That X still haunts me. Painted so slyly in dripping dark green on the brand new fender of the light grey sports car of a backyard garage in Northern Rhodesia, I can only own up to having done it now, some 55 years after the fact. I can speculate why as a very little boy I so erroneously, so spitefully made the mark. I can speculate why I lied about it. I can speculate why I still speculate. Yet in doing so will I be able to let the ghost go?
Four year olds are quite willful. Uncle Neville, as he was called, used our big backyard garage with its two barn-like doors to build himself a sports car. He arrived with the vehicle's chassis and engine and steering wheel intact on a flat-bed truck, and once off-loaded, in my mind's eye the fiberglass body of the thing seemed to spring up under the reek of epoxy glue and spray-on paint. It was all quite interesting. It was all out of bounds. Except that by the window in there I had my two guinea-pigs in their cage. I think I wanted sunlight and shade for them but I don't think I thought about fresh air.
Neville was a kind enough fellow. He was wiry and handsome, I suppose, and he seemed to like my young aunt very much. She was about thirteen or maybe even twelve years older than me. She took him sandwiches and cool-drinks while he worked, but I was not allowed to be in there with them, counting teeth. Still, I got a good enough gander at the progress of the car whenever I went to feed my pets, and I looked forward to one day going along for a ride. My mother, however, was indignant at the idea of me in a sports car, especially one made of glass, no matter how many fibres it had in it.
Trouble is, the guinea pigs died. I came in one morning and they were very dead. I recall being most distraught. I recall thinking that someone had poisoned them and I recall feeling that it was because I was not wanted in the garage. So I cannot recall whether it was that day, or another, but I took up the paintbrush that happened to be there and dipped it in the nearby can, which I think was left open, and I made the X, quite big as I recall it, possibly as big as my head. And no one saw me. And then I knew that as long as I never told anyone they could not prove it was me. For certain I was very much afraid of the consequence; at that age I'd already been beaten enough to know that owning up to a misdeed was downright foolish. In Africa, children did not own up to things. Trouble is, I recall most of my escaped incidents a lot. Better to be beat?
Problem is, that X has indeed haunted me all my life. Yet like many a dark spot on the map of my mind it has become not so much a blemish as a treasure. It has taught me a thing or two along the way. In dealing with others, particularly children, I've examined the value of fear as opposed to reason; in dealing with myself I've examined the values of regret, of honesty, of worthiness, of conscience, and consciousness, and determined that each of the mistakes I've made in my life (and there have been very many) have taught me along the way to be a re-evaluator, a thinker of my thinking. Still, knowing all this now, in my 60th year, would I as a boy change my not owning up to my misdeeds and so suffer immediate consequence? No, the hidings would decidedly not be worth it. What's more, I may have become a person who stops himself doing wrong only for fear of consequences, and I ask you now, where's the ghost of a value to our society in that?