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07.07.2022 Feature Article

To Be Small In An Inevitable World (Nations Personified)

To Be Small In An Inevitable World Nations Personified
07.07.2022 LISTEN

His attire was okay until he reached that vast gate. It was a humid Tuesday afternoon and he had on, that immaculate white shirt he reserved, during his university days, for Prof. Lartey’s tutorial sessions. He led those sessions, you know—so he had to represent. So then, this one white shirt—carefully washed, carefully ‘blued’ with Ghana’s most famous bluing product ‘Sunshine Original Blue’, to the point that it was, if we be frank, more sea blue than it was white… That cherished shirt. He thought he had been elusive with his method with that shirt—wearing it once a week as he had done throughout his university days, but really everyone knew him for that shirt. They knew it to be his one and only almost decent wear. They knew this to be true because of his shoe...

His very limited shoes—worn-out at their heels. So worn-out that one fellow student, attempting to describe him to another student once said, “Oh! that brilliant, bowlegged guy with the off-white shirt…” But he wasn’t bowlegged, you see. It was the shoes. Balancing oneself properly on a fundamentally imbalanced pair of shoes, that is not an easy task—one was bound to look bowlegged. It wasn’t possibly on his own accord that he wore a particular white shirt once a week for four good years to lectures (and very often to church on Sundays, as noticed by his fellow student congregants), it was money’s accord (the lack thereof, that is). They knew this to be true because his shoes gave him away. Poverty is positively the worst thing.

‘University days’ may sound too far-stretched—because he completed school just last year. Currently an NSS personnel, he’s undoubtedly one of the few ones lucky enough to be blessed with an engagement which has light at the end of the tunnel—an employable light at the end of the tunnel. This rich family whose enormous gate before which he stands, being the family of a classmate of his, had blessed him with this employment. The father of this classmate of his, cunningly visiting his son one day, had asked for him too. Looking keenly at him, the rich man had said, “I have heard a lot about you”. His son had, without meaning to, said a lot about this young man. That tortuous late-morning conversation had ended with this brilliant young man employed—employed upon his impending completion. A year into employment, another summons had come. So here he stands before the vast gate, dogs barking as though their lives depended on it. Like him, they had an employer to please, didn’t they? Security man deigns to step out of his security post, and through a peephole, he asks for his mission. He responds in vernacular; he responds in English: “Come in.”

His attire was very okay—up until those rich eyes laid eyes upon them. Standing in front of this very short man—heightened by money—he felt small. Standing before this plain looking woman—beautified by wealth and intelligence—he felt small. Coming from the kitchen, she had stepped on something, a rug. It must have been someone’s clothing item that had mistakenly fallen, because it was whiter than this best shirt of his. Briming with brains, he fell small still by this rug and the feet that had just passed on it. “Sit down”, he heard someone say. Apparently they were to eat. ‘Sit down’ came with a signalling to a dining table. Apparently they were to make a movie. Movies where the mundane act of eating is made complex—people sitting by a dining table, clinking cutleries, drinking drinks alongside, not just water; eating which requires a hand, made to require two. “Sit down and let’s eat”—they were to make a movie. He obliged.

The rich man, he blabbered on about the good old days. As the chef and his team of two came around with a trolley containing plates and drinks, the rich man went on and on about those good ol’ days. The good and bad times in school, this same university of which his own children and this young man seated before him were alumni. He traversed the good old days at the village. The village in which he had been born and bred, up until the time when senior high school sent him to Kumasi, and university brought him to Accra. This same village (being also this young man’s hometown) was in the story of this rich man, one of the many hurdles strategically placed by life, a hurdle which he very tactfully crossed. ‘Our stories are the same’, said these stories of his to the poor young man.

“I used to weave baskets. That’s how I sent myself through school.” His son silently scoffed at that—which in Gen Z terms means all of a sudden picking up one’s phone and scrolling aimlessly through it. Dropping his fork, leaning all the way back into his seat, stretching his short legs as far as they could go, he proceeded contemplatively, “I have no recollection of my father… He died when I was four. My older siblings, they were lucky enough to be teenagers when he passed. But from what they keep telling me, I didn’t precisely miss out on anything. My mother, she worked too hard. She had six children to single-handedly raise—she had to work too hard.

