the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Asia Daniela ‘24
The baker bakes me into hemlock. The singer sings me into wedlock. The writer writes me into myself, soft rock. In the years that I have walked this earth — countable on your fingers and toes — I have heard one question an uncountable number of times. It haunts me, follows me into the dark alleyways of my mind and the lonely roads of my school experience. This question-mark punctuated-phrase crowds the crevices of my life that permit questioning. “How did you become a writer?” they ask. I suppose they think it’s some mystical story painted on the backdrop of Nina Simone’s rainbow-colored skies: something painfully beautiful. They must presume it is a magical story they could draft into a coup de foudre indie film. My origin story is silver. It certainly is not magical or lemony-squeezy, but it is not dreary and cold either.
The baker bakes a crème brûlée. The singer sings in the cabaret. The writer writes my origin story as night breaks; breaks into day. How did I become a writer? I find it difficult to pinpoint a particular memory in time. Say, “This was it. That moment when such and such happened. It led to so and so, so I did this and that. Who, Where and When walked into a bar. Do not ask me why. That is how I became a writer.” I, unfortunately, cannot do that. There is however one pitstop in my writing journey that I return to more often than not. Walk with me down memory lane to my first school year in Uganda, 2011. My teacher was a silver-haired lady with an eccentric pair of prescription glasses. “Mrs. Kayongo Persis,” she introduced herself. Persis.
The baker bakes me into spongy wheat bread. The singer sings of melancholy to the dead. The writer writes me out of the images in his head. At the end of 2011, my school held a spelling bee kind of competition. There was no spelling, as far as I remember, but the atmosphere was what I imagined a bee would be like. Mrs. Persis had chosen me to represent the class and my gut said it had something to do with my Roald Dahl obsession. I spoke like a character out of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and read like one living in Matilda’s broken world. Mrs. Persis said I was going to be a part of the reading competition. All I had to do was read, like I always did, except this time I would do so out loud. As my mind sketches the day’s memory onto my retina, I see a concrete auditorium with rows and rows of concrete slabs that were created as subsidized seating. There is also a six-year-old girl with willow-like hair standing on the stage of the auditorium. She is wearing a red and white checked school uniform with white stockings. Her mother said she should have worn the new stockings. Mrs. Persis said she would be just fine.
The baker bakes me into a cinnamon apple pie. The singer sings songs of her wife’s famous lie. The writer writes me hope out of a sigh. The reading competition began and progressed round to round. Surprisingly, the passages we read were simpler than Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree (which said a lot at the time). Mrs. Persis was right. I was doing just fine: old or new stockings. I made it to the final round and as the tension in the room began to murder itself, I felt confident. The last passage was one of a tea party. A gentleman, his friend, and a fair lady were present. As the gentleman attempted to pour a cup of tea for the fair lady, he spilled some of it onto her lush silk frock. You would not believe what happened next. The gentleman’s friend began whipping the tea off. Yes. Whipping. Six-year-old me had messed up a very crucial word in the passage without even realizing it. Wiping. He should have been wiping. After my presentation, Mrs. Persis congratulated me with a sweet hug. I could taste pie.
The baker bakes her into savory confection. The singer sings attempting consolation. The writer writes tales of re-incarnation. This morning, I met the ill question again over a cup of ginger tea. “How did you become a writer?” My mind went back to a silver-haired lady with an eccentric pair of prescription glasses. Persis. I began to wonder what had happened to Mrs. Persis in the 12 years after that not-a-bee. A phone call to my primary school gave me an answer. Not ‘the’ answer, an answer. “I’m so sorry. Persis passed many years ago.” Who called her Persis? Where was I when “many years ago” happened? When did we stop calling her Mrs.? Who, Where and When walked out of the bar.
The baker died. The singer cried. The writer now writes to you telling you that her teacher suffered the same fate as the baker. They convicted Mrs. Persis’ murderer under the pseudonym “cancer,” but it was too late. When I follow the breadcrumbs of my writing journey back to pitstop number one, the signpost reads Persis. There have been many more signposts since that one. However, after today, I have a starting point to the once bizarre question. The most comedic relationship ever invented is that between time and memory. When I remember Mrs. Persis, I see dark hair, a moonshine smile, and the most eccentric pair of prescription glasses. (This time they are gold, though.) Unbeknownst to me that her silver threads of hair, strange spectacles, and sweet confectionary hugs are the only answer to the question: “How did you become a writer?”