One morning my mom suggested we both go visit my aunt who lives in Festac. I had just come back home from boarding school for the term holiday and we hadn’t seen my aunt and her kids in a while. I didn’t like the suggestion, but she sounded like she’d already made up her mind so what seemed like a suggestion was merely an instruction. I agreed.
My aunt has four rambunctious boys, none of them in their teens. Being a teenager, hanging out with primary school age boys didn’t seem like fun at least for me. In fact, hanging out with anybody has never seemed like fun. I was quiet and always wanted to be left alone. Those boys were as hyperactive as they come; I was in no mood to play with them. I love kids and they’re adorable but they exhaust me; I never know what to do with them. Their restless energy terrifies me. They have a way of constantly keeping you on your toes and I hate that. Oh, and ignoring my little cousins isn’t an option.
Soon we were in my aunt’s apartment and I’m walking down the corridor to the living room when I hear someone in the corner say, “Uncle, see me I’m here! Come!” It was my 3-year-old cousin, the last child of my aunt. He was beckoning, like an old friend, from his potty. I last saw him when he was just a baby. He has learned that Nigerian way of referring to all grown up acquaintances as aunty or uncle. I discover later that his brothers are not at home; they are at a relative’s for the holidays. I chuckle at his greeting but don’t go anywhere near him till he is done and his mom has cleaned him up.
He ran straight to me when he was done with potty business. To my dismay, he wanted to play. I couldn’t say no to him. He brought out his toys and we got cracking. I had a pumped, little attention-seeker on my hands and the unenviable task of keeping him preoccupied for hours. We played with his ball. I spun him around. His requests were endless: “Carry me! Put me up! I want to swing!” I remember only taking a break to eat. He didn’t even pause to sleep for a second.
Our mothers carried on from one conversation to the next tirelessly until it was time to go. Boy, was I glad. We all walked to the bus stop with my little cousin in tow. Even at that point I had to hold on to him to stop him from running into an oncoming vehicle. Finally our bus came and I got in before my mom. I was free at last! My mom came in after me and the bus conductor was beckoning on passengers to fill the bus so we had time to say goodbye to my aunt and her kid. My mom was about promising to visit again when my little cousin, standing beside his mom, broke out into tears. He was bawling.
I was deeply confused for the few seconds before I realized why he was crying. My mom laughed and said, “You want to follow us.” I never expected he’d cry. Up until that time, I thought kids only wanted to go anywhere and everywhere with just their parents or someone who lived with them. I wanted to go home badly but it hurt me to see him cry. I thought of him throughout the ride. I never got that image of him crying out of my head.
Over time, I have come to relate more with that experience as I see it unfold even in adulthood. As adults, we may not launch into heart wrenching sobs when someone we care about leaves us even for a short while. But that anxiety is present, more often than not. Each time, it takes a new shape in the way we express our concerns. We ask questions like, “Are you going? When are you coming back? How long will you be gone?” We urge our friends, lovers, spouses or siblings to come back sooner, to stay a little longer, because we (will) miss them or can’t bear to see them leave. We grow attached to people. Our hearts do this silly little dance and we get attached. It’s in our nature.
I’m quite sure my little cousin got over our leaving soon enough. He’s a kid and kids have a short attention span. He may have gotten attached to me (or my presence) really fast but he (like the rest of us) is also designed and destined to move on.