Richie Kamura is a 17 year old venture boy born in Sierra Leone. Several years after moving from Freetown, to Ottawa (Canada), he developed a habit of daydreaming. He often falls into mental episodes where he wanders off with his paper plane. ‘What If’ is a visual story that encourages viewers to drift off into their own world. Let the mind travel, as it allows one to think of the several things they’ve always considered exploring. Every creative has these moments and it’s time to embrace them. For Richie, these fantasies involved love, music, and responsibility. #WhatIfChallenge
I grew up as the only child of two workaholic Sierra Leoneans. The best times I’ve spent with both of them was back in Freetown, where they could afford to hire their own personal drivers, cooks and house maids. This was short-lived when, at the age of seven, I emigrated with my mom to Canada where we currently live. We settled in Ottawa, the capital city in the east of Southern Ontario. To some, this transition may seem abrupt, but for me it provided a way of escaping a harsh reality and welcome a new, less hazardous environment, where I could incubate my long burning desires for friendship and kickstart some dreams.
A new start, new school, new home and a brand new group of friends, whom I now call family. My best friends “Sammy” and “Blinkie” continue to stand by my side through my journey into becoming a Canadian. Though they are both Sierra Leonean as well, the brothers were fortunate enough to be born here. Without them, my life would’ve been a seventeen-year tale of dull misadventures: it was the boredom of being alone. Without them, I had no one to share my adventures with.
It didn’t take too long for me to adapt to the new school system; school in Canada proved to be incredibly easier than it was back home. I quickly became fond of all my teachers, and even the principal. Surprisingly, my sense of humour and inclination for music were not bare nuisance to my peers; they were instead the catalyst for building these relationships. I would use my music and witty jokes to fill the voids and to ease the awkwardness of tense situations, when I saw fit. My finest skill, though, was to know when not to tell jokes. When it came to it, I focused my talents on getting good grades, using the study methods I had mastered when I was just a kid, back in Sierra Leone.
However, things got different after school as my mother was still visibly stressed from immigration. Plus, her strenuously achieved political degrees from Fourah Bay College were not recognized in the Canadian professional industry, which forced her to restart a career as a front desk secretary in the Library of Parliament while she saved up to go back to school. My mother’s position back home was one of the highest in her political career, and this new humbling role was strange to her. Nonetheless, she gave thanks that she was surrounded by an accessible flow of information on her new country. Regardless, she couldn’t help but come home after a stressful day and take out her disappointments on me. I was the one to be blamed for any petty mishaps that occurred in the house.
I first approached music when I started to play the flute as a means of distraction from all the chaos that surrounded me. It fast became therapeutic for me to practice my scales in front of a mirror, pretending to be a member of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. I dreamed of being mentored by figures like Victor Feldbrill and Peter Oundjian. I practiced every day, because I would often ask myself:
‘What if one day Feldbrill came to your school , looking for talent?’’
‘What if mom finally starts making enough to pay for my music lessons?’
I wanted to be ready for those possibilities. I needed to.
Day in, day out, I would practice the flute. Once I felt comfortable enough with it, I moved to the piano. The thought of the slightest possibility to play in a well renowned orchestra really motivated me.
I imagined myself performing a rendition of my all time favourite song: Gymnopedie by Erik Satie. Even though I enjoyed the soft looseness of the song, I couldn’t help thinking that it could use a bit of an uptempo.
‘What if I were the first to do it?’
‘What if I made music?’
That scenario played out in my head again and again, in a loop.
In my fantasy, I would be hand-picked by Feldbrill to perform a solo piece that would be distinct from my fellow flutist thus leading the entire band into a crescendo contrasted sharply with the softness of my solo. He would encourage me to keep up the good work by making sure I stood out from the orchestra, singling me out with the white suit.
Then I began questioning myself: where would I be when it happened? What would we play? Would they like me? Would I be any good, or at least good enough?
Every time I wondered, my head spiralled down a rabbit hole of barely tangible opportunities, lost, to be rescued only with diligent practice and rigid discipline.
