X is laughing with his hands to his chest, shaking his head with a look of mock fear on his face as you drive into the compound and slowly bring the car to a stop.
“That’s it! You are never driving me again. I’m really, really not ready to die yet.” He says
You shrug and flash him a grin as you step out of the car.
“You’ve seen the whole world already, what else is there to live for?”
He looks at you and shrugs.
“Nothing much actually. Just my parents, siblings, and maybe you know, this crazy woman I’m contemplating spending the rest of my life with.”
You laugh as he makes his way out of the car and to your side, taking you by surprise as he steals a kiss.
You squirm out of his hold, suddenly feeling shy and he smiles.
“So this is it?” he asks as he looks around.
You nod quietly and look around you as well.
“This is it. This is my home.”
The tranquility is relaxing- a quiet stillness. Even with the gentle breeze that blows, there is no sound of rustling leaves because the compound has been swept clean. The faint pattern of the broom strokes give that away but it is nothing like the artistic patterns you and your siblings deliberately made while sweeping the compound all those years ago.
Above your head, the pride of Barbados flowers sashay ever so gracefully from the branches down to the ground. And that moment, that moment when you look up and catch a single petal falling down to your nose is so magical, you want to pause time and preserve that moment forever.
X observes the faraway look in your eyes and he links his fingers with yours, tugging gently so you snap out of your reverie.
“Let me show you around.” You say.
He follows your lead and as you walk towards the back of your father’s compound, it suddenly feels like déjà vu. The memories of your childhood come rushing back to you but even more formidable is the memory of you sharing this space and all those childhood memories with Obinna. You falter in your steps and X cautions you.
“Easy Mi Vida!”
It is only then that you become fully aware of the fact that you haven’t been home since that weekend two years ago when you brought Obinna to attend your father’s birthday dinner. If a flicker of guilt or sadness dims your eyes, X misses it because you chin up and keep walking.
The rose-bed that used to lie in front of the house is no longer there. Of course it wasn’t there on your last visit, but neither were the flower pots your father has now placed right under the windows. Tiny sprouts are peaking out and you make a mental note to ask him what he planted there.
The garden looks a little different from your last visit. It is almost as if something changes every time you visit. The fence at the entrance of the garden has been collapsed, alongside the fence at the corner, backing the garage. So rather than a garden cordoned off from the main compound, what you now see is one large compound extended to envelop the garden. So when you walk right round the garden, you soon find yourself right where you started at the entrance of the compound. X laughs at the slight surprise on your face.
“Oh no. It’s just… different. There was no access from this point before.”
“Ah. I see.”
You smile at him and with his fingers still linked to yours, you return to the garden again, this time letting yourself get drowned in the endless waves of nostalgia that hit as you tell him stories of your childhood. X is thrilled and the way his eyes light up as you regale him with your tales is so rewarding. You have been teased for talking too much but that is one “defect” X is unwilling to help you cure. He is always so attentive and engaging when you speak, one would think you were constantly spitting gold.
Your tour ends right under your favourite guava tree and after telling X about the scar on your knee that you got from falling off the tree, you reckon it’s time to shut down the time capsule and return to the present.
“You know, I still can’t picture you as a skinny tomboy despite everything you have shared with me today.”
Your back is against the tree and your arms are folded loosely across your chest while X stands a few feet away from you as he speaks.
“It shouldn’t be that difficult to picture. Don’t you remember what I was like in my 100 level?”
“Nope! I didn’t know you that well in school. We only became proper friends after graduation, remember? And each time I saw you, you looked ten times hotter than the last.”
You blush and take in a deep breath. This is perfection in itself and it feels surreal. Being here with X, sharing this moment, designing memories that you know you will cherish for the rest of your life. A lot has happened in the last two years to bring you to this point with X and there is so much that you are thankful for.
And when you consider what you deem to be the biggest blessing of all, it is tainted with a hint of sadness. The hint escalates rather quickly into an overwhelming feeling that washes over you and floods your eyes.
X notices the tears as they well up in your eyes and they startle him.
“Mi Vida! Is something wrong?”
You shake your head and try to blink the tears away but his concern darkens his eyes further and he takes you gently into his arms.
“No, Mia, you’re crying. What is it? Did I do something?”
