I waited for maybe a minute before I opened the taxi door. I had momentarily forgotten where I was until the taxi driver looked at me through the glass and communicated everything that I could almost hear it come out of his mouth: “Why you de look me? You no get hand?” I was now in Lagos, a place where doors weren’t opened for you if it wasn’t the person’s job to. I sighed.
As I opened the taxi door and my feet hit the ground, I was hit almost instantly with the Lagosian air I had once loved and now grown to resent. I had no luggage because this wasn’t meant to be a lengthy visit. I only had a handbag because by evening, I was traveling back. I hoped it was with my closure.
People always said home was where the heart was. There was a time when I was so sure that was true. A lot has changed since then. I haven’t been able to refer to anywhere as home in the last eighteen years since my parents took me away from a place I thought was my home. The very day has been engraved in my mind since we left, and I decided I was never coming back.
I had spent so much time in New York, enough time to make me think I was in a new place and things would be different, but not enough time to actually let much change. I had grown up definitely, but I was still the same confused girl I was when I left. Maybe that was why I came back. I needed closure. I needed to get my life back on track.
This was a strange place in the town to ask to be dropped off. It always had been. I was very well aware of this, but there was something I had to do.
So, I walked in this sketchy part of town that was eerily quiet, saying a silent prayer because I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many people could say they disliked all this, but once upon a time, I was a part of all this. A little part of me still is. The Lagosian air that smelt sometimes like smoke or sewage, or sometimes fresh with the breeze so light flowing through your hair. The little things no one noticed about the city. The way everyone spoke in their different dialects that it was so easy to know who came from the same village you did. The way there were over 400 languages and people from each area spoke each one beautifully. Lagos was a combination of all those languages and all those people. It was the heartbeat of the nation.
Everything felt surreal but familiar still. There were some things I almost didn’t recognize, but it wasn’t the places that had changed, I had. I had changed the moment I left this country. I pushed away any thoughts of this place because I thought I could be free of it all if I did. I wasn’t. I am not because everything haunts me.
I am here to visit my best friend. I say it out loud because there’s no turning back after this. I had left fifteen years ago without telling her I was leaving. Maybe that was the reason I hadn’t come back. I was a coward who took my first ticket out of here. I left her, and I wasn’t sure if she could ever forgive me.
That was the reason I hadn’t come back, and I knew it. I didn’t want to face her, but I couldn’t run away from it any longer. Finding her was never the problem because I knew she would be right where she was when I left her. The problem was building up enough courage to actually talk to her.
I thought about her and the things we had done together when we were younger; the images coming to me in flashes.
“They’re always telling us what to do!”
“Yeah,” I replied. “We only went out for ice-cream. It wasn’t even a big deal.” I thought it was a big deal, but I didn’t say that. I said the complete opposite because the last time I had tried to say something she teased me non-stop.
Uchechi loves to defy authority. It’s one of the things she’s best at. As her very best friend and someone who fears what she’s capable of, I go along with it because she supports me whenever I need it, so I feel I should do the same.
We are polar opposites, but we make it work. She’s outgoing and I’m an introvert. She never follows the rules, and I’m a stickler for them. We balance each other that way.
“Dami, what are you thinking about now?”
“Oh nothing,” I replied as she snapped me out of my momentary daydream.
“Good, because we have to get home before our mums come looking for us.”
They had warned us countless times not to cross the roads without looking left and right first, but Uchechi didn’t care. She never failed to remind me that rules weren’t ‘her thing’.
The drivers on Lagos roads were careless. They didn’t care about anything besides getting out of traffic jams or beating traffic lights. Lagosians are famous for something: shortcuts.
I blamed them, but the system in the country was terrible. There were barely traffic lights and the zebra crossings were almost non-existent.
It’s hard to compete with a dead person because their memory will always be romanticized. Because no one wants to talk ill of someone dead. It’s like an unspoken rule. But I knew Uche. She wasn’t perfect, but no one is. I knew her and she was my best friend.
I reflect on more things, but I don’t know what to call them. It didn’t feel right referring to them as memories anymore when they were only mine. They didn’t feel like memories because I had no one to share them with now.
I looked around and saw traces of the good I had forgotten in the city I resented. I saw how people cared for each other. I saw how people gathered around a huge pot they had probably used to make a meal for all the inhabitants of the area. I saw the children with smiles on their faces as they sang rhymes and played ‘Ayo’. These were children that had learned to adapt to whatever situation and be satisfied. I remembered the city I loved once as I came closer to the place I had avoided all these years.
As I entered, I searched for the directory and saw the name listed alphabetically before I came to hers: Uchechi Madu, Aged 14 (May 9th, 1978–September 29th, 1992). Till now I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I placed the daisy I had gotten her in a vase and began walking. It was a single flower. A synthetic one. Not the real deal, even though most people would agree this wasn’t okay. It was what she wanted. A single synthetic daisy flower.
I had asked her why, but she hadn’t explained it to me properly. She enjoyed feeling like she was growing up, so I never asked her what she meant when she said things I didn’t understand. But after she died, all the things that didn’t matter suddenly began to. I began to notice things more clearly, and I didn’t like it. It was driving me mad.
I asked her what the daisy represented, and she said they never died. She said they were immortal.
But now, I understand what she meant. They lasted much longer than natural flowers. To any natural flower, a time like they lasted seemed like an eternity. She thought it represented how eternity was viewed from different perspectives. Like how a few months seemed like little time to us, but flowers would be dead in a week.
I still don’t know what I want to say when I reach her grave.
I don’t know what to say when I crouch down in the dirt to be closer to her, to see if I could I feel her.
I don’t know what to say when I read her epitaph. “Here lies Uchechi, gone but never forgotten.”
I don’t know what to say as I place the vase by her headstone.
I have so much to say, but I’m not sure what the most appropriate thing to say is. I’m not sure if I even deserve to feel the way I do. But I don’t care.
“I’ve missed you, Uche,” I whisper as a tear slips out.
“I’ve missed you every day,” I continue as my tears fall faster.