On September 11th I was 7 years old holding a bowl of carrots. I had gotten a detention slip that day and the biggest worry was how hard the back of my father’s hand would be when he saw it.
My father doesn’t look at anyone when the telly is on. He becomes a vortex at best. A frightened Hillary Clinton type runs into the camera as smoke sinks its soft teeth into everything around her. A week ago I had read about Jeanne Claude and Christo covering skyscrapers and bridges with miles of silk. I wondered if magicians flew planes , if everyone inside had really just tumbled into a velvet sack, if giant white rabbits would line the streets of New York when the grey cy%yveee ugh jffv77dfv7vcc7xr cx c7tx xtz6vdx szrx 79th cxrxx 8s6x6xz6xzx 8zx c6xx6xcx6x 8cr gtg cx67c8vvu vu :'( xvx7f vv8eleared. I thought about the concrete bungalows and permanently water-stained apartment buildings in Lagos. No plane would waste its time kissing the walls like that. The glass was much harder back home. My father turned to me unprompted “You ok?” he asked. I put the slip behind my back.
At school they taught us a new word. “Terrorism” bends through the lips so softly you’d hardly know the meaning the first time. Mr. O said it during morning chapel and it sounded like the flu. The next week, they told us about jihad and the end of times. I packed myself nice lunches, it was an exceptionally beautiful September. I won the science fair the next month and we started doing bomb drills. I didn’t try to tell my father about our daily lectures on terrorism, there were too many syllables and he really only wanted to know my maths score. What does terrorism even mean to a man who knows his colonizer’s anthem better than his father’s eulogy? Or a girl with two passports and an oil-rich allowance?
In the car, I vocalize along with Fela, my hips bumping on beat against the seat belt constraints, my fingers dancing on the dial to turn it up. Uncle perks up, reclines his chair forward. “Wow, Tolu, you know this?!” I smile and continue singing. “But you can’t know what it means?” I falter a little, the blow strikes between my neck and ear. I explain that I do , that I speak the language and love it. He gives a small smile, the same one the tour guide gives when the whitefolk start to list their African friends and nannies, asking if he knows one of the three million Tayo’s in the world. I hate feeling like a fisherman in my own blood. America swims into my lungs, I cough up border fences and visas. Dual citizenship molds my clothes, I am never on dry land.
One night, my cousins and I roam the streets of Lagos. The vendors draw soup from their pots, we argue over prices. I drool over a golden pile of jollof rice, peppered and garnished with bitter leaf. After picking up a few drinks, we wander home in a parade of gas street lamps, sweltering music, and the thick smell of maggi in everything. My cousins speak only English to me, bending their r’s around a western parody accent. They give me the biggest piece of meat and bottled water. I want to scrub my entire education from my tongue, give only talking drum parties when I speak. I want to be African without two sugars and cream, I want to be black without betrayal.