Home (1)

“Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts”- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

I have a love-hate relationship with Lagos.

Growing up, my relationship with Lagos wasn’t as polar as it now. I don’t know that I had any feelings towards the city at all; I tolerated in the way one tolerates that annoying never-married aunt that seems to have an endless supply of relationship advice. I had a healthy apathy towards Lagos- the power outages, the endless traffic, the pollution, and the default state of chaos all melded into a mass of indifference in my mind. It was my city, and I was stuck with it.

2009 was the first time that I left Lagos for an extended period of time. Upon my next return, my routinely practiced and mastered apathy was replaced by a temperamental impatience, followed by a burning intolerance that then flamed its way into a full-blown hatred for Lagos, for home. Everything was wrong with this place. The power went out for too long, and the resulting the power generators bellowed with a determined clamor that was almost too surreal to be real. The traffic raged on for hours, lulling to sleep whatever plans you had for the day. To make matters worse, everyone around me had changed. New traditions had been formed and new alliances had been made, none of which included me. If “home”, by definition, is meant to elicit a sense of place and a feeling of communion with people around you, then I definitely wasn’t home. I was surrounded by all these people that I could recognize but didn’t really know. I felt like a stranger in this new home, and that feeling was, at best, unsettling and, at worst, slightly depressing. It then seemed easier to channel my being lost into an exaggerated hatred. If I hated and denounced this city, it wouldn’t matter that I felt lost and that, secretly, I felt like Lagos itself had disowned me.

Given my official hatred for home, I avoided going to Lagos. I almost had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, the next time I was forced to go to Lagos. Who can forget the “hearty” welcome I received right from Murtala Muhammed Airport- the almost palpable humidity that hits you the second you step off the plane, encircles you and threatens to cut off your oxygen supply; the sole croaky fan by the corner, which is squarely positioned on the immigration officer who asks you ridiculous questions while you melt from the heat; and the carousel that doesn’t work so you literally have to fight, push and shove to get your luggage. It was like a holy triumvirate of fuckery saying “Welcome home!”

What’s worse? This time, I was stuck in this deplorable city for 3 months. THREE.

Loose Ends

The hardest breakups are with people you never really dated.

How do you move on from something that was never really there? How do you let go of something that you never really had? How do you conclude something that never really started?

I think what makes it so hard is the very nature of these non-relationships- the unspoken words, the tacit suggestions, and the non-binding promises. There is something intense about this extremely precarious state of likeness, lust “love”, or passion- being wrapped up in this thing you can’t explain with this person that’s yours but not really yours. So you convince yourself that this inexplicable thing—let’s call it a situationship—you have is enough, and that you’re ok with this nebulous bond, this grossly inconclusive arrangement that you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s enough, you say repeatedly. Until, one day, when it—this illusion, this meticulously constructed castle that you’ve built in the sky—all comes crashing down and you’re forced to go through the painful process of breaking up with this person that was never really yours.

Some call this process an “uncoupling” (thanks Gwyneth and Chris Martin), but how to do you carry out the said uncoupling if you were never really a couple? Uncoupling, I think, involves a dissolution of agreements, a voiding of pre-existing obligations, setting someone free from all the things they owed you and freeing them from the explicit or implicit promises they made you. In a conventional relationship, this might be straightforward; you have the ever-useful, albeit lame and painfully unimaginative, platitudes such as “it’s not you, it’s me” (by the way, if anyone ever says this to me, I’m just going to assume that it is, in fact, me), “I think you deserve better” (quite a lofty assumption; who are you to tell me what I do or do not deserve? Do I get any say in this?) or the more pithy “I can’t do this anymore.” But how do you say these things to someone that you were in a situationship with? How do you dissolve agreements that never really existed in the first place, or void obligations that you were never really owed? How do you set someone free when they were never really bound to you in the first place?

Given the complexities, it seems easy to assume that, just like the tacit agreement that defined the said situationship, there can be a tacit “uncoupling”. You convince yourself that you can break up with this person without really breaking up (after all, you were a couple without really being a couple). So you “move on”, maybe find a new love interest (formal, this time, given the stress of your previous “arrangement”). You’re happy, you tell yourself. It’s so much better to be with someone that’s legitimately yours, someone you can lay claim to, someone that’s obligated to you. With this person, you never have to wonder what you are or where you stand and the certainty that comes with this knowledge envelopes you in a warmth of security that seems impossible to trade for anything in the world. You’re happy, and you’re “home.” Or so you think. You ride this wave of happiness and security for a while until, one day, a strange feeling starts nudging at you, lightly at first, but slowly increasing with intensity. You ignore it; you’re happy, you tell yourself. But the feeling never really goes away, that feeling of longing for the words that you never said, the answers you never got, and the conclusions you never reached. You wish you could go back, you wish you could ask for answers, you wish you could tie up those loose ends that continue to gnaw at the current state of happiness that you’ve so dutifully built for yourself. But at this point, you’re stuck; you can’t go back and re-write the story. All you get are the shoulda-woulda-couldas to keep you warm at night.

So you wait, patiently, for the day you wake up and these loose ends are not there, staring you in the face and demanding for closure.