Ignorance, they say, is bliss. And boy was I ignorant to a lot of things but I am sure there was no bliss.
I grew up being bullied at home to the point where I did not feel comfortable anywhere and the only home I had was all that was within. If there was any good thing about that, it was that it prepared you for the world because I doubt that there is anywhere in the world to go where bullies cannot be found.
I remember one incident in particular when I had a run in with a bully. I was in First Form (Seventh Grade) and I had reached school very early that day.
There were two boys from my class who had made it before me.
We were all very new to high school, coming from different communities, so we were not known to each other more than for the few short weeks since we had started school.
The disparity between the two was stark and I still recall their faces and their stances very easily. Sam* was slim, light-skinned, with what was known as good hair. He was handsome with a kind face. Larry* was darker-skinned, chubby and surly looking.
I entered into the classroom and bade them good morning, since politeness was the order of the day.
Sam was standing with one fist punching the other palm and Larry was sitting on a desk; my desk.
I walked over to him and asked him nicely to get off my desk. I did that even after he had not answered to my salutation. He did not get up so I asked him again with the same result. By then I was getting irate because when you grow up in certain high tension situations you really develop a short fuse.
“Get up off my desk noh bwoy,” I said for the third time. Still he did not get up. I got really flustered then so I threw my bag on the chair, lifted my desk and tipped it over with him.
He was really angry and I saw a fight coming so I muscled up for the blows.
Larry got up from the floor and before he could react physically, apart from nearly cross-threading his face, Sam walked over.
“Hey, if you lick her, you go have fi lick me too ‘cos she did tell you to get up off her desk.”
I know now just how much of a bully he was because he had a bigger frame than Sam. Heck, his butt alone was wide enough to do some damage but apparently he had enough strength to pick on girls only.
He dusted himself off and walked away with his tail between his legs, while Sam helped me to put my desk back in position.
I had never spoken much to anybody before so I was happy to have Sam come to my rescue and also discover that chivalry was alive and well. Throughout the year I could see Larry struggling to find his place in the class by having a few run-ins but never quite made the title of class bully.
When we finally moved on to Second Form Larry was nowhere to be found and it was alleged that he had emigrated abroad. I do not really know if he bullied anyone else but he certainly never tried it with me again.
Thankfully, Sam had been there to defuse the situation, but I certainly would not have gone down without a fight. When you grow up being constantly picked on, you tend to be ready always to retaliate especially if the offender was not towering over you.
I guess I had always suffered from separation anxiety so it took me a while to get comfortably acclimatized to the new circumstance of high school.
One day I left my P.E. clothes on the bus, which was never found, and was told by the Phys. Ed. Teacher that I would not be allowed on the playfield without them. That suited me fine because I did not like to play in the sun and so far she had been hand-picking the children to play certain games and I was not one of them.
I started to spend the P. E. hour in the classroom in their absence until a new rule which said no one should be found in the home room while they should be in class elsewhere. Such ones would be punished by detention.
To a first former, detention sounded like a terrible thing especially since I had had no previous experience, henceforth, I started to spend the hour at the back of the classroom.
I am sure I spent the whole term if not the whole year being absent from that class because money was scarce and my mother must have already gone over her budget for me. In addition, the teacher had been giving me evil eyes all the time. I could not understand the animosity until I had her in second form for Religious Education.
She had given us homework which I had done in my folder.
Because of her treatment of me I did not like her so to avoid a situation where I would forget to do her homework, I had done it as soon as I had got it and promptly forgot about it. She was one person with whom I did not want to have any more run-ins.
Of course, she did not take kindly to my not handing it in and bawled me out in the class calling me a liar and how I had reported her to my ‘mumma’ which was to some a derogatory reference for mother.
In an attempt to get a replacement for the missing clothes, I had to tell my mother what was happening at school, which was not a lie. But my mother could be caustic and even though I had not been aware that she had paid the hapless teacher a visit and had most likely rubbed her raw, I discovered the reason for her animosity towards me which lasted throughout my high school years.
The class had a mix of students coming from the government-run primary schools and the privately owned preparatory schools. Some boys in my class, mostly from the prep schools (and more financially able homes), made me into a target by hitting me causing me to hit them back. They started to hit me and run and I would run them down to hit them because I was not going to take it.
By then we were in second form.
One day after such an incident, a girl in my class asked me if I had started my period yet. No, I had not, I was a late bloomer? So she declared that that was the reason I loved to play with the boys. I was playing with the boys!
That was bullying plain and simple but I did not know what that was at the time. It is only now that there is so much of it in the headlines that I can assign a name to that behaviour. I only knew that they hit me and I was not going to take it. It stopped when I playfully punched a boy in his eye by accident (it really was an accident because I had not felt threatened by him since he was much smaller and we had been talking about some inane thing before). He should have read my mind and shifted his head away from my fist instead he moved right into the punch. George* was a white boy so it was alarming to see the different shades his eye turned before it became black. There was yellow, gray, purple and black and not necessarily in that order. I was really sorry about that. I probably was lucky they had not filed charges because his father was a lawyer.
Eventually we made it to third form that time without George. I had heard he had gone to England to complete his studies.
I had picked a seat by the window and one day I had the window closed because my sight was so bad that the light was causing a glare on the blackboard.
A boy came to my window, opened it and looked in. I shut it and he opened it again. I slammed it shut and that time his finger got caught between the louvers. He got mad and stormed in through the door I guess to retaliate.
I was no longer the timid first former so I stood up and advanced towards him, ready to floor him if I needed to. Some boys in my class intercepted him and talked him out of it and I went back to my seat. I must say some of those guys were very protective towards us girls in the class and squabbling was kept to the minimum. Later they jokingly referred to me as Cassius Clay, which thankfully did not stick especially since there had been no blows but I do not remember being picked on by the boys since then.
The girls and the teachers?
Well, their bullying was more subtle and had more finesse but that is another story for another day.
*Names changed to protect me