David Ishaya Osu

David Ishaya Osu is a poet and street photographer living in South Australia. His work has appeared in Magma PoetryMeanjinThe Victorian WriterPoetry WalesNew Welsh ReviewGriffith ReviewThe Hopkins ReviewThe Oxford Review of Books, among others. David is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide.



The art of remembering

On our last day at work, we exchanged social media handles; we promised each other to stay in touch. We had worked together as museum assistants for two weeks and decided to spend the last night together over drinks, music, chats, reminiscences, laughter, hugs. We recounted moments on the job, trying to master museum vocabulary, museum paces, museum gestures, museum postures. Ten of us, new to the job, were recruited on the same day. And for the two weeks we worked together, we became a family. 

Call it the unity of strangers: from Poland, Korea, Nigeria, China, New Zealand, Britain, India. 

I once saw a building in Abuja with a familiar name printed on its wall. I broke out laughing. A building carrying the name of my colleague and friend, Asma. I took a picture and sent it to her instantly. Recently she collected pictures of her name scrawled on walls, boards, in random streets, all from different places. I commented on her Instagram: you are beloved of the streets, darling. Home anywhere in the world. Your friends will find you everywhere they go; they carry you in their hearts. That is how we keep in touch—with memories. 

Distance is no barrier—to the fondness we have shared, moments made. 

I woke up in the middle of the night missing London, remembering long walks, bus rides, train rides, street photography in central London. I logged on to my laptop and scrolled through loads of photographs I had taken. London is calling me back, I mused.

I used to claim that I do not miss people or things, yet I wake up every day with streams of memories. Memories of friends, places, of things, of losses, adventure, accidents, victories, and so on. The other day a song popped up in the radio, and boom came memories of my friend, Juliet and her sister, Judith. They are the only ones I think about each time I hear the song. We had once hung out at a restaurant and the song played that day. 

We remember people, places, in many ways: songs, dresses, cologne, gestures, words, dances, food, so many to mention. Sometimes a wink opens the window to thoughts of someone, and they instantly become a tangible presence in your mind; you want to phone or email them, or even want to be with them right in that physical moment but they are faraway. You are evoking the past into the present; indeed, the past never ended. For instance, Liskeard, as a town, will never ever pass away; it has become a full component of my psyche. I clocked twenty-eight in Liskeard. I have saved memories of a town in perfume bottles. It is not just a town—a physical entity—it is a spiritual embodiment. Small town it is, but mighty an archive of history.

Call it the unity of memories: fragments, the continuity of time, of thoughts, of generations. Call it the art of remembering. Call it the science of going back and forth. Call it the application of mind to the past. 

One of my favourite sports was listening to dad tell stories of the past. I listened with keen interest as though those days never went away; I listened with my imagination taking root in places, events, names mentioned. I asked questions, I got answers. I noticed tinges of regret in his voice as he went on; I also noticed tinges of contentment. I imagined that, one day, me too will tell stories as an older folk. I daydream ahead of time, ahead of the stories told to me. I daydream into my own stories, my own life, my own making. Visualising a future is like visualising my birthday cake—there is no limit but the vision, the cake. 

I got introduced to Joe Brainard’s classic, I Remember, during my master’s at Kent. Reading the book did not only take me through Joe’s remembrances, but it also took me through old and sometimes forgotten routes. Memories have no end; they are rivers; they meander; they flow down the slope of time; they flow into other bodies of memory; they become seas flowing from the past into the future, and from the future into another past. I think of where water bodies meet; I think of where they start from; their varying layers, depths and widths. Like water, memory takes or makes a shape on us—our experiences, our imaginations, and even our voids. 

I remember the last thing on my mind as I boarded the plane for London. I remember waking up on the flight and thinking to myself: where am I? I remember layovers. I remember the thick, smooth taste of Milo Singapore. I remember the days I snuck around the house to steal a lick of chocolate powder. I remember Istanbul. I remember my first day in Adelaide. Dreams come true.

I remember my father’s fingers. 

I remember how mother worked hard to make us keep neat nails. 

I remember I never became the neatest boy in primary school as I had aspired to be. 

I remember once dreaming that I sneaked into a garden to poo and to pick mangoes. 

I remember Nigeria. 

I remember the two mango trees in our green yard. 

I remember how I used to laugh till my stomach began to hurt. I would roll on the floor, cry and laugh. 

I remember the last time I cried. 

I remember heartbreaks. 

I remember I usually did not have the words to say my mind. I only did on paper. I would lock myself in a quiet room and put off the light. 

I remember no sandwich.  

I remember fearing the dark as a kid.  

I remember transparent curtains. And silent doors. 

I remember our first house. 

I remember the day I was knocked down by a car along Abuja-Keffi expressway in Mararaba, Nasarawa state. I suffered a compound fracture on my left leg, and I was bedridden for months. I remember praying to never get involved in any accidents again. I do not want to remember the accident twenty years after. 

I remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti. I remember he was my diet on Sunday radio.  

I remember I wanted to be a smoker. And I remember why I never got to smoke. 

I remember someone asking if I smoke to write. ‘I do flowers,’ I remember answering them. 

I remember dad teaching us how to plant and water flowers. He would hum country songs while telling us the names of flowers. He never got tired of beautifying the house. 

I remember dad saying he wanted to be an architect. But his father was not so rich to send him to architecture school. So, he became a geologist. 

I remember my father’s shelves of assorted stones. 

I remember seashells I picked from the beach. 

I remember Lagos. 

I remember trying to jump out of and into moving vans. 

I remember lunch with Unoma Azuah in Lagos. She had invited me over for a workshop. I remember her telling me to write about the blue house—the venue of the workshop. I have yet to finish the ‘blue house’ piece up until today. I remember she told me to never stop writing. 

I remember boarding school. I remember boys and girls preparing for Valentine’s Day. I remember waiting for visiting days. I remember waiting for holidays. 

I remember my mum is not afraid of snakes. 

I remember cold mornings with lemongrass tea. And honey. 

I remember my paternal great-grandmother. I remember running away from her because she had no teeth and had white things on her head. As children, we called them white things and not grey hair

On a visit to the village, I remember asking where my great-grandmother was. She travelled, they replied. I later found out that that meant death. Travel as death? Travelling as dying?  

I remember telling myself I will be a traveller. Like my great-grandmother. Like my grandfather. Like my father. 

I remember the last phone call I had with my father before he died.