Eons ago when I was a little boy, road graders would occasionally be dispatched to level out estate roads where I grew up. I watched the driver of the damn thing going about his business with gusto and ill-concealed relish.
I stood and watched in awe at the way the behemoth went back and forth, levelling out the road, scooping soil from one side of the road and depositing it on the opposite side to create gradient, or so I learnt later.
My fascination would only ebb when the sweaty driver, satisfied with his handiwork, drove the machine at high speed and disappeared, to appear months later when rains had wreaked havoc on the dirt roads.
Then, tarmac was so alien you encountered it if you went to town, a few kilometres away. Just at that time when the grader was in the estate, interrupting children games, if you had asked me what my ambition was, I would have pointed at the caterpillar and said: “To drive that thing”.
As part of the driver’s break and to have the opportunity to wipe his brow with his sleeve, the roaring grader would fall gradually silent, smoke billowing from a chimney-like feature on the roof.
As he descended from atop the driver’s seat, and stood next to the huge tyres, I thought he was a very tough cookie indeed. I even thought he was a sort of genius to manipulate such a thing, moving gears back and forth and craning his neck to see that his handiwork was turning out well.
It took me a while to realise that there were other careers, perhaps less dramatic but even paying better. Talking of careers, you recall those primary school debates that shaped budding speakers?
We had one some day, and I recall a classmate (whose name we withhold for now, lest the trauma comes back!) being asked to take part in the debate of the day.
As fate would have it, the topic was: “A father is better than a mother” and my friend was on the side of the proposers. As it happened, his mother was a teacher and was moderating the debate.
I saw my pal sweat and stammer, struggling to extol the virtues of his father as his mother watched him keenly. Suffice it to say that when the time came for him to sit, it was a huge relief.
But we have digressed. I was telling you about the excavator and how I recalled my childhood ambition to drive one or is it to operate the thing?
These memories came back a few weeks ago with the emergence of Sany, that green excavator that has brought grief to folks who had built structures on what I hear is called riparian land. I guess it is a sort of wetland but then you never know. Up until a few weeks ago, I still thought it was a cool thing bringing buildings down by poking a metal rod in the ribs of the four-storeyed structures.
I thought it must give one a feeling of power, roaring around and scooping chunks of concrete from hitherto erect buildings and seeing them tumble in a cloud of dust.
The turning point was when a building actually collapsed on the excavator! I thought differently about such a job and suddenly, I was glad I am a scribe! But come to think of it, is that bloke trained to destroy buildings? Who trains folks to do such stuff?
Or is it learnt on the job? What does such a fellow do when he is not bringing down buildings? Does he like his job? I hear folks say we scribes can also build and destroy. Maybe it is true. But we build using words. Its verbal, you know.
Maybe it is not such a bad idea that my ambition changed from a tractor driver to a wordsmith, after all. How times change! So, next time you see the Sany thing poking its nose into buildings and causing terror, remember the guy on the driver’s seat could easily have been me. Other careers that crossed my young mind as I grew up? That is a story for another day. Have a choosy week, folks! The writer is Special Projects editor, People Daily