"If there is one thing Jennifer Emelife communicates in this short piece, it is that the book and language present us with possibilities, and when we tap into these, there is no quantifying the fulfillment we experience nor is there any limit to our growth." - Editor's note.
Guest Writer: Jennifer Chinenye Emelife
I grew up in an environment where Literature was a wandering young pregnant lady with an attractive face but no home. People saw her on the streets, greeted her with a quick smile and even quicker steps. There were only a few young people enthusiastic about writing, and they didn't show it. But I had a number of friends in secondary school who formed a small reading circle.
Ramatu was the one who always had all the books. Amarachi somehow knew how to get them from her. I usually saw big Nafisa fondle one or two books during assemblies and each time it got to little Rafat's turn, I knew they were soon coming to me. That was how I got half the books I owned then.
I wanted badly to meet people like me. People who understood the language of the pen, but everyone around me were busy chasing figures and plotting graphs. Mixing chemicals and identifying specimens. My father didn't help matters as he ladened the huge book shelf he had constructed for us (he was very particular about the safety of our books, but most importantly, maximum performance in our academics) with different textbooks ranging from STAN Mathematics to MW Ayakoha's New School Physics for SSS, PN Okeke, Modern Biology and the likes. I watched my big sister drool at the sight of these books, watched how she read them with relish. When will I become Ramatu, Amarachi, or Nafisa? When will I adorn my section of the shelf with the story of Anowa or the Wedlock of the Gods? With Mills and Boons? With Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel?
I needed to break away. I needed to be with people who understood me. To read books that spoke to me subtle words that appealed to my soul, took me to another world, and left me astonished. Not pages marred with the intrusion of crippling figures and symbols signalling me to an unknown destination with their fervent search for x, y, or z.
It was a miracle when after my Junior WAEC examinations, I was enlisted among those to further in Arts for senior secondary studies. I remember falling to the floor in glee and then running to my mum's shop to give her the good news.
I remember meeting daddy's scowling face as he said, "You didn't work hard enough! You should be in the Sciences!"
"…just like your sister," I completed, silently.
If I was ever grateful to failure, it was for leading me the Art way.
Life suddenly became beautiful. I devoured the subject, Literature-in-English, like a hungry bear. Soon, my library section was filled with precious gifts that exalted me above the human realm – fiction. Everyone at home thought me odd. I was found everywhere with a book and a pen. Father felt that was the height of all frivolities. Mother was scared her poor daughter's head was missing some nuts. But I felt tall and continued to learn more about Literature. Then I met Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare held my arm and led me gently through the literary field. A long walk it was, but there, he taught me to use language ad infinitum. Renewing and refreshing. He showed me the beauty that is in writing and jarred my mind's eyes open to see beyond the words I read. I knew only then that I had found a home.
Years later, when my father came preaching that I apply for a professional course, like Law, to study in the university, I placed a large book over my head and let its leaves fall to my ears. Deaf, I walked to the Cyber Cafe and when I logged into my prospective school's site, there was only one course calling out to me – Literature.
Today, the UN celebrates the English Language. Language so widely spoken it has unified the world into one tongue. So we remember Shakespeare, who by his many quotations, has enriched the English language, moulding it into different literary forms. He has proven to be eternal, just as the language.
Here are lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 55, with which I celebrate the longevity of the English Language:
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
Happy English Language Day.
Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare.
About Our Guest Writer
Jennifer Chinenye Emelife is a school teacher who loves to write. She studied Literature-in-English at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. Currently living in Lagos, her fiction has been featured in an anthology called A Basket of Tales, an anniversary project of the current Association of Nigerian Authors (Benue State Chapter). She blogs at chijeniewrites.blogspot.com
Images credit: unesco, unog, izquotes