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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Cleaning Up My Life

I reached out to the sky and touched the sun. It was the dry season, a time we kids loved to play and run for the sake of it. I loved playing football, or a version of it where a mob raced after a ball. Thankfully, there were several balls, and the mob surged and fell chasing the nearest one. Laughter was all around me, as I ran up and down the field.

The bell, loud as it was, brought me back to reality, as I ran to class. I treasured morning break times, they allowed us to breath. I was already thinking of the next class. How I would carry my seat, across a corridor to the class where we barely fit, seated beside the desk of a reluctant host.

Every Wednesday, this was the routine. We would meet in this class and listen to the radio. The presenter was many miles away in the city, teaching children in schools, like ours, across the nation. I always felt so proud to be part of such a collective, brought together by a lesson.  

As I got into our classroom, I was greeted by a strange smell. A small group stood at the back in a corner, conversing in hushed voices. Their eyes were on the floor. I contemplated picking my chair and walking out, but I was drawn to the group at the back. Our teacher was farthest and facing my direction. She looked up and noticed me. Her nose flamed at the corners, her lips tightened and curled upwards. Her eyebrows drew closer in a tight knot of wrinkles. She was mad.

I was smiling, unaware of the gravity of the situation.

I was focusing on a girl I fancied. The girl turned and looked at me in disgust, and I recoiled. 

“He is the one who did this,” she said, pointing at me.

The group turned and hissed in disgust in my direction.

“What have you done, Edwin,” I heard my own voice asking.

I was now standing beside them looking down. There was a long healthy sausage-shaped poop on the ground, and it had proceeded to skid on the wall. Someone had defecated right there and smudged the wall, and if my hearing served me right, the girl I fancied was claiming it was me. 

The room took a strange shade of red. My pulse rate went up, and my mouth dried.

I went through the various stages of rejection in a span of a few seconds.

“That is not me!” I screamed angrily.

“How could you,” interjected the teacher.

My heart broke right there. How could the one person who would have defended me, believe this degrading lie?

“We are late,” said the teacher.

I avoided her eyes.

 “I want you to clean this up,” she said, as she looked at her watch.

They all stomped out with their chairs and left me standing there.

I saw the disgust in their eyes, the utter disdain they projected. To them, I had devolved into that smelly poop.    

“How could they do this to me?” I heard myself saying, my voice bouncing off the walls of an empty classroom.

The teacher took a moment at the door and said, “I want you to go to the pantry room and bring a duster, a broom and water immediately.” When I seemed paralysed, she shouted, “Right now, dimwit.”

I doubled back and walked blindly out of the room.

“He is so stupid, he even does this in class,” said one child.

“It explains why he is always last in class,” said another, and they laughed wickedly, as they walked away.  

I felt a saltiness on the side of my mouth. I licked the tears off my lips chocking as I walked blindly towards the pantry.

When I got back, the class was empty.

“I have to do this, or else I will be summoned into the headmaster’s office and be in real trouble,” I told myself.

I looked at the poop on the ground and the smear on the wall.

“At least you know the truth,” I told the poop while laughing sarcastically.

“I really need to get some respect in my life,” I said, unable to break the laughter.

The mound had this presence that filled the room as it sat on the floor. “Whoever did this had a dark sense of humour,” I told myself.

“I bet the person waited until everyone was away before they did this. But how did I end up taking the blame?” I wondered, shaking my head.  

“Is it because they thought I was the dimmest person in class?”

I was giving a speech, and the poop was my audience.  

“They must have a shallow opinion of me, or they must think I am the most witless person in this class.”

I went out and got a plastic paper bag and tissue. Came back, picked the poop while trying not to vomit. I shut off my mind and went on cleaning.

I was back at home, sitting beside the radio listening to “Mid-Day Melodies” a program I loved that played music at lunchtime. Always so refreshing.  

I took the plastic paper bag, now loaded and walked to the dumping site. I  passed the school janitor and greeted him weakly.  He stood there, watching me closely. I was done disposing of contents of the plastic paper bag and was about to leave when he stopped me.

“Young man, you don’t look like you are a culprit of such a crime. You look like someone made a fool of you. Kindly tell me what happened?” he asked, smiling.

I was upset. Tears were flowing down my cheeks.

“You better get a hold of yourself.” He snapped.

I told him what had happened.

“They all hate me, they treat me like trash because I am last in class.”

“Well, if they hate you because you are last in class. Why don’t you then show the class you are not a fool.” He said.

“Your condition is not permanent. Heck! I bet if you tried, you could be top of that class,” said the janitor, smiling reassuringly.  

He was an old man with a kind face, white facial hair obscuring his chin. His hands were dirty but well taken care of. His blue overall had seen better days. He smiled again, and for the first time, I calmed down and smiled too.

I felt I was with a kindred spirit. The other kids usually called him names, “He looks retarded. Why is he doing menial work? Cleaning stinky toilets, raking fields, and disposing of waste?”

The old man was always quiet, invisible and never spoke out of place, he mostly kept to himself and his work. He put out his hand and asked me to hand over the plastic bag. “Go back and prove to me, you are better than what they think you are,” he said.

I wiped the tears on the side of my face, washed my hands, for a few minutes, and went back to my classroom, picked my chair and books, and walked across the corridor to my Wednesday class.

 As I walked in, the class fell silent. There was one teacher, not my teacher. She seemed surprised I had come in. she ushered me to place my seat at the front, in a sea of chairs. I sat down as the voice of two people having a conversation about science blasted from the radio.   