I bought myself a small voice recorder on which I would record my practice sessions and then listened to the playbacks to evaluate my progress. The devotion to this method enhanced my longing for musical virtuosity, before I even had the audacity to try out for the school’s band - I wanted to become the best before going public with my craft.
My friend Blinkie was the one who planted the idea of joining the school’s band in my head. Though at the time I was still an unripe musician, he made sure I got to deal with scales and chords better than the best player in the band. Ironically, he’s never had a desire or even an ear for music, but there was something contagious about my dream and, if the vision is clear, the people will follow.
Sammy, Blinkie’s little brother, taught me how to make slick paper planes; at first, I found them rather annoying, for the kid used to fly them around my house way too often. Though, after making a few myself, it became a skill of mine; only then it occurred to me that dreams, just like planes, need a strong and well-studied structure in order to be able to fly.
Work and dedication truly bend and reshape your decision-making skills. It may sound a little corny, but keeping this motto clear in my mind has contributed to making me the person I am today. From the time when I learnt how to tell the right jokes in class, to when I used to stay inside instead of joining the boys in our school’s football games, down to the efficient study patterns I cultivated back in Sierra Leone - before I met my friends.
I wish I could say I’ve never thought about quitting. That, though, would have meant that the words of encouragement from my friends Sammy and Blinkie were only wasted breaths. The amount of time we spent together practicing could not be conjugated.
Even though my friend’s real name is Tyler, everybody calls him Blinkie because of how much he blinks. Blinkie’s compulsive blinking is certainly not a medical condition; he blinks because of a variety of emotions and states of mind to which he is particularly inclined. He often does it when he’s nervous or immersed in his deep reasonings. He doesn’t mind the nickname at all, to the point that he introduces himself with that name even to strangers. It takes a great deal of self consciousness to take on a name like that and look at it in a positive way. This is the main reason why I enjoy spending time with him. Sammy, on the other hand, is a bit younger than us, and he likes to take his time with things. I don’t mind that, I think it just makes him diligent. There’s no room for boredom, when those two are around.
In the days that I am not practicing music, inventing new jokes or making paper airplanes, the oppressive atmosphere of my household makes me want to spend most of my time outdoors, where I take long walks in the park to clear my head from the negative thoughts. During my wanderings, I also figure out creative solutions to my unstable financial situation so that I can help my mother feel less stressed.
I cannot bear asking my mom for financial support, simply because I know how worked up about money she already is. My dad, being in Sierra Leone, is unable to physically support her, and that doesn’t make things any better. Don’t get me wrong, my dad sends us some money every once in a while, but my mother still complains about the economic situation all the time. I don’t know much about adults’ business, but I understand if she is unable to afford a consistent full tank of gas for the car, something must be wrong.
One day as I was taking my usual walk, I came up with an idea that suddenly enlightened me:
What if I started a dog sitting business?
I immediately took a note on my phone. Such a bright idea I had! I love dogs unconditionally and, though my mother would never allow me to have my own, I could have many pets around all the time to keep me company without having to worry about the long-term commitment a dog usually requires. In this way, I could improve my sense of responsibility, taking care of the cleaning, feeding, and walking and finally prove to my mother how good I can be at looking after a pet while earning a little extra money for myself.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it, I took it upon myself to create flyers which I planned to plant around my neighbourhood. If there is one thing I know about the suburbs it’s the amount of people who own pets that do not have time for the constant care. Once I printed the flyers, I told my mother my plans and showed her my work. I made sure it was a day when she wasn’t too burdened down by her challenges.
With a soft voice she said to me, “Richie, I am so proud of your initiative and your entrepreneurial spirit, these are skills you will need for your future. However, I have a strong allergy to pet fur, there will be no way to maintain your business without bringing home shedding.”
Crushed, I now had to file this business venture away, until I could come up with a stronger idea or find a way around my mother’s allergies. Either way, I needed money and owning a pet business didn’t seem likely, but it also didn’t stop my dreams.
