I preserve my time with people as events and more importantly, places. Goodbyes have become a permanent fixture over the years: migration, graduation, death, etc. Distance soon turns friends into strangers. Easy pleasantries become quadratic equations: “I haven’t seen x in while; I should probably check up on y.” And the people I (we) shared laughs and tears with, become vestiges of good times: the good old days. Nostalgia.
I collect these experiences as places because even when the nuances of the stories and moments slip out of my hands, I do not misplace the where. It means that when the what and how escape memory, there is a place to build from. A foundation to lay old bricks upon. A road map to a house of lost treasures and old possibilities.
When my mum passed on in May, I rushed to recollect our last time together, the last place we breathed together. It was on her 50th birthday and she was being discharged post-surgery from a hospital in the States. How poetic. She was frail but cheery, flashing a smile to the extent the pain would permit. Cancer be dammed. This was recovery. I did not think a hospital room in Maryland would be our last place. It was. When I think of November 2015, I’ll remember that place.
I did not see her until February or March: via Facetime. I was in my room. She was in hers, an ocean away, asking about my wellbeing. “How are your friends?” as though she knew any of them. Her room is now a landmark in my memory.
I had a strange dream as a kid. A type of apocalypse had happened but mummy and I remained, alone in the world. Frightened. But we had ourselves. I fail at recalling the rest of the dream but I remember that we stood at the front of her shop in Iba, waiting for something to happen. Anything.
She turned up at 8pm for my first visiting day at boarding school. Visiting hours ended moons ago. Lagos was 2 hours away. I thought they had forgotten. There was a mix up, I think. I can’t quite remember. We sat at the front of my school’s chapel. Coke or Fanta and meat pie in hand; the wind gusting against our faces in the silent darkness.
The last time I saw her, we were at the funeral service, hours before the internment. She was resting in the casket. Her quiet yet striking beauty beaming as much in death as it did when she was alive. Her body decaying and soul on a journey. That she was “going to a better place,” brought me little to no consolation. Every time I heard it, no matter how true it rung, it fell off my skin like dead hair. How could the place be better without me? Without us?
But of course, she has a place in my heart (our hearts). And perhaps that is everything. Perhaps it matters that even as the upper bulb of the hourglass empties and memories become blurrier, the places we lived, left and loved ourselves, are etched as footprints in the sands; guiding and teaching me how to put the pieces together; how to repaint over and over, the marvellous picture of our time together.