One morning 19 years ago, in the second grade, I faced what I still recall as the most traumatizing humiliation of my life. It was early in the morning, before the teacher came in for the first lesson of the day. Every day different pupils swept the class, and the sweepers of the day had just sprinkled the floor with the water brought by the rest of the class. (The class had no concrete floor or cement so every morning every pupil, except the class sweepers, had to bring a five-litre jerrycan of water meant for sprinkling on the sandy floor.) The class monitor called the class to order and everyone took their position. Basically, everything was in order to usher in the first teacher of the day.
It was at this point that the class monitor, who was also my best friend, took a small hand-made ball that we used to call “socks” (because it was made of old worn-out socks) and called me to come forward and play ball-juggling with him. We had enough space in the front and we found it suitable to play there. I could see the other kids reeling with jealousy as I enjoyed playing with him. Physical Education (PE), which we used to fancy more than any other period, was an hour and twenty minutes away, and this ball-juggling session came as an extra entertainment for me.
Back then, there was nothing sweeter than playing with that small ball made from socks and being kids. Our school was very strict. They were very big on punishment if you got caught breaking the rules. That is why all those kids looked at us with envy when we started juggling the ball inside the classroom, while they were under instruction not to move or talk. If the class monitor labeled you a “class noisemaker” your name would be submitted, and you would be punished. The class noisemakers were always viewed as rebels by all the teachers and the punishments meted on them varied from corporal punishment to digging holes and cleaning the school compound. Boy, did we dread appearing in that list!
The class monitor, who was also my best friend, was way older than me. He was four years older than me; this was because he was not taken to school at the same time with his age mates. He was very athletic and called Yasin. He was the kind of guy who would take on a whole team, who could dribble past everyone in a football (soccer) match. His juggling was too good for his age, too. I remember years later, when we were in fifth grade, during a football match, he scored five goals against our opponents, in sixth grade. I left that match with a missing toenail. The price you pay when you play barefoot!
Yasin started to feel the sensational feeling one gets when you enjoy juggling the ball for a while and just like that, he kicked the ball with all his might and it hit the roof of the classroom with a big thud. We both scampered and took our places in our assigned seats, waiting for the worst because a madam was teaching in the next classroom over, which shared the same roof with ours.
When he made sure that everyone was silent and attentive, Yasin stood and threatened the rest of the class. He addressed them with anger, telling them, “If anyone reports me or points a finger at me, I will submit their name as a ‘noisemaker’ later. And you know what will happen to you.” This was enough to scare everyone because no one ever wanted to appear in that list. He told the class to fix me and that anyone who didn’t do that would regret it. They all agreed and there I was sitting with sweat all over. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.
Yasin was a close friend and I had never expected him to turn against me. In my mind, I was like, “Why is everyone hating on you?” I wanted to stand up and challenge him, but still feared the consequences I might face later because he was the class monitor and he was capable of anything. He was old enough to beat me in a fight, too. So I just kept quiet and sat in my desk waiting for the worst.
As expected, the madam from the next class immediately came. She was raging, holding a cane in one hand. We could all see the anger hanging on her eyes and face, and everyone looked down expecting a collective punishment. She was a tall woman, 5′8″ or so, with a sculpted face and dark and sunken eyes. She had on a beautiful long dress and a shiny, black hijab that was the trend for women those days. She wore fresh make-up and the mascara on her eyes looked like it had just been done a second ago. But with all that make-up and good looks, the rage in her was still visible.
She summoned the class monitor and asked him who was the culprit. Yasin quickly and happily pointed at me. He didn’t show an ounce of remorse. She asked the whole class and they all seconded him. I could see the fear and regret on their young and innocent faces. How do you feel when 18 kids plus the class monitor falsely accuse you? I felt like quitting school altogether! Like grabbing my tiny bag and telling them indignantly, “Have the damn school to yourselves, brats and bitches.”
The madam (who was my aunt) came to my seat and frog-marched me to the front of the room for a thorough caning. I looked at the whole class with you-are-all-cheerless-bastards eyes. I tried to defend myself.
“I swear it wasn’t me, madam.”
“Who was it, then?”
“I don’t know.”
That was not enough to spare me from the cane and I was immediately ordered to lie down and given five strokes of the cane. She gave me a harsh warning and told me to expect a severe punishment if I misbehaved again. She even threatened to tell my mum about my behaviour. That was enough to scare me. I cried hard but not with pain. I cried with anger. It was like there was a hard rock lodged in my throat and I couldn’t even speak. I felt betrayed by everyone. By Yasin, by my classmates and by my own aunt. I knew my aunt was misinformed, but I still felt she was harsh to punish me so quickly. I expected her to read my mind and innocent face and spare me. I went back to my seat and spoke to no one for the rest of the day. The whole class was against me. I felt like an alien.
I could hear some kids giggling and talking to themselves quietly. They were discussing me and how I landed in trouble. I did not like it but what else could I expect? I had made a lot of enemies earlier, playing with the monitor while they were all not allowed to move.
Yasin may have been my best friend in that class, but I feel he was too vile to have fixed me and made me look like a notorious kid in front of my aunt. I still don’t know who, between him, the class and the madam, deserve to be labeled as traitor, because I felt robbed of something that day and twenty years later, it still affects me.
Twenty-seven-year-old me still feels remorseful when I think about it. It makes me question my level of braveness. Why didn’t stand up to him, the class and the madam? Why didn’t I defend myself? Why did I not tell the madam how Yasin threatened everyone and how he used his power as the monitor to fix me? I understand the kid in me wasn’t ready for that at that time, but it still pisses me off. The worst thing—I feel like not standing up for myself disintegrated the strong bond between me and Yasin. I believe if I hadn’t cowered, we might have stayed close friends, and I might be free of these angry feelings I still have.