Home, Or Not? Love, Like Jollof Rice, Is Better Homemade

I was in love with a man who felt like home. But what do you do when home no longer feels like it? Where do you run to? Where do you go?

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Abuja, Nigeria

We are a generation of broken people, broken pieces of glass, seeking healing. Oftentimes we find this healing in the arms of a lover, in our child’s voice when she calls us ‘mother’, or in the reassuring words of our best friend. Sadly, some people may never heal completely and will live out their lives in full acceptance that they will never be whole again. While some are lucky to find true love sometime in their life’s journey and piece together their broken pieces, others have learned that they may never find home. So, they will invest that longing for acceptance into work, a business, skill, or a hobby.

I am a 25-year-old Igbo woman, and I was born in one of its rowdiest cities, Aba, in the Nigerian South East. Aba toughens even the meekest of people, in extreme ways. As a child, I learned to wear my tough ‘Aba skin’ like a cloak everywhere I went. They say African parents are terrible at expressing love, so much so that African parents may appear to have no affection for their children. In my home, I cannot remember my father ever saying, ‘I love you’. But I saw love in the times he would make random jokes at me, just after my mom flogged me. I love to think it was his indirect way of saying: You did wrong, my daughter, but I love you still.’

I also never heard my mother profess love in plain terms. But I saw love in the worried crease on her face when she returned from her diploma exams to meet my malaria-ridden skinny frame. As I grew older, I learned that love transcends the sweet names you call your partner when they are deserving. It is more than the warmness that sweeps your soul when they tell you they love you. I accepted that love wins on those days when the excitement wears off, yet you choose your partner all over again. Love indeed is the consistent decision to show up for the ones you love, regardless of how deserving or undeserving you feel they are at the time.

I thought I found home when I met him.

It was in the silent peace I felt every night we spoke; in the way he felt so familiar, like someone I had known for many years, or even in another life. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life, the sheer bliss of knowing that I had finally found my own person. With spontaneity I christened him Nkem—my very own; he felt like home to me.

We met on Twitter, in August 2021, and by September, we became besotted with each other. It was beyond ethereal how Nkem fitted into my life and occupied every room in my soul like he had lived here before. He knew his way around. It was telepathic how we both knew when the other was troubled, and he would always call immediately I thought about him. On the nights when we prayed together, I revelled in the thought of how one day we would pray with our twin boys, every morning and night; just the way I did with my parents, growing up in Aba. I cannot determine the exact moment love sprouted in me; maybe it was the night he held me close as the elevator descended and whispered faintly, you know I love you right? He knew I had a phobia for heights, but insisted we take the elevator and not the stairs. All night, I thought about how he not only wanted me to conquer my fears but also showed he would be with me all the way. A knight in shining jeans!

Nkem was ten years older and lived thousands of miles away from me.

Ours was a love that had transcended boundaries, or so I thought. When I began my scholarship applications for my Master’s degree, the UK was my primary destination. Why would it not be? My lover was there. Nkem was very expressive about his intentions. He told me several times that he wanted me to be his life partner, and that, God told him I was his wife. We would then joke about how it was my sole responsibility to teach our children Igbo, as he could barely speak the language, having grown up in northern Nigeria. We spoke about our family dreams, and how we would build a small knit Nigerian home in the UK, filled with nights of family prayers, bedtime stories, hearty laughter, and sizzling hot food.

You may wonder when our beautiful story turned grey. From November, a love that had become my life began to die. It was evident in how our long conversations turned into a few minutes of routine check-up calls. Then came the fights and arguments over the widening communication gap, personal boundaries, emotional unavailability, as all my attempts to break through to him were met with a brick wall. It seemed he had embarked on a journey that I was not included in. I knew he was far gone when I looked at him during one of our FaceTime video calls. His laughter was not made of the high-pitched glee that warmed my heart, neither did his eyes dart away when I stared like they used to. He was there, but he moved, from me, from us, a long time ago.

It was my understanding of love from Aba that made me hang on to our thin thread even though there was little or nothing to stay for. I did not want to be the person who gave up; I chose to love him every day, regardless of how inadequate he made me feel. It was how I saw my father love me, even on days when I did not make him so proud. It was how I saw my mother care for me, without recompense. It is what I knew love to be—commitment, sacrifices, loyalty.

It took some tear-filled days, but I learned that sometimes love stories may have a happy beginning but a sad ending.  

This is not a consequence of one’s actions or inactions. This is just the nature of life, its striking imbalance, where even the best of people are not spared from hurt. What then should we do when we get burned by love over and over, should we entirely give up on love? Should we clip our wings because the rains hit us? What happens when the sun comes out?

During my days of grief, I began to rethink what home really meant to me. If home is indeed a person, what happens when that person dies or leaves your life? What happens when the person becomes home to someone else? What do you do? Where do you go? Here is what I taught myself: that home is me, because all the love I desire in the world must be found in me first. I learned I am my home that will never leave. Therefore, it behoves on me to determine who I open my doors to, and who I let spend the night. When they decide to leave, if they ever do, I will clean my home, let the windows open for the sun to shine, and hope again⎈

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