Guest Post by Nneka Okona
“I almost didn’t make it here,”I thought to myself as I stood in a trance, frozen in the moment, in disbelief and glee and amazement that I was standing within meters of The Louvre. It was a beautifully magical day in Paris, an azure blue sky with sparse, fluffy clouds listlessly floating. The sun sparkled through the trees, illuminated the buildings and refracted off the glass pyramid.
Just 24 hours before, I had completed my last day at the high school where I had been teaching English since February. I had embraced my colleagues and managed to submerge from a tearful goodbye with grace, choosing to let the emotion fall from my eyes after I’d exited through the front door of the school for the last time and rounded the corner on the street.
I held my last payment in my sweaty hands, the perspiration causing the check to feel like a sprinkling of dew on blades of grass, lingering from the wee morning hours. I was half morose, half panicked because in a frenzy, a week before, I had opened a new bank account. I’d misunderstood the process for getting my monthly salary transferred into my account and realized, just hours before, there’d be a delay in the receipt of funds, which meant no monies for Paris. All I had left to my name was a 20 Euro bill.
But I’d made inauthentic peace with not going to Paris. I was exhausted, after a busy month of travel, packing up my flat, readying myself to say goodbye to the city of Madrid which had become home for the last nine months and returning to life in the United States…
The sweaty check. The sweaty check I clasped in my hands exonerated all my worries. The secretary at my school emphasized with my concern and wrote me a check on the spot. After the bus ride back into Madrid from Torrejón de Ardoz and then a ride on the Metro back to my barrio of Quevedo, I walked the check into the bank who issued it and had my salary in my hands. And just like that, Paris was calling.
Later that evening after landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I hopped on the Metro and proceeded to the hostel I had reserved earlier in the week. I was nervous about my second hostel experience because my first one had been a night full of me cringing—as I slept in dingy, thin bed sheets and felt unclean from the two second shower in the community bathroom.
36 hours. I only had 36 hours in Paris, but as I walked the streets, smiled at the beautiful men who threw flirty utterances in French and lingering stares to me, I felt relieved. Back in my zone. The week prior I’d had a weekend in Spanish paradise in Mallorca, but as a repeat solo traveler, it was hard for me to resolve the distress I felt juggling the desperate need for alone time with interacting and staying in the same space with two other friends—whose idea of travel and navigating the time we had differed from mine.
Bright and early the next morning, I set out to see as many things as I could, and in addition to the Louvre, saw The Notre Dame, ate an orgasmic meal of short ribs and mashed potatoes on an outdoor cafe lining the street, bought “Half of a Yellow Sun,”in English, in a Parisian bookstore and saw the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and of course, The Eiffel Tower, in all her crowning glory, more stunning in person.
After collapsing onto my bunk bed at the end of the day, I sent a Gchat message to a friend declaring it a “Top 10 life day.”Moments later I was sprawled on the floor outside the room in the hostel I was sharing with 10 other girls from all over the U.S. (and Sydney, Australia) gushing to them on the phone about how amazing the day had felt. During that conversation, I conveniently left out a sudden realization I’d unexpectedly had while being lost in my thoughts while tourist-ing.
My thoughts on love. My eternal truth on what love meant to me and would mean to me. My concept of love and how it feels and what it should mean and the manner in which it manifests. I had such clarity on it, peace, which I’d never had before.
We often think of love, its affections and all its iterations, in absolutes. Sweeping and absolute as waves moving in fastidiously on the shore, taking with it what was there before and leaving nothing to remain. It’s overpowering, sometimes overbearing, suffocating, even. It takes you over completely. Leaves you powerless, thoughtless, rendering you useless except just to love. All love, Everything love. Love is left for you to ponder. And only love is what consumes. You meditate on love. How to keep that love. How to make it better. More lasting.
But yet, here I am, years after first falling heels over head, stupidly enamored with my love and countless loves to follow him. So many loves. Loves which I thought were it but were only a facade. They weren’t real. They shattered into thousands of minuscule, unrecognizable shards, never to be recovered or reimagined into something whole.
I don’t think love is really about the absolutes anymore. I don’t think it’s so big that it makes you crazy. Spins you completely out of control. I don’t think that love is really something which can be reduced to a sort of psychosis, a feeling that leaves you questioning and wondering and unsettled.
I think love is sure. It’s tranquil. it’s calm and peaceful. It’s soothing. It’s strong but not overpowering. It’s big but not suffocating. It’s balanced.
And well, it was in Paris, the city of love and lovers, as I sat cross-legged on a bunk bed, shoving a flaky, buttery croissant, raspberry macaroons filled with a raspberry chocolate ganache and a strawberry tart in my mouth, that I equated love with a sort of peace.
Love is peace.
Nneka M. Okona is a writer and former expat who recently relocated from Madrid, Spain to Washington, DC. Visit her blog, www.afrosypaella.com, her website, about.me/nnekaokona or follow her tweets, @NisforNneka.