When the officers making the implant for my hand asked me to describe home for them, I told them it was the strawberry softness. It’s the fact that I could wake up every morning and see the art-styled floors that reminded me of my grandparents, the wooden seats that were made with the last of aged trees, the fact that every family member I knew was on a picture, was in the walls—my ancestors’ spirits floated through the house with their memories. It’s the fact that I could come back from a hard day of work and see my grandma rocking in a chair, singing her gospel music the way she did before she died, and I would laugh with her, could sing her memory to sleep. It’s the fact that I could remember the steps to the walls and paintings, everything I loved, all I treasured, till you decided to burn it down.
They didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t have anything to add. After an endless hour of questions, they told me I could leave the hospital and come back for my implant in four weeks. When I returned, it was a quick operation—a slash in the hand and a heavy dose of anesthesia to squeeze in a 3D printed chip that would preserve the idea of a home. And how could I resist then, how could I decline, when it was made clear to me that the presence of memory was much better than the cruelty of one day remembering nothing.
I keep walking through Center Six, looking for even a spark of connection. When I gaze up, all I see are endless spires rising into the clouds, the new crowded memory booths attached to robust smart buildings, and holographic adverts marketing new multipurpose houses. I can’t stay anywhere too long. Even when I sit down on a bench, it heats up after a while to push me away. It’s a life that hates those who want to rest, those looking for roots, so I keep going with a backpack full of protest materials and an implant I don’t want any more in my hand.
The implant clings below the surface of my palm, a purplish smooth spot that buzzes against my skin with the eagerness of a parasocial relationship. It activates with a simple touch and from there it displays a replica of what used to be my home across my hands, an interactive blueprint that’s supposed to model the art-styled floors and the wooden chairs and the creaky steps. But still, it’s nothing without my ancestors’ spirits. A house without a life. Their presence is vacant in every picture, every replicated photograph; even the rocking chair lacks my grandmother’s croaky laughter. Everything on my implant seems faded like a bad tattoo, and as others get their implants upgraded, every day mine feels more like a relic of a past time.
I packed my bags and began moving through the Centers ten days ago, because I couldn’t take the hauntings. After they demolished my home and others’ to make space for the bigger Centers five years ago, the administration drafted a policy to put us into new housing. Within days, a crew of officials helped me carry my oversized suitcase into a sizable apartment in the heart of Center Two. Most apartments were only partly owned due to rental scarcity, so my place was also turned into an azonto dance studio, a robot-human boxing class, and a communal workstation in the time on weekdays that I went to work at the decoration store. And when I’d come back at night, all I would hear was the subtle vibrations that came from the smart buildings in my Center, all the quiet inside the place due to its soundproof walls. It felt so unlike the noise of my home. Where my grandmother’s spirit would shout if I came inside with ordered food instead of cooking for myself, where my mother’s spirit would complain if I tracked in mud, where my family’s signature smell of strawberry softness would linger on the furniture as a familiar welcome.
So, everything about the new apartment, about my new life haunted me for years in the finality of its minimalism, its irrelevance. I just felt so unimportant. I don’t think I could have described then that what I had lost was the feeling that no one was ever truly gone.
And in that time, I tried to play something from the implant on so many instances, to comfort me, to pacify, but all it continued to show me was the same reel of a house. The interactive shot of wooden chairs and long yellow ceilings and tiled floors, and I tried to get used to it. Because something is always better than nothing. But every time I looked at the vacant chairs and dusty tables, the untouched kitchen and unused plates, I wondered how long this emptiness could last. Then last month, the malfunctioning began. The pictures on the wall started to lose their luster; they no longer shone. The tables changed designs from wood to plastic. The floors looked devoid of art. I tried to tinker with the settings, but all that showed up on my hand was a sorry notification. That they were phasing out my kind of implants, that they were improving the technology, that a new device called memory booths would now be available for use throughout each Center at an hourly fee.
But it just made me angry. How many years had I lost myself to stasis, had I accepted this reality as normal? How many years had I used this implant to pacify me, only to have it be replaced? And now I had to pay to use a memory booth to remember, to keep what should have been mine? That’s when I decided to get up and pack my things. My clothes and my shoes and my bag. I quit my job. I couldn’t anymore.
