When the bell ends school’s
petty prisons – rules, reasons –
Love and Life runs out to play…
– Aisha Nelson
The sun finds it fun to generously pour its radiance, through the window, onto a page of my exercise book. Perching at the top corners of the page are the constant Date and Exercise Number. Apart from these, this new page is blank. And I know better than to expect that only these constant-s, without writing the exercise proper, will fetch me a decent grade, any grade. I take much time and care to write the topic of the new exercise. Topic too, I know, still counts for nothing, no grade.
Riza, my friend, has long finished and submitted her work, one of those essays.
I’m forever far from finishing mine. I can’t even bring myself to begin writing. The thought of it:
“How I spent my Christmas Holidays”!
How I wish the sun fills my near-blank page rather – the whole of my exercise book, actually – with Words. With beautiful Words. Beautiful but truthful Words. Words more truthful than they are beautiful. Many such words. Only such words. For I always tell myself not to lie. All my essays, including this one, which I am yet to even write, really need to be short.
This is because all there is to think and write about my recent Christmas holidays can be done in as much as a single lean paragraph. Any addition will be unnecessary, superfluous – a smudge, even, on my integrity. Anything short of or more than the plain truth will be a grave lie. To lie is something I am not to do, to not lie especially because of something as trivial as a grade, a better grade. So I believe.
Meanwhile, the street outside the classroom is bursting with so many stories outshouting each other for attention, shouting to be told, to be written, by anyone who cares to.
Ms *Enam Doe will not be able to mark all the stories if I and every other pupil are to care enough to write a lot less than half of those stories. Yet, she complains my essays are too short. On the previous page of my exercise book is one such exercise. Her red ink’s frozen scream under that last essay eternally reads,
“This essay is too short, Enam. This must be the last of this kind!”
The last is long past. My turning over a new leaf is not only to write a new essay, but more importantly, to write one of appreciable length – at least, as deemed by my Grade Six Teacher.
“No offending Ms Enam Doe this time”, I mutter to myself.
So I set my **Bic on the first line of the page.
Slowly, I start. I finished my first sentence. But not without the expected drag. Little by teeny little, I write. And write on. One thoughtful word after the other, I filled the page with crisp, warm and fond pictures, moments and memories of my recent Christmas holidays. I was thankful to finally finish.
I shut my eyes for a few seconds. I let myself dream of seeing my new page – my whole book, and even my desk – spilling with the many words I very recently poured…
My essay is set. It sits still, clean and lean on the page. It sits still and still several lines shy and short of half the new page.
And even before Ms Enam Doe’s red ink will add its voice, the blank larger half of the page screams the wretchedness of my mere scratch and funny toil of an essay. The scream rumbles and doubles. The scream fires and crackles sparks and thunders on my poor page. Methinks I even feel my desk quake with all the turmoil.
I watch on, helplessly, as the rumblings scatter my poor essay. The tongues of fires, they hungrily lick my already-lean and now-scattered essay away. Then the rumblings, now full and fat from eating my essay, sport a sly smile, give a guttural belch, wail one long yawn. Stretching its tiny limbs and making to take a nap on my page, the bloated ball of rumblings burst…
The mess from the burst splashes on my sad long face, spills over and into the rest of my book, hangs thick above my desk. My face falls. My head remains bowed in shame, a shame I can’t readily account for.
Save my face I must. I sit. Upright. Still.
But I don’t write. I can’t bring myself to write. Not anymore. Not yet. Not again. Not for this essay.
I look outside from my desk by the classroom window. That side of the world is bubbling with vast numbers and weights of life-s and promises. The stories on the street are now leaping off everyone and everything. The stories are wandering frantic, peeping here and there, wearing fragile half smiles, prancing down and up everywhere. The stories are tugging along and bumping into everyone and everything and themselves, begging and hoping, insisting and waiting. To be written. Or to be told.
To just put on the temporal…
Eager traffic lights and drowsy street lights
blink dawn off their metal-gilded brows.
Towering bill boards and
patches of dew-studded grass glance
beneath and beyond them. With glee.
Low drones of engines from all ends
embrace distant hums of some church organ.
tucked in windows of moving vehicles.