You shake your head but the lump in your throat is so huge, it prevents you from speaking and of their own accord, your tears flow gently down your face and on to his shoulders where your head rests. X hugs you tighter and rubs your back as you shed silent tears.
When you’re finally done, you raise your head and step out of his embrace feeling slightly embarrassed. His eyes hold curious concern and his arms hang loosely around you.
“I’m losing my home.” You say, dabbing your eyes as you speak. Your mascara has dripped alongside your tears and stained his white shirt and you feel guilty again because you know how fussy he is about his appearance.
“I’m so stupid for crying, I’m sorry.” You’re trying to brush it away but X is having none of it.
“What do you mean losing your home?”
“This place. Dad is selling it next year. He said he wants to leave.”
“Oh my love!”
His hug is tighter this time as he pulls you into another embrace and you rest in his arms, feeling safe and loved, grateful for his presence.
“This is all I have ever known baby. I don’t know how to let it go. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that after next year, I’ll never be able to return here again. Can you see how peaceful and perfect it is?”
The tears threaten to overwhelm you again but you fight them and win, only by swallowing lump after lump as they rise in your throat.
“Mi Vida, look at me-” he says as he steps back and levels his eyes with yours.
“Home is here-” he taps your chest gently as he speaks
“Right here in your heart. No one can ever take it away from you. Every single memory you have as a child in this place, you carry it in your heart. And whenever you feel lost or homesick, you can very easily draw on them and re-live them as though you were here.”
You nod and sniffle and he gently strokes your cheeks.
“Mi Vida, home is wherever we decide that it will be. For me, home is you, and wherever you are. It’s why we’re here, together, right now, sharing this precious moment. Home is you Mi Vida, and I want you to think of me as home too.”
You nod again, fiercely this time and reward him with a light kiss for his kind words that soothe your aching heart.
“You know, it’s funny. I have lived in multiple cities and countries since I first left home 6 years ago but no place has ever given me the same feels as here. Nothing even comes close.”
You notice a sudden aloofness in his eyes that tells you X is no longer with you.
“I have an idea.” he says
“Why don’t we make some videos? And take loads of pictures too and you can journal about this trip and how it’s made you feel, and that way, you preserve this particular memory forever.”
Your face lights up like a constellation of stars and you squeal in delight.
X takes the car keys from you and dashes off. You remain rooted in your garden, awestruck by this amazing man who is doing the absolute most especially seeing as you hadn’t imagined meeting anyone who would be as kind to you as Obinna had been.
X returns seconds later, selfie stick in hand, camera ready. You blush the entire two minutes it takes him to get the angles right and as he hits the record button, you go on and on and on about your childhood home in this tiny, beautiful northern city you have called home for the greater part of your life.
“…So I’m a little sad that I’m leaving all this behind, but I am so grateful for every single memory I have created here.”
That is how you wrap up your monologue and you find yourself infinitely grateful for the huge smile X has plastered across his face.
“Oh wait! One more thing!
There’s this song I used to sing with my dad a lot as a kid. I think I want to sing it here.”
“Yeah? This should be fun.” X says
You giggle loudly and then you start.
“I love to go, a-wandering, along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back
Val da-ri, Val da-ra,
Val da-ri, Val da-ra-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha Val da-ri, Val da-ra,
my knapsack on my back”
X’s laughter is gentle and teasing but you do not stop. Rather, you break into a dance, skipping and twirling around the garden, disturbing the peace like you have been known to do but feeling the happiest you have ever been. Because in those minutes while you sing, you’re a little girl again, riding on your father’s shoulders and yelling the chorus right into his ears and giggling as he dances around the garden with you.
X does not stop the video recording so you sing the chorus multiple times, throwing in some shaku shaku moves and a couple cartwheels for good measure, until you’re out of breath. You both collapse into a laughing happy heap and X finally ends the video.
X kisses you on the forehead and with his arms wrapped loosely around you, you finally get what he was trying to say earlier. This is home, right here, nestled in the arms of the man you love. A man set to meet your father with his close relatives in another 24 hours to commence the traditional rights of officially seeking your hand in marriage- the iku aka.
Some other day, you will tell the story of your journey with X and how you got to this point. But that day is not today. Today, you have found the true meaning of home, you have created beautiful memories and you will treasure them forever.