When my younger brother, Kamar, decided he was going to learn photography, at the expense of schooling, I also concluded that he had finally gone crazy. Papa was a professor of Computer Engineering while mum had a Ph.D in philosophy. Our youngest sister, Halima, had just gotten an admission into the Harvard University Law Program, and I had worked myself out to finish with a first class honours from the University of Lagos. But here was Kamar, having been expelled from three different prestigious universities, planning to totally relinquish the idea of schooling. In his words, school was no longer 'his thing'. Maybe he didn't understand that school wasn't anybody's thing. Many of the people who went to school did so because they had to. Some others were even forced to.
It's not like Kamar was a dull student. He was, at a point in time, the shining light in our house and our ears were always pricked with praises that escaped from mum and dad's lips, of Kamar's brilliance. I think he just wants to follow his passion.
I had not only thought that my brother was running mad, I was subtly beginning to believe he was actually mentally unstable. His attitude had grossly deteriorated; he slept for longer hours and said little or nothing when he was awake. My younger brother was becoming a psychotic recluse.
"God forbid! Not in this house, Kamarudeen", papa retorted as he picked up his briefcase and angrily stormed out of the house. When papa called him Kamarudeen, we knew that his decision was irrevocable. Kamar and photography couldn't be mentioned together or he would be disowned. I gaped at him as his eyes turned red with tears. He had just witnessed the murder of his dream, his aspiration.
As his face contorted with tears, I remembered the day mother hit Halima hard across her face. She had told mum that she wanted to be a make-up artiste. Even as she expertly lied to mum that it was a joke, we knew that being a make-up artiste was an ambition she secretly nursed. "This is what too much media propaganda has caused, fooling our children and underestimating the power of education", mum wailed. Her unsolicited speech ended with, "You will do no such thing", and that was the last of make-up we heard. You cannot become these things in our house because you are not allowed to follow your dream or passion. Only papa's dictate counts.
Maybe if Kamar had decided to learn something else, something more sophisticated, like software designing, Papa might have consented, as he was a computer whiz himself, but he chose photography.
The night I had a serious discussion with my brother, I discovered that he already had a surreal picture of his future in mind. He had refused to be bullied by our society's lust for certificates and degrees. He just wanted to be a photographer, make an impact in his society, live life, and love and make sacrifices. Although for him, making an impact tops his priorities. That night, I knew my brother would chase his photography ambition, no matter the costs.
Kamar was a fearless and ambitious young man. If he had decided to do something, nobody changed it. I remembered the day he told me he'd slap Halima for calling him Kamar publicly, instead of the expected 'brother' attached to it. I didn't believe he would because papa had threatened to punish him if he did. The moment Halima came in from her evening tutorial, Kamar made true his decision. He gave her a resounding slap at her back that sent Halima sprawling into the sitting room couch. Even though Papa flogged him later for disobedience, he showed no remorse. So, I was sure of his gunning for photography.
However, as Kamar's resolve to be a photographer hardened, father's hatred of him grew worse. The disowning threat became constant. An eerie presence was felt in our home. The pressure was palpable in fact; you could cut it with a knife. Tension hovered in our home like the smell of rotten beans.
With the flicker I saw on Papa's face whenever he threatened my brother; I knew it wouldn't be long before he made good his threats. All hell finally came crashing down the day Kamar brought home a second-hand Nikon camera. He had mortgaged his three months pocket money to buy the camera. The moment papa set eyes on the gadget, his voice thundered, "Kamarudeen, you'd have to choose between living in this house and chasing that wretched ambition of yours this minute". Even mother was dumbfounded. I was shocked beyond words. The silence that hung in our sitting room was as disturbing as the cold noiselessness of a graveyard. I silently prayed that Kamar would throw away the camera so as to let peace reign, because I couldn't imagine him not living here. This was the only home he had.
The look I saw on my brother's face made tears slither down my cheeks. I knew he would rather leave home. In his eyes were the cold stares of indifference; not pain, not regret, like he had been rehearsing for this day. While mum pleaded with papa to rescind his draconian decision, my brother, without uttering a word, smiled at me and casually strolled into his room. I ran after him. Did I say Kamar looked like he was anticipating it? I was right. In his room, he had arranged all of his personal effects into a rucksack, and it sat, undisturbed, on his bed.
I wanted to say something, but my tongue wouldn't oblige me. When he saw the tears in my eyes, my younger brother hugged me, smiled, and said, "Aishat, it will get better in the end. I will become a great photographer and you'd be proud of me". I wanted to believe him, to smile and pat him on the back too. But who does that when his kid brother was, through no fault of his, prematurely leaving home at 17, into a very harsh world?
That gory afternoon, Kamar, rucksack on his back, Nikon Camera hanging on his neck, and a relaxed smile dangling on his lips, left home to become a photographer.
Today, coincidentally exactly twelve years from that afternoon, as I stand, amidst a smiling crowd, in the cold interiors of the British Museum in London, I eagerly anticipate my brother's inaugural speech as his daring pictures of the Nigerian insurgency episodes are being inaugurated into the British Museum Archives. His speech is amazing. He smiles at me and I nod. Twelve years after he made a promise to me, he has fulfilled it. He's the most prominent Photo Journalist in Africa. Who says that isn't greatness? I see the smile on papa's face as he watches his son accomplish greatness. I know he is proud of Kamar.