Through the Beholder’s Eyes

by Annointing Ogbewekon

When a young woman travels from Kenya to her former home in Nigeria, she encounters an ethereal reminder of her former self.

This story was selected as a Finalist in the Reunions travel writing competition

I step into the bright and promising day. The blazing sun overhead confirms that I have, indeed, arrived in Lagos. The only evidence that the dark and chilly night of Nairobi existed is the constant internal coolness I feel against the angry sun, giving me a sense of equilibrium and contentment. A few greetings from the airport staff and a luggage carousel later, the driver of a yellow taxi drives away from Murtala Mohammed International Airport with me as his only passenger. 

The voices of the Fuji music artists blast from the taxi’s sound system. It fluidly mixes with the outside noises of broken vehicles’ engines, noisy bus conductors, and the chatter of the passers-by. The mixture of the sounds sounding too familiar gives me a sense of euphoria and nostalgia. Hundreds of dusty feet shuffle in a hurry, bringing life to the city. I can tell that the people are the marvel of the city as their faces are covered in fascinating emotions of both hardship and ease. The beauty of the city can only be seen through the eyes of its beholder.

Soon, the taxi pulls into the driveway of a townhouse in a non-gated compound. The noise of the city can still be heard from a distance, reminding me that the city is alive. I take in my surroundings as I drag my heavy suitcase down from the taxi. The townhouse stands two stories tall. The tall Iroko tree casts a soft shadow on the side of the house, contrasting with the sharp glow the sun gives the house. Apart from its faded gray paint, the house looks the same as when I left it seven years ago. Yet, the magnitude of admiration I have for the house has heightened. A young girl about the age of ten sits in front of the house with a doll in her hand. Something so compelling about how she holds her doll with so much care and fondness reminds me of my own childhood. I feel like I know her.

“Ahh! Madam, you no pay my money,’’ the taxi driver calls from behind me in broken English, causing me to look away from the precious girl. Reaching into the back pocket of my trousers, I pull out a clean, one thousand Naira note and hand it to the driver. He takes it gracefully and zooms away in his taxi. Looking back at where the young girl was, she is nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, I pick up my heavy luggage and open the front door, walking into the dark and dusty house.

Opening the huge curtains, natural sunlight invades the living room space, illuminating dusty furniture covered in white cloths. From the broken Sony television in the corner, to the dusty and slightly slanted picture frames on the walls, to the dusty carpet and bookshelf, nothing feels out of place, for all these objects have something in common. They all contribute to a story. In this same room, on the white couch, at the tender age of six, I would share stories of how my day went with my mother. Sometimes the stories were cheerful, and sometimes they were heartbreaking. In this same room, I took my first steps. The broken, three-legged stool in the corner was the same stool I broke angrily when I was told I would have to leave my home and everything I had known to begin a new life in another country. In this same room, I would cry and sometimes laugh. The room is beautiful in all its dusty glory, for it had the ability to hold a story dear to me.

The sun is now behind the hills, caving way for the moon. In search for food, I walk out of the townhouse and towards the night market with a five hundred Naira note in my trouser pocket. The dry and warm harmattan evening breeze kisses my cheeks and blows against my shirt. The streets are deserted. The only living things in sight are the tall trees and the crickets that can be heard from a distance. The full moon, my only source of light, illuminates the narrow path. After some minutes of walking, I can see the lights from gas lanterns indicating my destination is near. I hear the faint chatter of sellers trying to get rid of their old goods and the buyers trying to get the goods as cheap as possible. As I get closer to the market, the sight of makeshift shops from umbrellas and tables become clear. The familiar smell of fresh vegetables and fruits fills the air.

Sellers call to me in pidgin English, trying to convince me to buy whatever they’re selling. Occasionally, I reply with a smile or a “no, thank you” before proceeding to look for something that I can eat. Soon, I find what to buy. “Madam, don’t you have change?” the kind seller wearing an Ankara dress asks me as she vigorously searches her money bag to find the change to the five hundred Naira note I have given her. “No, sorry, I don’t have,” I tell her. “Ok, wait for me. Let me go and look for,” she says as she hurries off, leaving me to watch over her makeshift umbrella shop.  I feel a light tug at the side of my shirt and look down to find the young girl I had seen earlier looking up at me with bright eyes. “Hello, what is your name? Where is your mommy?” I ask the girl as I bend to her level. The girl, however, looks at me with a mischievous and beautiful smile as she begins to tug me lightly in one direction. Although I know that the young girl could be leading me into a dangerous trap, I cannot help but feel safe around her. Maybe it is the way her dark melanin skin glows against the light provided by the lanterns or the way her thick braided hair bounces as she determinedly tugs me behind her, but something about her makes me feel like I am being tugged by a very familiar, carefree part of myself instead of a stranger. We bump into a few people, who rudely scold us for not looking where we are going. I apologetically wave at them as the girl still looks determined to bring me to a destination unknown to me.                                 

The girl leads me to the top of a building, where I can see the whole city. Tiny dots of similar-looking houses surround the night market. The houses hold hundreds of stories. Hundreds of gas lanterns illuminate the market like the stars illuminate the night sky. The market is the heartbeat of the city, for it is the only sign of life. The sight of the city’s beating heart ignites my own, causing me to feel so alive. Only the beating of the heart of my home city can make me feel this way. I am finally home.

“Hey! Wetin you dey do here? You are a thief!” I hear an angry voice call in broken English from behind me. I turn around to see a fuming lady with a broom in hand. I scan the entire rooftop in search of the young girl that brought me here, but she is nowhere to be seen.

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