It’s not easy what that does to a child—having to helplessly witness your parents break their back just to afford you some semblance of living. I tell you, it’s not easy. So…keep up! You’re doing very good for yourself and your family.” He shifts and ends his tale all of a sudden. Realising the constant mindless phone picking/scrolling through/dropping antics of his second son, and the feet shuffling of his first-born, and feeling disrespected and inadequate, as they tend to make him feel, he dropped the story as quickly as he picked it. That is what one gets for birthing two useless children…

This is what I get for giving birth to two useless boys. Aimless boys. Had I been given a quarter—just a quarter—of the resources they have been blessed with growing up, I would have ruled the world! But what do these useless boys do, squander my hard-earned money away, squander their God-given potentials away. Aimless children! The very air which they breathe, a waste. And the excuses. Always with those damn excuses! Always with the ‘I don’t have this, I didn’t have that, so I couldn’t do this, and I couldn’t be that’ excuses. And the entitlement! ‘I asked you for this, you didn’t give me it, so here I sit, my potential wasted.’ These excuses, this entitlement. Nauseating!

Never have I gotten any good news regarding these children. School aaa, bue; work aaa, bue; home aaa, bue… Having run out of the list of places where these kids of his have proven themselves useless way too quickly than he intended, he redirected his attention towards his daughter…

You see, this is exactly where she disagrees with him…

This is exactly where I disagree with him. You cannot call a stranger into our home, tell a patronising story, package it as though intended as an encouragement to this stranger, when in fact it is a targeted belittling of our own sons.

This is more than a mother could take. It is true her sons have been on a tangent… It’s true our sons have been a disappointment lately. The eldest, a thirty-five-year-old man, just stays in his room all day, gets drunk and smokes up a shrivelled lung…She struck harder at her plate at this thought. He insists he is a born philosopher. He insists he was created for a better destiny—a destiny better than just work. To hell with the family businesses, he was going to resign from whatever managerial position that was given him. He was a philosopher of the Romantic age, born into a wrong century, family, and nation. The world supposedly failing him purpose, he was going to resort to eating, drinking, smoking, and sleeping life away—you know, all the things that is easily afforded one with wealth. Because isn’t calculated idling only made possible for a philosopher only by wealth?

Just a slight correction though: Mr. Eldest Son is in fact thirty-nine. But you know how parents do… sometimes perhaps born out of actual forgetfulness, most times from an urge to lie to themselves, they close their eyes to the fact that their wards are in fact growing, doing so which creates in them, a feeling of ‘forever young’. ‘If the kids are not aging, then I am not aging’. That in the nutshell is the reason why thirty-nine-year-old son became in the mind of a mother, thirty-five. But that’s neither here nor there.

But here's the thing though. Lives can be perpetually spoilt. People talk of second chances, but what is a second, and matter-of-fact, umpteenth chance to a host who is permanently decayed as her sons have proven themselves to be? Is the universe so kind that it will keep lending a free hand to a person blessed to be born into vast wealth, resources, persons who keep squandering these means away, wasting them away—ungrateful people making a mockery of God, proving satan right? Satan, having been perpetually denied another Job, such ungrateful people have taken over his work, causing to their own selves destructions which ought to be the devil’s by right. Oh, you think she is exaggerating in this thought, don’t you? Hold that thought…

Take for instance the second-born who since senior high school has been a known…erh, how does one put this lightly in the mind of a mother?…prowler. Yes, let’s go with ‘prowler’. A sexual prowler. A prostitute who does the paying. And then there was the matter of the sex tape. We cannot even get these female house helps anymore. They start off with the diligence and humility of workers; some few weeks into employment, they start walking around the house as though they own the place—well, because they have owned your son.

