Monday afternoon, when the end-of-day siren sounded, Thobeka sprinted to Mrs Edwards’ classroom and knocked on the open door. “Miss, can I talk to you please?””
“Thobeka. Come in, come in.”
Thobeka shuffled to Mrs Edwards’ table, her eyes downcast.
Mrs Edwards dropped the pen in her hand and hurried to Thobeka’s side. “What’s wrong, child? Are you sick?”
“No … well … sort of, yes.”
“Come,” she said and ushered Thobeka to the closest desk. “Sit down first, then you can tell me what’s bothering you.”
“It’s just…you were right, Miss.” Thobeka’s lips trembled. “About everything.” She flung her hands to her face and a torrent of tears seeped through and over her fingers. “I’ll never … be an-au-au-author. My dream. I’m done writing!”
Mrs Edwards waited until Thobeka’s sobs subsided.
“Let me tell you a story that might change your mind.”
Thobeka wiped away her tears, but remained hunched over.
“Once upon a time …”
Thobeka jerked upright and a giggle escaped her pursed lips. “Seriously, Miss?”
Mrs Edwards chuckled. “Isn’t that how all good stories start?”
Thobeka snorted as she laughed.
“Very well,” – Mrs Edwards wiped away her smile – “let me be serious.” She cleared her throat. “Most people, when they sing, or try to sing, make an awful lot of noise and call it singing.” Mrs Edwards’ shuddered. “A few might take singing lessons and improve, while those with natural talent will shine above the rest, no matter what. There are karaoke singers who do okay in small crowds, and those who will never be able to sing to any standard.” Mrs Edwards took Thobeka’s hands in hers. “There are also amazing singers who, due to their circumstances or bad luck, will never be discovered, and the same is true about writers. Sometimes you need talent and a dose of luck to get noticed.”
“What does that have to do with my writing, Miss?”
“You have talent, Thobeka. Oodles of it. You can start creating your own luck by being proactive, creating a platform where you will be noticed. You’ve started by posting your work on the internet, but that’s not enough. You need to attract the right eyes.”
“How, Miss?” Thobeka rolled her eyes. “It’s like looking for a job and everyone wants you to have some experience, but nobody gives you a chance to get the experience.”
Mrs Edwards’ head bobbed as though she’d shook it and nodded at the same time. “There’s always a way, Thobeka. In your employment example, one can do volunteering to gain experience. And you can enter writing competitions to get noticed by the right people.”
“Here,” Mrs Edwards said and handed Thobeka a page. “This is one of the competitions you can enter.”
Thobeka scanned the page. “It’s too late. The submission date – it’s too late.”
“It’s never too late ― there’s next year.” Mrs Edwards gave Thobeka an encouraging smile. “You can hone your writing skills, improve your chances of winning.”
“But … my mother … no … she will never.” Thobeka wrapped her arms around her waist. “No, I can’t. I have to study something useful, like engineering.”
A dark cloud brewed in Mrs Edwards’ eyes. “Who said being an author isn’t something useful? If you treat your writing like a business, you don’t have to be the proverbial starving artist. However, it’s good to have alternate streams of income for the lean months.”
“Is that why you teach?”
Mrs Edwards peered into Thobeka’s eyes. “I teach because it’s something I love and enjoy doing – like my writing. What do you love doing above all else, Thobeka?”
* * * * *
At home, Thobeka flung her cupboard door open and heaved out all the writing notebooks she’d shoved inside when she’d considered her writing career over.
A sealed, white envelope dropped to the floor. Her name was printed on the front in bold, black ink.
Her hand trembled as she picked it up. My father’s last serious words to me.
She sank down on her bed and turned the envelope over in her hands. What if there’s something important in it and I never read it? Didn’t Ma say it’s better to live with the mistakes we make than die with regret because we didn’t do something?
And without another second’s hesitation, she ripped the envelope open, unfolded the pages, and stroked them flat with the palm of her hand. Then she started reading …
Her eyes devoured and tasted every word. Her father explained how his quest to always tell the truth led him to his career in journalism. How witnessing the devastation in war-torn countries ripped the fabric of his understanding of humanity to shreds.
He begged that she not blame her mother for anything, and apologised that he wasn’t going to be around to guide her, watch her grow and reach her full potential. But the words that left the biggest impression on her made her smile, puff out her chest, and read over and over.
Chase your dreams, my girl! Don’t be afraid of what could go wrong. Be positive, instead, about what could go right, because often you will feel compelled to do something without having a sensible reason, but you do it regardless. Doing what’s right, isn’t always easy or popular. Do something because you believe in it and love doing it.
Tell us: What do you think Mrs Zotwana would say in response to this letter?