Building up the courage to approach girls was for me, another challenging task.
I still remember how nervous I was, trying to muster up the strength to talk to Jessie in high school. I remember it vividly.
Once I was standing in the school’s hallway, about to close my musty green locker, holding my gym clothes, ready for Phys Ed. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jesse. Her lips always curved up in a warming smile. She was new at school, and she had probably lost her way through the maze of corridors. She timidly clutched her textbooks to her chest reminding me of a scene straight out of Mean Girls - a defenceless Lindsay Lohan against the craze of the high school “zoo”. This girl, though, hadn’t yet gone wild, in fact, with her level headedness she, managed to tap me on the shoulder and ask,
“Excuse me… Richie, right?”
How did she know my name?
My voice trembled.
“Didn’t mean to bug. Perhaps you know where the gym is?”
Her words came out crystal clear. Her confidence amazed me.
“Never mind, it’s just... I would have asked someone else but we’re the only ones in the hallway.” she chuckled.
“Ehm… I’m on my way there too. I jus… I just forgot… my deodorant...” I lied.
“I mean, I can take you there.. I’m in the same class.”
As we made our way to the gym, I could literally feel the puke coming up from the pit of my stomach, ready to put an end to the progress I was making with her. So, I kept my mouth shut.
Her soft voice and charm grabbed my attention and kept her running through my mind.
Until, one day, she disappeared without a trace.
I felt lost. I was devastated.
I soon learnt that she had moved to Regina, Saskatchewan because of her parents’ divorce. She loved her father to death and, after the split, she decided to follow him and leave Ottawa.
Nevertheless, I still considered it a win. I managed to briefly befriend her, and that was more than enough.
The worst thing that has happened to me was not taking advantage of the time I spent with Jesse before she got lost in the sea of custody battles and Regina winters. Immersing myself in the questions of possibilities would only tempt me to depression, but I couldn’t help but ask..
What if I wasn’t such a timid boy?
What if I got to know her better?
What if I had the nerve to..
...and just like that I would get caught up in the cycle of gnawing on fists and reminiscing on moments missed. The last thing I ever want to feel is regret.
There needs to be a time in any creative’s life where they refuse the idea that what they do to make people happy is just a hobby.
I refused that idea the day Jesse left.
What I do consider a hobby is my obsession with music and creating paper planes. No pun intended but I see my creation of paper planes, as a form of release.
You see, in the time that I got to spend with Jesse, I had a unique method of anonymously sharing my feelings with her - and consequently, the rest of the class. Before class started, I would write small jokes on paper, generic enough that no one would know who they were from and to whom they were targeted. While the class was too busy dodging balls, I would quickly turn them into paper planes, though I knew it was wrong, I would throw them in the midst of the gymnasium chaos. Most times the planes would go unnoticed. But one day, the gym teacher stumbled upon one of my planes, and something compelled him to pick it up from the floor; maybe it was because of how often I got away with my anonymity or maybe because Murphy’s law worked in my favor that day, but when he opened up the plane and read, she was the only one that got the joke.
Ever since then, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. From afar I watched her live oblivious to her secret admirer. I imagined what it would be like to be her main focus. Just like my dreams of being an Orchestra member, my mind wandered into the fields of no return in suits so white and pure it could cover the many sins of inevitable heartbreak.
Through the grapevine, I found out what classes she was in and would leave a paper plane with a joke inside it everyday before her class and I would check once that period was over that the joke was no longer there, that meant she kept them.
One day, I went to leave another joke on her table, and saw that the joke from the day before was still there - that’s how I learned that she moved.
Now that I am in college and no one has really captured my heart, I continue to write jokes in paper planes as a means of closure. Sometimes I throw it at my friends, sometimes I throw them in class.
A thought hit me one day:
What if I learned to fly a real plane so that I can bring myself, the fountain of jokes, to her doorsteps in Regina?
No paper plane can carry a joke that far.
Story by Tobi Ogude with help from Francesca Tormena