I remember growing up as a child and learning to read and write – ha! ha! That’s a laugh – I couldn’t read worth a darn until fourth grade. But I could write and it was a thrill to know there was no law against that.
The first big vocabulary I taught myself to spell (it’s never quite escaped my memory, you know) was the word: Because. Go ahead and laugh your head off if you have to but back then in third grade, Because was a whole mouthful for me. I can recall sitting in the middle of the classroom, inside one of those make-shift school buildings called Jakande Blocks; the then governor of Lagos state, Mr. Jakande had set off building of low-cost classrooms at the onset of the Free Education Program. I was staring at the chalkboard and wondering for the life of me if ever I was going to master the English language with so many vocabularies to memorize.
Things and places have souls. I think I can attest to that fact being one weaned by the navel of the soul. Childhood dreams which, by and large shape our adult lives are one of these things with souls.
I hydroplaned through first to third grades having my examination and test papers read to me by my class teachers. Was that fair? It wasn’t a special privilege, if that’s the question on your lips; there were several other pupils as dumb as I was, and a few were royally bird-brained. At least my teachers didn’t have to feed me the answers. Give me that much credit.
You see, I was a smart kid trapped behind the language barrier. The last time I checked even diplomats were not beyond the ugly beast. Why else would they hire the service of an interpreter?
My life has always been a drive to decipher the mystery of language, to interpret its nuances, the tone and mood of sentences, and the rhythm of words. It seems to me that my entire life is hooked on the poetry of language.
And here’s the reason, I think, that ties it all together and gives my thirst wholeness of purpose: as a child, I copied sentences from books and the dictionary–my family owned this early hardcover edition of The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. (Of or in, I can’t remember which though; I think one was replaced with the other by the publishers in later editions.)
“What do you think you’re doing, Eneh? You know you can’t read!”
I do remember my brothers teasing me. Often, if I could afford the luxury of altercation, I gave my enthusiastic reply:
“Yeah, but someday I’ll be able to and then, I’ll return to these pages and figure out for myself what exactly I was up to all that time!”
I think that fixed them though, I don’t think they meant any harm. I suppose they were just curious.
Many waters have passed under the bridge since that bout of analphabetism was broken. The force of the realization was as audible as cymbals clapped really close to one’s ears. I’ve devoured books spanning literally every subject under the sun since my childhood years.
It appears to me that my fascination with books and language thus far has been in defiance of the humiliation I endured growing up preliterate; I feel renewed like a leaf going its metamorphic rounds each time I read or write. It’s like a message from that kid copying notes he couldn’t read:
“I guess I figured it out for myself, after all!”