Thick plumes of dark smoke went swirling up into the sky at the scene of the bomb explosion. Somewhere in the Middle East, another heartless suicide-bomber had succeeded in carrying out the heinous act that sent scores of innocent lives into their graves as well as confining to the hospital, hundreds who had sustained varying degrees of injury. The blast was unexpected and highly devastating. Along the West coast of Africa, the family of Mr. Nathaniel Brew, comprising his wife and four children – Mrs. Matilda Brew, Bismark Brew, Oscar Brew, Cecilia Brew and Albert Brew (the youngest), watched with disgust the evening’s Television news broadcast of the pathetic incident.“Life is indeed precious, but it is unfortunate that some people don’t value their own lives let alone the lives of others. How on earth could anybody behave so wickedly towards fellow human beings? What at all do the terrorists want and what do they achieve by so doing?” Matilda Brew was deeply touched and emotionally charged.“It is pathetic and extremely sad.” This was all Mr. Nat Brew could say, shaking his head The sight of blood, fire, smoke and frantic rescue efforts left a deep impression on the mind of young Albert who had just entered the Junior High School (JHS). That night the family prayed that such barbaric act would never find its way to their part of the world (West Africa). By the time he completed JHS Three years later, a bloody coup d’état by the military junta had successfully overthrown the constitutionally elected civilian government. Mr. Brew and his family lived in a town about 300km from the capital city and for that matter the military uprising, like the suicide bomb attack, was a remote event. The only direct effect it had had, which was an unpleasant experience for Albert, was the imposed curfew which compelled him to go to bed at 6:00pm until 6:00am the next morning. More or less, Albert found himself temporarily sharing something in common with the fowls he was rearing – which naturally went to bed at six o’clock in the evening. A few years later, they came face to face with gun threats when armed robbers, in the midst of warning shots invaded their home a few years later and made away with valuables as well as a handsome amount of cash. It was a horrifying nightmare. Thankfully, none of them was injured or killed, but at least each one of them received a good deal of slaps, knocks and hits. This horrific episode was at a time when Albert was preparing for his final Senior High School (SHS) examinations. The physical assault unleashed by the merciless, red-eyed, gun-wielding thugs was a devastating nightmare that carried the potential danger of having a negative effect on Albert’s performance in the final exams. Notwithstanding, he defied the odds, emerged with flying colours and also received the best student award. Albert’s burning ambition was to enter the university. In his part of the world, acquiring a university degree was just like being fitted with the wings of an eagle. The opportunity did present itself indeed. His excellent performance in the Senior High School final exams automatically paved the way. During his pre-school days, to the amazement and utter dismay of everybody, young Albert recited a lengthy, complex poem on the occasion of his fifth birthday party when he was in kindergarten 2. At that tender age, he surprisingly exhibited a mark of excellence which, as far as the audience was concerned, was exceptional and quite unusual for a boy of his age. From that day, family members, relatives and acquaintances began to take a keen interest in the boy’s socio-academic development. They had no doubt in their minds, that Albert was a future scholar in the making. It therefore didn’t come as a surprise a few years later when he was jumped from class four to six without attending Class Five, just because his excellent academic performance had been found to be extraordinary. Apparently he was tested at the class five level and still, he performed excellently well to justify his double promotion. At the Junior High School he continued to do amazing exploits. One day, soon after school had reopened, the head teacher decided to test the entire JHS student body with a very interesting riddle. “Which country can be found in Jerusalem?” he asked. Both the students and the teachers wondered if it was really a riddle or a geographical question. If it was indeed supposed to be a geography question, then they thought that the question had been wrongly constructed. However, in the head teacher’s own words, it was a riddle that did not necessarily require geographical knowledge. The assembly hall became so quiet that even the sound of a pin-drop would have been heard. It became obvious that nobody had the slightest idea. Suddenly, Albert walked forward and announced: “The country that can be found in Jerusalem is U.S.A” The silence grew more intense as everybody waited impatiently for the head teacher’s verdict. “Can you prove it?” the head teacher challenged Albert.Albert picked a piece of chalk and boldly wrote the proof of his answer on the board: “JerUSAlem.”