Folding us Back

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Begin Again.

The cold steel ruler was pressed against the paper, and with a swift tear, the once crisp-edged paper now had a coarse side. But in fair terms, it became a square. The fingers were growing tired of folding according to the creases and pulling out a few unruly flaps. It seemed repetitive, but I felt it was an odd gain. Its been months, and my fingers started moving mechanically, many looked at me, What are you up to again?

That word, again, to me seemed nothing like a mundane loop but an unseen gain’. Though my living room was a landfill of paper, I looked at the wooden frame one last time. It was Deja Vu, for in one of my many times, I knew I was going to walk out of this place and just leave a memory, again.
Except for this time I decided to be a little more dramatic. It went beyond post boxes being stuffed with letters, Coldplay lyrics on the wall, or even the long train ride of escape.
I formed a sob squad.

Although, you would still see a shuffle of letters I wrote to my closest ones.
Those always persist.

August 22, 2014


I dream again of my vanished home.
Rain is harsh tonight,
Her fury is wild as mine. Futile, though, especially when grounded.

With love


I am sure many of you have left a town, and felt that the town in your heart was a wilderness set ablaze. You love the cinders left apart and the remnants that made it through it all, and then you just hold on, just until another wilderness sets its roots in your grounded heart.

was my last goodbye
I learned from the unlearned

I waited five years to write about home or rather my next departure gloriously timed itself to make me hit the keypad. The story would have been mellow, but in the turn of time, it all seems different, only for the better.

Years and Years

My mother always said that I had a way of dangerously remembering things, whilst we started settling in my hometown Kochi, I had a way of shaking up the word settle. For I had a habit of vividly visiting the bungalow I grew up in Nigeria. It started with simple dreams of me walking down the corridors, penning poetry by the tangerine shrubs, listening to the radio that always had a wavering antennae. Emmanuel, the security guard, loved playing news and was telling me all about Murtala Mohammed, the ruler of Nigeria on the 20 Naira note.  Even now, when I hear a crackling radio, It reminds me of his old receiver.

Some days, my colour stacked brain explored the tint of orange as I related the gritty walls of my classroom to the freshly trimmed birds of- paradise flowers on the dining table. The garden had a steady tree that were adorned with many plumerias. Sometimes I used to string those to make garlands and sit on the tree to enjoy the peeking sunset view through the interlocked blocks on high raised walls. Ensconced within these walls, I even grew accustomed to the barbed wires.

There was a wheelbarrow that never left its spot by the tree. Despite how much the gardener raked the leaves, there was always a fresh pile. He always joked about how much he wanted to cut down the tree, only ironically the shedding leaves turned out to be far more indelible. My greatest gift, after we left, was when my mothers best friend gifted a leaf from the backyard, on which I wrote, Where joy was so abundant, you do not have to consider it luck. The quote of Amy Tan was framed and hung over my magazine shelf in India. I sometimes have a laugh, wishing I could gift it to John, our gardener, but then I dont even know if that tree is there anymore.

Twice of It

Over time, my accent lost its deep os, I picked a few rumbling rs. Certain phrases gradually willowed out, the dreams gradually became an unopened drawer.  I knew those memories were better off lost in time. Four years finally changed me.

Ive always asked anyone who lived in two countries at once if they ever had the mind games of being able to exist in two places. One of my distinct memories back home was when I witnessed rain in my high school and gradually it made its way to middle school too. I stood there as the rain crawled its way up my life and once and only once, I embraced the rain. It was a welcomed strangeness.

The apartment I moved into was a new home that also invited this strangeness’. There were some childhood memories of summer vacations. It was idyllically untouched. In my old room, there were books I remembered that I read and unknowingly it was mapped with some long lost memories. It had a charm, with its wood and the grizzly brown sofa and the very sober walls. Ive always thought it had an air of its own, a carefree attitude that never stuck to the norm of being a conventional home. It was only a few years later that we all moved into the newly built house, and the apartment became the realm that had an address but was the bridge between the two homes.  And when I finally lived in a world of one, my father announced some big news over a family dinner.
The drawer opened.

