When I became friends with Ufy, it was within the pale grey walls of secondary school. We were just beginning to step out of childhood and tiptoe through puberty, as if our womanhood was a secret to be kept. She was dark skinned, wide faced and somewhat on the chubby side. We shared a similar spread of pimples on our faces, and the same stubborn distaste for school work, particularly, for math. It was a time when we had not learned, yet, to measure the sound of our laughter, and our voices, shrill, would rush out of our small bodies, piercing the night as we walked back to the dormitory after prep. It was also the period where being friends meant squashing against each other on a slim mattress, before meal times on Saturdays, talking about seniors and home, with fire and longing.
Our friendship was made of big, major moments that hang as a memorial in my heart. Like clustering together on inter-house sports days, Ufy, myself and Julie, while scouting through the school premises, hoping to stumble on random objects of interest, aka, KC boys! Or, exeat days, where we would ship ourselves to Ufy’s aunt’s house in Ikoyi, secretly hoping to stumble upon Usman and co.
I thought about Ufy recently, and there are smaller snapshots of memory that now elude me, specifics of details that have vanished, blurred to obscurity by the time that stands between us. Me, here in Lagos, and she, planted in a different city with a life that has acquired a husband and son. We are friends on Facebook, occasionally liking posts but we have made no direct, private or personal contact, and this is perfectly okay!
These thoughts spiraled from a conversation I had with Kemi the other day, triggered by her article on the bond of female friendships. It occurred to me, and I said this to her, that the friendships in my life have existed in phases and compartments. I always respond with wonder, and a tinge of envy, when a person dangles a friendship that has endured since childhood, primary school buddies still shopping together like best friends. For me however, it seems there is always a door hovering, a timeline to gauge the most sincere affections, and it does not help that I am one of those who is so wrapped in my mind that I literally have to scale walls to remember to check on my friends.
My feelings are knotted though, because at the core of who I am, I am interested in longevity, in stability, and predictability and patterns. I want to love the people I love, and I want to grow old loving them. Yet, here I am, exploring my friendships as a travel between time, past and present; those who were, those who are, and maybe, those who will be.
Occasionally, there is the desire, driven by nostalgia, to reach back to the past and try to pick friends where we left off, but this project of fixing something so thinned by time always feels fraudulent. Like me, no longer able to hold conversations with persons I lived with at the University. It is almost as if, in a blink, our interests and commitments became so torn apart, and we became walking opposites. Tell me, how do you fix that?
Or, watching the friend you ate and fought and laughed with, travel for her masters and return to you with a foreign accent. You meet again at an event, and her life and accomplishments are shinning, but you are unable to get past the syrupy slant of her voice. I am sometimes trying to gather all my friends, but they keeping floating farther, set adrift by our differences.
This also applies to the friends whose love simply became sharp and stabbing, so I learned to run, and hide behind schedules, because feeling smaller and trying to fit into their acceptable version of self is too high a price to pay for laughter. Maybe this is why wisdom travels through the lips of our mothers, and maybe this is why they say twenty friends cannot play together for twenty years, and maybe it is why I feel peace and a complete satisfaction when I think of all the friends that time has collected from me.
These days I am trying to dig my roots deeper, picking my friends like a collection of art, wooing and courting, trying to work at this longevity thing, because I no longer want to tell old secrets to new faces. So like they say, being intentional, while also being particularly grateful for the friends who have traveled across countries and have carried me with them, in their hearts and in their lives.
I think what I’m trying to say is this. I know some friends will not stay forever, not because they don’t want to, or they are not sincere, but because life sometimes acts as a thinning agent. And when we get too stretched, we simply lose touch. And this, believe me, is perfectly okay.