I remember waking up that morning with an uneasy feeling. The mere thought of standing on that brightly lit stage of my school’s auditorium, in front of parents I couldn't say what was on their minds, and in front of my mates who didn't like me, scared. But by night of that day, I was sure my rep had been dealt a big boost in preparation for my senior years in secondary school.
Mr. Edgar didn’t pick me to give a graduation speech because I was the best student of my junior secondary three class, but because he wanted to scorn me, even if it meant embarrassing the entire school before our parents and guests. This hatred went back to the previous year’s Skirts and Pants, an annual contest where every male creature in my school competed against every female folk: students, teachers, cooks, nurses etc. It was because of my blunder that the men lost in the final round of the quiz category when I answered a question that was intended for the women. This would be the first victory of the Skirts over the Pants in that contest in three years.
S&P was a competition everyone in and around my school looked up to. It was as old as the school’s rich history; old boys and girls, the press and every other person in the catchment participated in the one-week fiesta. Preparations were always intense, passionate, and almost spiritual. You can then understand how I felt after that blunder that turned history. I hated myself and also thought it justifiable for everyone else to hate me. Since then Mr. Edgar, my class teacher taunted me "Socrates"; my mates called me "sister." It was a frustrating period of my schooling year.
It was on a Monday morning, just after History class, that Mr. Edgar announced to the class, “Socrates, considering your snapshot intelligence and your Casanova reputation, I have handpicked you to present the class's speech on graduation day.” Edgar was good with his sarcasms, and the class played along with him so well. He faked pressing a buzzer in the air with his middle finger when he said "snapshot". There was an uproar of laughter in class. I looked at the far end row on my left where Benita, my best friend, sat. As usual, she wore that solidarity look on her face and it comforted me. She had helped me a lot during the black days.
That afternoon Mr. Edgar gave me a letter to this regard, signed from the principal’s office. Could Dr. Raphael have been a part of this snare set up? After the bell, everyone in class came over to my desk to “congratulate” me. Some would rub my head so hard, ruffling my afro, others patted my back, almost as hard as a slap, and the rest weren’t nice enough to not shove me. When they all dispersed, I looked out for Benita. She had gone immediately after the bell. Too devastated to stay, I figured.
The school became quieter and I felt like I was alone in the whole world. I tried to remember when things were smooth, just before “Skirts & Pants”. I remembered Patrick, Salome, Dupe, and Jerry. They were always on my side… until I screwed up. I could still hear, like I heard in the hall that October evening, over the loud speaker the voice of the moderator, "When did Nigeria gain Independence?" I was so sure of the answer. I was looking forward to just wrapping it up and getting the ball over the cross line. It was an opportunity to write my name in Matanay Schools’ history. I hit the buzzer. It was then I realized I had ended a three year winning streak with my eagerness. The girls screamed. Some of them even ran up to the stage to congratulate my blunder, almost stampeding me. I only stayed there wishing the floor would open and swallow me. Maybe I wished this because I saw Benita also jubilate.
When I went out through the school’s gate it was 3 o’clock. I wasn’t expecting dad to pick me up in his Mercedes Benz 190 because it was a Monday. I boarded a taxi and took a lonely ride to 15th street where we lived. Alighting, I looked upstairs, just beside the attic, at where my sister’s room was. The windows were not open, so I knew she wasn’t home, leaving me lonely still.
Graduation day finally came, much quicker than I would have loved it to. Everyone in my home, but me, was so excited. Dad gave me the new suit and shoes he had bought me for the day. My sister pinned me up with everything beautiful she could think of. Mum was busy in the kitchen with my eldest sister because we were expecting some few family and friends. But I wasn't happy in all of these. Nobody else seemed to notice it and it was frustrating. Just then my dad gestured me to come over. I followed him to his room.
“I understand what it is that you are going through,” he said after I sat down beside him. It was enough relief that he acknowledged I was going through something that was hard. After I told dad of the bullies in school he had promised to stop by and see the administrators to sanction my teachers and mates. But two weeks had passed he didn't manage the time. Occasionally I would get angry at my dad for underestimating my anguish.
