Written by Jennifer Azubuike
After all has settled in, John got a job at a community hospital and with the first of his earnings, he registered back in school as a part time student of Literature. Working at a community hospital is not nearly as challenging as working at a general hospital but it has its challenges all the same, especially as John combined it with academics. He, however, consoled himself that it would not go on forever.
His first year as a literary student went smooth. He was particularly uncomfortable revealing his identity as a medical practitioner, so he kept a low profile. This was easy to achieve since most of the year all he did was chunk down information on the history of literature and the work of recognized literary masters. By the second year, more practical work became required which got him excited until he realized that the structure of the curriculum was so strictly regulated that it almost stifled creativity.
Inside his usual corner of the library first floor, John sat alone one afternoon flipping through the latest material for his assignment – the book of one of Africa’s most recognized writers, Chinue Achebe. He was supposed to do a responsive analysis of the entire book; setting of drama, storyline etc. He had submitted two attempts on a D.O Fagunwa’s book but Professor Kweku did not think he followed the laid out guideline carefully and decided to change the literature to Achebe’s because he concluded that John may be having a hard time understanding the first. This hasty conclusion offended John. While of course he only said it in his head, he mocked how a Ghanaian man would understand a native literature better than him, a native. Sitting there, fussing over the book, he noticed somebody staring at him. He turned to face a young man, likely in his early twenties, staring inquisitively.
He looked into the face carefully, trying to recall it from his hospital encounters. Whoever knew him by his title must know him from his workplace.
“Hey! do I know you?”
“Maybe not. Do you know Alex?”
“Alex, Alex…Alex Madiwe?”
“Of course I do. Are you related?”
“I am his younger brother”
“Whoa, how are you?”
“I’m fine. I was at your oath taking about two years ago. I know our meeting was brief but I remember your face from the issues you wrote for your alma mater. I had access to them through Alex. I am a big fan; your issues were epic.” He rambled in one breath.
John blushed. For the next few minutes he had a good conversation with this young man whom he barely knew yet could connect with on something of interest. He was happy to learn that his friend Alex has moved to the UK for his medical residency.
“So what are you doing here?” The young man suddenly asked.
John was reluctant “I am studying.”
“Okay? Well, I’m pretty sure you are working on a powerful story or something. I will just leave you alone to continue but please keep me in the loop. I will love to resume following your write ups. I am an Economics student here by the way and I can be of help if you ever need anything. Can I get your contact?”
They exchanged contact and he left. John watched him bounce away with excitement. He too felt some excitement. Actually what he felt was the little excitement contracted from the young man. He felt sad. Shouldn’t he be working to establish his medical career like his colleague, Alex, instead? His pursuit for training in literature has not exactly been what he had expected; the constant demand to follow certain established rules is draining. He wondered if he had made the right decision.
In that state of mind, John decided to visit an old mentor who happened to be professor of literature at his alma mater. The elderly man listened to his complaint patiently but instead of saying something to John like he wanted him to, he went into search for something. He pulled out catalogs of books searching intensely. When he appeared to have found what he was looking for, he carried out an old box and placed it on the table in front of John. Inside it was about three piles of bound magazines. Among the selection, he pulled out a couple from a few years past and opened one. Inside is the article that John helped publish as a student. He nodded an approval to John to go ahead and look through them before returning to his own study.
John browsed through the magazine, at first uncertain why the old man wanted him to look at it but as he read his own articles, his mood lightened up because each brought back pleasant memories.
“I can’t believe I wrote these.” He repeatedly whispered to himself.
He sat there for some 90 minutes pouring over the magazines. By the time he would pack up the bundle, he had renewed vision of what he wanted for his writing career. He rose and thanked his mentor.
“John?” The old man called out to him just before he walked out the door.
“Before you leave, I want you to register these words of Franz Kafka in your mind. And I quote ‘Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.’ Does that make sense?”
“It does. Thank you.” John smiled back and left.
Luckily for him, and shortly after his meeting with his mentor, he met a brilliant young student whose work ethic was terrific and passion to grow, so strong, it was infectious for John. It happened after a test one afternoon.