13, October 2015


Last night when I tucked myself into bed, I kept on thinking I was in a hotel room. It was only when I heard the birds coo, a tone familiar to my childhood, that I realised I am in Nigeria.

With love

When is Now

Ive always been asked, What was it like growing up in Nigeria? Many would ask about corruption and robbery, but all I could think of was the deep love rooted in the soil of the land. There was happiness among people that went beyond the Stepford wives courtesy. The words of Soyinka and Achebe seeped into my ticker tape thoughts. People loved deeply, in fact, our driver called us every year for Christmas, even after we left. Every moment of mine traced its way there.  To that question I answered, I cant say, its a mountain of too many stories. But when I visited my town after four years, I felt I was at the top, only now wondering where to look at.

You would be surprised to know that the best advice sometimes comes in the quaintest rendezvous. A long breakfast ago, I was sauntering with my friend through Oys Café in Fort Kochi. Planning to settle for some food, we ended up sharing a table with an amiable guy named Gerard Coleman. Over some mint lime, I came to know he taught in a few rural schools in Kerala and photographed the multifaceted state. He simply said, Travel the same places at different ages and youll have a whole different perspective. Frankly, it was the best tatter over some toast.

The barbed wires, interlocked tiles and the birds coo were timeless. But I rediscovered my hometown, and it was nothing like those vivid dreams.

Among Seven Hills

Oyibo, oyibo*, I was beckoned, as I walked through the lanes of Onireke. I was looking for a tailor named Caroline and I got some very vague instructions. My maid mentioned she was the best when it came to stitching the fine bum-bum skirts. I felt a little weird, I was always chaperoned in Nigeria but for once, here I was walking through some rickety planks, smelling some fresh stew brewing in a huge cauldron and being clueless of what lane I landed in. I promised my self I would explore Nigeria the un-chaperoned way. I finally met Caroline, and she had a laugh when she took my measurements, and joked about my asset’. She promised shed stitch me a jacket too, only until I headed to Aleshinloye.

Aleshinloye market was always my favourite, and unlike the child who threw impatient tantrums, I found myself drawing a stool to sit and listen to stories about Kente and the fire that once destroyed their shops. My personal favourite was a store that had a black wall with a swatch of orange and blue. She said, The soot blackened our walls and my husband and I was confused what colour to paint, we tried both but we decided to settle for the black soot.

There were many elements that I overlooked. I loved photographing the chipped walls and loved the textures of ageing wood. The loud vivacious music began to crescendo as I moved from one stall to another. A few breaking into dance steps when the music suited their mood. Never have I walked to the farthest end of the labyrinth. But at one point I stood in a hilly area and had an overview of the rusted roofs. The verses of The Poem by John Pepper Clark was slowly being read out in my mind.

running splash of rust
and gold-flung and scattered
among seven hills like broken

china in the sun.

Behind the Piece

September 9, 2016
Kochi, India

I liked how dimly lit my apartment was around seven, I just got off a few phone calls, it was time to say it, I am heading off to London. Rolling up the oversized sleeves of my dads shirt, I turned to the stereo and increased the volume of Neil Diamonds classics.

Like good old days, I wanted to recline on my favourite chair, but it was stripped of its cloth and I wondered how my place was ageing. It was always a dream to fill the space with all of my African memorabilia. But it was bare. Some other time, I said to myself.

The wooden frame was sprawled on the floor and there were baskets of these origami chits folded. It was only a day ago, that my friend Likhitha and I completed folding the 300th one.  My mum beautifully stitched the pillow covers, and there it lay on the couch. What was I thinking? I dont have a single clue how to put all of this up.

