We were at my grandma’s house in the little outside corridor connecting the house to the rest of the world. The only thing separating the two spheres was a tall black gate. (Every Lagos house has a gate). My father and I were playing and I wanted him to carry me, so I did what children do and lied. “Daddy, my legs are broken, carry meeeeee!”
I remember his thick black mustache widen with his smile. I couldn’t believe my luck when he believed me. I remember his ginormous hands pick me up by the armpits and how much it tickled. I remember giggling the whole way to his broad shoulders and how mighty I felt standing at the same level with the sky. I reached for the cotton candy clouds, not yet knowing that this is the same sky that would betray me. This is the same sky that would take him away.
I remember those same cotton candy clouds on the plane ride back to Lagos, Nigeria. I wondered what my dad must have thought when his plane went crashing. Did he also long to touch these clouds? We step off the plane to a home we never thought we’d return to.
“Are you ready to see your grandma?”
No, I’m not. I would have to remember streets lost to the past. I would have to face my father in the faces of family. It doesn’t help that the Laguda features are uniform. We all have the same round faces that square when we smile or laugh. We all have the round eyes that slit when we talk. “God you look just like him.” My uncle looks at me for a long time, and for a while I think he might cry.
We arrive at my grandmother’s house. He opens the tall narrow black gate, and instantly I recognized the outdoor corridor. It is the same one the memory of my father resides in. It took everything I had in me not to fall on the dirt ground and weep. I keep it together like we’ve always done.
Seeing my grandma for the first time in eight years is a story on its own. Her small home could hardly house the happiness we produced like light from a generator. When I asked about my dad’s poetry, my grandma gave me a sad look. Even over 80, her face housed few wrinkles, but even those deepened when I brought him up. She goes into a room and comes out with pictures.
“Sorry, I don’t know what happened with his poems, but look at these. Take some if you want.” She holds out the pictures she could find of my dad. One is of him and my mom on their wedding day; it is absolutely breathtaking. My mom is in a shoulderless white dress, and he stands slender in a trim white suit. He wears sunglasses, looking off into the distance as if contemplating a bright future. My mom has always been beautiful, but here she looks stunning. She is brightly soft in her youth. In my hand, the picture of them doesn’t feel two-dimensional but full of life and potential.
This is one I take.
I later show this photo to my mom. Her eyes widened then softened as it met her past. She scanned the picture with longing, and for the first time I see her succumb to weakness. Then all of it shuts off like a light switch. Her face goes hard again. She tells me to keep it.
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