Today, I am passing through the heart of Center Six, holding up my usual protest placard. I’ve walked through three Centers so far, and the endless walking has made the soles of my feet feel like they’ve been shot. My eyes have become crusty and red around the edges, and my stomach’s twisted into impossible knots. I’ve been documenting my journey on a livestream that I put together. I’ve been attempting to find communities all over the twelve Centers that want to join my walk, to contribute to my resistance, to do something. But it’s barely gotten views. It’s been a lonely life for a wanderer, the kind that wears me down the more I move, but still I persist.
“Etinosa? Is that you?”
A familiar-sounding voice shouts from behind my back. I turn around slowly, and that’s when I come face to face with a man that has a finely combed beard and a bald head the shape of an egg, a chin so angular it could cut grass, and eyes that are soft yet imposing—deerlike. I know that I remember him from somewhere, but my head feels so hazy from all my movement and so I blink twice. After a few minutes, I think he picks up that I’m struggling and intercedes.
“Dami, now? We talked at the hospital? We were scheduled on the same day for our implant discussion appointment.”
That’s when the memory knocks into my mind like a dumbbell weight. “Oh, it’s true! I’m sorry. Hi. Etinosa.”
He laughs before grabbing me into a hug. It’s been a long time since I experienced such warmth, and though it’s unexpected I fall into him immediately. “Guy, I know who you are. You talked for lengths at the hospital that day—you were grilling all the officials like a drill sergeant about the implant before you gave in. Fascinating stuff.”
“Ah. Well. I tried. Everything’s felt so … different since then. Sometimes it’s been a blur, when one thing happened and the next.”
“For sure, for sure,” Dami replies, before he adjusts his sleeves to reveal a fancy smartwatch on his wrist. It takes a minute for me to realize that it’s the newest edition, and I realize I didn’t get a good enough look at him. The more I stare, the more I can see the designer logo on Dami’s shirt, the sturdy expensiveness of his rare fish-skin shoes, the quicker I can see how put-together he seems. When he gazes back at me, he smiles, but I can tell that he’s not looking at me but through me, then up and down, as if trying to figure out my life plan.
“So, you’re protesting now?”
I try to hold on to my resolve. “Y-yeah. To shed light on the system. It’s not right.”
Dami cocks his head to the side, as if trying to choose his words, before he replies slowly. “I see. Well, when do you get off today from your heroics? I feel like we should catch up, guy.”
I can’t hide the smile that pops up on my face like the memory of home. “Yeah. Well, I’m on the go, so these days I make my own schedule.”
“Ehen,” he says, almost impressed. “Now we’re talking. Walk with me.”
When I received the message from the government that my home would be used for one of the areas of expansion, I was just coming back from work. In the past few weeks, the demolishment had gotten closer and closer to homes around me, and I’d become afraid, even desperate. Twice, I had gone to the nearest National Housing Office, begging the officials on shift to preserve some of our homes, because they had existed for nearly a century. Some of our homes, because they were what was left for those of us who had lost all our family members when we were little but still knew they were here. And the officials there nodded, said they’d heard my plight. I was assured that the government would commit itself to preserving landmarks, but I don’t know why I believed that. The message was sent to my house’s SmartMail a few days later, in a clearly scheduled message. In a month’s time—destruction.
It’s not personal, my father’s ghost told me that night, watching me splayed over the couch as I drank away my sorrows. Keep quiet! My grandparents roared in response. They were in the kitchen cooking, but I can’t even remember what they made. Deep down, I knew he was right, and I just had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t worth anything to save.
The SmartMail for the implant consultation came within that week, offering the promise to help preserve one’s ideal home environment as a memento within the body, as a way to cushion the demolishment. My grandparents floated through the rooms in rage, their translucent hands slammed doors off hinges, their invisible mouths whispered in my ear at midnight, Fight! fight against it! and their words made me want to try to build my resolve. So, I went into the consultation office that day to protest the system, but it felt like a waste of time.
But I remember now. The person that told me to cheer up when I eventually gave up, that told me I’d tried when I joined the queue for the appointment and stopped protesting. The only person that looked at me like I wasn’t foolish, like I was worth something then, was Dami.
Center Six is known for being the bargaining center, so it doesn’t surprise me when Dami leads me through jam-packed alleyways that are busy with traders who jump from customer to customer, selling everything from knockoff upgrades to low-quality memory systems. I want to keep my livestream on to document this, but Dami tells me that it’ll get in the way of our movement, so I switch it off and ignore the incoming viewer requests. I stay close by, watching as he moves with an assured confidence, like he’s no stranger to the streets of the world. He looks in my direction mid-walk and smiles.