“Excellent! That is the correct answer,” the head teacher declared. There was loud applause in the hall. From that day, Albert’s classmates and his seniors revered and held him in a very high esteem. The teachers were also very proud of him. The head teacher was so impressed that he couldn’t help but to offer a personal scholarship to Albert, paying his school fees every term throughout the three-year JHS programme. During each of the annual Speech and Prize -giving ceremony, he swept almost all the prizes for excelling in all the subjects in his class. The circumstances surrounding the birth Albert was quite a puzzling one. Most of the time, pregnant women undergo cesarean operation as a result of complications such as the improper positioning of the foetus in the womb. Of all their four children, Albert was the only one who was birthed with the help of the surgical knife; not because he was wrongly positioned. He was cut out because of his extra-large head size. Even though this “abnormality” was through no fault of his, it nearly caused him to voluntarily drop out of school. During his primary school days, his school mates teased by calling him “December head”. By virtue of his exceptional intelligence which kept him constantly on top of his class in terms of academic performance, his sarcastic mates should rather have been honest enough to “tease” him with “December brain”. Public opinion on Albert’s head was three-fold. There were those who thought that his mother must have abused a drug, leading to the malformation of the head. Others simply saw it as a natural phenomenon. The third category (the superstitious breed) believed that Albert was a deity-incarnate. “Why is my head bigger than everyone else’s?” Albert once asked his father.“It is because God loves you more than everyone else” Mr. Nat Brew replied, looking straight into the eyeballs of his son and ready for his next series of questions which he thought he could easily guess.“Does he really?” Albert was surprised.“Sure, He really does and I mean just that.”“By making me a laughing stock?’“Now listen very carefully, my son. God decided to give you a brain that is bigger than what is in other people’s head. The only way to do this was to give you the size of head that could fully accommodate the huge brain” Mr. Nat paused, observed Albert and noticed a responsive facial expression. The young boy was quiet, looking at his father with keen interest and expecting him to say more. Nat’s concluding words were equally encouraging and reassuring: “So, take it form me, my son, those who tease and laugh at you, actually envy you and wish they also had your type of head and the size of brain it contains. Albert beamed with a broad smile and nodded. He resolved there and then, not to allow any external force to push him out of school. Outside the confines of the school environment, on the other hand, Albert sprang a surprise that greatly amazed and amused his parents and siblings at home. At dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Brew always sat at both ends of the dining table facing each other while the children also sat facing each other, two at each side. On this memorable occasion, however, Albert placed three chairs at each side and announced; “I have decided to change the sitting arrangement as a result of something interesting I have observed.” The others wondered what the young chap was really up to. With a broad smile, he told his parents and Oscar to occupy one side of the table while the remaining three of them also took their seats at the other side. “Which of you have the slightest idea what this sitting arrangement represents?” He asked them but none of them knew, nor could any of them guess.“This sitting arrangement represents a special alphabetical order with the initials of our names: Albert, Bismark and Cecilia (ABC) and then Matilda, Nathaniel and Oscar (MNO).” The rest of them laughed heartily and clapped their hands. This had never even occurred to Mr. Brew himself who was full of smiles and nodded. The next day, Mr. Nat also decided to surprise his household with something he had kept for many years. He called all of them together and asked them to wait patiently and that he would be with them in a couple of minutes. He returned with a very old newspaper that kept the children wondering what they were about to be treated to. Mr. Brew opened to the page that featured his photograph with the caption: MAN DEFIES FLOOD.“It happened a very long time ago. The area where I lived at the time was flood-prone. After hours of a heavy rainfall one morning, the ground water level started rising. Sensing danger, the people started evacuating the area and moving as far way as possible. I decided not to be displaced by the flood. I placed a ladder against the building, claimed up, sat there and watched with a deep sense of adventure.” Mr. Nat’s vivid narration held his listeners spellbound.