From Passenger to Motorist

This essay, by Philomena Esi Agudu, was an honorable mention at the Youths Inspiration Writing Competition 2022.

Ma used to tell me that when I was a baby sometime in the blossoming years of the twenty-first century, there was no such thing as a ‘baby on board’ label- at least for our family. She would hold on to me tight in the back seat and I will scramble friskily across the wide, panoramic, frosted glass pane, while Da slowly drove along like a fellow who just got his license yesterday. Think of it as the dawning of some hyperactive, vulnerable, clueless kid shielded emphatically from the complexity and woes of our dark world- a whooping inadequacy of resources, vehement dose of compromise and labored parental partnership all in one bloody mess. The African breed can relate.

At the time it was like seeing so many different colors and shapes at a time; much like how it eventually became intriguing to ascertain the disparity between ethics and the law…conscience and the societal definition of right. Then in the peak of adolescence I was at the front seat beside my still driving father…sometimes wearing a seat belt and sometimes not. Inconsistency. Immaturity. Recklessness, the adults would call it. But from the recesses of that unfortunate drawback of youthful disposition, emanates a flexibility in our cognition and emotion. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the freedom to maneuver at will without the pestering stifling from a strapped seatbelt? This flexibility made me recognize perhaps for the first time, the glaring pitiful picture of poverty and its socioeconomic ramifications. The average cocoa farmer owns so much as the priceless asset of land only for the astute chocolate industry to claim his profit starting from persistent advertisement right in the heat of a time–wasting traffic jam. Let’s not even get started on the street vendors. Fuel prices are better sprinters than national development. Or is it that the two are inversely related? I remember glaring intently at the signature LED lights branding the billboards at filling stations as a 13-year-old and seeing 2.00. It is 7.30 now. What will it be when I’m 28 years old traveling miles across the country spreading hope and love and light? 10.00? 20.00? 30.00?  

Now I am technically of age. 20 is quite something but the African society has a more picturesque opinion on this subject of young adulthood. Firm, sturdy legs. Signature bust… More reassuring, anti-childish hips ( it so happens that I am feminine)… A sensible voice of my own teeming with conventional commonsense…Promising career both in and out of the home…An active financial life with very little contribution from Ma, Da or future hubby. For now, I  possess two cherished gifts: my blossoming youth and my petite, navy blue KIA morning of which I am licensed to operate. 

So these days I am right behind the wheel, sometimes with a relative or friend in the passenger’s seat. Think of it as the climax of a much more stable, socially conscious youth steering the affairs of things, with the guidance of the on-looking former generation hurrying along in its wake. I still see the blatant poverty and unexplained societal injustice…a warning that I too must accelerate to the protest of my speedometer and get to the hospital so that work can begin in the outpatient department. Future doctors can relate. I am well aware of the still racing fuel prices and conclude that it is either I make more money or stop the aimless driving around town. I use my seatbelt ALL of the time- maybe out of slight anxiety to encounter the police or just maybe out of sheer maturity, responsibility and a  loathing for reckless disposition. From this relatively fixed position I view a world of possibility. Africa would one day relate. Left, right, reverse or neutral- it all takes the determination of a gear shift. The traffic lights dictate the times and seasons of the hustle and bustle of our fast-changing world. The pedestrians simulate the network of individuals,  families and communities available in this journey of impact. The land, environment and properties illustrate the plethora of natural and synthetic resources available for proper use and sustainability.  

And I am the motorist.-the epitome of the present and future of this glorious land.  

The hyperactive, vulnerable clueless kid strapped in the backseat who grew up and learned the meaning of duty. 

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