Departures Reflections on the Burden of Parting

For days, I struggled to grasp this somewhat unsettling realization that a member of my family would leave not just Nigeria, but Africa, miles away from home and family.

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I digested the pain on my brother’s face

His heart is the territory where silence is spoken

But blood recognises love from a distance

& in his eyes were unshed tears

Held back for departures.

                                                                               Departures, Ifesinachi Nwadike (2023)

Benin City, Nigeria

Japa began to seem real to me the day my brother called from Lagos in October to confide in me about his arrangements to travel abroad before the end of the year. Some weeks earlier, a friend’s brother—a skilled tailor I saw often each time I visited their home—had travelled to London in a twinkling of an eye. I was particularly astonished by the swiftness of his migration because one minute, there he was, standing at his table, measuring cloths and the next minute, he was in London. Even though I was not very close to him, I shared in the nostalgic feeling that followed his peregrination. However, this feeling became palpable the moment my brother said to me over the phone, ‘Bro, before the end of this year, I will be in the United Kingdom.’ 

‘Did he understand how I felt? Did he understand that as kids, we never imagined that anything would separate us?


It was exciting and at the same time shocking. Exciting because, japaing is top on the catalogue of prayer points most Nigerians, especially the youths, pester God with. It guarantees an escape from the disconcerted state of the economy that has plunged many, young and old alike, into untellable despondency. So, yes, it was exciting that my brother had joined the providential horde of those who had escaped the dubieties of Nigeria, especially at this time when the reins of power have been bestowed on a vacuous man. On the other hand, it was shocking because just like the common reaction to death, it never occurred to me that anyone in my family would leave Nigeria. At least not yet. Or maybe, like in the case of my friend’s brother, I thought it was too abrupt. Or did I erroneously think there was a very lengthy protocol to it? That no one would just wake up and decide to be in the UK before the end of the year? For days, I struggled to grasp this somewhat unsettling realization that a member of my family would leave not just Nigeria, but Africa, miles away from home and family.  

What we know as japa can sometimes be akin to death, the only difference being that the dead never come back. Now, I remember my uncle who I have resolved is the quintessence of worthlessness. He left home in the 1990s to play for R.S.C. Anderlecht in the Belgian league and has since become alienated from his roots. He developed a diseased relationship with my father—a misunderstanding that their conceited mother orchestrated—and blocked everyone on social media. This, for me, is the worst form of japa and is nothing different from death. Am I wrong to consider it analogous to death when my uncle, his wife, or his children have not spoken to anyone in almost two decades? He is dead to the family. 


In the days leading up to my brother’s departure, I began to worry that his fate would be like my uncle’s. I found myself praying often to God to not let his japaing be similar to demise, to not let the physical distance between Nigeria and the UK stretch into our hearts. I had prayed a similar prayer the previous year when I was admitted into an MFA program at Chapman University but could not travel due to financial constraints. Then, I had worried so much that the distance between Nigeria and the US would detach me from my family. I am obsessed with unity. It was the inspiration behind my debut novel, We Will Live Again. In that book, I thoroughly fictionalized the events that led to the disintegration of my paternal extended family—so much so that in my twenty-eight years of living, I have not set eyes on any of my paternal cousins. Sometimes, I am scared I would mistakenly get married to one of them since we all bear different surnames now; as I was told. Such is the extent of disunity in my family.  

I live in Benin where I am studying for a master’s programme. My brother, at the time, lived and worked in Lagos. Except during the Christmas break, we only saw each other on video calls. We communicate more via texts and voice calls. And it is not so often. In fact, in all honesty, sparingly. Physically, there is nothing to show that we don’t get along well. We clap hands in greeting like normal guys do when we get to see. But I am sometimes scared that there is a recessive gene somewhere in our hearts that codes for discord as it did in the case of my father and his brother. Growing up in a religious home, we often received messages from God alerting us of the devil’s ploy to instigate disputes between us. Once, a woman who I consider a creative spiritualist and prophetess made us turn our backs on each other, an evocative histrionic display that interpreted what she had seen from God. I remember how my father shouted ‘God forbid!!’ and ardently prayed, thwarting the devil’s stratagem. After the prayers, the prophetess made us hug ourselves very tight while she marched around binding us with, in her words, heavenly superglue. ‘You are the pillars upon which this family will stand. Do not let anything separate you two,’ the woman had gone on to admonish.  

I became more scared that the glue had weakened when, while in a barbing salon, my brother texted me that his visa had been approved. Beside this worry was the dawn of reality; he was truly leaving. Nothing could stop it now especially as he had already booked his flight even before the visa was approved. Only death could prevent him from leaving. That day, I convinced him to let our parents know. He had intended to surprise them a few days before his departure with the news but I gently advised against such.  

‘You’re not just travelling to another state within Nigeria. You’re leaving Nigeria and Africa. They deserve to know early enough. That would give them ample time to prepare their minds for your departure,’ I had told him. As expected, my parents expressed the same shock as I did. That shock that seemed to ask rhetorically; ‘So, finally, this japa syndrome has snaked its way into our very tight-knit family?’ 

