The Enthusiasm of Strangers

Cover Image credit: Kenechukwu Nwatu

You are standing in the midst of a bed of hydrangeas, waiting for water. The sun is hot, almost blinding, an unfamiliar heat that leaves your neck prickly with sweat, unlikely for the North. Close by, two ducks quack softly as they nibble their beaks in the dirt. They ignore you when you quack at them in a bid to get their attention. Animals have no patience for humans, it seems.

You smile as she reappears, Sifa, the friend you have known for three years, only on the Internet. You both share a history of being co-authors with a publishing house, each with an independent novel. You have only interacted on social media, liking pictures on Instagram, sharing emojis on Twitter. But recently, you have heard each other’s voices through your cellphones. Yours was soft and childish, Sifa’s strong and confident. There is something amazingly soothing about her voice. It is a voice that has spoken in love, faith, defiance. Filled with the experience of things you only know from growth, travel, resilience. But most importantly, it was a voice that has experienced grief.

You recognize that voice.

She hands you the bottles of water and coffee paper cups for your colleagues sitting in a bus outside, and you accept them gladly. The sun here makes you thankful for the little things—cold water, the whirring of a fan, the faint breeze that may mercifully float by from the sparsely green mountains of Bauchi.

“I’m sorry I may not have lunch.” Sifa says.

“Sifa, this is more than lunch…thanks!”

But because she is Sifa, the woman with jet-black hair that curled and fell over her smooth ivory skin, brown eyes and a small scar on her forehead, she pauses and says, “I have some slices of cake in the kitchen. I’ll get that…hold on.”

So you hold on, appreciative for the bottles that rest against your warm skin, the calming breeze that circles around you from the trees planted around the bungalow. You hold on because kindness is rare and true friends are omnipresent, and when you find the two mixed in one, like milk in tea, you accept it with wholesomeness. You accept it because kindness comes in the little things, like sweating bottles of water and slices of dark chocolate cake, crumbling in tinfoil.

When your colleagues leave, full with the offerings, you stand with Sifa in her kitchen. She is finishing up the decoration of a cake, complete with a tiara and a smattering of gold glitter dust. Her hands are experienced, just like her voice. By now you have met her mother and sister, Mauwa and you feel all the love this home has to offer. It is like a being; alive and breathing, standing in their midst as they let you into their space. It is trust that transcends beyond courtsey, it is a fairness that needs no reasoning. It is just what it is, the enthusiasm of strangers that quickly turns into a familiar ambience of genuinity and love. Yes, love. Love is felt when Sifa’s mother comes closer and wraps her arms around you. When last did you feel motherly arms, soft and warm with tenderness? When last did tears fall almost immediately as you rest your head on her shoulder? Lives interconnect with so much similarities, the reminder that you share something as special and also devastating with this family–the death of a loved one. Lives that had mattered so much, figures of so much importance that left when you, when this family needed them. A mother, a father. People who loved with all their hearts and soul and bodies and might, albeit now memories.  Two worlds of different memories that suddenly feel alive in a shared hug, a laughter, the sounds of Micheal Jackson serenading from the stereo, the smell of cake and fondant icing.

Image credit: Kenechukwu Nwatu

The love of a mother and her daughters. A mother and her daughter. An aunt and niece. A grandmother and her grandchildren.

There are few questions you ask because you already have answers. You have seen this before. You have once lived in this home, with the bookshelves filled with medical books. You have seen a reminder of a father who lived in glory and still lives in glory. You have seen a home that smelled of flowers and tea, all the sweet little things. You have seen a woman kiss her daughter repeatedly on her forehead, telling her how much she loved her. You have seen an Aunt dance with her niece to the beat of “Billie Jean”. You have seen the movement of the bodies in this space, illuminated with yellow like the sun, filled with love like an embrace. And you recall that it took the movement of your body to this place to find this joy. To feel this way about yourself, a warmness of heart and spirit, welcomed even in the blazing Northern sun. And this warmness is one that you know will be there even when the cold hands of grief come to remind you of the loves gone. This warmth will be there, a shelter, bracing you to accept your pain but never to be consumed by it.

You have seen this before, you will always remember. You have seen the enthusiasm of strangers who in a matter of hours, became like your family.

Image Credit: Kenechukwu Nwatu