Getting into Milford was a dream. I still can’t fit my excitement into words. I remember applying after I found out Suyi Davies had attended in the past. I initially didn’t think I could get in, but seeing another Nigerian on that blog post was the push I needed. I also never thought I’d make it to the United Kingdom. There were too many stories of the setbacks Nigerians and Africans at large faced in a bid to travel across borders, and I was resigned to my looming fate. When the visa came, it was a mixture of feelings. Things were starting to fall into place, but things were also starting to get real. Only then did it truly register — I was going to Milford.
So I packed my stuff, boarded my first flight to London, and then hitched a ride to Wales. I drove down with Fiona, Dolly, and Mike. They were the most excellent company, and the trip was serene—though I slept through most of it. The jetlag was still taking its toll. We eventually got to Trigonos, and the nerves kicked in. In a foreign country, surrounded by new people, I could sparsely breathe. This would also be my first time in a space filled with more than a dozen writers. But from the very first person who welcomed me, there was this warmth and a super welcoming atmosphere. An atmosphere that said, “You belong here.”
And not only did I belong, for that one week, Milford was also home. Writing this, I remember it all so vividly. The food was new, but a cascade of flavor. The squash, the chocolate cake, the oat milk, the berries, the coffee, and the biscuits—which made me feel like I was in a British sitcom. I remember the evenings in the library where we had wine and laughed and the stories would fill up every inch of the room. Jacey wrote down all the stuff that was too hilariously precious to let go. Space Jesus comes to mind. I can still see Mike sitting on the floor like some monk moonlighting as a mathematics professor.
The evenings in the library usually went on late into the night and saw us scurrying off to bed a little tipsy. I remember the room where I slept. It was freezing the first night and I didn’t say anything ‘cause I assumed everyone in Wales just slept in the biting cold. Coming from the tropics where heaters are a non-existent thing, the one right in the room didn’t occur to me. I eventually figured it out, and I remember the coziness, the incredibly soft bed, and the bathroom gel that smelled of lost memories.
The critique sessions kicked off right away, and they were just great. You get to witness this wealth of knowledge, skill, and experience. There was an air of sincerity and kindness in which everyone approached each other’s stories, and it was just wonderful to see. I will eternally be grateful for all the wholesome and encouraging words. There was also chocolate. Loads and loads of it. I might have had a few bites too much, and I’d eat all over again if I got the chance. After my stories got critiqued and I went back to the notes, I just went, “Woah, thanks for all the free feedback. People pay money for this”. Incorporating the suggestions and pointers had my stories coming out better and stronger.
The crit sessions came to an end on Friday, leaving me with ample time to just lay around. It was in this idleness that Ramya reminded me she’d jumped in the lake on a random night. Many people don’t know this, but I have a penchant for getting into the most chaotic situations. So, come midnight, I threw a blanket over myself and headed down to the lake. It was dark. Frighteningly dark. I badgered on, through the field, and down to the water. There, I took off all my clothes, the cold breeze finding all the corners of my body, and slid into the waters. That was when the panic and sense of self-preservation kicked in. Looking at the lake was different from being in it. It was the large immersing thing and then there was me—a boy who couldn’t swim. I was properly terrified. I flailed out of the water, splashing and wheezing. As I raced back across the field, freezing my butt off, it occurred to me, what if I had been taken by wolves or fairies? Poor Jacey and Liz would have to travel down to Nigeria to inform my parents. I honestly didn’t think the whole thing through.
Okay, rounding it up, to everyone who wants to experience the beauty, warmth, friendship, and wealth of knowledge that Milford offers, take out your phone, or laptop, or scroll, whatever works for you, and pen down that application. Believe me, it’ll be infinitely worth it. And there’s this tradition thingy Liz did at the end. I can’t share it ‘cause it’s supposed to be a secret, but it was the most beautiful thing. Honestly, words can’t appropriately describe it, you just have to experience it. The only downside to Milford is that you might spend the rest of your life daydreaming and wanting nothing more than to go back. I miss everyone terribly, and it broke my heart to leave. For the record, I’m bawling out my eyes at this point. Oh, I can’t wait to tell my kids—whom I don’t have yet—about Milford.
Milford wasn’t just a place or a gathering. It was a feeling. I want to exist in that feeling forever.