Saturday, 16 August 2008

The masterpieces of memory

The mind of the child

A child’s mind is like a canvas where the genius of life dabs the paintbrushes of events in the paints of personal experiences and circumstances to create the masterpieces of memory.

Memories keep flooding in as if they all happened yesterday, the smells are pervasive, the colours are vivid and the sounds are loud enough for you to turn your head in reaction to the calling of your name.

Amazingly, our parents in their assumption that they were shielding us from the evils and negatives of life must really have thought our brains worked on the shortest-term memory, like iron to magnets we were suddenly attracted to the event and then removed so suddenly, just as iron appears to lose its magnetisation when removed from the magnetic field.

Nobody told them about magnetic remanence, the ability for an object to retain elements of magnetisation after the external magnetic field has been removed - children retain just enough information to form an experience they may not yet understand or appreciate until later in life.

Yes, the kids do see it all, feel it all, hear it all and somehow, remember almost too much.

Told to go home

I have been called a coconut before and then, it was not the derogatory term for being brown on the outside and white on the inside – I slept on the same bed as my mother when she was nursing my kid-sister and I always seemed to end up on the floor.

How I came to no harm as I fell out of the bed each night, like a coconut, she said; I cannot tell, but maybe the suppleness of childhood makes the damage less significant than if I were older.

At that time too, my mother was lecturer at the Kaduna Polytechnic when my father had moved to Jos to start his new job at the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria.

We had neighbours whose kids played with me during the days, but later in life I realised that people also had hard times then – it was quite interesting to note that when they were about to gather round their table to eat I was told point blank by their mother – Now, go home we are about to eat.

My mother sometimes laughed at me and made jest of the fact that I was chased away when they were about to eat, it contrasted sharply with the kind of hospitality I was used to where friends of the child were invited to partake in meals – we had to refuse because our parents made it a taboo to eat anything away from home – when we were tempted and succumbed, we saw heaven and hell on the same day.

From Kaduna to Jos

One other memory that is etched in my mind was when we went to visit my father from Kaduna, his good friend drove us there, a good 170 or so kilometres when the roads were almost impassable – we came to one bridge, more like a ford it was; I could have sworn the bridge moved as it seemed to be made of cloth that swung in the current of the river.

Somehow, the return journey was now eventful enough to remember anything special, other events in life had brush-stroked over seemingly inconsequential events even though every second, every minute, every hour, every day and every year had been lived through with the passing of time.

I once had a van run over my foot and that was painful but when I saw a car run over my mother’s shin, I probably felt as much pain – as a child, there are just some events that are indelibly etched in my your memory, ready to surface at the most inopportune time – how it is that life is a long story that sometimes never gets told.

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