Interims and Coconuts by Uzodinma Okehi

(Hong Kong, 1996)

It sounds good in books, the way we short-shrift and like to think the keys to everything lie in our past. But for what I’ve found, I’ll say, combing the depths, you might as well go for vague truths and flashbacks obscured by fog. You might as well go to a psychic or a witch doctor. Likewise, from the couch, I can tell you my earliest memory, at eight, maybe nine years old, being led through the streets of Hong Kong by my father, and I think he believed I’d turn out better, smarter somehow, if I was able from an early age to see the world.

So I was an optimist, plucked from the suburbs, but I’d have been lying if I said I could pick out some great insight impacted on me from so much traveling. I remember the sense of being adrift, a coconut, floating for miles, over those childhood years like eons, and if anything it was this same buoyant, super-light feeling, of moving without moving, that right or wrong, I came to attach to the experience of living in cities.

“Travelling Coconut” (image via Flickr user DeeKnow)

Hong Kong was one of many stops along this tour. I’d be eating strange food, struggling to talk to people in places like New Delhi, Bangladesh, in Benin, and the sense of alienation wasn’t all that different from being back home in the suburbs. Yeah, I knew the difference, but I could also admit the feeling was essentially the same.

In such ideal situations, my father was the link, he may have been. On a short leash from the hotel, out there with snacks, or coins, jingling in my pocket. With my father seeming to tower over everyone in the entire country—from that early perspective, the city itself, at least in my mind, was no more complex than a bare patch of asphalt on which to stretch out and observe the passage of clouds.

Yet here I was, the same beat, twelve years later. Stone lion with the weird, Asian mustache. I must have passed that thing thirty times in the course of a week. Loose spiral, cement steps, off from Austin road, curling into the maze of glittering, veering sidestreets that nicely summed-up the shift down from dream, from those Iowa City nights turning on the bunk in my dorm room thinking about what, becoming famous? Asian girls?

It was more than comic books, or about some movie I’d seen. Furthermore, man was meant for cities. That’s what I chose to see, to believe, I suppose, and here’s another one. Like piled metaphors, a mashup, like impacted teeth, rather, buildings, pillars of city, shifting, never still, corridors opening, sliding, for whatever reason, and though I doubt it was what he meant, my father, how he’d explain things, this was now my method of solving problems and moving through life. No guide. I had nothing, a feeling maybe, the wind between buildings. With every next step, the concrete, solid, under my feet.

Uzodinma’s favorite color is aqua—no, lapis. Or maybe sky blue. He still doesn’t own a cellphone…(