You were seven and in primary two when you heard the word freak for the first time. You were in a secluded part of the playground when a football rolled towards you. You picked it up and you were tempted to begin to juggle it when a boy in Primary Six shouted from a distance. Throw it, go on, throw. Then, as if enraged by your slowness, he shouted, Throw it, freak. You did not know what freak meant but it pierced you. It pierced like a hot knife would pierce skin. ‘Freak’ seared you. You threw him his ball and went to your class.
Your difference was a cloak that grew on you like age, that you had to wear everywhere you went. Schoolmates called you ‘albino’ and then laughed as though there was something even remotely funny about the word. You grew up being called a freak; it did not annoy you as much as it enervated you.
You met Bimbo in SS1. She was, in terms of complexion, the stark opposite of you. In my former school, she had said to you, a boy as handsome as yourself would not be admitted, on account of your extreme, everlasting good looks.
You did not know how to respond. You did not know whether to be angry at her because it was an insult or to smile and say thank you because it was a compliment. You learnt, over the years, to understand Bimbo as that type of person, one whose compliments could be perceived as an insult, and whose insult could be perceived as a compliment.
I don’t get you, you said to her on an occasion.
I would feel extreme anguish if you did, to be honest. I am a monumental book of enigma, nobody ‘gets’ me. She said and smiled her half lipped smile. For Bimbo, everything was perception.
In Biology class when the teacher was discussing genetic disorders and he mentioned albinism and inexplicably said something in the lines of: You know, albinos exist; their skins are… The class thundered to raucous laughter. You did not know where to look. You felt like being swallowed by concrete, by quicksand, by anything that could swallow you, anything that was willing to swallow you. You finally looked ahead and saw Bimbo looking at you. She was smiling her half lipped smile and you hated her for that and then she winked a wink of camaraderie at you and you loved her for that.
The chief antagonist joined your class in SS3 on account of how he was unable to pass his finals in his last school, his name was Daniel. He was big and intellectually disabled, two qualities which were by no means mutually exclusive. He was told, on his first day, by the class master, Mr Olayemi, a man as skinny as twine, to put his locker next to yours and, quite openly and remorselessly, he said, No sir, I cannot sit next to an albino. Of course Mr Olayemi was hardly man enough to defend himself, talk littler of defending a poor albino like you. He said nothing and watched Daniel mount his locker where Daniel wanted to mount his locker.
Daniel settled in quickly, as people like him often did. The day after, you heard him talking to the class monitor: You guys better find a way of getting rid of that albino before he infects all of you.
The class monitor laughed. The boy is not that bad. He will stay out of your business. He is good at that.
I hate albinos, Daniel said.
I am here, you heard yourself say, stupidly, in hindsight. If you have a problem with me, I am right here.
He punched, he blew, he kicked, he kneed; he did so many things at the same time that you were on the ground before you knew that you were being beaten up. Yes, I have a problem with you. Daniel said before spitting a rich emulsion of phlegm and saliva at your cheek.
It was more painful because, in Secondary School, reporting a person was something that nobody did, it was regarded as sacrilegious, in fact. Of course, to you it made no sense because what if, like yourself, a person was consistently being picked on? It was Secondary School though, a place where nothing ever made any sense, but everything seemed just fine that way.
You found comfort speaking to Bimbo. She was ever-present and so you were immensely fluid with her. It therefore did not take long for Daniel’s angst to reach Bimbo. It was as though she was object of his rage by virtue of her association with you.
One sunny Thursday morning, a few weeks to your finals, everything changed. You got to school late on account of how you could not join the school bus because the new bus driver acted as though he did not see you waiting at the bus stop.
You knew there was something wrong that morning when you saw that some students, mostly juniors, were peering into your class through the glass louvers. In class, trouble was brewing. There was an extremely loud argument between Bimbo and Daniel, voices were being raised, passions were being stirred. And, most nightmarishly, the argument was about you. Daniel was holding a long plank and you wondered what he wanted to do with it as you went closer.
You need to stop defending that freak of nature, Daniel was saying.
The irony is the real freak of nature here is you. Bimbo shouted.
The next thing that happened was gory. Daniel raised his plank and threw it aggressively and everything stopped for a while, then there was a shrill of ‘Jesus’, and palpable silence followed, the type that you could pick from the air and mould into whatever variant of horror you wanted. After that, there were cries and then the junior students who had been standing by the windows vanished like smoke from exhausts of vehicles, only then did it occur to you that Daniel had hurt Bimbo.
You ran to her. Blood was dripping from her temple to the ground. Her eyes were opened. She saw you and smiled her half lipped smile then shook her head in disappointment, before she closed her eyes. Even then, even as she was dripping blood, even as incertitude was slowly diluting the idea of her existence, she was still that Monumental Book of Enigma.
Bimbo survived. She was back in school in time for your finals, although with a white bandage bound around her head. As for Daniel, he was expelled from the school in a story that quite quickly became popular school lore. On the assembly ground the day after, yourself and Daniel were called out to the front. The principal went on and on about how the school would no longer tolerate any sort of dis, no matter how minuscule, against you on account of your ‘pigmentation’. He narrated what happened the previous day to the whole school as though there was anybody standing on that assembly ground who did not know the story even better than he did. He said the school administration had decided to expel Daniel because he did not measure up to the school’s ‘Standard of Morality’. You imagined, with extreme certitude, that had Bimbo been standing on that assembly ground, she would have burst out laughing. What the hell did ‘Standard of Morality’ mean? You wondered. Who set this Standard of Morality? Was there anybody standing on that assembly ground who could boast of being morally up to standard? Yours was a morally relativistic world; Daniel’s hate for albinos would not change, could not change irrespective of what they did to him here. If anything, even, he would hate more. You realized that the school’s Standard of Morality was but an unintentional burlesque. It however worked wonders for you because, after that, the hostilities and dissension towards you muted into whispers. In life, you learnt, everybody considered everything differently. Hate is not hate to everybody. To a few, like Daniel, hate is only the proper thing to do.
Bomi Ehimony is a writer from Kogi State. Follow him on Twitter @bomiehimony. He blogs at www.diaryofbomiehimony.blogspot.com