High school is a place for fun. Fun if you were a meaty, trash-talking, weenie-bashing, football playing, pirate-cursing meathead. High school could be fun if you could run, play basketball, break-dance, worm (some kind of funny, savage dance that involved you flopping on your belly like a worm on the floor); anything PHYSICAL.
Oh, it was fun. Remember that weakling who had the second seat (first row, beside the window)? the one who couldn’t ever actually do anything physical? The one whose clothes were always slightly rumpled (like he hurried his ironing?) The one who could never hold the ball and was only good for clearing it out of the defence (the one who always got picked last)? The one who’d never make a dance crew except we were imitating schizophrenics? The one who everybody could mock and get away with it?
There was this dude (Akinbola) who for some weird reason appeared to be oldﾅwe used to say he must’ve been in Moses’ Yearbook, or he was the construction agent for the garden of Eden; or that he waited tables at the last supper. And so on. Yes, I laughed hysterically- I even coined some of my own. You see, exploiting the weaknesses of other humans (and getting others to laugh) can be very exciting and gratifying, especially because no one else would get you at the moment. It was fun.
Except YOU were the butt of the jokes. If you were the one who everyone hated and despise, it was NEVER fun. Everybody said I was daft, dumb, stupid, spineless, gameless (which was a very bad word). One night when we were out in sea school on Snake Island, Lagos, Someone in my class actually said that I was capable of making only one smart sentence in every five. I was so dumb, I got hit by a parked car (and other such cheesy transplanted yo’ mamma jokes).
Sure, I’m not ashamed to tell youﾅI was the class weenie. The public punching bag. The one who you could slap and get away with. The one girls, girls for goodness sake could actually insult and get the guys to laugh with them.
For those of you who did not grow up in Nigeria (or a similar African society), it was one thing for men to mock other men; women usually stick to their own stuff. If a boy was found in his mother’s kitchen, his father could very well out-roar a lion just to tell him to get out of the Kitchen. When men talk, women listen. When women quarrel, Men settle them. But for girls, Girls to on their own insult a guyﾅthat was absolutely humiliating. To add to the injury, the guys would laugh and contribute.
There was this girl in my class who was a co-sufferer. What was her name again? Tina (**I don’t want to get sued for defamation so I changed her nameﾅbut Tricol people can figure it out, can’t they?**). Somebody actually said (amidst fitful, rolling-on-the-floor laughter) that we were insulted so much, it seemed “insulting peter and Tina” is part of the timetable. It was that regular. I woke up each morning, hoping that whatever insult would be laid on me should be such that I could talk my way out of. Because I, Mr. Peter, had an unnerving way with words.
See, my Dad was a journalist, and my Mum a lawyer. Now imagine what having such parents would do to your vocabulary (I mean, my three-year-old sister once said to me, “you know, you’re a very surprising boy- you come home when I don’t expect you to”). I think I was genetically predisposed towards writing, language, words, storiesﾅwhat’s the general word again? Oh, never mind. The smart guys in my class would’ve figured it out by now.
But no, they wouldn’t. I was very good at essay writing. I remember back when I was in SS 1 (that’s tenth grade for you illiterate Americansﾅlol), we wrote an essay on the importance of sports. I never knew the outcome of that exercise until the SS3 boys (you’re smart, Americans. Figure what grade that isﾅor do you need the Teletubbies or Dora the Explorer to teach you with some song, huh? *see what they did to me?*) called me to their room. I think it was Jimi Ogunsanya, Sam Hendrix-Okogie and Mannayin (sorry, I can’t remember his first name nowﾅSeun or something). Well, they made a still-shaking-in-fear me sit down and stared intently for like ten seconds (which is very intimidatingﾅI mean, c’mon, six eyes? For ten seconds? That’s like ONE person staring at you for a whole minute! Okay, I admit! I was really timid) And then Jimi asked
“are you the Peter?”
“where did you learn to write like that?”
“how do you mean?”
“well, Kpati was so hailing you in our class. Telling us that if an SS1 student could write that well, we certainly could do better!”
