As a child, my parents worked very hard to give me a good future. Determined to give me every opportunity they never had, I was enrolled in plenty of extra classes and activities. Whenever I showed interest in something, my parents made sure to provide me with the chance to do it. When I grew older, I was told by many that I showed a lot of musical potential as a child. I was immediately enrolled in piano lessons, and my parents saved for a year to get me my own keyboard which stood in the corner of the living room. It’s still there to this day. Every evening after homework, I would practice. As my fingers danced on the ivory keys, my mother would read her John Grisham novels and my father would sit right next to her, his eyes closed and his head nodding to the melody I played.
As supportive as my parents were, they never saw music as anything more than a hobby. With my stellar academic performance, they expected me to do something like law or engineering. They were a little conservative in that way. So it came as a surprise to them when I told them that I was planning to study music in university. I remember my mother saying that she didn’t want me to struggle the same way her and my father did, and that getting a job in this market was hard.
But eventually they compromised- I was the apple of their eye, after all.
They helped me move on campus into a little crummy room on campus. The walls were painted a hideous shade of blue and there was a suspicious brown stain on the ceiling that seemed to grow bigger every month. But I loved it anyway- it gave me a sense of freedom to have a space that was just mine.
As exciting as it was, school was very competitive and I found myself sleeping for a few hours a day. I was swamped with work and my room was perpetually filled with discarded bits of paper and books full of scribbles and notes. I found myself unable to visit my parents, and I could only spare them an hour a week by phone. Every week they would tell me about some of my cousins I had never met- the way one of them had just graduated med school, the way another just got her job as a civil engineer. I knew they never meant to hurt me by telling me this, and they were just keeping me updated on family matters, but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. It seemed that I was working so hard and it was getting me nowhere, yet my cousins were actually starting to build futures for themselves.
Toward the end of my spring semester, I got a call from my cousin Sandra. We had grown up close together since I didn’t have any siblings. After some small-talk, she asked me if I was coming home for the Easter party my parents were throwing.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to come back. I’m still working on my final project.”
“Come on”, she said pleadingly. “It’s just going to be one weekend and I don’t want to get stuck with the aunties on my own. Besides, your mum told me you haven’t been visiting lately. Please!”
“Aww, it won’t be that bad”, I teased. “After all, you’re studying to be a doctor so I’m sure they’ll be much more excited to see you than me.”
“Oh, I see how it is. You think they’re ashamed of you.”
I was silent for a while.
“Well, let me just tell you that you’re the last person on anybody’s mind.”
“Really?”, I asked.
“Yeah. Remember how my brother refused to get a job? A few months ago he borrowed some money from the family then he disappeared for months. Then last week he resurfaced on social media talking about the way he bought a Mercedes with money he got from being a trader.”
I got to my parents’ Easter party a little late, so I bought a cake on my way home as an appeasement offering. As I walked through the open door, I could see Sandra in the living room sitting next to some of my aunts. As soon as she saw me, she rolled her eyes at me and smiled. My father was grilling some meat outside, were more relatives were standing around with hands wrapped around wet, cold bottles of beer and soda. My mother walked out of the kitchen and pulled me into an embrace.
“I’m so glad you came”, she whispered. “Everyone is so excited to see you. They’re all so proud.”
“Are they?”, I asked sarcastically.
She pulled away and smiled playfully.
“Of course”, she said. “After all, you’re not a scammer.”