The Origami project was inspired by one my favorite scenes from I am Sam, where Sean Penn built a fort covered with origami chits. Michelle Pfeiffer could only get a few glimpses of him through some gaps in between. But thats how I saw Nigeria, it was a place I had a peek into, a lost home guarded by some folded up spaces of time. And I knew this piece belonged nowhere other than the bridge between my two worlds: my apartment. I just wanted a piece to remember that solitary walk of mine in Alisholoye, so with a team of my friends for two and a half months, after work hours, I planned out to make the piece that made me fall in love with a jumble of colours and vivacity of my hometown Ibadan.

Setting it Up

One of my nieces looked at the basket filled with the brown chits, Yuk isnt that a dull colour? I could not help but smile, I fell in love with brown especially the rich auburn that I found on the walls of the Nigerian markets. The hunt for colors took me to a famous art store called Phoenix in the traffic-ridden city of Kochi. But picking out the colours was an absolute delight, looking for something that complimented the apartment. I laughed at her, In fact, I am going to fold some more brown papers.

It was quite simple, a normal A4 sheet was halved and these halves were cut into squares. My friend and I became quite machinated folding them, and our trick was to watch some British comedy The IT crowd. A few thought it was outrageous to complete this project, especially a week before the travel. My dad flew in the weekend before I left to London, and he looked at me and said. Well, what do you say Atheena, one final project before you take off?

It was a hartal* that day. My dad had packed a bag and we decided to take a walk to the apartment. I have always loved a day out with my father, for if there is anyone more nostalgic and better at storytelling than I am in the family, its always him. There were times when I tell him about the project over the phone and he always looked forward to it. My mother would say, Shes made a huge mess of that place.

He's always meticulous; he got the hammer, string and nails out, and gave a gentle smile. It was an assuring one, Ive got it all sorted. It was quiet, there were no cars honking, and we enjoyed Santa Monica Dream by Angus and Julia Stone and Blackwind by Patrick Watson on loop. My father occasionally gets into his guitar riffs. I never knew he used to play in a college band. While he was busy hammering some nails into the wooden frame, he told me about his band days and carpentry lessons. Ive been always told by my grandmother that my father was quite artistic but I was pleasantly surprised by the idea of him playing the guitar. 

Together, we sang a Simon and Garfunkel track that sneaked into the playlist. He was teaching me few tricks of the hammer, and he laughed at my innocuous attempt. We laughed about one day starting a design studio together.

The final Touch

On both sides, the strings were looped parallel to the ground, and I gently started placing the chits on the string. While I placed the chit, he taped it and we carefully shifted the origami pieces until there was no gap. It took us four hours to complete, but the piece eventually took our breath away. The six-foot piece was filled with all of those colours that complimented the cloth I bought at Aleshinloye. Theres nothing more fulfilling than making something with your own bare hands. It was like reliving memories my dad and I always shared in the carpentry shed back at our bungalow in Nigeria. He looked at me. Good old days, right Atheena? I patted him on the back, he knew what it felt like.

I drew the curtains, closed the doors, swept the floor, got rid of the sticky tapes, and switched off the lights. The rattle of keys against the glass bowl pulled me back.  I went to my room and pulled out the chair sans the cloth, took a seat and listened to Santa Monica Dream one last time.

Orange for the tangerines that grew in the garden
Teal for my first Nigerian skirt
Dark blue for all those jerry cans by the generator shed
Brown for every story ridden in the alleys of Aleshinloye

Old chair versus new piece

The apartment was always a limbo. And there I lay suspended between a jumble of pasts and an uncertain future.
Until then a new home. I shall begin again

 Its all folding back.

 To my dearest father who always believed in the sentiments of craft and for always being by my side for every trivial creative pursuit of mine.  Thank you dear Arya for helping make the origami chits. Likhitha for understanding the undertones of my space and inspiring me to write this story .Dennis for taking photographs of the origami work and Megha for helping me sort the photographs when I was out of town.

1 comment:

  1. You took me back Atheena. Perhaps because I know exactly what you're talking about. Reading this brought back all the memories and feelings that had been buried over time. And it brought back the ache for the only home I'd ever really known in my childhood. Thank you for that.