Over the past few posts I have described for you an exercise a S.African writer taught me. I hope you’ve been following along and trying this out for yourself.
I had located a place way back in my childhood and allowed my imagination to recreate the memory for me. I had written a description of the kopje across the road from my childhood home, and the boulder I used to clamber up in order to reach the big old rambling tree. There I could sit on a branch and see for miles. I did my homework in that tree, I read books, and I dreamed dreams.
The next step was to discover a character there. In my case, it was a young malnourished African child. Once again I spent time writing a description of this pathetic young boy.
After this, our tutor encouraged us to revisit the place of our childhood memory, but in modern day. I described the grand double-storey house that now sat in all its glory at the top of the kopje. The carved wooden door stood closed at the top of a wide red polished set of stairs.
“Now I want you to revisit the person you saw in your original memory,” the author said. “Where do you find them? Remember what he or she looked like then? Work out how many years later it is, then age him or her appropriately.”
Now that really took imagination. The little boy in my original memory would now be in his forties. I guessed what was coming next. I wasn’t disappointed.
“Spend the next little while writing a full description of him, or her. Describe the circumstances that surround your meeting. Most important of all, study the face, and describe it. What lines do you see? What expression? Are the eyes bright and inquisitive as they look at you? Or are they sad or worried? What does your character look like today?”
I sat back and closed my eyes. I could see the house without any difficulty. In my imagination, I glanced towards the boulder to see if there was a man standing there. I could see no one. I looked all around the garden. No one. Suddenly, I knew where to look. He was indoors!
I climbed up the steep stairs to the top, and pressed my finger to the large brass bell. I heard it chime inside the house. Moments later, a small wisened woman opened the door and peered at me through wire-rimmed spectacles. she smoothed her gaudy apron and just stood. She didn’t say a word. For a moment, nor did I. I didn’t know what to say.
“Umm. May I speak to whoever lives here?” I stammered.
“That would be me.” I heard a deep, well-educated voice from behind the woman. A well dressed, dignified gentleman came down the winding staircase towards me. “Can I help you?”
I felt a fool, and even in my imagination, wanted to run away. This wasn’t working. There was no comparison between this sophisticated middle-aged man, and the scruffy little urchin of my childhood imaginings. But after all, this was just a game using my mind. So I asked him, “How long have you been here?”
“Over forty years. Why?”
I explained that I had lived in the house across the road from the kopje. His eyes sparkled with interest as I spoke. Suddenly I knew; I was face to face with that little boy of long ago.
I froze my imagination at that point, and went on to describe the man. Obviously well-off financially and well educated. That alone set him apart. Because of racial issues, black children in those days weren’t usually given a good education. As I studied him, I saw his face had many lines. More than there should have been. I sensed that this man had suffered much, and I wondered who he really was.
The class was over for the day. I looked forward to whatever the next step would be in this fascinating imaginary journey.
Before next post, see if you can follow along with this idea yourself. It’s worth the effort, I promise.