“Sorry o. The restaurant is around the corner. Anywhere else, my driver would usually take us, but it’s easier to get there this way.”
“It’s not a problem,” I say. Especially if he’s paying. Plus, it’s been so long since I’ve hung out like this with someone that I can’t help but linger in it. Can’t help but notice that for the first time in a while, I don’t feel a crushing isolation.
Dami makes a sharp turn out of the alleyway and into a restaurant that’s about three stories high. The inside is full of flashing LED lights that change every time a beat drops in the Nigerian music that’s playing, heavy in the background. It gives me a headache, but we get chairs immediately and I get to rest my head on the back of my seat. There’s a weighty silence afterwards, where Dami just looks at me with a piercing intensity, and because of that I feel compelled to speak.
“Is everything okay?”
“For sure, for sure,” Dami says, then he takes another minute to speak. “I guess I’m just ... curious. About what you’re doing. How did this all start?”
His question makes me feel like I’m at a job interview. But I try to present my best self. “The protesting? Well. It’s like I said at the hospital then. This system isn’t replicating the love of home, the presence. Don’t you feel hollow after everything was taken from us? Don’t you see the activists protesting in other Centers?
“But that was five years ago.”
“And I’ve felt it every day since then. It’s getting worse with the passing time, and houses are getting destroyed faster and faster. No one should have to live this way—so … disconnected from their past.”
Dami leans back in his chair and sighs. “Is this about your implant not working well again?”
All the warmth immediately disappears from my body. I pull my chipped hand away from the table and place it on my thigh. “What are you talking about?”
“Look. I’ll be honest in saying that I’ve watched some of your livestreams. That’s how I knew where you were protesting. I’ve listened to you talk for days about how you used your original implant before, but suddenly, yours became obsolete and then you realized how bad the system was. I just feel like I’ve seen so many others who lost their homes and don’t want to let go of the situation. You have to move on. You don’t want to be seen as a victim, because I’m telling you there’s nothing in this world that people care less about.”
His words make me feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I keep remembering that day at the hospital, when he smiled as I was protesting, when he encouraged me when no one else did, and that memory feels so different from who he is now. My mind struggles to reconcile it. “I thought you told me it was fascinating. I thought you would get what I was doing.”
“Back then, for sure. It was great watching you quarrel with those officers, and that’s what I admired: the way you could ask hard questions. But it’s not worth beating a dead horse. What’s gone is gone, and I know you could do much greater things with your time. And it’s not like you didn’t end up taking the implant at the end of the day, and that’s because it was always the better option. You and me both know that if you still had your implant, you wouldn’t be doing all this. Because if you were really serious about things, why didn’t you join some of the other communities protesting all this time?”
I don’t really have an answer. I keep speaking, trying to convince him, but now I feel like I can barely convince myself. “It’s not the same. My ancestors—they’re not the present. They’re not here.”
Dami comes forward, stretching out his hand to me, and I can’t help but take it. “That’s what I’m getting to! It feels like this is all an implant issue, and I have the solution. You don’t have to do all this exhausting work that leads nowhere. Look, I like you, Etinosa. I know how annoying it must be to have latched onto something for years and have it be phased out, but it’s all for the better. I’ve been working with the government for a while now, and these new memory booths that we’ve created are far more advanced in giving you a presentation of your past home. It’s all interactive, so you can still control it, but the best part about it is that unlike the implants, you can have your ancestors. They’re waiting for you. In fact, there’s a booth nearby. Just try it. I can pay for it. I can show you.”
Dami doesn’t say anything. His gaze, piercing through me, is enough for me to break my resolve and let him lead me out of the restaurant.
The night before my home was demolished, I sat on the living room couch, defeated. I can barely even remember the details of how I got there—maybe I had come back from work, maybe I was trying to beg or protest, I just know that I couldn’t stop crying. The image of my ancestors is fuzzy, but I remember that they all floated over the living room. From my grandma to my grandpa to my uncles and aunts and my father and mother. Every single one of them, by my side. Most of them spoke to me in a cacophony of clashing and echoing words, telling me some variation of, it will be ok.
It’s not, my grandma said, sitting close to me in her rocking chair. She was singing her gospel music in between all her statements and shaking her head. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d cowered during the implant session, that I didn’t have the resilience, the strength to make a change. It’s not ok. But you keep fighting eh, even when we’re gone, because it’s not. You keep fighting because that’s how you remember we were here.
