I have always been open to travelling with a few notable exceptions. Once was after a disastrous trip to India for a cousin’s wedding. My dad was meant to help me manage my infant and toddlers but instead drank too much on the flight and shouted stories about his haemorrhoids to the entire cabin. When the plane landed, instead of carrying the diaper bag or holding a grandchild, he grabbed his jacket and darted off to beat the line at immigration.
I put my new-born in a front carrier, my two-year-old in a sling on my back, lugged two heavy bags and cajoled my sleepy 4-year-old to stay on her feet as we trudged through the airport. It felt like a death march. Afterwards, while my trauma was fresh, I didn’t want to travel by air with my kids, even opting to take a day and half long train trip to Florida rather than a 2-hour flight.
I recovered in time, then in 2019, I grew sick of traveling again. That year, I went to India twice and England four times, as well as Ethiopia, Ghana, The Gambia and France. There may have been other destinations as well, but I’ve blocked them out. I became so tired of packing and unpacking that the thought of travel made me crawl into bed and pull the blanket over my head. I didn’t want to go anywhere.
I want to warn my pre-pandemic, 2019 self: “be careful what you wish for,” because her dream of staying put became a reality. I have now passed over 365 consecutive days in Lagos. Last August, my husband drove me to Apapa for a change of scenery but otherwise we’ve been holed up at home, trying not to kill each other. During this time, I’ve wanted to run away as often as I’ve misdiagnosed myself with Covid-19, a number too high to calculate.
I long to venture out, yet when my husband has floated the idea of travelling to me, I’m frightened. International flights terrify me. What of the germs and circulating air? What if the hotel where we’re staying doesn’t follow sanitation practices and we end up hospitalised abroad?
My husband countered by suggesting a local holiday to one of the places we’ve enjoyed visiting in Nigeria, like Uyo, Ibadan or Abuja. But I had similar concerns. The best thing about traveling is feeling your everyday cares slough off, like dirt on your skin when you step into a bath. How can you enjoy a holiday anywhere when you’re this paranoid about illness?
My husband, always game to please me, next suggested a staycation in a Lagos hotel, but I couldn’t stomach spending on a hotel room within walking distance of our house.
Christmas was especially dull and didn’t feel festive. I knew I had to shake things up. “Let’s do something different,” I said. “Something that will make us feel like we’re on holiday even though we’re not.”
“Sounds great,” my husband said, staring at his phone
“How about the beach?” I said.
“Perfect,” my husband said, typing a message to someone.
On Christmas Eve, our family of five headed to a Victoria Island beach. We wore our masks until we reached our cabana and slipped them off. The sun baked our naked faces and we breathed in the salty, fresh air. We ordered sandwiches from a food cart which used slices of fried plantains instead of bread. They tasted strange and delicious.
I stared at the other beachgoers sitting in their socially distanced seats. “Look at all the people,” I said to no one in particular. “There are so many other people in the world. I forgot about them.” My family ignored me, as they often do.
Our children waded into the water and came back grumbling about the depth and the enormous fish. Sand stuck to our legs. We drank cold drinks. The roar of the ocean lulled me to sleep, and I woke up some time later with my head on my husband’s shoulder.
Was it as magical as my children frolicking in the Indian Ocean outside Zanzibar, the sun setting over the Taj Mahal on my birthday, the little plates of sushi we devoured at the Osaka train station or the grilled fish we split at that little dive in Cote d’Ivoire?
Not quite, but it did give us a booster shot of zen, enough tranquillity to soothe our weary hearts. Nothing is easy right now. Cultivating some Lagos peace is our only option.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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