This is the second and concluding Part of this writing. Read the first part.
The next and last time I encountered Onukpa Atukwei Okai, it was not at PAWA House.
That next and last time, it was a phone conversation, a conversation which occurred days before my getting into what has always been the very closed undergrad (third year) Introduction to Creative Writing class at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon.
Prof. Kofi Anyidoho was to be the lecturer, and he would later be a teacher, and a father, to us his students – and when I am not too shy, he would be a friend too, to me, like any of the rest.
And this was throughout the two years that the full Creative Writing courses ran – that is, throughout the two years the course progressed from Introduction to Creative Writing (year three, first semester) and congealed into simply Creative Writing (year three, second semester) before caking with a frightening but freeing intent into Advanced Creative Writing (final year, year-long).
And this was throughout same two years during which the class size was whittled down from 21 to 15 and then straight to 5 students.
With the One sitting odd and decidedly detached from the neatly even Twenty, the One sitting aloof yet playing like It belonged to the defined, recognisable form of the Twenty…
I was that One…
And for reasons and circumstances I am – again, even up to this day – not able to fully understand and believe, I was one of that final Five.
I was One. Anyway. Despite. In the end.
Somewhere during those two years, Dr. Mawuli Adjei would take the classes for some four or two weeks, while Prof. Anyidoho needed to be away. And this was not necessarily the beginning, but definitely was a reference point for his becoming my former lecturer and an ongoing teacher, a kind father and great friend. (And oh, for a reason I’m yet to know, and perhaps, too shy, as usual, to ask, he calls me Sheilla, not Aisha! But not like I mind. So…) Dr. Mawuli Adjei.
Again, forgive me if I (seem to) have digressed again: I only want to tell this story and tell all of it (in one piece, at one place) and never have to tell (another bit of) it elsewhere, again.
So that phone conversation with Onukpa Atukwei Okai. The point of it all was as urgent and grave as the great good which his bringing of Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond and I together brought to my writer-life.
So somewhere in that very brief phone conversation, there was something Onukpa Atukwei Okai said, something after which our conversation had to die a natural, sudden end.
Something which sank with indelible impact in me because Onukpa Atukwei had taken the time and care to say it in Ga, the mother-tongue he and I shared.
Something which I would later ponder and wonder long about for days and hours, weeks and close to months and a year.
Something which, in the end, would seep and pour and pool into a poem I would write and include in the portfolio I would submit for grading at the end of the first semester of the entire Creative Writing course.
A poem which, in its own weight and ways, would add to the grades which would keep me in the class throughout those two years, the two years at the end of which only 5 out of the initial jagged-edged number of a 21 – rather than the crisply neat 20 – students remained. Solely by merit, I must mention.
And even though I am certain Onukpa Atukwei Okai did not know, and might/would never know about this poem, I do not want to forget to let it be known that long before he passed on, he had lived and will continue to live in a poem he inspired.
A poem he could have as well written and written far better.
A poem he would have all but written if not that it would have been – or at least, have seemed – too novice of him.
A poem he inspired, singularly, all the same.
A poem, I say.
I have a destination
I have a ticket
the car is full
I have to get there
I have what it takes
the car is full
I shall be there
I ought to
the car is full
here I am
out-standing them all
the car came full
and I was the driver
Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.
The Car was one of the poems I read on the weekly radio programme, Writers Project on Citi, on Citi 97.3 FM, on Sunday, 6th May 2012. Before then, I had performed this poem at an open-air theatre event by the Academy of Young Writers – Ghana, at Mensah Sarbah Hall, University of Ghana, Legon.