What is your favorite word and why?
My heartbeat is in the broken, faux timber bookcase against my mother’s bedroom wall. I am thirteen years old. Each afternoon, I return, palms moist, nerves alight, mind buzzing with the consequences of being caught. Every other sensation pales against the motions involved with retrieving my prize. In my hands is the rich, ochre face of a woman with all the colors of the rainbow painted on her eyelids. In my hands is a map to self, to affirmation, to a future of boundless potentials. This is what I risk everything for.
The treasure in my mother’s chest was the novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. This book rendered great clarity to ambiguous stirrings within myself. At an age when my inchoate understanding of prevalent issues such as patriarchy and inequality stemmed from mere perceptions, reading Nervous Conditions was akin to finding a clearing in the undergrowth that is adolescent thought. My mother was certainly unaware that her ‘underage’ daughter immersed herself in the raw narratives that were used as readings in my mother’s degree studies. Much like the character, Babamukuru, she frowned upon my highly critical approach to existing systems around me: a typical ‘masculine’ trait. Much like the character Nyasha, who was Babamukuru’s daughter, I did not imbibe traditional virtues for their apparent value. I scratched, probed, and searched until I discovered their worth for myself. My unfettered curiosity regarding societal constructs knew no bounds. I was, in a word, precocious.
Whenever Babamukuru described his outspoken daughter as precocious, it connoted the undesirable traits of a female maverick. However, I deduced from the novel’s context that the term was a stain that I would be proud to wear as I attained greater levels of enlightenment. Thus, I bore Nyasha’s precocity as my own even before I peered into the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English to ascertain its bona fide meaning.
The word precocious remains a personal favorite. Its mention compels me to recall a period when my ideas roamed far from the limits imposed by conventional molds, mindless of the existence of such molds to begin with. The onset of my adolescence marked the peak of my creativity and intellectual intensity. Thereafter, to some unfortunate degree, I began to heed the natural markers of suitability. I abandoned my dreams of furthering my knowledge of nuclear fission reactions at the realization that my country could hardly sustain basic, petroleum-based energy systems. I pursued, instead, the aim of becoming a green engineer. I tailored my prose to fit a template when my disappointment about my grades surpassed the exasperation of my Literature tutor, an unyielding pedagogue. I learnt thus the importance of harmonizing my beliefs with the opinions of others. However, I cannot help but look forward to a future of universal intellectual freedoms.
Someday, I will have a daughter who may clamber onto her Uncle’s roof on the family homestead to observe the rain-capture systems there. Unlike her mother, she will not be judged. She will witness a spectrum of human experiences through the books that line my shelf and I will be aware. She too will bear insatiable curiosity. She will be, in a then obsolete terms, a precocious wonder.