When I was barely two years old, I ran away from home. Not that I had any need to run, or that I in fact knew I was running or wandering away from the comfort and security of my parents’ abode, but I had developed a certain fondness for Bukky. Bukky was our neighbour, Mummy Bukky’s 8-year old daughter and I had excitedly followed her out of the compound that housed the one room apartment we lived in. The story is that she either took me along while running an errand and forgot about me while at the store she purchased items from, or that she simply didn’t know I tailed her down a street whose name we cannot remember, somewhere near Ketu, Lagos.
You wouldn’t be able to fathom what madness feels like, unless you were the mother of a barely two-year old baby in the middle of the streets searching for your daughter – amongst other life wrenching moments. My mum had been busy with her second child, a girl whose name I have been told but I never seem to remember, when she lost sight of me. But when she found out I was missing, she ran. She ran, in her words, “like a mad person.” She ran in circles, in her Ankara blouse and wrapper set and her permed hair, calling for help; wondering how far a 2-year old can travel, bare feet, under the 5pm sun as it slowly faded to night.
For more than one hour, she went from neighbour to neighbour, pleading that they joined her in search for me. They could speak Yoruba, she couldn’t. How else would she ask the locals if they had seen a dark little girl of about two years old in diapers strutting along the street whose name we cannot remember, without an adult? According to my mum, it was starting to get dark and an informal search party of neighbours and friends of neighbours had joined in to find me. She wondered how my dad would react when he eventually got back from work. How she would live with herself if that day passed without finding me. Most importantly, she worried about me – if I was safe, who I was with, what I was doing, where I was.
It was Mummy Bukky who eventually found me and whisked me from the middle of a circle of clapping hands. Men, women, and children had gathered around me and were asking questions: about me, about my parents. But the story changes slightly every time my mum tells it. Sometimes it is that I was found reciting pre-school poems, sometimes I was dancing and laughing, and some other times I was found singing. But I was happy, and the world as I knew it – albeit new and possibly hostile – was cheering me on.
I’d like to think of my moments of escapes as being on an unfamiliar busy street – one I have wandered to and can only grow to recognize. I’d like to think I am wandering through its twists and turns on my own. Taking all I can take in and trying to find peace and art in all of the madness. That I am met with curiosity, freeness, and kindness. And that after I have pushed the limits of my feet and explored the limits of my art, I would find my way back home. Or that, at least, somebody would find me and yank me right out of the impending darkness that comes with wandering too far from safety or caution.
And they would take me back to those who care for me because no story is complete if it doesn’t go back to the beginning.