(c) Folakemi Emem-Akpan
I do not speak English; neither do I speak Spanish or Italian or German or Yoruba. In fact, I do not speak at all.
Born with every organ functioning but my ears and throat, I spent my formative years away from home, sequestered in a school with children that suffered from the same malady of deafness and dumbness as I did. Even when I went home for holidays, I was essentially alone. My three brothers were separated from me by far more than deafness. They were boys, expected to make something worthwhile of their lives. I was but a girl.
I retreated into books, was sucked into a whole new world; that of words and syntax and plots and subplots. My first attempt at a story of my own was crude, and there was gross sympathy in my mother’s eyes when I showed her what I had written. She shook her head, patted me on the head and plunked a glass of cold lemonade in front of me. I never showed her my work again.
But I did show my English teacher in school. His smile and nod of approval was like the sun peeking from behind the darkest clouds. He sat with me, showed me my mistakes and suggested what I needed to rewrite. A month later, he started up a school magazine, and I became published.
I was twelve years old.
It was like being born anew. I had found my purpose, my passion, my peace. And Mr. Brown became a surrogate father, the one who would sit hours unending with me, not just critiquing my work but also listening to and encouraging my dreams and aspirations.
I did graduate from my special school, but the outside world was not ready for me. I am from a third world country, and it doesn’t matter how influential your family is if you have a handicap. So as qualified as I was, there as no workplace brave enough to take me on.
I turned to writing with a vengeance. For two years after I graduated, my stories were sad ballads. Heroines hated by all, despite their beauty and grace. Heroines meeting tragic ends. Stories of poor people the world would not give a chance.
Then came illumination. That night, I’d gone to bed later than usual, yet couldn’t sleep. I was twenty-two, living off my parents’ wealth and had no clear direction in life. I was unemployable. The only thing I had in my life was my writing and even then, my passion for it had waned. But it was the only thing that could provide for me, the only thing that could earn me money and independence.
That night, my passion became my life’s work. That was the end of sad stories and suicidal heroines.
It’s been five years now, and I am about to receive the first paycheck from my work. It is for a two part story published in a local magazine, and the money is not much. In six months, it’ll be gone. But it is my money, earned from something born out of my brain.
This is my proudest moment.
I do not speak English; neither do I speak Spanish or Italian or German or Yoruba. In fact, I do not speak at all. But I can write, and in this I am not at all unusual because the written word is a universal language that I share with writers and readers all over the world.