“What sort of view did you get looking down at the flood from the roof top?” Cecilia asked. “It was a real sight to see. But for the buildings and trees, it would have looked like a brown ocean” “For how long did you stay up here? Bismark was curious.“I remained there for the most part of the day; towards sunset. It really felt as if I was on top of the whole world. I finally came down the ladder when the flood waters receded to ankle level”“How did your photograph get featured in the newspaper?” The question came from Oscar.“Interesting question. A military rescue team accompanied by a media person went round in a speed boat and passed right in front of me. They were greatly surprised and amused when they saw me up there. Some of them laughed. Others shook their heads in disbelief….”“And what did they say to you? Albert impatiently interrupted his father.“Well, they brought the boat very close to the ladder and asked me to come down, just as Jesus asked Zacchacus to come down from the sycamore tree, but I refused. One of them lifted a camera and took a snapshot of me. I thought the photograph was going to end up in his personal album, but I was mistaken. I told them I was alright and they went their way”. At this moment every the listeners imagination went wild, trying to picture the interesting scenario. Mr. Brew’s concluding comment was directed to his children:“I do pray and hope that in future, at least one of you would also achieve a notable feat for which the media would project you to the rest of the world.” None of the children spoke. It was their mother who responded with a question:“Is it a prophecy or a challenge?” She asked“Of course it is both” He told her.When results of the final basic education exams were released, Albert had made the school proud by obtaining excellent grades that had never been obtained in the history of the school. He had undoubtedly set an unbreakable record. Thus, the first phase of his academic journey, the nine-year basic education had been a rich success-story. Four years down the line, here he was again at the end of the second phase, with an equally excellent, near-record performance at the Senior High School level. While awaiting his results, he occupied himself with a casual teaching job in one of the privately-owned schools. Then the time came for him to travel to the capital city to purchase admission forms at the university campus. The varsity campus was located at the outskirts of the city, and so when the bus got there it stopped for some of the passengers to alight. Albert was obviously among those alighted. The bus later continued the journey towards its final destination in the heart of the city. “So, this is the ultimate destination of the illustrious, life-long academic journey.” He told himself and resolved to also excel at the third cycle of academic pursuit just as he had excelled at the first and second cycles.After observing the dual-carriage drive-way, the round-about, the traffic lights, post office, bank, uniformed security personnel – all on campus, he reckoned that it was indeed a “universal city”, a special city in the universe. He bought the admission forms and chattered a taxi to the lorry station.On his way back to the lorry station, he heard the unpleasant news about a brutal civil war that had suddenly erupted very close to his home town. Common sense told him not to return home. He therefore decided to visit his auntie. He arrived safely at the border town in the evening of the same day and was warmly received by auntie Salo. The following morning the news was all over the place, that a group of armed rebels had broken loose on the countryside and were advancing menacingly towards the capital city, killing and maiming innocent people in what is believed to be kind of ethnic cleansing. “God has brought you here at the right time. You must remain with me until the situation is brought under control. It if gets out of hand, then we just have to slip across the border into the neighbouring country.” Auntie Salo told Albert. Unfortunately Albert later changed his mind.“That is a very good idea but then, I am also thinking about my parents and siblings. I must therefore go to them immediately.” Albert was nervous and uncertain. “It is not safe to travel home now. We just have to pray and hope that they will be safe…”At the end of the day, auntie Salo was able to prevail over him. About a week later, however, Albert decided that even if he must escape to a foreign land, he must do so with all his vital academic documents, particularly his certificates and result slips, in the hope of taking advantage of any possible opportunity that might show up in the strange land. Without informing his auntie this time round, he left home one afternoon to the lorry station in the absence of his auntie and boarded a home-bound vehicle. About half-way through the journey, they saw a road block ahead with armed men numbering about twenty. Everybody in the bus knew what it meant and who they were. A wave of fear swept over all the passengers. One of them exclaimed, “Oh God, we are dead!”The terrible sight of the rebels was enough to scare a person to death. Momentarily, Albert regretted disobeying his auntie’s good advice. The voice of the ringleader, who was identified only as ‘Tiger’, was like thunder.