Outshout, outrun each other.
Breeze heaves past, weaving
through throbbing background and noise.
Wind whistles through
kites tattered and tangled and caught up
tall on soulless poles.
Colour-filled smells of breakfasts linger and vanish
in between the thick and trickle of people and other…
bodies and bottles of
chilled water and drinks and such
sweat with heat and cold and both.
Time ticks. Time fidgets under blankets of
humid air. Humid air hangs at every end of the street.
A quick push there. A shove.
A crisp pull here.
A crash. And then, a thud.
Skyscrapers stand scattered,
grinning their morning greetings to high clear skies.
Spells of rain showers
soothe and refresh and smooth
aches and wilts and frays.
sprout on tables under sheds.
shuffle hardens into a walk. A
jog eases into a walk. A
jog grinds into a saunter. A
stop springs into a saunter. A
stop revs into a run. A
shuffle breaks into a run…
shine anew on shelves in shops.
Honks and horns
other to hoarse stops.
Sun peeps from behind
billowy clouds sporting white toothless smile.
The street is a pool of people, street is dotted
with soft whirls. The street is awash with
happy hues, street sways to its own music.
Last glimmers of neon lights
fade past early shimmers of glass doors.
Good old Life glides past. Everywhere I look, stories abound.
And here I still am, sitting and thinking, labouring and wasting myself away, behind an essay which refuses to be written. I think harder by the seconds. I search and turn my memory times and over, trying to find if there still is one tiny detail about my Christmas holidays which I may have forgotten.
Then, I can blow up this my new detail with words from that Word Class we learnt in the last Grammar Class: Adjectives, they call it.
But then, there is my face to save and my teacher to make happy – and my-self too to make happy, since my teacher and I share a Name. Enam.
And this is how I also will outdo one of my Grande-Mother’s many sayings: I will ‘‘kill three – not just two – birds with one stone.’’
Two years later, I’m in a new class in a new school, with a new teacher, having the same lesson – Essay Writing. It is a debate, this time.
I begin with an introduction, as Ms Boakye has taught me, and as I best know how. I begin with an introduction which excellently expressed my side of the motion and fully justified it. I combine truth and length well enough – or so I insisted on believing. That introduction should please any teacher, who should in turn, reward this my rare – if not unique – feat, ever since I began writing essays in school.
But I was to be surprised: I’ve outdone myself and the normal.
My introductory paragraph alone is two lines short of one page. I scan it. I read it. I skim it. I re-read it. I revise it. I proofread it. I review it. And I end up with the same essay and introduction, with same words and word count. For I find every word in there worth choosing, very much worth the inclusion.
And by so doing, I displease another teacher for the opposite of a previous offence: too short essays.
It’s been many years since. If only I had understood those Essays as Compositions, I would not have thought of too many words as Lie-s.
And Oh! How I wish I had realized much earlier that too many words could as well be truth, beautiful truth.
Whether about the use of Adjectives or some other writer-ly style, one thing emerged from this whole experience: Modesty – not of the raw and rigid kind. I prefer to call it, Giftedness, or simply, Gift.
This Giftedness, It has never needed to save its owner’s face. Rather, It feeds her imagination and fills the pouring of her creations, It sharpens her outlook and adds life-colour to the fountain of her imagination.
This Giftedness effortlessly is. It intimately knows.
Through words, this Giftedness unfurls and flares out worlds beyond the mere now, worlds populated with personality, worlds loosened from locale, worlds forever far from the mundane. It is at once an exclusive sanctuary for all things too wondrous for the eloquence of words. It is a universe of possibilities upon infinities.
This Giftedness has a unique gift for everyone who encounters It.
This Giftedness does not kill one, two, three or more birds with one stone. Rather, like birds, It is free to soar the endless realms of the worlds of Words, soar and explore without the fear of room or restraint, without any fear of any kind.
So I now soar and explore, I write my life-world away.
And while at it, I am all too glad to watch the sun generously pour itself into my bliss…
* * *
– Wednesday, January 29, 2020: Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.
*Enam is an Ewe name that means ‘Gift’ or specifically, ‘God/He gave It to me’.
** Bic is the trademark of a very popular brand of pen in Ghana.