I was in my 20s when I started making friends. I am not discounting friends that I had in my formative years — friends from primary and secondary school — but the act of nurturing, filtering, and sticking to people of similar values only took form in my 20s. Right now, if you asked me what I consider the most exciting part of my life is, I would say without an ounce of equivocation: my community; my friends.
I would proclaim that my friends are the window to how I see the world; how I express myself. They are the bridge between all the parts of me; it is through my friends that I can understand the multifaceted nature of humans; to embrace my multifacetedness. They’re the bridge between my present and my yesterday, my designated vehicle for memories, unlimited being; staying present, and helping me close the gap between what I am today, and what I can be tomorrow. I read somewhere that friendships represent parts of ourselves, and navigating them isn’t so different from figuring out who we are.
Right now, I am losing my friends.
I woke up yesterday morning to Remi’s text informing me she and Tunde were now in Paris; their first layover on their trip to Canada. I say trip but it is an evacuation of some sort. Remi and Tunde, though insignificant numbers in the millions of people leaving Nigeria for other countries are leaving behind a huge gap in my life.
Before Remi, there was Ore, whose leaving left me desolate for days; not even all the entrapments of social media features like Snapchat streaks, or endless Facetime videos can replace the gaping hole in my heart. Our friendship had only just begun in 2020, and it was cruel that we had to transform it from what it was to a rendezvous of timed digital communication that falls short of physical warmth.
Before Ore, there was Damilola and Tomini, friends-turned-bestfriends-turned-sisters-turned-comrades-in-cruise-and-life-disillusions. I have known them since my Mozambique days at Obafemi Awolowo University. We went through and overcame the manipulations and consequences of youthful exuberance. We comforted ourselves through breakups and devious machinations of girls and boys alike. We shrieked through marriage proposals, weddings and childbearing, and last year, they both received parting gifts from me as they left. I wept at the airport during Damilola’s departure and for days after when Tomini left.
Before Damilola and Tomini, there was the baby girl’s group. We all came together as members of the bridal train for Oghogho. We fast became friends, meeting occasionally for needed girl time and even starting a podcast that registered quick fans. Then, Oluchi left. Oghogho left. Faith Left. Nnenna left. Iganya and Naomi left. And Antonia left. Of the entire group, only Loretta and I remain in Nigeria. We’ve tried to revive our podcast, but time zones and new realities are the weapons fashioned against our progress.
Like most people, I grew up in a paradoxical Nigeria; disenchanted by the mismanagement and the clusterfuck of problems but comforted through community and friendship that stood — thick and thin — through collective hustle, blanketing ourselves with ourselves and our tough skin, against all of the torture of living in Nigeria. And like most people, I experienced a total breakdown of hope and trust in the country in the wake of the EndSars massacre and all of the catastrophic clarity on the extent of institutional damage it brought with it. Looking within and beyond themselves is what all of the Nigerian youth were finally forced to do in 2020, as it was clear that there was nothing left but the carcass of a broken society.
When we managed to peel off the gauze from the wounds this monumental episode caused, something shifted. During Sunday brunch in quiet cafes that were carefully fitted with the most intricate decor but left a lot on the table by way of flavour and service, we discussed the idea of leaving. We spoke loudly about our dissatisfaction with the system, the crumbling currency, and the stench of corruption, but mumbled through actual relocation plans. Nothing was concrete except the idea that it was time.
I have always done the sensible thing and made the safe choice. I went to school and graduated on time. I moved back to Lagos where I was born. I lived with my family and alone for a while. I got married to a sensible and sweet honest man I truly love. As the architect of my life, I have built it like a blanket wound firmly around my decisions, a second skin for the person I thought I would always be. I built my life to weather change, to withstand all the external uncertainties that might seep through.
A builder I might be, an uprooter I have not become. I have not been able to leave.
And so I am left behind. Hanging on to my friendships for dear life through digital contraptions. Reluctant to build new connections, but desperately clinging to those like me that remain. These friendships had come into my life during varying periods of change in my twenties, and losing them simultaneously feels like I’m losing a part of myself.
Last Sunday, Aisosa, Tolu, Tunde, Fala and I gathered in the empty apartment Remi and Tunde were leaving behind. Weeks before then, they had listed out all of their properties in a pdf document along with bargain prices. People who have gone before them did the same; shedding off furniture and assets like skin. When we got to their terrace building, there was nothing left but memories. We ate, we joked, we unearthed memories on the strength of our collective recollection frame.
When it was time to leave, Aisosa started to cry. I predicted this. Beyond our knit circle, she had lost more close friends to the wave of immigration. Her sensitivities were heightened.
For me, accepting that another friend was leaving was difficult. I moved through it nonchalantly, didn’t want to face it, wanted to treat it as a temporary thing; they are packing but it was just Canada. I could visit. With delayed and painful acknowledgement finally came free-flowing tears.
From an outsider’s perspective, maybe it is normal; everyone is leaving after all, but from the depths of my soul, it feels like a kind of betrayal, a cruel yanking, borne through the hands of a country that offers nothing to keep friends together.