“Listen, my son,” he continued, “whatever thing it is that people think of you are only opinions. Mere thoughts. It’s you alone that can define who you are and what you become. And that your definition is what counts.”
My dad rarely talked to me this way. He went on and on with all the philosophical aphorisms a 13 year old could make sense of. That explains why I stuck out my neck and listened enthusiastically. Dad went on to say it was childish to be swayed by circumstances and opinions. He said I too can pick on my bullies if I chose to. Dad told me some ugly-duckling stories, including Jesus's, who raised the mockery staff that was intended to scorn him.
“All can criticize, says the proverb,” dad concluded, “but few can do better.” I came out of his room that morning smiling like I just got a promotion. I really did get it.
By 9am of that day dad drove me to school. Everyone looked so beautiful and handsome. Everything looked perfect, except my mates still looked at me like my suit wasn’t the correct size, or my haircut wasn’t okay, or my nails weren’t short enough. But Benita walked up and kissed me on the cheek and said I looked alluring. Needless to say, it felt good.
We all sat down in the hall. As the graduation proceedings went on, a note was passed to me from the back row.
"Make sure you wait till you are called before you go give the speech."
I looked back and saw my classmates' muted laughter. Obviously I would not have done that. It was just intended to demoralize me. Why would they do all these? I thought. I remembered my dad’s words. What whoever said, or wrote didn’t count.
Finally the moment came. I stood by the mic after being prompted by the moderator. I was nervous from the tip of my longest hair down to the toe tip of my slightly oversized new shoe that my sister stuffed with two handkerchiefs. The entire hall was quiet like a Sunday afternoon, save the humming noise from the speakers. I could hear my breath rise and drop rhythmically, and my legs shook in my trousers that I feared others noticed it. I was in space, or a vacuum, or something of sort. I looked at the section of the hall where my classmates sat, they all wore a smile that scared me the more. But Benita wasn’t smiling.
Something was wrong. I decided at that moment to not let my mates win this one. The words of my dad that morning rushed through every connector in my brain. Just then I got myself to finally say something.
“To all of us graduates, this is a wonderful day the Lord has made. A day we will always look back at in the course of our growing up.” Benita smiled. My mum, dad and sisters too did. So I blacked out everyone else from the audience. I pretended to be addressing a family dinner. It was then the words started coming out like it did when I rehearsed in front of the mirror in my room.
I began to enjoy the ugly frowns my mates wore. I remembered dad’s advice that I, too, can pick on them if I wanted to. Dad had also said hard people are better dealt hard. I decided to finish the fight there and then when I was at the vantage point. I brought on my best gesture inflections and my confidence kept hitting the roofs. The other parents were visibly impressed.
My classmates looked like defeated Olympics finalists and my teacher looked bewildered. Maybe my performance bordered around arrogance. I didn't care. It was all I needed to gain some authority for my senior years.
“We all make mistakes,” I went on, “but these low moments shouldn't define us. Together with the high ones, those moments make us who we are. They made our stay here exciting, and today these moments made us graduates. The key is rising above our mistakes and cultivating a fervor for the future. On behalf of my class, I say thank you to our parents and teachers. We couldn’t have gone this far without you. We love you.”
It was overwhelming getting a standing ovation. When I stepped through the proscenium Benita rose towards me in her flown gown and we hugged. My dad smiled like a lucky miner. My mates looked like they had rats in their cheeks. I mean those stubborn ones who didn't switch boats already.
My old friend, Patrick walked up to me. “I wasn’t being fair, dude. I’m sorry,” he admitted. We hugged. The rest of the day was fun. It seemed "Socrates" had impressed Mr. Edgar even. I invited Patrick and some few new friends to my party at home. Benita, who was closely by me in bad times, was closely around. History has it that there wasn’t a better junior school graduation speech.
Image used with permission from pixabay
What do you do when you stumble on a draft from a story you started to write six years ago? I just finish it up and share on Steemit :-) I hope you enjoyed that one. Forgive the extreme circumstances, they are purely my wild imaginations.