This is what you feel like when you spend ten days with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
On the first day, you feel a little out of place. At breakfast, there are faces you have never seen and waiters who stand stiffly, smiling papery smiles. When your sister calls, you use your smallest voice when you say, “I am scared.” But an hour later as you sit with all these people in class, you memorize their names like the lines on the palm of your hands. And when Chimamanda walks in smiling, you cannot feel your tongue.
On the second day, you begin to rethink your abilities. You begin to question previously unquestioned things and you will your mouth to taste like something you remember, not like words from the mouths of twenty three other people in a room.
The third day is when you unbutton your old skin, hang it in the closet and you come out wearing yourself. Yourself, not someone else. This is a safe space.
When the fourth day comes knocking, you are already prepared. It is by the fourth day you don’t feel a need to make others like you and portion out acceptance to you because of what you are not, but because of what you truly are. And it is on the fourth day you learn your neighbour’s name and the perfection that is her face.
That you are never interesting is what you learn on the fifth day. This you find hard to believe at first because you are used to the laughter – seasoned voices of your friends saying, “You’re very interesting, you know?”
The sixth day is when you begin to countdown subtly, when you start to glean emotions and stockpile them in a small room in your heart where you sometimes forget where the key is. After nights of too loud conversations and too-little sleep, you know that people can feel a little like God.
By the seventh day, you laugh a laughter that makes you feel at home. Home had become a place with twenty three imperfect people who were content with their own imperfections and loved others with their own imperfections too. Home had become for you a place where you used “Kuku” in sentences so often that it felt right, a place where everyone laughed and said things like, “Yaff join bad gang,” and “Ya now carrying shoulder, abi?,” and “Bestfren bestfren!” too easily that it slipped into your vocabulary. Home had become for you, a place where you reached into your soul and pulled out intimate stories that everyone could relate to.
Halfway into the eight day, there is a confidence in your bones that assures you that there are Fine Boys who sometimes do not feel too fine about their works, and Americanahs who had made homes out of Nigeria. It is on the eight day that you wish the lone plastic flower on the breakfast table was a Purple Hibiscus.
Nine can be divided by three. Three here one, three here two, three here three. The first three days is an outpouring, a purge of your soul. The second three, you clean out your insides, sanitize all corners and wait. And on the third three? For filling yourself up. For knowing yourself in ways you had never thought you could be known. It is on the ninth day that you know it’s okay to cry because there are emotions inside you that had never been opened and tasted, like your father’s bottles of liquor. It is on the ninth day you sit with strangers who had now become family and you realize there is a similarity to your sadness – the sadness of letting go of the things you loved but wasn’t really yours. And it is on the ninth day you begin to rehearse your goodbyes, to practice how not to cry so loudly, how not to let sadness eat so much of your soul.
But when the tenth day finally comes, you do not cry. Well, you did cry, but not in the loud, make-up-ruining, lipstick-smudging way you had imagined. Instead, you shed the kind of tears that understood that you had to let go of of things that did not totally belong to you so you can come back to it some other time. But you laughed louder, hugged tighter, and gave a portion of your heart to the nostalgic loneliness that had begun to weep in your soul.
It is on the tenth day you call people who matter to you and you say, “I made it! Farafina class of 2016!” It is on the tenth day you dance to Lagbaja’s “Never far away” with tears in your eyes and lights on your face because the lyrics are a reality. “Wherever I go, wherever you are, baby baby you’re never far away, you’re always on my mind…”
It is on the night of the tenth day you sit again at a table with Chimamanda and you listen to to old stories, laugh similar laughter and tell the truths you remember. And it is on the tenth day, alone in your room, your clothes in your bag, that you write in the blue journal on your dresser, “One Day, I Will Write About This Place”