As I got on the bus one bright morning last week, along came a man selling one of those better-your-English pamphlets usually sold to commuters at garages and motor parks. Of course I wasn’t going to buy one. I didn’t even think about it, since i figured my English doesn’t need any help, much less from a street pamphlet. The man selling the pamphlets kept spouting excerpts from it; “It is wrong to say ‘The tap is rushing.’ Instead you should say, ‘The tap is running.’” “You don’t say ‘It’s time we leave,’ you should say ‘It’s time we left.’” And so on and so forth. I buried my face in my novel. Surely there were people on the bus badly in need of the pamphlet, I thought, unaware of my smugness. Just then, the man said, “You don’t say ‘I have an exam to write.’” I looked up sharply, my curiosity aroused. What then should we say, pray tell? “You do/sit/take an exam.” Oh, really?

All of those are correct, I thought. Still, that doesn’t mean “write” is wrong, or is it? I was sure that when I got online, my friend Google would tell me. Still, so discomfited was I by the fact that I could not say for sure if what he just read out was correct or not, that I did something I had never done before. I asked for a copy of the pamphlet and I paid for it. It was the very first time I ever spent something on English and me. As I put it in my bag I felt humbled, and then I was suddenly grateful that nobody on the bus knew me, and then I felt silly for feeling that way.

How many times have we been so comfortable in our work, our friendships, our romances that we hardly ever put in any effort to make them better? We are so certain that that we have them where we want them, that nothing could ever go wrong, that we’re geniuses at what we do, and that things will stay the way they are. “He can never fire me. I’m a natural at this job, the best he’ll ever be able to find.” “Of course she can never leave me. What would she do without me?”

However, when we’re faced with projects that don’t come easy to us we double and triple our effort, determined to succeed. And when it comes to the curious case of loving people who don’t really love us, how we excel! We sell arm and leg to win their affection. We work ourselves into a frenzy trying to keep them interested, trying to prove that we’re worth their time, attention and love. The ones who love and want us? Baah! The ones we didn’t slave and sweat to get? Pooh pooh!

I had a peculiar relationship with a certain well known fellow called Mathematics. We got off to rocky start right from primary school, and the number of lesson teachers I had solely for Mathematics would astound you. By the time I was in JSS3, our issues had become more severe. Oh how I wanted it to work, how I wanted “us” to be perfect. My poor mother was all over the place, recruiting teachers and buying books. By SS3, it had become a do or die affair. The Math genius of a lady who was preparing me for my ‘O’ Levels told my mother to make available New General Mathematics volumes 1-6, and in the months leading up to the exam she started from the very basics and we worked through to Book 6. After countless evenings of poring over equations and graphs, I ended up with a D7 when the results came out. Apparently Mathematics and I had come to the end of the road. The relationship was over, and it had ended badly. I was heartbroken. What did it matter that I never studied for my English paper and yet I made an A1? I was inconsolable. I had poured my all into my affair with Mathematics, and it had all been for nothing.

Still, English has been a faithful friend, never mind that I never take any time or spend any money in a deliberate attempt to build our relationship. Whatever nourishment our relationship gets is a by-product of the things I do solely for my own pleasure. In a way, that’s how it should be. Love shouldn’t be so hard. It should come naturally. Yet, it should never be taken for granted.

Of course there are those of us who upon realising that they have something at which they shine with minimal effort or a relationship that blossoms and sparkles without back-breaking effort, proceed to carry it like an egg, water it, hone it and do everything in their power to make it even better. These are the ones who stand out from the crowd, who truly have results to show for their talent. These are the ones whose beautiful relationships remain strong and grow even more beautiful with time’s passing.

We must remember that even the most perfect of relationships need a little helping along every now and then. We must resist the tendency to take for granted the relationships that flow easily, all the while fussing over the ones that are not really meant for us. If you have a gift, be it a talent or a relationship, isn’t it worth it to work at it and make it the best it can be? Is that not much better than wishing and striving for something else that simply isn’t yours to have?

Some argue that it’s not in your power to choose who you love, and you can’t turn it off and on at will like a switch. If you love someone, you love them. And if you don’t, you can’t force it, even if you know they love you. While the jury is still out on that theory, it is possible that we really have no control over who we love, in which case I’m lucky, because I love the English Language. And she loves me right back.

I did Google. You can take, sit for or write an exam.


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