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All my life I’ve lived in a small town in Lagos, and I hate it here. I’ve always wanted to leave but have barely done anything about it. My dad lived here as a bachelor, moved to a different house on the same street when he got married to my mom and started having kids. We’ve all lived here ever since.

Kirikiri town is a crazy place. The reaction on people’s face when I tell them I live in Kirikiri is…entertaining. I almost always have to add that the prison is just a part of Kirikiri and that, no, I’m not an inmate. People actually live here, but most people don’t know this. The place, however, has been the bane of my existence. Many things about it make me just want to up and leave: the mostly unpaved streets and the ever-present filth that makes my skin crawl; the tank farm making the place volatile and responsible for the occasional fire accidents; the population, which the transformers can’t seem to keep up with. The damn thing keeps failing, resulting in more power cuts than we deserve. Save for the barracks and the industrial estate, the place is akin to a ghetto: run-down and densely populated.

I took breaks from living here when I was in boarding school and when I was in the university. I used to come back for the holidays feeling shocked that I lived here. I could never get used to it and the people. The place is teeming with badly raised children. And that’s even a nice way to put it. I didn’t make any friends here for a while. For some time, I had lived here without really knowing the people. Being socially anxious and growing to dislike where I lived made it hard to make friends.

When I was done with my university education, I was on a mission to leave for good. I started planning a future in my head outside of this hell-hole: it involved getting a good job in which I could save enough money to move out and live somewhere else. I felt like living in this town was doing my head in and holding me back from the perfect life.

So I got a job on the (Lagos) island – a contract job I had to do for a while until I was back to job hunting. One evening my dad came back from church to tell me that he had talked to the administrator about employing me in the hospital owned by the church, and the administrator asked that I come to the office for an interview. I remember smiling at my dad and thinking, “work… inside this Kirikiri?” It sounded ridiculous, but I went for the interview, which turned out well. The administrator, a nun, was impressed and asked me to resume as soon as I could.

But I left the hospital feeling uneasy. Like… I was settling. I thought, “This wasn’t the plan.” So I got home and told my dad that I got the job, but that I didn’t think I want it. He looked disappointed but later talked me into accepting it. He gave me reasons that I taught were reasonable.

So I took the job, but didn’t fail to remind myself that this would be temporary, that I was going to get a real job soon and leave this dump. Whenever I talked to my friends and my sisters about my new job, I didn’t fail to add that it was just temporary.

Well, what do you know! I’ve been working that “temporary” job for four years now and counting *cue gasps or laughter* Yes, I figured the supposedly temporary job would allow me save enough time and money to get a Master’s degree, and so I might as well seize the opportunity. I live with my parents and literally walk to work. I don’t need to explain how convenient that is, financially at least. All the time it required me to save and get a Master’s degree, and fail at getting another job caused me to stay longer than I planned. Hot tip: job searching is a job all on its own. But you probably already knew this.

All this happened while I watched my life transform. In a twist of events, working in that hospital changed me in ways I never imagined. Particularly, it brought to me the human experience I was oblivious to and unconsciously avoiding, all because I didn’t like it here. Most of the patients/clients who use the hospital, and some of my co-workers are people from the same community I live in. I get to know them intimately – something that rarely happened when I didn’t work there. I’m getting familiar with the people, faster than I can keep track off. My number of friends has increased as a result. I now respond cheerily to greetings from people on the street who I don’t remember but I think must know me from the hospital. I walk into a store and see, for the second time, the mother whose kid I registered for immunization. My job makes me engage with the community, and it’s like seeing the people with new eyes. My life suddenly revolves around the people I was indirectly trying to run away from. However small, these experiences enriched my life and still do.

Now that I relate to the people, the place has become a little bit bearable. With new friendships and a sense of belonging, I have become comfortable and suddenly not in a hurry to leave. Something pleasant came out of this town, and so I’ve hit the brakes on my frantic efforts to leave. I just want soak it in, because it’s all new to me. And for once, I’m grateful.

But I still do want to leave this town. I may be enjoying the fact that I’ve come to develop a relationship with the people, but it’s not the people I dislike, it’s the place. Everything about it threatens my mental stability and even my life! Besides, I’m a fair bit too old to still be living with my parents.

So, I’m going to leave. I don’t seem to have an excuse to stay anymore; although, when I do leave, I’ll think back fondly of this place.

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