Going down memory lane

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I have been going back to street photographs I took before coronavirus struck. Hundreds of images taken in London, Liverpool, Bangor, Abuja, Canterbury, Mararaba, Birmingham, Erith, and many other places. With each photograph comes an inevitable urge to reminisce. 

Man looking at photographs (Chris Johnston)

I go back to a period as visually captured in the photographs. The one question that never escapes me is: what would it be like now in these places? I try to imagine what Westgate Gardens in Canterbury would look like in this era of COVID-19. What London bridge now looks like from my small house in Abuja. I try to fragment a mental vision of underground stations.

Fantasy is a major sport of mine. I do not only daydream, I sometimes indulge myself in writing down fantasies as they form in my mind. This is one sport I have proudly mastered over the years above every other physical or athletic activity. I use it to write poetry, to reach various states of bliss and inner peace. I fantasise even in the toilet. Mine is a mind ready to be absent at every given time — ready to build castles just about anywhere in the air.

It all started in my teenage years. As a way coping in boarding school, I would take my mind through images adopted from TV screens, from books, posters, fond memories from the house, and then put together new images and sensations. Being away from family care at that tender age, one had to invent and instrumentalise mental procedures of inchoate independence and endurance. I didn’t want to be caught battling loneliness. It felt shameful to be homesick, so one had to find ways of being at home away from home. There, daydreaming became a super sport.

But daydreaming today is altogether a different reality, as an adult in my late twenties. (I fear that I might be wasting my twenties or might have already wasted my twenties, I cannot really tell yet). And unlike the innocent era of wet dreams, my fantasy world has now been intercepted by age and a global pandemic. It is no longer about mere tiny boots or strawberries or mangoes or wildflowers or train trips. It is no longer about freediving or skating or swimming or cycling or hopping around airports. It is no longer about tasting wines, beers, spirits. It is no longer about meeting strangers and falling in love. It is now about staying at home. It is about staying safe and survival.

 

'I never imagined I would miss my friends until I was away from them; and not just being away but knowing that there is no physical possibility to reach them now. The borderless internet cannot solve it all, this craving.'

 

Not that we weren't staying at home or staying safe before the pandemic, but now it is a matter of life and death. The pandemic has closed multiple streams of income, streams of fun and pleasure. In my own case, as a walker and wanderer and street photographer, I have had to slacken the very consuming impulse to go on strolls and adventures with my camera.

While there is no tinge of unhappiness in me for being away from street scenes, I have fallen into sizeable pensive moods and longings. I have recalled choices I made years back. I have revisited dreams — resurrected and recent dreams. Sometimes when I write, or even post-process photographs, I find my mind dipping into existential questions. Other times, I wake up from vivid dreams of friends, former lovers, people I have missed, and even cities.

It is interesting how the mind works, how memory alternates between different places and time. I never imagined I would miss London so much until I left London. I never imagined I would miss my friends until I was away from them; and not just being away but knowing that there is no physical possibility to reach them now. The borderless internet cannot solve it all, this craving.

And so, I take to pictures. I scroll through loads of pictures taken in different places. In between, I make phone calls.

One night, we (myself and my siblings and mum) are all in our mum’s room and are digging her drawers for old photographs. It is a night of laughter, of shaking heads, of recollections. There are pictures of our parents’ wedding, other people’s weddings, pictures of birthdays, of school ceremonies, church ceremonies, of work. Pictures of those dead, pictures of ages past.

Our minds go all over the place, remembering and naming people and places. I try to imagine what is going through my mum’s mind, my sister’s mind, my brothers’ minds. Even though we are physically in the same room laughing and reminiscing, we are obviously not in the same state of mind or same mental frequency. But the fact remains that, we are having fun.

I find a picture of me and dad. I ask mum how old I was, and she says four or so. I am in a shirt with banana drawn and written on it. My brothers laugh out loud. I am surprised there is a photograph of such a time with dad. I steal the photo from my brother’s hand. This time I cannot make a phone call; I cannot phone my dad, he is late.

We pick many more photographs. We laugh. We ask mum questions about times and events we are not sure of; we ask about places we are not sure of. We listen as she takes us through her own memories, her own mind, her dreams, and fantasies. As she talks, a thought crosses my mind: maybe the past never really goes away.

 

 

David Ishaya OsuDavid Ishaya Osu is a Nigerian poet. His poems have appeared in: Atlas Poetica: A Journal of World Tanka, Birmingham Arts Journal, Tipton Poetry Journal, Watershed Review, The Missing Slate and elsewhere.

Main image credit: Chris Johnston

Topic tags: David Ishaya Osu, COVID-19, photography, memory

 

 

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Existing comments

I very much enjoyed your latest piece of flash memoir, David. My only regret is that some of your street photography was not included. Perhaps another time? Otherwise, keep the articles flowing.
MAURA ALIA BADJI | 20 August 2020


“As she talks, a thought crosses my mind: maybe the past never really goes away”…. Certainly, our own past never does David as it contributes to who we are. Limerick early fifties. No radio but stories of things above and below. Oil lamp smouldering wick a candle was lit. Shudder and flickering shadow. Tales to chill the marrow. Living in the market under the abattoir. Bloodletting jig dead pig. Sewer lid, Bigwig. King rat does an Irish jig. Matted coat black pudding joke. Razor sharp teeth he never goes to sleep. Pointed ears, all he hears. Ferret eye evil and sly. With whiplash tail he can impale. Slurry and slime making rhyme. No longer day he makes his call and all do obey. Full Moon moving star. A known gnawing his clans calling. A horde moving in accord. Dog and cat, are no match. Fox, ferret and weasel, rats are out of season. Wind swept street his playground as we sleep. Over hill and garden rail, swish of tail. Gutter and grate making haste. Fleeing cat devoured as they pass. Sewer and river enough to make you shiver. Jumping salmon better than gammon. Trash and tin can, bread and jam. Nook and cranny every dark alley. Treasure trove, the place of repose. Henhouse, no breakfast if we don’t keep him out. Locking door 'it’s time for bed'. King rat is about and wants to be fed. Creaking floor board, “Is that the horde? Sardines in a tin very still. Shower of rain pattering feet sound the same. Scratching scrape in the grate. Scraggy ends furry friends. A thousand eyes on the floor “Shall I tell more”. Trotter’s feet are his favourite treat. The tale hit the nail. No one from bed did sail until the morning hail.
Kevin Walters | 27 August 2020


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