Note that this work is fiction, and I am not the persona. Don’t attack me, please.
Conditioned Theoretic: A Matter of Aspirations
Picture your best cliché sitcom scene of aristocrats who happen to be related – yes, complete with even that one guy with the thinning hair and the monocle. Picture them in a grandiose living room, in their superfluously, inappropriately flashy attire, using unnecessarily emphasized and enunciated English. Now, picture them African; picture them Ghanaian. One significant thing changes, of course: now, they don’t just “happen” to be related; they have made themselves related – because in Ghana, everyone you grew up with, or have known for at least ten years becomes your brother, sister or cousin.
But back to the main picture. Now picture me: a disagreeable, strong-willed, iconoclastic fourteen-year-old girl, convinced that my view of life is the only one that truly matters. The only reason for my inclusion in this dreadful scene is that my mother, who was, at that moment, in the kitchen, was growing weary of my antisocial tendencies, which involved me staying in my room to read or write, despite the fact that there were visitors – relatives, no less – present. To be perfectly fair, the appeal of interesting people was a strong enough incentive for me to leave my room. But did they ever consider that maybe the problem was them and not me? Nope.
Even with harmless conversation flitting about from one end to another, conflict was brewing in the air like the formation of a master plot of anarchy by a genius mind.
These were the kind of pseudo-aristocratic relatives who all, secretly, believed one’s parents were not doing a good job of bringing them up, simply because they personally disapprove of the child’s notions. Frequently, this is not a result of the discovery of any immoral or unethical behaviour in the child, but is simply for the reason that the kid’s thought patterns are not in line with their own; and what’s more scandalous is that the children don’t even have the dignity to pretend this isn’t the case. Hence, they come to the conclusion that it is their rightful place to take up positions as mentors for the children.
In a way, it was as if they were the ones insecure of themselves, and so felt the need to constantly show their own level of education, by throwing facts and quotes about left right and centre, which were meant to impress themselves as much as each other.
“You know, my oldest daughter got married last week,” said Aunt Cecelia. “You know how that quote by Aristotle goes: “Friendship composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” She and her husband are like one person!” She gave a satisfied laugh, and regarded the others in the room with supercilious eyes.
“Well, when I attended Harvard,” contributed Uncle Agyapong, pausing for dramatic effect at this point before continuing, “My classmates and I always repeated the famous words of Oscar Wilde: “The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.” I do hope my son manages to complete his own time in Harvard –“ another dramatic pause “- before he starts thinking about marriage.”
Uncle Francis, noisily chewing plantain chips and managing to get some crumbs stuck in the ferret of a moustache upon his lips, added. “Marriage is difficult to pay attention to when you’re as busy as a doctor. But some may argue that it’s worth the prestige.”
His words elicited disguised looks of contempt from other family members, which was perfectly understandable. Uncle Francis’s attempt at an intelligent comment had, after all, fallen flat. For heaven’s sake, he hadn’t even included any quotes by a famous dead author! It was a crude, half-baked cross between opinion and statistical fact – entirely unacceptable.
Uncle Francis, aware that he had not been socially approved of, sought to redirect the attention to someone else. The only person more eligible to be a subject of criticism than himself was the only fourteen-year-old girl in the room.
“So, what do you want to be, Zane? What are your plans for the future?” he asked.
The future. Such an ambiguous, unpredictable concept. As if Providence, Fate, or whatever you believed was responsible for divination, would care a bit about one’s own “plans.”
“I want to be a writer,” I said.
There was a collective, offended gasp, inaudible except within the silence. You could only hear it by reading the atmosphere. I had upset the balance of the fragile snow-globe world in which they all pretended to live. I gave them a few seconds to recover. The shock was a good enough punishment for forcibly coaxing me from my assumed position of third-party observer.
Aunt Cecelia, probably aching to reassure herself that there was hope still with me, proceeded to babble on, “Stigmatisation of girls in the academic world is a bigger issue than we realise. People naturally expect girls not to be as good as boys in mathematics or physics. I mean, I, personally, am a banker, but in my day, my mathematics was even high above average. This view of girls as being less than boys is victimisation, to say the least. Maya Angelou is the one who said, “A wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” But there’s a significant rise in the rate of females becoming engineers. I thought I recalled you mentioning that you were aspiring to be an engineer, once?”
We both knew I had never said anything of the sort.
“I want to be a writer,” I repeated, unperturbed.
Uncle Agyapong was worried. The furrowed brows on his face said as much. “Are you certain?” he asked. “There’s a lot more you can do with opportunities like yours than just being a…writer.” He said the last word almost with a shudder. “Have you never even considered law? Or medicine?”
“I have said twice now that I want to be a writer. Why is this a source of discomfort for you? All these quotes that you inject into your sentences – where do they come from? Engineers? Lawyers? I would have thought, instead, that the profession of a writer would be one reflective of perhaps more wisdom and prestige than the others.”
Aunt Cecelia rolled her eyes. “Well, yes, theoretically. But properly educated women in the twenty-first century can’t just aspire to be writers.”
I stood up, prepared to give my final remarks and leave. “Writers are only respectable theoretically? Then, perhaps, quoting them only makes you theoretically knowledgeable. Three generations from now, a descendant of mine will not be saying, “A non-famous local banker, Cecelia Boahen, once said that “Properly educated women in the twenty-first century can’t just aspire to be writers,”” not just because he or she won’t know you, or even because bankers are rarely ever quoted, but because you never bothered to write it down. Only theoretically, of course.”
I departed from the room.
To this day, there were relatives present in that room whom I have never seen since.