Somebody should have told me way back that I’ll someday carry burdens like Atlas of ancient Greece which no one can help offload from my heart. For if I had known, I would have played out the worst-case scenario in my mind, and would’ve carried my burdens to the feet of the sages and scribblers of ancient scrolls; to learn wisdom and how to heed the nudges and instructions of the Muse within.
But I am now a willing and regret-free prisoner, banished to the world of the unseen, which only the mind can imagine after a limp attempt to paint it with words. It is like a marketplace where the unborn wail day and night, hoping that the muse will hearken to their plea to enter the womb of another helplessly hapless writer who will travail until they are delivered of the incubated child within. A child born out of an intercourse that the two parties become so intimately entwined yet have not exchanged nuptial vows.
It once was a marriage of an unwilling writer-bride to the over bearing muse-the un relenting groom that whose enchanting overtures cannot be snubbed by the most haughty of brides in the land of the living. Once the writer is impregnated by the muse, the destiny of each unborn life within begins to grow like a bloated sac. Days grow into months, till the end of the trimester when he goes into labour with no one to urge and prop him up to push and travail on the obstetrics bed till the newborn’s lungs fill up with earthly breathe of life.
I wish I knew as a newly born child that I had a womb that incubates the love child of ideas and imaginations. For if I knew, I would have asked to be courted by a prince of royal lineage so I would learn the secrets from the king’s troubadours and pipers. I would have sat at the feet of scribes and holders of ink ends to watch as they cover the blank scrolls with words and letters, symbols and markings that will point the way for generations unborn. I have lamented before the custodians of heaven’s secrets to see if they’d show mercy and lift this burden of a writer that keeps my head fussy. I would have asked for an elixir that can make one enjoy the travails of a never ending season of pregnancy and birth.
My travails with this groom, the unrelenting Muse started with pencil scrawls on any blank paper sheet as an innocent child. The scrawls grew into scratches and couches of words and alphabets, then one line sentences and paragraphs that make up a composition that the class teacher marked with red ink. When kids grew into boys and able to know about the world of girls, the pen became an arsenal that is used to send cupid darts that woos the hearts of maidens. Boys stirred the curiosity of girls with the ‘vocabs’ that were arranged to form love letters and poems that tickled their fancies and roused those sleeping butterflies in their tummies.
So writing became a hobby, and I enjoyed buying writing pads and postage stamps and envelops. My letters travelled ahead of me to the studios of BBC and VOA and I felt a tinge of joy each time a presenter read out my letter during their programs in far away from nations. In exchange I was offered tokens and mementoes; t-shirts, pens, broaches, calculators, magazines -things that made me feel that to write a letter was all there is to writing. I sought for pen pals since writing was called a hobby and letter writing was the only the activity that it entailed. But how mistaken and naïve I was then, and I wish this delusion was not self-induced.
The elders in my village should have warned me and their hoary hairs and wrinkled faces and sagged cheeks should have been a lesson in wisdom. They should have told me that those who strive to live like the sages must travail, they must birth, and they must die, for them to really live. That once must die to be reverenced and worshiped as a patriarch and respected as an ancestor. They watched me take this path without warming me about the work, labour, tears, loneliness that would shroud the ultimate ahead as a writer, a carrier and custodian of words of wisdom and life.
They watched me bury myself in books, but didn’t warn me that novels were novel ideas. They should have told me that Oliver Twist was a boy that lived only in my mind. That the ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and that of naughty ‘Huckleberry Finn’ were imaginations painted with strokes of alphabets created in the fashion of words and sentences with meanings. You see, when I buried myself reading newspapers from front cover to back cover, they hailed me as a good boy that has a head for books to the envy of my peers who loved to play while books lured me away. Yes, it was their fault to have called me ‘onye nwere isi akwukwo’ (a head full of books) that made me dream and imagine, and gloat in uncrowned glory.