“Hey!” John cautiously said to a young woman who was typing away furiously on a laptop.
“Hi” She replied, only looking up for a second to see his face.
“I learned you have the text for this week’s work? Can I borrow it for just two hours please?”
“Sure. Just make sure you return it by 6 pm.” She handed him a textbook.
“That’s generous of you. Thank you, but I won’t take that long.”
True to his word, he returned the textbook at the time he promised. He didn’t know that by so doing he impressed the young woman.
“Just out of curiosity, have you finished the latest assignment on fiction?” John asked her when he returned the text.
“No, I just got assigned today.”
“Today? That’s strange. I got assigned two weeks ago.”
“Wait, which one are we talking about?”
“The critical analysis one.”
“Oh that? I already submitted that last week.”
John blushed from embarrassment after hearing the assignment is not even the latest. Maybe professor Kweku was right. He must be slow. The young woman noticed his embarrassment and added.
“I finished that quickly because I have read that book multiple times. That assignment is not due until this Friday.”
John relaxed. He appreciated her emotional intelligence.
“By the way, my name is John. You are?”
“Pretty name. So, you’re a Literature major?”
“How come we’ve never met? Never mind that question, I am mostly here at nighttimes and some weekends. So the fault could be mine.” He chuckled nervously.
“Well, I actually started out as a journalism student but switched over to Literature.”
“Interesting. If you don’t mind me asking why Literature?”
“Why not literature?” Olive smiled before going on to describe her interests. John noticed how fluent she spoke. Her clear diction and accurate enunciation revealed an enlightened woman. Her expanded vocabulary which she whipped with the ease of an English native told John a possible short story about her. She may come from a well to do family or have parents like his that are adamant about good education, and who probably started her out early.
“So why did you start out with Journalism?” He wanted her to keep talking. It was either in her voice or intellectual capacity. Whatever it was, he enjoyed listening to this woman.
“Oh, my mother wanted me to read Journalism. She thought I’d make a good journalist.”
John smiled. “I bet you knew what you wanted for yourself huh?”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
They became friends.
* * *
Just before the start of an exam, one weekend, the Head of Department walked into class to address the part time students. He announced that the prestigious writer’s association, PWA, has approved a student chapter of their writing contest and is requesting submissions from interested students. He went on to give the details and requirements of the contest. John texted Olive immediately. She already knew.
Olive and John made it through the first and second rounds that filtered an entry of 24,331 writers nationwide down to fifteen. The third round, which had even tougher judges, would emerge with only five semifinalists. Unfortunately, Olive lost out on this round.
“I am dropping out of the contest.” John announced to Olive shortly after the results came out.
“I am no longer interested.” He said.
Olive looked at him in dismay. “You must be out of your mind.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. Whatever.”
“Is this for my sake?”
He was hesitant to reply. “Well, no…yes. I mean the excitement is gone! Don’t you see?”
Olive stared at him like he had grown an uncharacteristic horn on his forehead then she burst out laughing. When she regained control of herself, she replied to him.
“That is very sweet but if we are going to remain friends you have to finish this contest and I mean it.”
John sensed she was serious but wasn’t sure how to react until she uttered that she would support him. That brought relief. He could have done well in the contest by himself; he knew that. But his motivation needs the fuel of this friendship in addition to the competitive nature of the contest. Now being sure that he won’t lose his friendship over the contest, he continued.
After submission of his final entry, he took out time to write a note of thanks he would supposedly offer at the award ceremony and sent it to his friend for criticism. She didn’t reply.
“Why aren’t you replying to my message?”
“Because I couldn’t figure out what it’s for?”
“You should have asked me. It’s for the upcoming awards ceremony.”
“What award ceremony?”
“Award for the writing competition.”
“Is the result out?”
“No. I just want to be ready.”
Olive laughed. “I guess you didn’t read the details of the competition. If you won the competition, the reward is monetary towards your education. That’s it.”
John knew so. It is only that he has dreamed and daydreamed too much about winning an award for his work. A dream he is yet to share with anybody but whether the dream comes true now or later he wants to ensure he is ready for that speech because he wants every part of his dream to come true except for struggling to give a speech at the award.
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