Is life all about switching lanes?
That was what they taught us in school, at home, in the church, in the mosque – that each of us had our lane carved out for us; that we must run the race with a singular focus till the end. They taught us too that our arrival times were different, specially designed and carved in hard rock that no one could alter. We were told never to deviate from the narrow path, that path of truth, the path of honour, the path of hard work. We believed. Yes we believed. We believed that the road or the way was one, with multiple channels that led to the same destination. How could we in our naivety have thought that there was another way to look at the mirror? Our television programmes started at 4 p.m. and closed at 11 p.m. with the National Anthem. Till the next day. How could we know, how could we have known that their television programmes went on for 24 hours?
It was not too long after that we discovered that sometimes it was imperative, that it was sometimes necessary, even fundamental to switch lanes. This knowledge came with pain. We had already carved out a path which we thought was the way, the only way, and the right way. Then came new cars that didn’t drive on roads. Cars with wings of steel. Then came Ghana burgers; yahoo yahoo and a legion of paths to the gleam. This was when we knew that there was pain that could not be cured. Ever! For it started the great fall into the pit of doubts.
Doubts? Yes doubts. The new knowledge that we could switch lanes, that life was all about lane-switching till we fell into the right, profitable, even if flighty lane that took us to the gleam of the top. Some of us remained in one lane and did not win a laurel. They never even got to the first bend on the long stretch. And we asked: why? There was no one to answer us. The teachers themselves were switching lanes too, in a manner of speaking. What do you make of a teacher who becomes a market master? Or the headmaster who sells off a pupil to the head hunters of the land? Or the mother who sold off her child to the highest bidder? Or the father who planted a seed in his daughter?
Well we also found out that some lanes got us to the destination faster than others. The younger ones found out first. And they became our masters. You see it was Pa Olagoke, the Incorruptible Judge, who said at his retirement party that he stood in one spot watching the dance of the masquerade throughout his life. That we the younger ones should climb trees to watch or sit atop our cars or move a table to the arena or switch lanes from state to federal or from federal to state and see all the dance steps. That night sleep traveled from my eyes to the interior of China. The bed was warm and cold throughout the night. The sheets were no comfort. The left-alone spirit took over. Whereas we were told that what the old people could see sitting on the floor, the young ones could not see from the top of a tall tree, another message came that the young people had all the gadgets to peek into the future.
It may be that the longer lanes like Lane Seven, made us run at a steady pace, for a longer period of time. We did not lose our breath. We did not falter. We did not stop to drink water. Tortoise got to its destination before dog they told us. But we did not get there before dog. Dog had made three return trips before we arrived at the end of the track. He got an award, an international award with gold strewn in his path. Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘Those who are blessed with the power/And the soaring swiftness of the eagle/And have flown before/Let them go/I will travel slowly/And I too will arrive’ did not console us. Too much blood had been shed. Too many lies had been told. Too much water had entered the barn.
When they began to teach us use of the left hand in the twilight of our time it was no use. Even generals lost all their battles. The men of the altar also entered the race of succulent flesh. It was not a time to tell many stories. It was not even a time to talk. It was a time of lost faith. When faith is lost words go flying in the wind. When words go flying then the end is about.
How did we negotiate our way through the labyrinth? How? Why did they not tell us that we should take the hammer, the cudgel, guns and hoes, along with missiles that launched from computer commands into the journey of the future? Why? Did they not know that the world could wear another face? Did they not know that peace-loving altar boys could become carriers of deadly talons? Did they not learn from the Second World War? I thought some of them fought in Burma. I thought they later went to the Congo to keep the peace.
Life is all about switching lanes. Now we know. When one door slaps you in the face look for another room and lie on the comfort of the waterbed, in a room made of golden diamonds and silvery water pipes and golden frames and floors of diamond. From being a fire-spitting Marxist it is okay to become an ice-cream-sucking man of infinite means. It is the new code of the world. Babylon itself has changed with the face of the new trumpeter. Even China has become friend of the factories of wealth. So where is the legacy? It is not a story to pass on.
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