These things last forever, you know. Like an indelible ink sprayed upon the earth, these things, they tend to last forever. Forgiveness, you say? You and I know that to be scarcely true—forgiveness. Even less so, forgetting. The world is filled with way too many capable people for us to sit around waiting for the reformation of fools. The world is filled with too many people for transgressions to be collectively forgotten—collectively wiped out of the general consciousness. These sons of hers, one supposedly too good for this world that he’d rather waste his existence away, the other…well, quite bluntly a prostitute…. these sons born into positions of means; they are a waste of breath. She had intended her thought in support of her sons, but the facts were damning—damning against them! But of course she cannot tell them this. She couldn’t be too hard on them even if she tried, because the first one had committed suicide. But that’s beside the point. Their very first-born, lost to suicide. But that’s beside the point.

Upon second thought, that’s precisely the point. He cannot invite this brilliant young man over here today, candidly heap praises upon him, hint in him, a kindred spirit, pad up his struggles to impress this young boy, insisting that he, the sixty-six-year-old man, is just like this young boy. He cannot go on and on, placing our sons against this young man, they as foils to his heroism—he, a purpose-driven life; our sons, a waste of earthly space, and expect these two not to sink further into depression as they tend to do, with the eldest son finding solace in alcohol, and the youngest, in prostitution—and the ex-eldest son, in the other world. But that’s really beside the point. She clinked harder on her plate at this thought. Oh wait, he must be thinking it too…

And he in fact was. A wife always knows, you know. She catches him telepathically and scolds him dotingly—still telepathically. Recovering from the inadequacy his sons’ actions had right here on this table made him feel, and falling, from frying pan to fire, into the severe inadequacy their lives in general have made him feel as a father, he was saying to himself: this is a punishment from God—well, maybe not directly from God, as He might just be a tad too busy for this religious enacting of cause and effect. But it’s got to be a punishment from somewhere, maybe mother nature herself—a punishment for all the mistakes I’ve made in this climb… He couldn’t finish this train of thought because he caught her stern, doting eyes. What was he thinking? Of course, there is no such punishment, no such curse, because just look at her…

In between these two, and in fact seated right now in between these two sons was his only daughter. Just a year older than their youngest son, this middle child was progeny enough to last a parent for all lifetimes. She is from God, a rectification, an apology of a sort, for these two aimless sons of mine.

Earlier today, she had come into the living room holding a bottle of water, and it felt like poetry. At least that is how this poor, brilliant young man saw it. A triple—no, a quadruple threat. On all fronts a threat. If really there is a singular hand orchestrating this whole life of ours—our entire existence, this hand must have her for a protagonist. Brains meets will, meets means, she was. I could tirelessly work my way to this life, to this house by that time she would be on Mars, owning real estate on Mars—the poor gentleman thinks, daring not to take another sweeping glance across the enormous space of dining-area-cum-living-room around him, no matter how badly he wanted to. To get to where she can easily walk to, I’ll have to fly. Sitting right there, studying the meal on her plate she looked like an epic poem. It wasn’t love he was feeling, there was way too much envy in there.

She catches him staring and lets out a knowing smile. A mother always wants what’s best for her children, and this young man right here, stealing glances at her daughter, was one good example of ‘best’. It was such a shame that he was younger than her; they could have gotten married. She’s being ridiculous, she knows. Or maybe, they could adopt him. But looking at how badly their adoptee slash house help had turned out, she felt strongly that it was perhaps best not to. This poor girl, daughter of their old house help, who had showed enormous potential during her basic school years, having been adopted by this rich family—what does she do?—she lets this rich family’s wealth get into her head.

Entitled to nothing as she is, she is entitled still. It is a funny look, really. Always on the internet, taking pictures in front of the mansion, sitting in cars which neither she nor her parents owned, interestingly, religiously putting seat belt on, taking selfies and videos for the internet, with the endless feigned humility (although in her case ‘feigned’ might just be overselling it) captions of ‘who Jah bless, no one curse’, and the one about God setting tables before her in front of her enemies—it was always such a funny look, really. Because here they were, seated, the table set, yet she not in sight. It would be a shame to have this purpose-filled young man turn into this adoptee of theirs—wannabes so busy feigning that they fail to put in place measures that see to them actually being.

