I wish I wrote this sooner, I don’t know if it should be an apology letter or an acknowledgement of your strength. This is my shout-out to the girl in the hijab. You were once my deskmate, long ago while we were in class 6. I remember you now because you taught me how to be strong. I watched you cry, being tormented by the other classmates for something you’d done before I was even your classmate. I remember there was a day you sat on a thumb-tack and I just sat there watching, too afraid to say a thing for fear of retaliation. I remember going home feeling sad and the occasional bursts of anger when I felt insulted being told how black I was, a memory I could only attach to a non-existent home in Sudan. But my pain felt like nothing on the day you sat on a chewing gum someone stuck on your chair and I was just seated there. You cried silently but never complained much, on the day that the class teacher told us to stop tormenting you, I was glad it’d end.
If only you were reading this, then you’d know how hard it is to explain what I feel. It’s complicated telling my life’s story, for this short while I’ve lived, I’ve seen the capacity of human cruelty. I have been beaten, insulted and still I stand because of you, you showed me how to weather the storm. I feel sorry though, on the day we last met I couldn’t recognise you. I was too blinded by my pain, I had a migraine for the most part of the day and yet you had the courage to ask me if I remembered you. I wish I’d have said this much back then but then again it’d have been half baked.
The day I learnt of my vulnerability I can never forget, It was a Thursday and I had gone window shopping for a ps2 and some games I was hoping to convince my father to buy on his next visit. I had gone there with a friend and neighbor, Brian. We’d been attending a tuition programme in a building behind the supermarket and had gone there over the short break as usual. On that day, I was excited because I had finally talked to a girl I had a crush on. While leaving the supermarket, I went and bought a chocolate bar, when I got to the exit I noticed Brian had been stopped by the attendants. I inquired as to what the hold up was, and was told to follow them to the back room. We were strip searched, they found nothing on me apart from the chocolate bar and a 50 shilling note I intended to use as the bus fare. On Brian however they found a volcano firework. Suddenly we were being beaten mercilessly by all the attendants and when I asked what I had done wrong I got punched on the head. We were taken to the basement where some of the attendants started practicing the kicks they saw on TV on me, I was taller than Brian and chubby, as my little sister likes to call me.
They took everything from us and demanded that we were to pay the price of the firework the next day. While walking home, I was too sore to even say a word to Brian. My mother saw me bruised and asked what had happened, I lied I’d fallen down the stairs trying to hide my shame. The next morning I borrowed 200 shillings to give to Brian to pay the cost of the firework. I didn’t go back to the tuition for the rest of the holiday.
Funny enough, I was mugged on the same Street. I pass there some days and feel the hate swelling within me, yet I wonder how you managed to walk into class each morning knowing the torment you had to face. Some days I fear I’m not so strong that I can stop myself from crying out in pain, it sometimes feels like a strained existence having come so close to death and walked away with the scars and memory.
Through my educational woes, I still wish I could thank you for showing me how to be goal oriented. Even though you weren’t the top student in the class, your resilience in coming to school still motivated me. I had lost all hope of ever finishing law school by the time I was in fourth year. The frustrations of having a missing marks in my first year and third year transcripts had began to take its toll. I felt the pressure from my parents asking for results I could not produce, it wasn’t for lack of trying, I’d done so many exams to get the marks for those papers but due to some negligence they never were filled. I had lost interest in the life I had, being a student for my entire lifespan to that point, the only compliments to my hard work being that I was called smart, and yet I never had the chance at getting any better. The precursor to my mugging was an argument with my parents about how hard and frustrating it was becoming trying to live up to their expectations.
That week I spent recuperating at home was the hardest, I wonder how you managed looking at your parents, were they kind and motivational telling you to endure? I couldn’t help but want to escape, I went back to my hostel to finish my clinical research paper before it was due, I struggled through the headaches and when I was done with the exams I waited for the final results. Was it anguish you felt before you fell asleep? Did you sometimes curse your fate? I started losing track of the dates, I remember the graduation dates and the disappointment of not joining my friends and classmates as they wore their gowns. I stayed at home and watched TV. I remember the next graduation I watched come and go as for the second time I was told I couldn’t graduate because of a missing paper. I had to drown my rage in several bottles of liquor, I smoked so much weed I almost felt numb, but it was there the next day and the day after. So I ask again how you managed those 2 years of torment at such a tender age, when I still cried because I learnt of my grandpa’s death years before I was born?
Through it all, I still remember you, and I thank you for showing me I could be strong. It’s been so many years since I last saw you, and now I wonder what has become of you. I’d never bothered to know where you came from, it never mattered before but now I want to know where you are. So I send my regards and hope they find you well. I fear I wasn’t so strong, because I demanded that my father follow up on my results to find out who I was to blame for the frustration I felt. I spent 2 years angry, sad and almost felt numb from knowing I was never good enough. For all that I wanted revenge and yet I feel helpless when I stand at the school gate, disarmed from knowing you had endured more and then it feels nothing more than an eyesore.
Written by Ayuel