He looked at me like I had lost my mind and changed the topic as if, if we didn’t talk about it then it wasn’t going to happen. When he walked me home that day, he hugged me. He never hugged me in front of my home, just like we never defined what we were. He told me he would see me the next day, but he said it with a shaky voice like he feared that I would do what I said I would do. Then he turned and walked, skipped, then ran, and that was the last time I saw him.
Many years passed, I found my feet in Lagos, found family too, and fourteen years later, I was visiting like my life in the village was a movie I left on pause. I had searched for him on social media several times but found nothing. He always seemed like that kind of person, the kind of person to live with some mystery surrounding him. For my sake, I wished he weren’t.
When my cab entered my village, I told the driver to slow down. Every memory of my town’s appearance has been replaced with unfamiliarity. When we got to Mr. Okoro’s Mango tree, a house stood there instead. I told the driver to stop. I don’t know how I expected a Mango tree to stand still and wait for me for fourteen years, and I don’t know when I started crying.
I sat by the gate of the building, and it was as if someone had opened a flood gate in my heart. I bawled. My cab-man concerned came out of his cab, walked to me, and asked me if I needed anything. I shook my head and just kept crying. Because if a tree could be moved, what was stopping Okechukwu from moving on? What was stopping my parents? What has been stopping me all these years?
I would later learn that the house belonged to Okechukwu. He bought the land some years back and built a house. He stayed there alone for a few years before his parents died on the same day in a car accident. He then rented it out and relocated abroad.
I know I said he was my favorite thing about being Margaret. I lied. He was more. He was more.