For Gracie, who the genes took…
You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
before the genes
You always were –
the sallow one, knuckle-
kneed, paper thin, but –
the lights in your
jaundiced eyes shone:
through pain and fear,
and hope and tears.
The strength in your voice
never dimmed, never waned,
until the genes – like a
belligerent marabout’s curse –
to a mound of red-
You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
but like a wound left raw
It is the age of the internet – email, Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, MySpace, Instant Messaging and even SMS have contrived to depersonalize our communication. These days, my default mode of communication is electronic. I often reach first to my twitter account to send a direct message (DM) to my closest buddies, or then an email – and shock of all shocks – a phone call as a last resort. Growing up, hand written notes were the apogee of communication, especially between guys and girls. We went to great lengths to procure the right paper, practiced our cursive hand writing and parodied the writings of the likes of Shakespeare to present the right impression.
A few days ago, I got a hand written note in the mail – and it brought back memories….
The Script’s Break Even just came on the radio, and as usual it brought back memories. In the main they are somewhat pleasant memories, even though the lyrics to the song are particularly sad.
Capital FM played the song ad nauseum last summer, and in a way it became the signature tune for that summer of my life – blighted by so many could haves and would haves. Summer started ok; my days being filled with the boringly mind numbing task of completing my dissertation. In between, I threw in attending a wedding across the Atlantic in Houston, planning my move back to my old Nigerian job and being very good friends with TheB. Capital FM was my constant companion at the time, as I stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning slogging things out. In an uncanny way, it seemed the song became a self fulfilling prophecy – Bisi and I never progressed beyond the friends zone, the Nigerian job fell through, and I missed a first on my degree….
I’ve come a long way since then though – but each time I hear the song, I remember the summer that almost was..
I think things tend to look either worse off or better off in retrospect.. There must be a technical term for that – like nostalgia bias, or retrospection bias or warreva… (Help me out one of you psychologists)… Bottom line is i think when we look back at the past, we either think its much better than it actually was, or much worse…. I just had such a moment.. Thankfully, Me the pragmatist won – eventually….. Blame insomnia, the wacky DJ over at Capital FM, and nostalgia….
It is not what is lost that hurts the most,
It is the thing that takes its place –
– Jerome Kugan (The Myth of Displacement)*
I say the things that try to take the place of what is lost – yet fail to do so, or even come close – are what hurt the most. They bring back memories…..which often are more legend than reality – the perfect bloke he never was, the doting girl she never would have been, the manipulating mofo everyone but you could see…..
I say Memories are like wounds kept raw by the rub of a blunted saw.
* From the poem “The Myth of Displacement” from Dance the Guns to Silence – Nii Ayikwei Parkes and Kadija Sesay (Eds)
Growing up in my own neck of the woods was an experience. We nicknamed our Pops the Ogbodons – not sure where the term originated from any more but my back side was a living testimony to his varied abilities and multiplied skills in inflicting pain. Mum didn’t help matters as she was was as resolute in hammering our ‘evil’ proclivities out of our systems. I got the opportunity to contrast that parenting style a few weekends back when I went visiting some distant family members in London. Clearly their less than 3 year old daughter has more leeway with him than I do with my own parents at my (huge) age.
In general, the following phrases got you into serious trouble in my house..
- It wasn’t me it was (insert name of younger sibling) – This was akin to adding petrol to a raging inferno. It often provoked a lecture on how you as a senior member of the house needed to take responsibility whilst the parents were out trying to make money to ‘take care of you’.
- Good Morning (without the Sir or Daddy) – This was the ultimate faux paus. You were required to treat your Nigerian father with the maximum amount of respect. I didn’t have to do the whole prostrating thing but failing to add ‘Sir’ to the morning greeting was guaranteed to result in some real deep ish – the least of which was some hours of ‘starvati0n therapy’.
- It is not true o! – This usually occurred when the Ogbodon was narrating to the ‘maternal unit’ your latest mess up which resulted in forgetting money in the taxi or some more public bit of embarrassment. To one’s young mind, adults were eternally embellishing the facts to make events seem worse than they really were, but woe betide you if you interjected. The initial parental reflex varied from ” I am talking and you are talking?” or worse “Are you calling me a liar?”.
- I don’t know – Back in the Abacha inspired days of severe austerity on University campuses, meat was at a premium. When someone surreptitiously invaded ‘Soup Kingdom’ and raided the pot for a choice piece of meat, repercussions were bound to occur. Chaps usually claimed ignorance to no effect. The parental reasoning was that ‘he that is not for us us is against us’ ie if you are not telling, you are implicit.
- I can’t remember – This was usually an escape route from a bad lie. When your father is a stellar academic with an amazing memory, you can’t think up things on the fly mehn. If you were lucky, you would only get a lecture after being serenaded by loads of questions. “What are you thinking of? Abi you have a girlfriend now?” Mumz was the resident girlfriend expert..and she would have risen very quickly to the top of MI6! Believe me.
- She hit me first – Beating up girls was a cardinal sin in my house. Two events stick in my memory. One was at school, a couple of dudes were heckling one of the class tomboys – the whole pinching, hitting, and all what not routine and yours truly was watching (ok… and occasionally adding a knock). We were so engrossed that I didn’t realize that it was way past the time Pops would come pick us up. After waiting for a while, he came to the class to see me applying a few deft touches to a knock. I got a few knocks myself in front of the girl (the girl never let me forget that for the rest of my time in the school!) and I got periodic knocks all the way from Ugbowo to GRA in the school run go-slow of the mid 80s. The other time, I was grounded and made to recite the longest memory verse at the annual Christmas pageant.The plus side was that I got a very cool nickname after the whole debacle… and she and I became best friends.. for a long time..
- My little cousin’s favorite words are ‘Don’t smack me Daddy’ – That would have been labelled down right rebellion – with some serious ‘starving therapy’ recommended for redress!