And since that day, I became famous for stuff like that. I doubt if I can actually remember an English assignment that my classmates did not “derive inspiration” from. They’d cross-check their assignments with mine before we submitted. Of course in my heart I knew it was wrong. But how could I stop them? This was my one chance to be famous. Yes, I won the English, commerce, literature and French prizes (but failed mathﾅstruggled with a constant 53 which by my school’s standard was a failure). I gloried in the fact that although they considered me dumb, they trusted my expressive talent to the point of risking their continuous assessment by practically photocopying my answers. I mean- how could you say I was dumb, stupid, daft and hopeless then copy my work? Who’s stupid?
I tried to tell myself it wasn’t true that I was stupid. EVERY freaking day was hellish. You know the best day of the week for me? Sunday. So that I wouldn’t actually HAVE to talk to my classmates until night prep. I would go early to the Chapel, work, stay after Sunday service till lunch (and miss my ironing time), sleep through siesta, rush my dinner, rush back to class, sit at my corner, and wait for the insults to start flying. My self esteem wasﾅwell, I had no self esteem. I was a wreck. I stopped caring how I looked. I began to withdraw from the real world. I started writing a comic series about Electromon, a superhero who was lonely like me but who could control electricity. Even in my fantasy world, I had no reprieve. My classmates started calling me ElectroDumb, ElectroStupid, ElectroDaft, ElectroSenselessﾅI mean, why didn’t ANYONE think of ElectroCute? At least, That’d have given me some positive PR leverage!
That isn’t to say that I had absolutely NO friends. I knew people who occasionally would throw a soft, sympathizing glance at me. I appreciate thatﾅbut somehow, they weren’t the kind I was looking for! There were those too nerdy, too quiet, too manly, too serious, too “fragrant” (*wink wink!!*) too animalistic, or too hyperactive. They weren’t what I thought was “cool”. I thought they were the undesirables. So even though we were all practical outcasts, I thought myself to be a little cooler than they were and desperately tried to dissociate myself from them (erﾅI was trying to build my reputation) in case they’d hamper my progress. There was this moment I’ll never forget. I know, I know, it’s surprising that Ife back then would be involved in any unforgettable moments with me back then. Ife had the reputation. The intelligence. The face. The lips. The eyes. The body. EVERYBODY (except they were secretly gay) would’ve sold an arm and a leg to date Ife for one day but were too scared to even try (except our buddy, Ore) because she was sooo serious, focused and hot! And no, she did not suddenly fall on her knees and propose to me. See, somebody had finished insulting me terribly. So terribly that I had neither the strength nor the will to reply (which is a another way of saying I’d accepted defeat). I just sat down and rested my head on the desk, suddenly noticing that I had ten toes (I believe you’re used to my brand of sarcasm now?). Ife called my name several times but I didn’t answer. Whoever it was that insulted me left the class, I expected her to go away and hang out with her cool crowd. And leave me alone to lick my woundsﾅy’know, wallow in my stupidity?
But she did the most surprising thing. She sat with me. She tried to call my name, but she quickly realized that that wasn’t going to work either. She sort of poked her face under the tableﾅI saw her face (even though she didn’t see mine) I saw her yellow house sportswear (make no mistake- she was in green house). She said, “I’m so sorryﾅ don’t worry peterﾅ” She sat down again beside me, and placed her hand on my back, I can’t pretend I can remember or even heard any more of what she said to me that Wednesday afternoon. Because I was so depressed I lost track of all my senses. It was that bad. We sat in the silence for what could’ve been twenty minutes or two hours. Then she left.
I’m sure She never knew what that meant to me. The Heck- She probably won’t even remember the incidentﾅShe spent just a little time in her own world but it changed a lot. I was on the verge of losing all hope. Here I was in a world that had rejected meﾅin Ameriﾅsorry, other countries I’d have been suicidal, stolen a gun and killed everybody in my school. In Africa, I’d have turned out a moron on all sides. But, seriously- You probably talk about others behind their backs. You probably laugh at the class weaklingﾅor that guy/girl who dresses funny and doesn’t know he’s stuck in the eighties. You may think it’s harmless fun, but you may be providing background material and a motive for a serial killer tomorrow.
Those of you who know me now will wonder on what planet I endured this kind of existence. You know me as a bubbly, funny, intelligent and popular person (thank you, Ema for noticing everyday).
I was tired, alone and depressed. But Ife, the freaking prom queen stopped to smoothen a bruised reed. and that has made a lot of difference in my life.
I think Ife Olawore is a hero. Can we please have a round of applause for her?