You knew what not to do. You packed your bags with things you could not afford to forget: your hair clipper, because they told you it cost and ear and an eye to have a haircut in Europe; your hard bathing sponge because hotels assume no one needs a sponge; your medicated soap because your skin is a spoilt child that will protest if it isn’t crazy about the soap there. You knew not to forget to pack the warning against that slippage into the vulgar recollection of how different things are different in Europe. Because it does not take much, this slippage, especially when it is your first time and you cannot believe how well things can work.
Of all things this is the hardest when you return: not to notice loudly that cars never stop at traffic lights. You grind your teeth to prevent that slippage, to not say, in Austria even on a Sunday morning when the whole place is like a barren desert, cars stop and wait for the lights to turn green, as do pedestrians. You remember crossing when there was no car coming and turning behind to see the dirty look the old Austrian woman gave you: a look that you could swear blamed you for all her problems in the first world, the pain in her bones and the fact that probably her son never visits. When you return to Abuja, you remember as you walk, to stop for the cars even when the lights say you can walk. And in your head you go: In Europe, they stop.
Now you forgive the teacher you always made fun of, whose slippage into vulgar public recollections was massive and complete, who used to begin every phrase with ‘when I was in Cincinnati’. You forgive him now that you lie, tired from a night stolen by those who need to declare to the world their month of piety by playing tapes of Arabic recitation at the loudest possible volume, and irritated by the Igbo guy who pushes a cart full of pirated CDs with a loud speaker of his own, to announce his presence with raucous Igbo highlife music. Your vulgar recollections happen within you: you remember a downstairs neighbor knocking the door at a friend’s house in Austria, not because the sound from the music you were playing was too loud, but because he could feel the beat of the bass and he didn’t want to feel it. You forgive your eternally-in-Cincinnati teacher because in your head you go, they would not be able to do this nonsense in Austria.
You had a feeling you would be successful against this slippage, when you first arrived at the airport. No word of complaint slipped from your lips as you pushed and struggled to get your bag, against a sea of uniformed almost-touts who you refused to pay to carry your bag. You did not say in righteous indignation: Heathrow is many times bigger than this airport but everything works bla bla bla. You look at the torn flap of your bag, grateful that it is only a torn flap.
You return to holding no grudges and having no expectations, crossing only when you self preservative instinct says yes! you can make a dash for it, developing a determination to sleep higher than the determination of your religious neighbors to announce their piety, developing a level of concentration higher than the level of the volume of Igbo highlife played in the street and buying a bigger water container to store water, because the government thinks (and for your own sanity you stop disagreeing) you really do not need water to survive.
You are successful. You have been back one week and have not begun any sentence with when I was in Europe.