I am slow at swallowing any news whole. It gets even more complex when I face bad news; I think “oh my god no!” and then I think, “maybe there was a mistake, It can’t be, how can it be?” I stay in denial for as long as I can. And then, there is always a day that knows how to slap better than the rest of the days. I am waiting for that day, and maybe I will accept wholly that Prof. Awoonor is dead, gone, and his flesh means nothing at all anymore.
And if we tried to, we can only hear his laughter from our memory, see his smile in photographs, visit him in books held close to our chests. His flesh means nothing at all anymore.
“You ambushed me!” he said pointing at me.
I smiled and he smiled back, seemingly impressed by my mischief. That wasn’t the day I begun to like Prof, I liked him a long long time before then. When he told me, ‘I ambushed him’ he was not some distant poet, whose piece I had to study to pass my finals in secondary school anymore, he was my teacher.
Prof sat in the middle of the front space in the creative writing class at the University of Ghana and asked us questions, told us stories, tickled our imaginations and laughed at and with us.
The day he said “I ambushed him” was really two days after the day “I had ambushed him.” He had given us an assignment; it was to be submitted at anytime before 2pm, two days before class. I was late, an hour long late.
“Please,” I said.
“No, I already sent away others who were earlier than you.”
“I’m sorry Prof.”
All this while, I had one foot in his office and the other outside the door.
“Come in or go out,” he said, “I will not take your work.”
I went out with my very first attempt at short story writing. I would find out later on, that it was a really horribly written short story but then, all I knew was that I had written a story and I wanted my teacher to read it.
I bought a brown envelope and put my script in it. Then with my black pen I wrote at the back on the envelope, boldly and largely: “Prof. Kofi Awoonor, English Department, University of Ghana, Legon.” I left the envelope in his pigeon hole at the department’s main office.
“You ambushed me!”
I thought he would throw me out of his class. I had disobeyed him and ‘ambushed’ him and yet, I had the nerve to only smile at him without words. And he just smiled back at me and went on with his class.
He told us that the problem with my generation is that we don’t know the names of things; we don’t bother to learn them. Every tree is just a tree to us and when we write we can’t be specific enough, detailed enough, because, we never bothered to notice the details.
Prof Awoonor was a warm and honest teacher; he threw a party for his students at the end of every semester, he did! He always brought one giant bottle of red wine. He knew how to laugh and make others laugh. From his students he demanded imagination, freshness and fearlessness.
You ambushed me Prof! I imagined, you would be there, when I finally gather courage to publish a book with my name on it. I wanted to see your smile again.
You ambushed me Prof!
Smile at me and let me smile back, where ever you may be.
By: Nana Nyarko Boateng @girdcenter.org