“We are here” the driver tells me. I look out the window. Indeed, we are here. I haven’t seen these huge black gates in 11 years, but I recognize them. Getting down, I walk through the estate gates, and see that things haven’t changed much. The buildings are so dirty though. “Were they always this dirty?” I wonder.
Walking down the street, I spot a few of Mum and Dad’s old friends. They don’t recognize me. I don’t expect them to. Across the street, a group of boys stand, talking and laughing loudly. I'm about looking away when I spot a familiar face amongst the group.
Aadil. I want to call out, but something keeps me mute and rooted to the spot. He must have felt my stare, for he turns, and our eyes meet for a split second. I start to smile, but he casually turns away and continues chatting with his friends. There was no sign of recognition in his eyes. I don't believe it! He really did not recognize me.
Slowly, I turn away and start for my destination. I walk past the market; my eyes are drawn to a light skinned man sitting outside his shop. It’s Daniel’s dad. He still sells in this same shop. Wow. I recognize the meat sellers; I’m surprised they're still at the same spot. None of them recognize me though. I don’t expect them to.
I walk past the school, not much has changed. The Hausa man who sold sweets at the front of the school is still here, though I’m not sure if it’s the same one. Some children spill out of the school gate laughing and shoving each other.
Weirdly, I think of where they were when I attended this school. Were they even born? Okay, now I think I’m actually being weird. I tear my gaze away from the kids and look back at the school. I want to go in, but quite unnecessary, I think. I walk on.
Sooner than I expected, I’m nearing the field. There is not one single person on the field. By this time of the day there were always boys playing football on the field! At least that’s how I remember it. The once immaculate field of sand now has rough patches of grass peeking out from several places. As I move forward, it crosses my mind that I had my 10th birthday party on this field.
I come across Ma Youssef’s green kiosk. It’s still here. We heard she passed away a few years ago. Now I can see some unfamiliar faces, sewing in the kiosk. I guess the kiosk has been rented out. My eyes well up with tears as I recollect the periods I stayed in this green kiosk when mum was out late from work.
I remember Ma Youssef nursing me back to health that one time I fell sick, when mum travelled. I remember eating her peppery noodles in this green kiosk. It is too much, I turn away.
I walk past Michael’s house. Oh no! The flowers are no longer here! I remember them having the most beautiful flowers in the neighborhood. I think of all those afternoons my brother and I spent hours trying to catch the butterflies that fluttered around those flowers. There is no butterfly in sight now. For some reason, my eyes well up again.
I’m here. I climb up the stairs to the flats slowly. Everything is just how I remember it. Soon I’m facing the door. For how long I stand, just staring at the door, I do not know, but it suddenly occurs to me how awkward it would be if someone comes out and finds me just standing here. I want to knock, I want to see the new family who stays here now, but then, what would I say? I push the thought out of my mind.
My eyes are drawn to the narrow dark corridor between the two flats. Unbidden, images flash across my mind, of things that happened in this corridor. I push them away. I don’t want to think about that now. I turn my attention back to the door. I think of all the tears, all the laughter that happened behind this door, now occupied by another set of people.
I think I’ve looked my fill, it’s time to go. I glance at the corridor again. There’s one more thing I must do. I walk down the stairs and the little distance to his house. Standing in front of the gate, I grow hesitant. What if he’s not home? What if they don’t live here anymore? Or worst of all, what if he doesn’t recognize me?
I turn away, angry with myself. The tears I’ve been fighting off since I walked through the estate gates cascade down in victory now. I shouldn’t have come back here. I’ve been away for too long. Making up my mind, I wipe my face as I walk away without a backward glance. It’s time to go. This isn’t home anymore.
© 2022 Sherif Oshinowo