Murmurs rose from the back of the class- a place I was accustomed to seating usually, until today. “Can you smell something,” someone said. There was muffled laughter in the room. I looked around and also smiled. “It must be your mouth,” I told the person who had spoken. The class burst out laughing. The guy folded in, and the rest of the lesson went briskly.

 

I was still profoundly hurt as I walked home with Joseph.

“Bro, I don’t like being the donkey and the butt of all jokes,”

“I understand,” he said nodding.

“We need to have a strategy, or else I will be in trouble,”

I filled him in on what had happened.

At home, I went straight to bed, unable to overlook the dark clouds forming in my mind.

Mother walked into my room and touched my forehead,” your temperature seems fair, what is it, young man.”

I dared not look at her.

“Something has really upset you. What is it?”

After several attempts, I finally broke down and told the story in between sobs.  Mother was quiet as I retold the story.

Then she said,” When I was young, we had a beautiful cat, and it had a litter of kittens. We discovered where it kept the litter, and went and picked the kittens and placed them in a small nest we created. The cat took one look at the kittens and abandoned them. We were forced to feed the kittens until they were old enough to fend for themselves,” she said reflectively.

“I want to go to school and stand for justice and yourself. From what you have told me, it’s a misunderstanding that can be resolved. When you go to school tomorrow seek out the headmaster, and go and clear your name. Because after all is said, it is all you have.”

“Can’t you come with me?” I asked.

“It’s the reason I told you that story. You need to stand for yourself. The earlier you do it, the better. And in the end, your strength must come from within. Don’t become dependent.”

The following day, I walked up to the headmaster’s office. A place I rarely ever went to. My heart was pounding, and beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I was ushered into the headmaster’s office, a room furnished with colonial artefacts, and mahogany furniture.

I sat down and stated my case. The headmaster was listening intently. Nodding as I went on. When I was done, he said, “thank you, son.” Then asked for the class teacher to be summoned.

The class teacher was surprised to see me there, and her expression softened in the presence of the headteacher.

“Please say what you told me, Edwin?” The headmaster requested.

“I had just left the field, and when I got into the class…I saw what had happened… I was very offended when I was blamed for what happened,” I said, tears preventing me from articulating my story. 

“Did you see him doing the deed?” Asked the headmaster facing the teacher.

“I was told by one of the girls who had seen him.” Retorted the teacher defensively.

The girl was summoned. As she came into the office, I could sense, like me, she had never been to the headmaster’s office, and she dreaded it. Our headmaster was a frightening man, short and very stern looking. We had heard horror stories of how he canned students in his office.

“Did you see him doing the deed?” He asked.

She shot a stabbing look in my direction, then blattered out, “Yes...I mean, no. I was told by someone else.”

“Ok, the net seems to cast wider,” the headmaster said, looking at the teacher. Who knew she was being reprimanded.

“Who told you so? “

“I want to ask them some questions,” he added.

“It was Baraka,” she said gasping, struggling to maintain her composure. 

Baraka walked in a few minutes later and was ushered to a seat next to mine.

“Baraka, you saw Edwin defecating in class?”

Silence. Baraka had his eyes fixed on the floor.

“Well we don’t have the whole day, did you see him, or not?”

In a shallow voice, Baraka spoke, “Yes.”

“What time was it?”

A long delay.

“It was at break time after the class had gone to play in the fields,” he said, raising his head for the first time and looking directly at the headmaster. He was confident in what he was saying, a drastic change from a few minutes earlier.

The headmaster held his gaze for a moment, and Baraka looked away.   

 “Where were you at this time yourself?”

Baraka’s eyes darted back and forth.

“I was at the door. Yes at the door, when I walked in to check my books and prepare for the next class when I saw Edwin at the corner.” He said.

His eyes darted in my direction, then went to the floor again.

“What did you do after you found out he had done the deed,”

“I told him to stop. Then I got in the class and stood by my desk. He got up, slowly wiped his hand on the wall and walked out. He didn’t even say anything.”

“Where did he go after that?”

Baraka was startled by the question. He raised his hand to his mouth and covered it, and then touched his throat and brought back his hand to his side.

“I don’t know, I was so shocked I just stood there in the class, and wondered at his boldness.” 

“Then what happened?”

“Other students came in and saw me looking, Janet was the first, and I told her about it.”

Janet had a confused look on her face.

“Which student was the first?” Asked the headmaster, looking at Janet, his eyes telling her to be silent.

“It was Janet, Sir,”  

“Janet when you came into the class what did you do.”

“I walked in, and Baraka told me, ‘Go and see what Edwin did over there,’ He then ran out of the class, and I only saw him much later. The teacher came in and other students, then Edwin came in.”

“Aha, I see,” said the headmaster.

“When he walked in, how did Edwin look?”

“He looked relaxed like he was not even the one who had done the deed.” She said as she reflected on her words, then turned to me suddenly as if she had realised the truth.  The headmaster looked at Baraka.

“Baraka, did you defecate in that class?” He asked softly.  

Baraka was stunned. He looked away then at his feet, he was shaking.

 “Did you defecate in that class?” The headmaster roared.

“Yes, I did?” whimpered Baraka subdued.

 “Baraka you will publicly apologize to Edwin in the class and then go on suspension.”

“Edwin and Janet, please leave, and Ms Carol, please stay behind.”

After the apology and the suspension, I felt a bit better. Yet a hunger had been ignited in me to change my life, and I was just about to become a totally different person.

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