On this table, lives converge. In this state-of-the-art dining room, lives converge. There is the successful man and woman who may have attained self-actualisation (emphasis on ‘self’), having built something great from ground up, yet being denied a true sense of self-actualisation, nonetheless, having failed at ‘progeny-actualisation’, if you will. Because these children of theirs, having been born into privilege and means, knowing not, first-hand, how much strength and will is needed to win in life—to beat life at its own game... Having been born into a world and a thinking that projects wealth itself as an end, and having been born into a home which had this wealth running abound, life was bound to feel purposeless and empty. If it is for the money only that we undertake vigorously the act of living, then what at all is life if this wealth has been freely handed one from the very get-go? A life filled with empty abundance, these sons have reached a tipping point, hence the falling over—coming in the form of the fake philosophising and the debauchery.

And then there is this adopted house help—her existence and very essence dependent on others. Plagued with lack, yet lucky with potential, but suffering a terminal ailment of the Stockholm Syndrome… Such persons, their lives are an offshoot of others, with no real root keeping them grounded and their futures assured. Their potentially purposeful lives are so tragically squandered, and they consequently become so inconsequential that in the grand scheme of things, they are easily glossed over. Never a seat at the table, they claim still to be abundantly blessed with potential—yet tend to grasp to the concept of ‘helping hands’ too strongly. They are loud about their potentials, but never have results to show for. Such persons are in fact blessed with the potential to be something, yet they waste too much time pretending to be something, instead of actually taking steps that lead to them actually being.

And then there are those, having the intelligence and the will, like this young man, yet lacking this key ingredient of our world—the means. With their sheer intelligence and will, these people tend to do marvellously for themselves—they efficiently make good use of helping hands extended them by life. These people, they tend to rise from their states of depravity to positions of affluence and influence. In the ranking of the world’s story arcs, such stories tend to take the lead when it comes to inspiring awe.

And there are the enviable triple threats—those blessed with intelligence, will, and means. Life is scarcely ever a full-on utopia, but in the ranking of smooth-sailing roads, these lives, they rank the highest.

There is yet another group of people we have failed to mention. It’s not our fault, you see, because these people are scarcely found in these homes, or anywhere close to these homes in the first place. They are the invalid (metaphorically)—the miserable. One, finding themselves in these other above-mentioned categories, may go about complaining about their circumstances, ‘I didn’t have this, I didn’t get that, so I couldn’t be that’. Yet there comes the miserable (les misérables), beating the odds, attaining status and purpose in life, and in so doing making a fool of us all—we and our endless excuses. All these excuses by the walking folk—people standing on two healthy feet (metaphorically), and there comes the cripple, flying.

It’s a complicated world of people. We each know where, in these different categorisation of people we find ourselves. Although admitting can often be hard.

But here's the thing though, sometimes these people are nations.

We each know where in these different personifications our individual nations find themselves—although sometimes admitting can be quite hard. We all find ourselves here—whether we be the large empires on the tipping/toppling over, owing to our lack of appreciation of our ancestors’ struggles and hard-work, or the super powers, now facing scruples (and probably punishments) for the means employed in our development journeys, or we be the triple-threat nations, killing it on all fronts, or the poor budding nations, brimming with potential and will, hence having at the end of our national tunnels sparkling lights, or the supposedly miserable nations, lacking on all fronts the wherewithal, yet defying all odds to attain the impossible—self-betterment, national development...

Yes, some nations do the seeming impossible, go against all odds and soar… Nations like—you know what, we’ve gossiped about this country before, so let’s just go ahead and say it— Singapore…Nations such as these that have carve out gold out of nothingness… This is no egalitarian world, these people/nations are not the same—there are winners and losers in this game of life. The burning question, then, is: which is your country?

A question has just been asked; the question is…

“So what do your parents do?”
Did someone say something? Yes, someone did. Still caught up in drawing parallels between his own life and that of the brilliant young lady’s, everything around him had become a momentary blur. But the rich man, he tried his hands on his question again, “So what do your parents do?” There is a necessary pause… a contemplation, is this warfare or care? Is he belittling further or seeking to empower—by drawing further parallels between his own life and this young man’s? He decides on the former, and mumbles the truth still…

[Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 7th July, 2022]

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