“All of you get down from the damned bus and raise your hands, you bustards!” The ringleader barked. Albert knew in his heart of hearts, that it would take a miracle for him to survive. Fortunately, it became clear to all of them, that the rebels who had started to search their pockets and luggage for cash, food and valuables did not actually intend to shed blood. They gathered quite a good deal of booty. One young man, however, made the sad mistake of resisting the rebels. He refused to be searched and looted. One of the rebels therefore lost his temper and shot him in the head and chest at close range, killing him instantly in the presence of all of them. Then he said to the rest of the passengers: “The wages of disobedience and stubborn resistance is death.” Albert felt blood rushing up his head as his heart began to beat faster. He wished the nightmarish drama had been a dream from which he would suddenly wake up. The similar scenario he remembered at this point in time was the armed robbery attack a few years back. Although there were a couple of warning shots outside the house, not even a single shot was fired during the actual operation inside the main building. However, the frightening encounter with the monstrous rebels was far more scaring, to the extent of witnessing a cold-blooded murder. “Come on, enter the bus and get the hell out of here before we open fire on all of you.” Tiger commandedThe driver’s hands were literally shaking on the steering wheel.“Take it easy, driver, else you will throw all of us into the bush,” one of the passengers said. When they got to the next town, the driver parked and refused to continue the journey. According to him, a worse encounter might be ahead. The situation was becoming more and more precarious. It was later rumoured that a group of blood-thirsty rebels were coming towards the very town they were heading towards. At this deadly information, people started fleeing the town through the bush towards the border with the view to crossing over into the safety of the neighbouring country. Life indeed is more precious. Albert had no other choice at this point in time than to forget about his certificates. Apart from escaping across the frontiers, the only guaranteed “safety” for young men like Albert was to join the rank and file of the rebels. Albert Brew felt so convinced about his dream and future plans that nothing in the universe could lure him to put his life on the line in a senseless fight. He was determined not to allow the most adverse of circumstances to abort his cherished vision. Never ever! He resolved. So, he eventually found himself among a great number of people who deemed it expedient to embark on the long, hazardous journey through the forest in an effort to escape the brutal mass-killing. Thankfully, they arrived safely and were readily hosted in a specially created camp located at the outskirts of the capital city. Hordes of men, women and children continued to arrive at the camp on daily basis. Albert expected to see his parents and siblings arrive but they never showed up. It was only his auntie who crossed over a couple of days later. He had the odd feeling that the threat of guns and gangs had been trying relentlessly to thwart his destiny. He had vowed never ever to taste life in the prison, but what he was experiencing now could rightly be referred to as an “open prison,” having been kept in seclusion from the city and more so since he didn’t have a choice with regard to the kind of food at his disposal. In the midst of all the unpleasant experiences, he still kept his dream alive and refused to give up hope. Three years after their arrival at the camp, a fellow refugee went to the city and came back with one of the national newspapers. Albert requested for it and carefully glanced through the pages. By chance he came across an essay writing competition that was being organized by the Ministry of Education for Senior High School students on the theme: “THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF WAR ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.” By virtue of the fact that he was a former Senior High School student, a foreigner, and a refugee, he was not qualified to enter the contest. Nonetheless, he decided not to allow the God-sent opportunity to slip. He felt it was the right time to get the attention of the ‘powers that be’ by putting his case across to whoever it might concern. Drawing inspiration from a similar contest he had won at the Junior High School level in his home country, he painstakingly wrote the essay and also used the medium to touch on sensitive personal issues on a separate sheet. When the deputy minister of education visited the refuge camp about six months later, the inmates couldn’t perceive anything beyond the usual occasional visits by a VIP, but they were wrong. This time, they also came with an agenda. Apparently, Albert’s “disqualified” essay turned out to be the very best and that was the more reason why people from officialdom had come to pay a special homage to the young “exiled intellectual.”