I was feeling extremely happy today. Until the words. The day just couldn’t be better, my mum was returning home from Israel and she had promised me heaven and earth. Today was also the first day of the last year of my Secondary School in a totally new school. I was so happy to be going to a new school; the old one was hell, like literally, in fact it was more like a five year prison sentence with really hard labor. Labor, brutality and practical torture from management, seniors, prefects were just the order of the day, so imagine my excitement when Dad told me I was moving to the exclusive and expensive school I had always admired all my life. I was more than excited; I was flying without wings.
I got the first hint all was not going to be well from the gate of the school. I pushed open the little gate and cheerfully greeted the gatekeeper, he was apparently shocked that a student had greeted him, he was speechless for a little moment.
Then he recovered and started the royal ruin of my beautiful and happy day, ” come, come ,come, who you dey find here?” I was startled at first, I had pressed my new uniform until it practically glowed of ironing, I was wearing that uniform so it was clear that I was a student.
“Sir, I am a new student here.” I said giving my best smile, by then small groups of students were looking my way.
“No o! It no even possible, na where you steal this uniform? Who admit you for here? No be your type we dey find o. Who your papa be for Naija?” Everything he was saying seemed to be coming out at once, and every new statement seemed to plunge a different kind of knife into my embarrassed heart. The other students were apparently finding it all funny, I was their early morning entertainment, I knew only the high and mighty came to this school but I didn’t know every other person would be less of a human. My hand, with little tremors, located my admission letter by the side of my bag and showed the gatekeeper who had not stopped talking for a moment.
He looked and looked again at the admission letter, I don’t know what he was hoping to find when it was obvious he could not read it. After an eternity of display of expertise he did not possess, he shouted “wait here o, no move, I dey come.” The students were whispering to themselves as they passed by, some laughing, some looking with open hostility and some just totally ignoring me. It was at that point I started a mantra in my head ordering the ground to open up and swallow me.
The gatekeeper returned a few minutes later shaking his head “make you go principal’s office”. I didn’t bother telling him I didn’t know where the principal’s office was, I just wanted to get away from that environment.
I eventually found the office after asking some junior students who did not see the fiasco outside and were yet to form a concrete opinion about me and if they did, could not be bothered to express it. While I sat at the lobby of the principal’s office, I kept thinking of how horrible my day was turning out simply because one ignorant gatekeeper could not be bothered to keep his mouth shut and practically judged me based on how I looked. I was quite certain things would have been better if he had not talked and made others look down on me without meeting me first. If they had met me first, I knew they would love my personality now anything I do would be seen as trying to remedy the situation.
I just wanted to go home to my room and cry where none of these students would ever see me.
The principal walked into the lobby and looked politely civil and I was hoping things would get better. I was so wrong. She looked at my feet and snapped immediately. “Miss Dupe, couldn’t you be bothered to buy a shoe and not a commoner’s sandals? You would just have to change your orientation very fast and adapt as this is not your local backyard school. We don’t need commoners tainting our hard earned reputation. You would be in SSS 3 B.” She walked away leaving me speechless and almost in tears. I didn’t bother looking back at the junior students behind me; I knew they were giggling about me.
I couldn’t ask anyone I met for my class; I just kept looking at the tags on the doors I passed before I eventually located it. I took a deep breath before I pushed open the door and entered. The teacher was already in, timidly I walked to him and introduced myself. He seemed really nice but my earlier experience taught me not to jump into conclusions.
He turned to the class, “Class, this is Dupe Jaiyeola and she would be joining us for this session, and please let’s make her feel welcome. Sandra, she would be your seat partner.” Before the teacher could be done with the introductions, the Sandra in question rose so regally to her feet and said so calmly that I didn’t catch the insult immediately.
“Sir, she definitely is welcome to our school as well as to our class however my Dad does not pay so much as well as sponsor the teachers’ yearly vacation trip for his only daughter to be forced to sit with a local commoner. Huh uh, I don’t think so Sir.” I felt like I had been slapped in a hundred different directions, I just wanted to disappear. The teacher was apparently embarrassed on my behalf but the students could not be bothered to mask their mockery; they were practically smiling and not so discreetly giving small nods of approval.
“Sandra, you can’t say things like that, it’s not proper, she is a student like you and has a right to seat in the class.” At that point, I just stopped the teacher.
“Do not worry Sir, I would sit at the back just without a seat partner.” I said in a very small voice and only the teacher could hear me and he smiled in understanding. I walked to the back, my head fixed on something interesting on the ground, I sat down alone, separated, segregated. I hated myself at that moment.
I sat still all through the day, not talking to anyone, the tears always threatening to drop. The day mercifully came to an end, I walked slowly through the gates not bothering to reply the gatekeeper.
I got to my house, entered my room, locked the door and I laid on the bed finally allowing the tears to flow freely, allowing the words I have heard to taunt me, torment me, hurt me. I was bleeding from inside, I felt humiliated, degraded but I knew I had no choice, I would go back the next day and hear the same things and the next and the next. It would never stop, words of eternal hurt, the words might stop but the hurt won’t, simply because some people do not realize the strength and deadliness of words.
The doorbell rang, my Mum was back, I cleaned my eyes, wore my brightest smile, armed myself with lovely welcoming words and went to remedy what was left of my day.