Written By: Romeoux Chrysta
I have a million memories of my childhood. If these memories were shells on a beach, I am sure they would be yellow (Blue became my muse barely two months ago and I am unapologetically in love with her). There I was: just mastering the art of weeping for a heart-wrenching movie (Titanic was my first), bright, brave in my own subtle, childish manner, though calm and prone to withdrawal now and then; enchanted by every literature classic I owned; completely in love with Celinè Dion’s voice – mimicking her fearlessly – hitting and belting the highest of treble notes; singing along to my favourite singers as if my breath would cease if I did not join the songs; and somehow, deep down, I thought these artists could hear my voice from wherever they lived. It was so fantastical and thrilling, and I was just eight.
That was when I wrote my first story. It was about a disobedient little girl named Ada or Tina or Mary (I am not sure which of them is the one) and how she was impregnated by one miscreant after she settled in Lagos, against the wish of her parents. Well, Ada or Tina or Mary eventually died in labour (quite an unconventional storyline for an eight year old aspiring novelist’s conception).
Mum was so happy for me. I can totally recall every phase of her reaction when I showed her the first draft of my “debut” write-up, which is ironical as the word in quote reveals, but it is actually “debut” in the sense that it was the beginning of my unwavering love for creative writing. Mum held me in her bossom and kissed my forehead, obviously surprised, overwhelmed by this new reality, and beaming with the smile I inherited from her (although people think I have Dad’s smile), then she called me by my nickname, “Chinus Gbuay” – not “Chinus BOY” like my relatives called me. Her stress rested on the letters GBU-ay and now I understand how the sound of that distinct pronunciation divided my nickname into two separate names – the first and my favourite being Mum’s. Yet this truth is another irony or more like a paradox because I did not like the stress GBU-ay but I loved it anyway because Mum used it at the perfect moment – when she held me, locking me right there in her arms.
Sometimes a peck would follow our embrace, and I did not like that too, but I miss it, and now I think I was just being too shy to do what those kids in animated films do with their mothers. Dad and I are not very close. In fact we are not close (we have never been close) but like Mum’s reaction to my “debut” story, a particular memory I have of us (Dad and I) is deeply rooted in my consciousness, ever-stretching into my frequent dreams of those days. I was a few months away from my seventh birthday. It was one night when I was, much to my own surprise, wide awake after he made me read my Comprehensive English Language textbook. It was a sample composition: a story about a lost boy who encountered what he initially thought was a ghost, and I cannot forget the old man’s bald head, the greyness of his wrapper, and the unusual thinness of his staff. It was all so terrifying and intriguing, because I concentrated on the frightening images of the story, and I did not hear myself repeat Dad’s words as he read each clause – I did not hear his baritone (which sounds more like a mild tenor when he sings). These feelings, I believe, were triggered by my childish comprehension that horror fiction was real. The first horror story I read was about a maltreated “houseboy” who befriended benevolent spirits – the inhabitants of an evil but beautiful forest. It was the novella I used in my first Literature class. I realise just how much I loved that book because it was the first long prose I read, and I cannot recall the author’s name but one thing is true: he deserves an accolade, or at least I owe him a poem.
After the reading that night, Dad and I relaxed in our sitting and not-so “living” room, watching a late night film on RSTV. I think it was one of the Jurrasic Parks, and I did not like the movie, or at least not the way I loved Titanic. My undead muse for the latter are the last scenes of the sinking ship; particularly the scene of Jack’s death, and Rose’s last dream, where the sinking diamond found its way into the depths of the Atlantic, lighting the darkness, turning the dreaded currents into the the golden hall, where magnificient chandeliers cast their rays on Rose’s skin, and on Jack’s hair as he kissed her twinklin hand gloves. I did not care (I still do not care) about the other scenes of the movie, with the exception of Rose’s suicidal attempt. I do not recall whimpering when she almost fell into the ocean, but I know I did more than whimper because it was suspenseful, although I was very familiar with the paradoxical feeling of being simultaneously nervous and excited. Now I remember the Government Quaters neighbourhood graffiti contest I joined. It was in honour of the movie that made us cry (yes, my playmates and I). There was no winner but I believe my drawing was the best, and it lives to this day, red crayon marks on our verandah wall: a drawing of the Titanic, the scene where Jack saved Rose from plunging headfirst to her death.
The drawing is only a few feet away from the windows of the bedroom, where I and my baby brother slept every night, next to my dearest big sister – me in the middle and my brother at the right edge of the bed by the blue wall. I always crossed my left arm on my sister’s belly (which is not as big as it is today) and her name is Rose – the one and only reason I loved those Titanic scenes so much. I do not recall watching her cry when Jack died, but I know she did, and it was seemingly the right motivation for my own tears. This short piece of a memoir is dedicated to Rose (my sister, not Kate Winslet, although it is also a written applause for the movie).
Every bit of my most cherished memories revolve around Rose: singing my favourite Celinè Dion songs, my favourite Westlife songs, and my favourite Don Moen songs; reading Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Merville’s Moby Dick, Dickens’s Oliver Twist et cetera. Now I think I loved Achebe’s Things Fall Apart more than I loved the others, and not because his first name Chinua is similar to my last name Chinuwa(as I always loved to brag about it to my schoolmates) but because the title itself reminds me of the Titanic. It remains a readable proof that things really do fall apart: marriages, families, wealth, and friendships, to mention a few. This is the solid reason I refer to myself as a ship, not necessarily drunken like Arthur Rimbaud’s, but a ship harbours people – travellers. This is synonymous to my life being “a voyage of no return“, the fact that I have an endless list of acquaintances, besides a tentative compilation of a few names of close friends, and a definite list of family members. There’s more to this metaphor and it is the most indisputable fact that someday, like the Titanic, after everything falls apart, I will sink into the Sombreiro (definitely not the Atlantic because it is too deep, and I urge you to ask Google if you have no idea about where the Sombreiro is).
Like Kate Winslet’s Rose’s necklace, my last breath will awaken every moment of my beautifully sour childhood: all of its thrills and terrors, all of its violated innocence, all of its neutrality and colours from every photo shoot and every picture I saw, all of its captured motion from every movie I watched, all of its inspiration from those classics I love, all of its careless fun from Friday evening adventures with my playmates, and lastly, all of its lost high vocal notes – the same songs I sang to the glory of God with those choirs at church and at school.
I miss my childhood, and deep down, I know that I do not regret any joy or pain of mine from those days, and even to the moment of my last breath – into the grave – I am proud of my childhood. This sums up the perfect definition of those days – Titanic!