Dreams that die

A few days ago, I learned that a young man I knew had died in an accident on the streets of Calabar. It was an avoidable death, save for a couple of small details that fall into a broad category known as ‘the Nigerian factor’. 

For my non-Nigerian readers: the term is used to describe a unique combination of circumstances and/or behaviours that create an occurrence that is deemed to be peculiar to this environment. In this instance, Kingsley was said to have been roller-skating along a busy city street with his headphones on, lost in music. A speeding truck was approaching him when its brakes failed and Kingsley didn’t hear or heed the desperate blaring of the horn. His next stop was the mortuary. 

I doubt that he would have ever heard or seen a public safety message about the dangers of wearing headphones while crossing the road or the risks associated with skating in traffic. The truck is likely to be very old, poorly maintained and probably never had to pass a vehicle inspection or road fitness test. Also, if he was alive after impact, it’s highly improbable that there would have been an ambulance available with paramedics to save him. Even if there was, nobody would have known which number to call. That’s the Naija factor. 

Be that as it may, a boy of 17 or 18 is dead – just another statistic in a country where no one is keeping score. Yet, it could have been so different. 

I met Kingsley about five years ago because his neighbour, a colleague, wanted me to help him to get his life back on track. He had been out of school for two years because his father had died and his mother could not afford the fees. He came to my office with these very clever remote-controlled toy trucks that he had constructed from scrap materials, complete with hydraulic parts made from syringes. I was fascinated. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I would give this future engineer a second chance at completing school and possibly continue to support him through university. I still remember his mother – excited, humble and grateful for new possibilities. 

He started well at a small private school but struggled to keep his grades up. Somehow the lure of his neighbourhood was stronger than his ambition to make something of himself. In the second year of this experiment, I had a serious accident in Lagos and ended up in hospital for a couple of months. Despite this, my PA, Sharon, continued to ensure that he had his weekly allowance to attend school. By the time I returned, she had bad news – Kingsley had been skipping school but was attending my office faithfully each week. He would come in his uniform, collect the funds, then change into the street clothes he kept in his backpack. His standing excuse at school was that his uncle (me) had been in an accident and he had to stay home and take care of him. 

When I hobbled back from treatment in Jo’burg, we had a couple of tough conversations but Kingsley continued to make promises he couldn’t keep. In the end, I decided to sever ties and focus my energies on Christian, another fatherless boy, who was doing much better at treading a parallel path. Wisely, I had kept them apart in case Chris, who was younger, became influenced negatively. 

A couple of years later, a rather penitent and persistent Kingsley kept calling me and sending messages, begging for another opportunity, but I held firm. At times I felt guilty and nearly gave in, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I had tried really hard to give him the chance of a lifetime. Now, there is no chance of redemption. 

For me, no more dreams of training a future engineer. No option for him to translate his computer course into a career; no possibility of stardom, however far-fetched, through the hip-hop dancing he had taken up; and no way of making his mother proud.

All of our dreams died with him on a busy street in Calabar. 

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes (1902-67)

19 thoughts on “Dreams that die

  1. Wow! So many of our teenagers are in the same boat of succumbing to environmental lures instead of building their future, they need to hear kingsley’s story.. It is a pity!
    Furthermore, Something needs to be done to curb the increased number of teens in Calabar metropolis who do this roller skating along the express ways…

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    1. Hi Chinwe. I agree. Government across Nigeria is far too responsive to issues like this. There are so many agencies – police, road safety, DoPT, education, social services… and none can activate common-sense initiatives unless it’s a big government policy or a pronouncement by a governor or the president. Truth is, nobody cares enough to bother. Only the citizens can make a difference.