“Albert Brew, did you read the eligibility rules of the essay competition?” The deputy minister asked. “Yes, I did,” Albert was nervous, wondering if he had fallen foul of the laws of the land. “Why did you go ahead to enter the contest when you knew you were not qualified to do so?”“I was motivated by the desire to present my case to the higher authorities.”“Indeed, we have duly taken notice of your concerns and that is why I am here in person even though I could have, and should have delegated someone else to come over. Do you have your certificates or result slips here at the camp?”“No, I am sorry. I was returning from a journey and heading towards home purposely to get those documents but the ruthless rebels prevented me from reaching them.”“Well, never mind. Your essay has been adjudged the best. Congratulations!”“Thank you sir.”“Unfortunately, you will not receive any award for obvious reasons. However, you will hear from us sooner than later.”“Thank you honourable.”Interestingly, the heinous enterprise of the rebels which led to the displacement of Albert, could not dispossess him of the spirit of excellence. So, he continued to excel even under very difficult circumstances in a strange land as a refugee. At the beginning of the academic year a few months later, he was invited to write a special university entrance exam which he passed impressively with distinction. He was subsequently admitted on a special UNHCR Scholarship for a programme of study in Economics. “Mission accomplished at long last in spite of the threats of guns and gangs,” he thought to himself with a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment. The four-year academic journey on campus was full of ups and downs but at the end of it all, he successfully graduated and happened to be one of the very few students who had obtained the first class honours. Albert Brew never looked back since then.According to research findings in the field of aeronautic engineering, the bumble bee cannot fly and is therefore not supposed to be flying. The experts took a sample of the insect to their laboratory and critically examined it. Due to the size and the disproportionate shape of its body in relation to the position and the surface area of its wings, the flight engineers concluded that even though the creature was equipped with a wing, it should not have been able to fly. Yet, the “defiant” bumble bee, knowing that its pair of wings was not merely for decorative purpose, goes about exercising them for the very purpose for which they were created. Similarly, even though Albert was created with a very sharp brain, finding himself at the refugee camp under very unfavorable and traumatizing circumstances seemed to have closed the door to his academic pursuit. It could reasonably be concluded that Albert’s chances of soaring higher on academic wings was bleak. On the contrary, here he was, in full flight!The graduation ceremony on a sunny Saturday was colourful and memorable. Usually, apart form the media coming to cover the event with their television cameras, individual granduands also arranged with photographers to take snapshots as they received their diplomas and degrees. To Albert’s amazement and shock, he saw his photograph on the front page of the following Saturday’s edition of the mirror in his academic gown. It was this same paper that had published his story on the ‘Teens page’ about a decade earlier.The thought-provoking caption above the head of Albert on the 5th page of the publication was THE “FIRST CLASS REFUGEE”. Underneath; the brief citation also read “Albert Brew, one the few recipients of the first class honors is a daring, die-hard refugee who refused to allow his dreams to be drowned in the flood of violence and deprivation”. The word “flood” instantly reminded him of his father’s “prophetic challenge” and he did not fail to acknowledge the perfect fulfillment in the area of academic endeavour. Like father, like son. The father had defied the flood while the son had defied the odds. In his mind’s eye, Albert also saw himself throwing a similar challenge to his yet-to-be-born children. While he crossed over the eastern border in the wake of the uprising, the rest of the family also went over the western frontier and were fortunately preserved in a camp there. The time finally came for them to return home and guess what? The Brew family was together once again after years of “missing” one member. That day, they sang and danced. The whole house was filled with joy and jubilation.