I’m writing a scene in my book which draws on my image of this house and it occurred to me that I was not even remembering it how it appears in this photo.
I remember when the cherry bush on the right was on both sides and full of berries. Behind the hedge on the left, there was a rectangular metal tank, the old ones that used to be mounted on blocks of wood, that gave you warm water when the sun was directly overhead and whose taps could be padlocked. Remember those? We used to love dashing around the compound and knocking on the tank, especially when it was half-full because only then did it make the most beautiful music (there is a doorway in the wall beside the bush on the left).
The house seemed small and dark the last time I was in Oba, in April. It was always dark but it wasn’t always small. It was and wasn’t the same house, as I was and was not the same person standing in it. All behind the back of the formerly spacious compound, my uncles are building houses of their own and my father wants to tear down this house because it’s “old anyway” and a hazard. It could fall at any time, he says. I managed to convince him to let us do it up, make it stronger but keep it the way it is. I’m fed up with all the tearing down, all the newness in Nigeria — even if I understand it.
I understand that ‘New’ is synonymous with prosperity, status and progress and for many people who have grown up with nothing or a little -in the shadows of a world to which it seemed they would never belong – it is the way to go. But it irks me that people pay good money on visas to go to countries where they trundle around in buses to visit other people’s old houses, their dilapidated abodes, ruins with the dust of ancient farts lingering in the breeze.
At the same time, a part of me wonders if newer is not simply easier. All around me during my last trip, my mind struggled to play catch-up, to reconcile the things I was seeing with places, houses, even people that no longer existed. It was hard to look for myself in popular haunts and not find me. It must be brutal to have to live with that every day. So, people build. To carry on.
It is in human nature to want to exceed our parents’ achievements. I get that. But at the expense of a blank slate where history should be? I would wager not.