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  2. A moving tribute to a fine young Kingsley. Michael this is a display to all your readers and more importantly Kingsleys family members, just who has been lost.
    I had the good fortune to meet this fine young boy several years ago (before I went through my greatest loss- my dear Mother) and was most impressed with his unequivocal creative talent amongst other things making ships with matches. I was however moved by his lost eyes, desperately seeking direction and influence, without which he was sure to be destined for hardship and failure in any dreams that he may have had. Regrettably something that I see in a lot of poor and disadvantaged young boys in Nigeria.
    I last had the opportunity to speak briefly with Kingsley in 2013. He was clearly lost, impressionable and desparately needed guidance and direction. It appeared that the only obtainable guidance for Kingsley was through his westernised influence namely hip-hop music and dance.
    Michael I will only add that this is a fitting and lovely way to capture and deal with what I presume is your own grief.
    Kingsley- I know you’re smiling and skating in the heavens. When your not then sleep in piece 💜.

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    1. Thanks for this, Antoinette. I remember how concerned you were about whether he was ever going to find his way. He needed a lot of care and direction – I tried but I came up short. What’s left is the lesson he left behind, about seizing opportunities when we have the chance and trying our best to live out our dreams before they die.

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  3. This is one sad news that should never be forgotten in a hurry. But adding the Nigerian or environmental factors, Life goes on.. . Except for the close relatives who will surely feel the loss of a man in his prime.
    There is one major fundamental issues affecting a nation like Nigeria: Ability to create a responsive governance through the effectiveness of the 3 arms of government. Because the so called Nigerian factor would still come into play.
    Some states in the country had officially ban Skating on a major street but despite this I still find it odd seeing Skaters on the streets without control. To the extent that Skating is being deploy for Experiential Marketing these days as you see skaters distributing flyers and selling products on the Highway without control.
    Skating as a sporting and leisure event that has been abused in Nigeria hence we are finding it very difficult to be accepted
    An average Nigerian skater would want to sag his or her trousers, wear head phone and have total disregard to the flow of traffic and traffic laws and this endangered attitude is indirectly killing skating and making it less attractive to a responsible young man or woman
    Our states needs more of enforcement to preserve lives and this should not be against Okada, one way traffic offence and Illegal overtaking alone.
    Let there be a law to guide, let the law enforcement agencies be ready to prosecute without hindrance and let the prison be ready to accept whoever is convicted if. .
    But before all these, let the public be enlighten on the dangers around us.
    That’s where the Public Information bureau has a great work to do.
    If every arm of governments can all do their jobs as within the constitution it would have a positive effect on our lives. Probably increasing the life span of Nigerians.
    Thank you.

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    1. Let’s hope that something can be done about keeping our young people safe on our roads. There is so little public education in Nigeria – something that is routine in all civilised countries. However, there has to be some personal responsibility on the part of those young people, as they make better choices about their opportunities and life chances.

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  4. It’s heart-rending that things like these only seem to be happening in this part of the world.

    While we hope and pray things get better, methinks it’s the sole responsibility of individuals resident in areas like this to take extra caution in the things they do.

    Painful though that just another life has been lost and another dream gone…

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    1. Yes, I know, it is very sad. This was one of those posts where I tried to find a happy ending but could not. So, I tried to find the lesson in all of this without trying to preach to anyone. As a result, I made a bold decision to realise one of my long-held dreams sooner rather than later. Watch this space. xx

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  5. It’s quite sad reading about his story. May his soul rest in peace and may God grant his family the fortitude to bear the loss. Heaven knows you did your best. Dedicating this to all lost dreams because the saddest part is that some people lose or bury their dreams while still alive which is even much worse. I realised at the end of this post that we actually have similar thoughts at the moment on dreams, that really is something!. You need to read my last post hold the dream. Do take care and sorry for the loss.

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  6. Michael I hear our sadness in this recollection of Kingsley and can only say, as someone who constantly works with disappointment, that none of us have the power to save another, that privilege, even when we can see the fruits of our labour, lies in the hand of God.

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    1. Hi Charles, you’re absolutely right, there is sadness. However, I’m satisfied with my choices and believe I did my best. This is more of a cautionary tale and a reminder for all of us to act on our dreams before they die with us. Cheers.

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