A week before his departure, I got invited to be interviewed at a literary show in Lagos. I seized the opportunity to spend some time with my brother in Surulere. We chatted, sampling plans for ourselves and our family, and played soccer games. He showed me the winter jackets, new shoes, socks, gloves, head warmers and mufflers he had bought from Tejuosho Market, all heralding his looming departure. Unknown to him, I began to absorb as much detail from him as possible. I soaked up his body features; his broad shoulders, his almost potbelly which I tease him about, the folds at the back of his neck, his mannerisms, his sleeping posture, just everything I could take in. I needed to have a lucid portrait of him in my mind. It was then I resolved I was going to give him a hug that would leave a part of me with him. A hug that would reinforce that bond between us.  

From Lagos, I travelled to Owerri to lecture my students at the Imo State College of Nursing. My brother came in two days later and the entire family spent quality time together; praying, holding long conversations, and praying again. My mother bought lots of foodstuffs which we packed in a big box one night. The next morning, my brother and I went back to Lagos. Our parents took the night bus that same day and arrived the next morning. In these final days, we lacked words, and in our minds were flurries of trepidation bombarding the internal walls of our skins like elastic gas molecules. My mother would from time to time heave and ask if she was dreaming. My father struggled through the thick glaze of silence that hovered to issue pieces of advice. My youngest brother, eleven years old, was with us in Lagos and became sick. That night, we stayed up late, measuring our thoughts while diverse emotions flowed from our hearts’ depth. My father sat on the chair, tapping his feet against the tiled floors. My mother lay in bed, sobbing softly into the pillows. My little brother lay beside her, his high temperature quaking his body. I distracted myself by watching videos on TikTok. My brother sat on one side of the bed typing with his phone. What words could we possibly say to one another at that time? My father, in a bid to douse the overflowing emotions, recalled how he felt years ago when he travelled to New Delhi, India. He said:  

No one saw me off. I was so lonely and scared and tensed and hungry. I remember buying bread and butter at the airport but couldn’t eat because the uneasiness had risen to my throat. I began to cry. A man moved to pity, crossed over to pacify me. I didn’t eat that bread until I got to New Delhi. 

My brother and I chuckled and almost immediately relapsed into silence.  

‘When you get to London,’ my father continued, keen on extirpating the gruesome silence. ‘Always pray, my son. Pray and focus and you will make it.’  

Silence again. Realising that nothing he says can defeat this silence, my father turned to his phone and resumed tapping his feet.  

No one saw me off. I was so lonely and scared and tensed and hungry.


The next morning, we woke up and quickly prepared to leave for the airport. His flight was by 12:10 pm but we left early to beat Lagos’ traffic. On the drive to the airport, no one talked except when my father made some calls. The moment we drove into the airport and saw people dragging boxes, hugging loved ones, and crossing into Terminal 2 of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, it dawned on us that that moment had come. My mother began to cry. The airport potters teased her. ‘Mama, I’m seeing your tears. Don’t worry, he will be fine,’ one of them, a short dark woman said. 

When we got to the gates of Terminal 2, the security man did not let me go through. ‘Who is travelling?’ he asked.  

My brother indicated.  

‘You, stay back,’ he said, pointing to me. ‘Only the person travelling can go in. When you are done checking in, you can come out to see him.’ 

‘Bro, I dey come,’ my brother said and walked in through the gates to the departure terminal.  

I turned to the security and said, ‘This is an emotional moment for me. That is my brother leaving the country in an hour and you’re asking me to stay back.’ 

‘I understand how you feel but I am only following directives,’ he replied.  

Did he understand how I felt? Did he understand that as kids, we never imagined that anything would separate us? We were dropped off at school and picked up at the same time. We travelled together. We went to church together. We played in the sands together. Then this wicked thing called adulthood set in and scattered us. We left for different universities and went from seeing ourselves almost every second to seeing sparingly. Last Christmas, my mother summoned all of us for a family photograph because, in her words, she had the premonition that the family would not be complete next Christmas. I can confidently call my mother a clairvoyant because as I watched my brother walk into the departure terminal, his broad shoulder was the last thing I saw. He would not be around for Christmas. At that moment, I could only hope that he would be done with checking in and time would permit him to come out for a last hug. While I stood waiting, my mother texted me on WhatsApp; ‘Can you take a picture with him?’ 

‘He has gone in to check in. I am waiting for him to come out,’ I texted back.  

I kept waiting not minding the harsh sun that bit hard on my skin. I side-eyed the security man, clueless about my feelings toward him. Resentment for separating me from my brother like that or understanding that he was just doing his job? 

Soon, my brother texted to tell me that he wouldn’t come out. ‘We have started boarding already.’ 

I glance at my wristwatch. 11:25 am. That’s it. Otilo, as the Yorubas will chant—He’s gone! His last words to me; ‘Bro, I dey come,’ rang so loud in my head.   

Struggling to fight back the tears, I wished him a safe trip and turned toward the all-arrivals car park, gloom going before me. My father sighted me and waved, drawing my attention to where they were parked. I could feel my heart heavy, banging and as the driver drove us out of the airport, I glared at the pain on my face through the side mirror. My heart became the territory where silence speaks. But I am confident, even as we drove out of that airport without my brother, that blood recognises love from a distance

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