In the morning, I stumbled out of my house with a packed suitcase and watched as the construction workers swung the wrecking ball. My home crumbled, destroyed, and all the hope in my body dropped to nothing.
The next day, there was an implant on my hand, which glitched to life with a vibrating song.
Dami was right about the memory booths being a short distance away from the restaurant, and so we don’t have to walk too much before we reach the location. Usually, the ones I’ve seen in the heart of the Centers have been packed with people since the systems were unveiled a week ago, but as the sun sets here every booth in Center Six looks empty.
“It’s because our Center has a closing time for the booths. We don’t have enough of them yet, so it helps control things.”
“R-right,” I say, but I can’t stop shaking.
I’ve never really seen them up close before. They’re tall skyscraper-like boxes which look imposing on the streets, like miniature giants. Dami can’t resist showing me all of the elements when we enter inside, like the programming unit that lets me transfer all my implant information to the system.
“So, all you need to do is set the functions, then sit back, and our intelligence system, the Center of connection, will do all the work for you. I’m excited for you to try it. This is so much better for you.”
Dami uses his card to pay for a session in the booth, and when he’s done, I begin to set up the system. I swallow my spit and connect my implant and watch as all the displayed memories transfer to the booth in less than a minute, and then “Welcome” pops up in flashy automated letters on the big booth screen. It all feels so false. It’s followed by a question which asks “What is home for you?” And then I have to sit back in my chair.
The system buzzes with a steady rhythm, asking the same question over and over in flashing letters. But I don’t want to answer it. I activate the system’s functions instead, put on the virtual reality headset, and immediately I’m sucked into the screen. My vision goes black, hazy, but then I blink twice and I’m back again where I was always meant to be.
I’m home, sitting on the living room sofa with a takeaway as my father watches football next to me. My grandmother is laughing in her rocking chair, knitting a sweater in her hands as she sings gospel music, and in the kitchen my grandfather is frying up something hearty and full of fat. My uncle and aunt are by the stairs, gisting with each other about old Nigerian politics, and my mother is at the door, smiling. I’m home, and it feels so long lost and yet so familiar, and I’ve never felt so happy.
Our boy, my grandma says, stroking my cheek, we missed you so much. But when she touches my face, her hands feel like ice. She laughs, but what comes out of her mouth sounds like a flattened thud. She starts singing her gospel music, but it’s the same lyrics as before, over and over again. I try to talk to her, but her eyes look glazed over. White. I start eating the ordered food that’s on the table, and she stares at me. Not shouting. Not reacting. She’s just passive. When I walk away from her and into the living room, I can’t even smell the strawberry softness that signals my family’s presence, the noisy chatter, the house feels quiet. Even as everyone talks, it’s like no one is making a sound.
I enter the kitchen, and the question from the screen roars into my mind again on endless repeat. What is home to me? It’s clear to me now that it’s never been anything I have experienced since I’ve lost what I had. What is home to me? My father’s face when I woke up in the morning, looking young yet tired in his immortal ancestry. What is a home to me? Tracking mud on the perfect floors every time I came home from work. What is home to me? Gathering to cook what I don’t remember and laughing with my grandma about what I never wanted to forget. What is home to me? A laugh full of fire, a strawberry softness, an endless argument about Nigerian independence, the warm smell of fried akara, the crookedness of stairs, a nick in the wooden table—what is home to me if not a collection of moments? As I snap back to the virtual reality, I can see my family, who tell me to sit next to them. Who tell me to stop thinking. To immerse myself in the memory. But this memory booth, this home feels like nothing. And it’s nothing because home was a community, home was a settlement and my advocation and knowledge that I had a place, and I feel placeless when I stop trying to find it. I want to find the people for myself. A home is what I want to look for with others, is what I want to build with others, and I don’t want to lose myself again like I did for all those years. I can’t ever stop searching.
So I stop. I remove the headset, switch off the system and come out of the memory booth to see Dami waiting outside. His mouth widens at first when he sees me, then he stares me down, looking through me again.
“So you want to keep chasing after what’s gone? I’ve given you an offering.”
“You’ve never given me what I needed,” I say, looking past him. Up above me, the sun is setting, and the Center is tinted in a soft orange glow, like an artist’s painting.
I switch on my livestream and, on my device, I can see a notification waiting for me in my absence. It’s from a community activist who saw one of my livestreams and wants to connect.
They start their message with a hi.
I know that home is a hello back.