by Femke van Zeijl
I enjoy being known. Migrating to another country is so fundamental a change, not because you have to get to know a new world.
‘Funkeeee!’ Immediately when I come walking around the street corner, they notice me. My neighbours in this little part of Ebute-Metta have not forgotten about me. Little Gbenga comes sprinting out of the corridor where his mum was dusting his neck with talcum powder. ‘Auntie Funke!’ When he grins, I see a hole: there’s one baby tooth missing. It reminds me of my eldest niece who is also changing teeth. They are of the same age. Mikkey, one of the street’s fathers, sends for a bottle of STAR for him and me. Even when it is only eleven thirty in the morning, I would not dream of refusing.
Last summer I lived in this little dead-end street on the Lagos Mainland for a while. Now I had to leave the apartment in Agege after the water pump exploded with an impressive cataract. To buy a new one for the few remaining weeks of my stay was so expensive, that I looked for accommodation elsewhere. That is how I once again ended up in my old neighbourhood.
Mikkey and I install ourselves underneath the porch roof that reads ‘IJOKO AGBA’ in blue characters: forum of the elders. On Friday afternoons plastic chairs and a table for card games fill the porch. That is when the men celebrate their weekend. Mama Rashidat walks up to us. The news of my homecoming has travelled fast in the little street. She knew of my love for moin moin and would always save me a portion of bean cake for dinner. She tells me her daughter Rashidat is writing her JAMB test this weekend. I promise I will text her a good luck message.
For a traveller I have a rather illogical craving for well-known things. I did many a report in this area. Tiny details invoke entire stories. I hear the whistle of the train towards the end station on the mainland, warning the inhabitants of Otto next to the railway to make way. I imagine how Baba Tunde folds his newspaper and gets up from the track where he often sat down to read. He told me the hot steal had a healing effect on his old bones. And the saw dust sticking to the rubber boots of the young man pushing a wheelbarrow through the street reminds me of the sawmill of Okobaba on the edge of Ebute-Metta. There the inhabitants have conquered land from the lagoon by consequently dumping the sawdust produced by the sawmill into the water.
Mikkey informs after ‘my people’ at home. How’s the family? And the three nieces, are they still so pretty and blond? He knows my father has died almost eight years ago and feels it is time my mother got remarried. I laugh and promise that I’ll pass her on the message. Tell him that she is saving up for a ticket to Lagos to come and look me up.
I enjoy being known. Migrating to another country is so fundamental a change, not because you have to get to know a new world. That is exactly the reason you are going. It is a radical change because that new world does not know you. Nobody knows your stories, your past, your background. You will always have to explain where you are from.
Here in this little street in Ebute-Metta I don’t have that feeling. It was here that I was rebaptised ‘Funke’. The time I spent here made me decide to move to Lagos.
Sometimes happiness is just walking into a street and hearing your name.