One of my childhood memories that I cherish is of the fiction story books I enjoyed immersing myself into during and after school. Granted, I was a slim lanky loner kid, naive and scared of the world before me. I spent most of my time aloof and oblivious of that world and preferred to stay in my thoughts. I’d be placed with other kids in nursery school, all of us dressed in checked blue uniform, and as the other kids played soccer or teased each other, I’d let my mind drift off to a world full of fiction and uncensored imagination. With that imagination came unmatched curiosity about the world, and with curiosity came a burning urge to wander further into the unfamiliar terrain of imagination and fiction. Over time, my imagination got a frame, an outline of sorts, and concepts that I’d otherwise only dream about started coming alive, so I could imagine how it would feel to be a doctor, with a stethoscope hanging over my shoulder, my hands covered in white rubber gloves and the rest of my body covered in a blue overall. I’d imagine walking briskly into a theater filled with the smell of anesthesia and beeping machines and nurses dressed in white coats preparing surgical equipment, and we’d begin our mission, saving a human life.
Needless to say, I interacted with a lot of imaginative writers back then through the stories they penned in the fiction storybooks that my parents used to buy. It is through those stories that I learnt that fiction occupies an important place in society because it shatters the glass ceilings that we impose upon ourselves and our capabilities and subsequently creates a world full of endless possibilities where heroes crush villains, where oppression is just a temporary setback and not a way of life and where no matter what happens, good always triumphs over evil in the end. Who doesn’t find such a world enticing and seductive? I actually do. Those stories taught me how to dream and to believe that anything is possible, if only we put our minds to it. Reality is what we want it to be, not a precondition of society that we have to conform to or risk being social outcasts.
Nonetheless, I had some growing up to do and that involved shedding those books. Career choices started beckoning, I remember how my peers and I imagined we wanted to be neurosurgeons, engineers and pilots. Back in the day, these were the dominant professions that accompanied prestige and status. Imagine at the end of that academic term when you had gotten excellent grades and you grabbed your report card and rushed home to hand it in to your parents. Imagine reaching home to find your dad deeply engrossed in a newspaper in the living room, and your mum in the kitchen prepping up a quick one for you and your siblings to gorge on when you got home from school. You’d storm in the living room unable to hide your excitement and call in everyone (the only time you’ll get away with summoning African parents is when you’ve done well in school), and break the news that you’d done well in math and science. Your mum would break into a big ear to ear smile and your dad would look up from his newspaper because the news of his son getting good grades surpasses any he can find in that paper and he would say, ‘My child is going to be a doctor’. In retrospect, I think back in the day that was how you knew you were doing well, when you made your folks believe you were going to be a doctor.
Fast forward to this day, did we all become doctors, pilots and engineers? Obviously not. I have many friends who are in those professions, for the rest of us, life happened, and we were derailed into doing other things that we have come to find equally meaningful and satisfying. Some of us were drawn to music, poetry and writing like moths to a flame. Does it mean we aren’t doing well? I believe that if we haven’t lost our yearning for imagination, or our ability to feel and to create, then perhaps we will be fine. We can dare to imagine that all our dreams will actually come true and even if we know that we will only be here for a while, we can imagine what it would be like to continue living on through the legacies we are creating when we still have breath in us. Perhaps that is where we find the strength to do what we do, that we still have the power to imagine, and even though we do not know what lies beyond this life, we can imagine that everything will be okay in the end and ultimately, good will triumph over evil.