January 2, 2017.
I am having a conversation with my brother and a friend, saying why I think homophobia is for most religious people a function of faith.
“I’ve never thought of it like that before. You should write about this, seriously!” My brother says. He is sixteen going on seventeen.
His tone is certain: You should write about this… He trusts that I can, and this isn’t about being right, it’s about having a compelling argument he’s convinced should be out there making believers.
Unbidden, pictures come rushing in on a memorial tide. The year is nineteen-ninety-nine. My sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old brother is only a few months old and I’m nine years old.
It’s past midnight, early Saturday morning, and I’m pacing my parents’ bedroom, clutching in my hands a blue Nutrend notebook in which I have outlined, through several pages, an argument I’ve been honing and distilling at least two weeks. I have a debate in a few hours.
Dad is away on a business trip and Mum doesn’t like sleeping alone, so for the time being my parents’ bedroom is where I sleep.
I’ve been practicing my lines for the debate more than a week but it has to be perfect. The words should roll off my tongue should I be woken and asked to get right into action. I have to hold my body the right way, with confidence. Mum has been of immense help. Together, we’ve anticipated the opposing team’s argument and how to sink them. She’s taking this as seriously as I am. I’m really intense for a nine-year-old everyone says.
The light in the bedroom is turned off. Illumination is backwash from the closet space between bedroom and bathroom. I know my lines by rote and hardly have need to consult the notebook, but my delivery has to be perfect. I’m not going to bed till I’m confident it is.
My brother wakes twice in the small hours to feed. He squeals in his crib, I scoop him out of the stainless steel affair and put him in Mum’s waiting arms to breastfeed. I have to carry him and walk eights around the bedroom to get him to go back to sleep.
“Chiedozie, it’s late. You’ve practiced enough. Come and sleep.” Mum says this at least ten times before morning. Like me, she is a light sleeper, or is it the other way round?
“I’m almost done. Five more minutes.”
I don’t sleep at all that night.
I bathe around five in the morning. Mum wakes around six. I go over my lines with her. She’s beaming from ear to ear.
The debate is slated for ten that Saturday morning. Mum drives me to the venue and we make good time. Present and ready to conquer before nine a.m.
The debate is third in a long lineup of events, but someone decided the debate is dispensable and I didn’t get the memo. There would be no debate, the man with tribal marks says. He looks happy to deliver bad news.
“Do you want to stay for the other events?” Mum asks.
It’s going to be a load of tripe with lots of boring speeches and nasty sandwiches that smell like tinned sardine. No, thanks.
“Let’s go home.”
We get back to the car and I start to cry. Mum comes around the car, hugs me till I quiet down and wipes my tears. Thankfully, my brother sleeps through all of it.
“But Mummy I worked really hard. I didn’t even sleep.”
“I know. I know. Don’t worry, you hear? No knowledge is a waste. Someday all the energy you put into this would come in handy.”
I fall asleep before our car clears the parking lot.
Few weeks later, there’s a debate at school. Primary 6 vs Primary 5. Chief speaker for Primary 6, I’m up against a boy, Daniel, who wears glasses and has a reputation much like mine in school (except he stays out of trouble). The debate topic is something along the lines of: Doctors are more important to society than lawyers.
I am arguing against. I’m not too pleased. I want to become a doctor. As I type this, I think how life is like a polka-dot tie: all the dots can be linked. I mean, I am a lawyer now.
Doctors versus lawyers. Like seriously. What could we possibly say?
It is apparent before long Primary 5 is thrashing my team.
Daniel, as chief debater for Primary 5, gets a right of reply after the last member of my team is finished. Then it’s my turn to reply.
I get in front of the crowd and start to speak, no notes, off the cuff. Besides using “bed of roses” in a clever way, I can’t recall much of what I said. All I know is at some point within my one-minute window, the audience goes gung-ho. Everyone is screaming. A teacher (I forget his name), who, for some reason, reminds me of A Bug’s Life, claps me on the back. Emeka appears out of nowhere and lifts me up.
It is a hero’s treatment.
I get into secondary school the next year. I represent my school at every debating event that takes place while I am there. I never lose a debate -except this one time at Regina Mundi where we are robbed. Home advantage and all that jazz. The audience protests the results. I Hillary Clinton, we get Trumped, but don’t forget the popular vote!
What’s the point of all this?
We never know when we become in real time, only in retrospect.
In saying to me “you should write about this,” what my brother really confirms is that Mum was right:
Someday all the energy you put into this would come in handy.
I’ve been ready since I was nine.