I drove up the hill that led to HOUSE 10, on Queen Amina way, inside the University of Ibadan. I went to primary school inside the University and Amina way was the short cut route I passed to the University Gate on my way home after school. It still looked very familiar. Sand hills on the side of the narrow road every few metres. Some had reduced in height obviously. But nothing had changed. Everything was in the same place as I remembered it from 22 years ago. Small off-white bungalows littered the area. A few block of flats too, with the paint chipping off. You could never really tell what colour the houses were. White paint was chipping off green paint, and underneath the green you could see another thin layer of white. Like each tenant over the years had repainted. They were old colonial looking houses. Very quaint. Large compounds, no fence. Large trees sprawled all over, shadowing the buildings and in fact the road, making it darker than it really was, frogs constantly making croaky noise.
When we were kids, the rumour had gone round that UI was once a thick dark evil forest that just swallowed anyone that wandered trough it. So after school,on the way home, we ran through, rather than walk the little dark lanes so we could get to the sunnier parts very quickly. In retrospect, I wonder if we were really scared of the forest, or if we just wanted to run for adrenaline sake. Very often, we stopped to pluck some tiny yellow sweet and sour fruit called iyeye. There was another fruit called breadfruit. Why it was so called I do not know. It looked nothing like bread.
I didn’t like the breadfruit, but my friend Winnie did. It had a slight blackcurranty taste, and your entire tongue became purple after eating it.
Winnie and I liked different things but it never disturbed our friendship. We were best friends. She liked English, I liked Math. She bought cabin biscuit during break time, I always bought okin. Walking to the university gate every afternoon together was perhaps our only common point. She always said she wanted to grow up and be a lecturer. A lecturer in Anatomy, like Dr Ukuoyen, our other friend Jane’s mom. Live in one of those bungalows. Own a nice car and have a close knit family. In that order. I looked at those bungalows severally during our walks. I didn’t want them. Unlike Winnie, I didn’t know what I wanted to be then. But I was certain I didn’t want those bungalows.
I parked in front of house 10A, under a tree. There were a few other cars around. About 2 or 3. A young boy walked towards me. I recognised him instantly from photos of him I had seen on Facebook and BBM. Isaac!!! I called out to him with such confidence. Do you know me? He smiled, noded. Yes aunty. He said gently. I had never met him, but saying that he knew me warmed my heart. Where’s your mommy, I asked. Without answering he led me towards where she was. There was a little girl about 4 or 5 that kept staring at me. She held her dress at the helm with one hand and bit on two fingers of her second hand nervously. I gave her a hug and called her pretty girl. I knew she was Isaac’s sister, but I could not remember her name.
Inside the house smelled of antiseptic and mentholated spirit and heat, and dusting powder. It wasn’t a terribly disgusting smell. It just wasn’t pleasant. From one of the rooms, I heard someone say gently to an elderly woman I recognised – Tell her to come inside.
Mummy!!! I knelt to greet her. She gave me a big warm hug. Her ankara blouse smelt like she just brought it out of her wardrobe after several months. She held my cheeks just as she always did. When will you put on weight ehn Mosun. She said to me. You have not changed at all. She had changed a lot to me. But I didn’t say that to her. She dragged me in to see my long lost best friend. I hadn’t seen her in about 17 years. After primary school, we went to the same secondary school for about three years till I left. My parents just decided I would leave. I had no say in it. I had no contact with my dear friend Winnie, until she found me on Facebook six years later. She looked the same in her photos. She said she was at University of Jos, studying Medicine. I was at Capecoast University in Ghana. I promised to keep in touch and see her whenever I was home on holidays. I kept in touch. But we never saw. When I went home the next year, I called the number I had but it never went through. When I went the following year she had travelled with her family for Christmas. Another time, she was doing her housemanship at UCH. When she got married I was doing a masters in the Uk. Then she had her first child just as I got a job. I couldn’t take a leave. I didn’t return home for another 6 years. But we remained so close. So close I knew that she miscarried her 2nd pregnancy. I knew that she had some now resolved issues with her husband. I knew that she bought her dream car. I knew when her 2nd child was born. I knew when she got pregnant for the 3rd. I swore I would see her before the baby came out. I couldn’t. I was angry at myself. So I decided to attend the baby’s naming ceremony at all cost. Arrive at least a day before, so that we could chit chat. Catch up. It took me one flight and a 4 hour bad-road trip, but I didn’t mind. After all these years, Winnie was worth it.
I gasped when I walked into the room. Winnie!!! My eyes dropped tears. I flung my bag aside to give her a big hug. She felt frail. I hugged her a little tighter, as though to compensate for lost years. Her new baby let out a little cry in the corner but I didn’t let go. It felt like primary school all over again. I wanted to run the street with my friend. I wanted to say everything we hadn’t said in 17 years all at once. We had kept in touch on social media and by phone calls. But it was not the same. My mind flashed back to years ago. To iyeye and cabin biscuit. To Dr Ukuoyen in Anatomy. We were both sleepy but running on Adrenaline. Her husband had travelled to bring his parents for the naming ceremony, so she made me sleep in her room. We chatted till late evening. Something felt really perfect about her. I couldn’t stop talking too or listening to her. And as night dawned and heat permeated my whole body, it occurred to me that my friend was living her dream. She was a lecturer in Anatomy. She had a close knit family. She drove a 2013 Honda and most of all she lived in a once white little bungalow. How very surreal I thought as I sank into dream land, I had studied abroad, and spent years mingling with people from all over the world. Now back home, I worked at an insurance company that gave me not enough time to see family and friends. And though I wasn’t living in a little bungalow, I wondered if I was living my dream, if I had any in fact. From afar off, the familiar croaky toads sang me a lullaby.