‘if a man cries’ is Googled approximately 12,000 times per month globally.
I can count the number of times I’ve cried on one hand. I might even be able to count the number of tears I’ve cried on one hand. Perhaps a bit of exaggeration. But the significance isn’t in the holding back of tears; it’s in the holding back of everything I think those tears signify. And most of the time I’m the master puppeteer of my own emotions. But sometimes, I become the puppet and my heart takes emotion into its own hands. On special occasions, a single tear might run down my face in burning slow motion, almost as if it is lamenting the lonely journey of solitude.
One such occasion is when I left my village for the city. It was my grandmother’s idea, that I expand my horizons beyond what the village had to offer. But back then, I thought her motive was more about instilling in me that I was the best, not about her introducing me to the fact that I could be so much better. My mother, on the other hand, always plenty of emotion in tow, never saving even one tear for a rainy day, wailed herself sick outside on the dusty street as I was forced to let her go. I turned my back to her, and focused my grip on what few belongings I could take with me, though she kept calling out in effort to convince me I should stay.
I remember getting on one of those white cargo type vans that would legally hold eighteen people in America. The vans were old and rusty and scary. I almost lose my balance now, when I close my eyes and think about how they would sway back and forth, daring to tip over in the hot African sun, out in the middle of nowhere, going sometimes up to one hundred miles per hour. There must have been fifty or more of us packed in so tight, it would be next to impossible to unload, except one at a time. Along with our own personal belongings, the van was laden down with crops such as plantain, bananas, couscous and other produce tied in large bunches on the top. Getting a window seat was the point of no return. As quickly as I found my seat next to the window where I could see my grandmother standing firm in her resolve to see me go, others loaded in around me, making it impossible for me to change my mind—as my mother waved her hands and flung her arms and cried her tears, in effort to make me stay. And then, torn between the paradox of making a way for myself so that I could one day return and make a way for others—my eyes burned as if fire ants had bitten my resolve to stay strong, and one of my five tears finally broke free.
As the van slowly pulled away, I looked as hard as I could out the window, for a sign that I was making the right choice. All I saw was the same scene—my mother in full animation, mourning my departure and my grandmother staying calm, ignoring my mother’s antics, looking steadily my way as if to reassure me that this was the only logical next step for my future. I was still straining to see the outline of my family all waving goodbye. And just as we were rounding the corner to make our way onto the paved portion of road, I caught a glimpse of my grandmother wiping her eyes.
On my way to the city, at fifteen years of age, though fairly perplexed about leaving my family in the village, I was beginning to feel a strange excitement about the prospects of my future as we progressed on our journey and began to see road signs for Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. On the ride, I was completely oblivious to the other passengers. For some reason, I assumed this journey was all about me. The only detail that woke me up to wonder for a split second where everyone else was headed, was the sweaty arm jammed up against my own.
I should have guessed that maybe the tired villager next to me might think they were on their way to paradise too, considering the commonly held belief that any hope for a future was to be found somewhere else, anywhere other than the village. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized there would always be ―another side. But up to this point, I’d never crossed the fence, not even once. So I thought that it was only a hop, skip and jump before I’d never have to hope for more again. In all actuality, it was Pandora’s Box that I’d opened. And while I ended up discovering a lot more about the other side than I’d ever imagined to exist, at least there was still hope that kept me hoping for more.