“You will kill me today”, I cried as I continued to slap the hands of a boy who wouldn’t stop beating me. I was in JS1 and he was in my class too. He was at least 3years older and much bigger. I was a typical smallie in secondary school which meant everyone was much bigger than I was. And there I was, caught in a case of beat-me-I-beat-you.
I’ll get back to this incident in a bit.
One of the things I learnt in various literature classes is that a writer is an embodiment of experiences and his society; all of which must come to bear on his writing. I hated Shakespeare. He wasn’t an easy read especially as G.C.E/WAEC made him a mandatory one. My first meeting with Shakespeare was in SS2 when I was studying for G.C.E. Before that, I had an almost non-existent relationship with Literature. Although I had spent the last 2 years in Arts class, we didn’t have a Literature teacher. So imagine being thrust with a book written in 15th century English. Oh my God! I struggled. Then I took that G.C.E, the first of 3 I’d eventually write. We were to discuss a scene from Merchant of Venice. How do I explain something I didn’t understand? Needless to say, I failed that paper overwhelmingly.
I have been in a lot of literature classes since then. Not enough, but a lot. I realized early enough that characters are not that different from real life. Their choices are influenced by the culture, society and age they live. In one word, nurture.
The experiences that shaped me happened mostly in Secondary school and University. I attended a notorious secondary school in Lagos state – Trinity Secondary School, Olodi-Apapa. At the time, it was a government school acquired from the Mission. I was one of the smallest and youngest in class. We had lots of teachers but the classes were overcrowded. We students didn’t make things easy either. We were noisy, we were loud. We were easily distracted. We fought at the slightest opportunity. So when teachers came to class, it was either to give notes to the class captain who then proceeded to copy to the board for the rest of us or to give tests.
The school was all shades of trouble waiting to happen. But the real trouble began in 2003 when the government decided to return all Mission schools back to the Mission (I hope I’m right with the year). My school was one of those. School fees were introduced. That alone reduced the class by more than half as most couldn’t afford it. Teachers left, the school could no longer pay them. We were left with mostly mediocre teachers who didn’t care whether we got educated so long as they were paid. In essence, teachers left faster than you could say Dele and there were months we didn’t have subject teachers.
But let me go back to that JS1 experience at the beginning of this story. We’d had a test that day, just before break and I had covered my book to discourage anyone from spying. This boy was sitting right behind me and kept stretching his neck to see. After the test and during break, he asked why I covered my book since he was openly copying from me. As a smallie in a class of bullies, my mouth did most of the fighting where my hands couldn’t. I insulted the boy and told him I would go report. Biggest mistake ever! The boy beat me blue black, and when I reported , the teacher simply said “Ah, it’s Sadiq! You too should have shown him your work now. Abi what’s there?” My tears would not end. I cried and cried. As I was later to find out, Sadiq was one of those boys who got away with anything because his school father was one of those who terrorized the school. The teacher did not want to be attacked.
I cried all the way home. My dad asked what happened and I told him I was beaten. The minute I said the boy was my classmate, my father said, “Your classmate beat you and you came crying home? You better go back tomorrow and beat him too.” To my father, the boy’s age and size didn’t matter. The fact was the boy was my classmate. So I went to school the next day, ready to “beat my own back” but knowing fully well that I would get even worse beating.
When Sadiq came to class, I went to him and slapped him. Everyone looked at me with probably one thought running through their mind: “this girl wants to die”. Sadiq beat me again. Then I beat him in return. It became a case of beat-me-I-beat-you. By this time, everyone in class was waiting to see what would happen next. My tears were a waterfall and I couldn’t even see amidst it all. I only knew I had to keep beating in the direction of my last slap. Sadiq kept beating me and saying “I’ll kill this girl. Somebody hold her o” but I didn’t stop. No matter how much beating I got in return, I kept beating back. Then Sadiq got tired and stopped but my hands were in automatic mode and I wouldn’t stop. That was when the Principal came in: to see what was causing the noise coming from JS1B. We both got punished but Sadiq got the bigger one for “spying” and then bullying. Sadiq left in JS3 when school fees were introduced.
However I learnt two crucial lessons that day. One, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how huge that problem, a win is just around the corner. Two, only after you’ve fought for yourself will anyone else fight for you – if they will fight for you at all.
PS: Till date, I still don’t know how to report anyone. You won’t even hear Taiwo reported me to so and so. Once beaten… or in my case, twice beaten.