Why did they not tell me that Gulliver didn’t travel to anywhere more than the mind of men like Hemmingway where he/it was marooned? That ‘Things Fall Apart’ was borrowed lines from an epic poem, and 50 years down the line, Chinua Achebe still makes us know how things fall apart in the bosom of our warped leaders and politicians. Why didn’t my JSS2 mistress tell me that the Kikuyu boy Njoroge and the maiden that stole his heart, Mwihaki were seethed romantic fantasies that sought for escape from the mind of the impressionable Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
They made me believe that ‘Samankwe and the Highway Robbers’ was not the act of will of a man that I least can remember. That ‘Eze Goes to School’ was indeed a fiction when I read similar stories of Obi and Ada in my ‘Primary 2 ‘English Reader’ just like that Yoruba boy ‘Bayo Goes to School’. They infused me with the same bug that made a mischievous boy experience ‘One Week One Trouble’. They made me read the ‘Student’s Companion’ where words, synonyms, which ‘Michael West Dictionary’ could not decode, until I grew big enough to own big sister’s ‘Oxford Advanced Learners English Dictionary’ with which I formed a book of ‘vocabs’.
And as I grew from a lad to a boy, they made m devour James Hadley Chase series and those Pacesetters that indeed set my heart racing into worlds away from this world. I found myself ‘On the Road’ with Kalu Okpi and my heart melted for an ‘Evbu My Love’ whom I never met alive or saw the markings of her grave. How can a boy grow with all this pictures, motion-filled live movies in his heart and come out straight? The human being resident in his heart will someday ask to speak, move, walk, and step out into reality from the fringes of his mind. You see, such a boy/girl will lose her creative innocence and become perennially pregnant with an eternal fetus of ideas, begging, shuffling, and striving to be born. He/she must become a writer by ‘fire and force’.
When others snore and snuggle in the warmth of their beds, he is pulled and lured to sit by the desk to write and punch away on his computer. His back aching and begging to rest.but will he let rest come to the muscles and ligaments that get so stretched and primed to work with no reprieve in mind? Not until his words make sense and not until the sentences connect in a loop of ideas will he rest. Not until the past buried in his memory comes alive and become the present future on the pages of a book will he rest from his labour. Not until he tells another’s story in a way that shows that he has truly shared and lived out that life he has chosen or was chosen to craft in words and pictures.
His labour and striving may end in a rolled up manuscript that publishers disdain, and he may weep for a manuscript that gets mistakenly shredded by a playful child, but he wails more about miscarriages and abortions that do happen to every writer.when the story he opts to tell refuse to emerge from the subterranean realms of eternity into the palpable kingdom of reality. You see, the writer may be tagged poor and lacking in earthly goods, but deep within him lies an unquenchable well which only a few can dig in deep enough to draw up its rich jewels.
You see though I mourn, I do not mourn over the de
ath of a dream of an egalitarian future that our fathers had when they argued for self determination from those Colonial powers, of whose imperial kingdom we shamefully belong as the ‘neo-colonized’ in culture and sundries. I wail not for the books I have not yet published or written. With raised voice, I wail and lament for those who have not been courted by the Muse to open their bowels to receive His creative seed. I wail for those who have grown cold to His overtures and hardened their hearts to His wooing and those alluring dance steps that make a groom die of envy.
I mourn for those who have never experienced the sublime joy that comes when the pen drops after a poem is couched. Yea, the glint in the eyes when a story is finished after a tortuous journey through the birth of people and places in a writer’s mind. That glow in the heart when someone tells you ‘Oh, how I enjoyed your write up’. Dare I talk of the sense of grandeur that makes you know you’re like God, the Almighty and Creator of the world, who used words to craft the world you live in, and will die in. Now you see why I wail for anyone who thinks he can’t create. Who thinks he can’t write. And worse still, those who have given up on reading because they think to read and write it is dated, old school and laid back.
Now you see why I mourn. But as I write, and the more I write, and as often as I write, I cease from mourning a dream that grew wings and flew away. For I will write, I will read, I will paint with words, and craft with symbols and forms till I no longer can read or write again. But while I breathe and feel the sweetness of life as a bubble of air escapes from my nostrils, after uniting with my being deep within, then write I must till ‘death do us part’!