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Star Quest, Our Star Child by Amos Esele, Marama Communications, Lagos, 102pp

July 12, (THEWILL) – Curiosity, so the idiom goes, killed the cat. In the case of the protagonist of this book, curiosity drove him to excel in an essay competition and then became a star in the process. It isn’t that he was inquisitive about someone else’s affairs. No! What he was curious about was something that happens now and then which many adults take for granted – a meteor or what is commonly called a falling star.

One night Amen, a teenage boy and student, went on an errand for his mother. His pesky younger sister would not let up about having some biscuits. On his way, Amen had something close to an epiphany. It was a life-changing experience. Like most chaps his age, he was naturally curious when he saw a meteor make its speedy descent from an ink black sky.

Fascinated to no end about the occurrence, Amen breathlessly informs his mother about what he saw. Like most adults would, mother responds that it is a falling star and passes it off as something quite normal, not an extraordinary occurrence.

The lad is puzzled but his mother reassures him. “It’s alright,” she says. “Stars fall every now and then. What you saw today is called a falling star; they fall every time.” More than that, Amen’s mother, Zainab, presciently tells his worried son that “it is a sign of good luck. So, smile, be happy some good things are coming to you soon.”

Good things did come to the lad in a most unexpected manner. Still, the young man is puzzled. Not even his mother’s reassurance would clear his niggling doubt. Ruminating on the chance occurrence, Amen wonders how it is ever possible something that shone so brightly fell from the sky and disappeared before it reached the ground. Where did it go?

Like any lad his age would, Amen confronts his father straight away once he got back from work. Another round of questioning follows immediately his father settles in. Taking a cue from mum’s response, he asks him: “What is a falling star, dad?”

A lawyer by profession, his father Uwaifo responds by asking if that was what his son was taught in school that day. But sensing it is something out of class work, something to satisfy his son’s more than cursory curiosity, Uwaifo tells his son what his spouse had told Amen earlier, and then explains further. A falling star “flashes across the sky now and then. That is why it is called a falling star. It dies away and that is the end of that star you saw. Another day, one would come and do the same thing, that’s all. Life continues.”

Amen may have rested his case about the meteor with his father’s explanation that night. But the following day, he saw a silvery star smack on top of a mosque on his way to school. His search begins all over again with renewed interest and more fascination.

Getting home from school, Amen breezily tells his mother of his recent discovery: “Mom, I saw another star.” Mom’s response is as logical as it is funny. “In the afternoon?”

Psychiatrists sometimes joke that children are terrorists in the sense that they literally hold their parents hostage until a particular demand is met or a wish fulfilled. Any reader would want to believe so about the restless hero whose quest for a star – falling or cresting the roof of a worship centre – sort of consumes him and his parents. In no time, father and mother are coerced into their ward’s restless energy devoted to knowing more about what began from a nighttime errand.

Together, they search the internet, learning more every day about the star, its symbolical value to some religions and not only Islamic faith. For instance, they discover in their search that the “star and the crescent symbol itself is very ancient, dating back to early Sumerian civilization, where it was associated with the sun god and moon goddess.”

By this time, the star quest had gone beyond Amen’s fascination with a star. It has become a family affair as father, mother and son dig deeper into what the star represents to Muslims. Reading from their findings on the net, they learn that “the crescent moon with a star are symbols of Islam. Muslims begin some holidays such as Ramadan based on the phases of the moon, their calendar is based on the lunar cycle, they are to visit a holy meteorite in Mecca at least once in their lives, and their religion has roots near Babylonia known for astronomical observations.”

Every time the trio spend on the net reveals more interesting information about what the adults had previously taken for granted. The adults have become converts to what began as a childish pursuit. They learn, also, that what they had mistaken for a falling star isn’t one at all. “A falling star or shooting star has nothing to do with a star! These amazing streaks of light you can sometimes see in the night sky are caused by tiny bits of dust and rock called meteoroids falling into the earth’s atmosphere and burning up. The short-lived trail of light the meteoroid produces is called a meteor.”

Amen’s objection to this last passage is a cue for more research. And then, as he declared from the beginning, and as if justifying his claim that he, indeed, saw a star, they read that “meteors are commonly called falling stars or shooting stars.”

At the end of their research, father, mother and son are rewarded with previously unknown information about something as ordinary as the star. For instance, they all get to know more about the star’s significance in both the Old and New Testaments, predictions foretelling the coming of the messiah, the visit of the magi and much else, all of them connected to the star.

But the story does not end there. Amen’s fascination results in something grander, something he would never have imagined after he first sighted the falling meteor that night.

Amos Esele, the creator of this admirable lad, is the Deputy Editor of THEWILL, a daily online newspaper with a weekly print edition only on Sundays. He has been a senior journalist for decades in many national newspapers. Like most journalist’s ambition to write a book in the course of their journalistic careers, Our Star Child has fulfilled that wish for Esele. Those who know say he began the book soon after The Union, a newspaper he worked with, suddenly packed up. Left with plenty of time and with nothing to do in the interval, he thought of and started writing Our Star Child.

The star child himself, Amen, would linger long in the mind of readers, if for nothing else but his questioning mind, his drive and total belief in what he knows. Like a scientist seeking to know more about the universe, Amen goes on and on until his questions are reasonably answered, answers that will come handy  when a bank sponsors an essay competition in his secondary school, Pantako.

Esele captures the school environment so well it can pass for any up to it institution anywhere in Benin or Lagos. Amen resolves to write about the star he has been fascinated with in the competition and then submits it for one of the categories. Students from other schools are also in contention for the prizes.

Prize giving days arrives and, as anyone would imagine, Amen is as apprehensive as some of his co-students. It is a natural reaction for anyone who has ever had to hope for something in life, for as Nietzsche once mused, “hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”

For the first announcement, the award went to a female student from another school. Agony for our lad. The second went to another student. More agony for the lad, until the very last. Nothing for the chap. It was pure hell, especially considering that his most important guests that day was his own mother and little sister.

But as they say, every serious lad will have his day. Amen did. It turned out the sponsors were so fascinated with the student’s essay they set it aside. In the end, his essay on and about the star got him a special prize and also made him a star.