The futility of talent and potential

What you need to know:

If you have a few things going well for you, you should be grateful

Uncle Black Sheep was born with truckloads of potential. Whatever he chose to do from academics to athletics, he always left his peers in the dust. He was great at languages and even greater with numbers. His peers still remember him for his enviable mental work. For those from the Universal Primary education generation, mental work is where a teacher tasked learners to multiply, add or subtract numbers of varying difficulty in their heads.

You had to be fast and accurate, which caused a lot of frustration among children but not Uncle Black Sheep whose mind was sharp and swift. He was also popular on the playground because of his ability to create incredible toys from the simplest of items. The community was overjoyed to have such a promising young man and it was always assumed that would be the one to bring greatness to their village. When he sat his Primary Leaving Examinations in the 1970s, he topped the region as expected and was admitted to Makerere College School, which most villagers mistake for Makerere University.

When I discovered that he had never been to the university, I asked him why he never corrected the misconception but he told me to mind my own business. The truth is, he enjoys the misconception because it gives him the aura of an educated man even if it is a false one. After his O-Levels, Uncle Black Sheep went to Nairobi, Kenya for further studies and lost contact with the family for the next 10 years.

Growing up, I heard so many theories about his fate; some claimed that because of his brilliance he had been granted citizenship in Europe where he was a leading scholar.  Others believed he was still in Nairobi but had become too wealthy to return to Uganda with its political instability at the time.

But one day in 1989, Uncle Black Sheep made his return on top of a lorry carrying a body of a fallen soldier. His return was so shocking and inexplicable to the community that had had so much hope in him. The only wealth he had was contained in a worn out travel bag and the threadbare clothes he wore. All he wanted to do when he got home was take a bath and sleep, which he did for hours. The villagers, having heard of his return assembled and patiently waited as he rested.

When he woke up, everyone had questions for which he had no answers. But it was soon clear that he had picked up ruinous habits that explain his fate; he lived to party and drink. And it was only when he was drinking up a storm that he barroom stories, his too should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Uncle Black Sheep claims that while in Nairobi, he met a beautiful woman and the two fell deeply in love. The woman he claims is singer Mbilia Bele but the relationship failed because of her busy schedule. He then met another one who helped nurse his broken heart but she too had a hectic lifestyle because she was no other than the famous Tshala Muana. Meanwhile, the two women did not want to let him out of their sight so he was not able to do his own work.

 However, he had mastered the art of upholstery from his Czech tutor and he would have made a decent living had he had the discipline to commit to his work. He would get orders for chairs and he would make two magnificent samples but after that, he would event excuses and never complete an order. With time, no one wanted to waste their money on someone who did not care enough about his craft as to invest time and energy in it. This means he is always broke and grabs every excuse to explain why he squandered so much talent and reduced himself to a pauper.

Live your life

His favourite excuse is that he suffered a cranial disc injury in a motor accident. Apparently, the reputable neurologist Dr Joel Kiryabwire said he was not expected to recover from this injury but he did.

Now he says he suffers from double vision and tremors in his hands. I am not a neurologist but even I know that with or without the accident his body would have started falling apart due to the heavy drinking he has subjected it to for more than 40 years. I bumped into him recently at a family function and I was saddened by the terrible figure he cut.

His once athletic body now shows the ravages of time and he walks with a limp. He has tried to fight grey from his head but a few strands around his hairline stubbornly defy the power of kanta hair dye. He is more subdued and often gets lost in a world of his own. He lives alone because he never married or had any children and it shows from his poorly ironed and patched clothing.

As I watched that once bright light that had dimmed so prematurely, I had a profound revelation of the preacher’s words that “the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or  wealth to the brilliant, or favour to the learnt; but time and chance happen to them all.” 

I often hear people complaining about their lives and I am surprised by their naivety and entitlement.

So much is out of our control which is why if you have a few things going well for you,  you should be grateful.