“T.K. does not come to school that often, but he will not fail any semester. He may be busy studying while we are away in school. Imagine his grades in French,” Mohamed Lansana said to Stephen.
The last semester had been tough. I knew there was going to be an endemic problem in the absence of the “omolé” brewing. The death of a drunkard had brought the halting of my grandmother’s business. The other food trade was only for us to eat.
Only one of my uncles was educated: the eldest, Sahr Tay James, T-Boy’s father. He loved me endlessly. I had a fairly good result for the second semester, even when I was out of school. I applied a simple skill. I would ask some of my classmates, especially Mohamed Lansana or Stephen Kabba, to help me out with the notes they took when I was absent. I did that each day of the week. I copied all the notes and studied them when we gathered to study at our local primary school, R.C. Motema, where we had our games.
But there was a likelihood of me not returning to school for over a year this time.
I had long been waiting for my return to school to take the final exam, but that did not happen. I ventured going to school during that time and I succeeded. I took my bag in the morning and told my friend’s dad that I would be going to school. My friend, Mohamed Lansana, was excited that I had my school fees, and that it would be a new challenge to continue. So he urged his dad to pick me up in the early hours, as it used to be, in their small car.
I was a deep sleeper, and they would come and knock on my window to wake me up. My room was dark and I hardly roused. The bed was not up to standards. I slept in my grandmother’s room until I decided to have that room for myself. But it was a substandard room with no light, so I used a kerosene lantern. I did not shower in the morning. I packed my books overnight and woke up when I heard the car horn blow or a knock on my door.
More recent entries from Augustine:
- ’Omolé’ Creates a Bigger Problem
- Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep
- School and Home Collide
- My School of Hard Knocks
- Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?
That morning, I had fear in my heart about school — but I had already told them I had paid. Mohamed Lansana was given 5 cents for lunch, and I would have perhaps one or two cents if I had saved it earlier on. Nobody would give me anything to eat at school. That was my routine. Mohamed and I would eat doughnuts with his money and use mine to buy peanuts to accompany the doughnuts. We would drink water from the tap.
One morning, I wore my slippers and found myself in the corner of the tight car. There were no police on the road to check, so we zoomed to Yengema Secondary School. I had no clue what was about to befall me.
We had arranged our lunch and I gave Mohamed my peanut money, 2 cents. I had covered my exercise books well to prevent them from getting dirty. On one of them I wrote the name Thomas Mbayo, to fool anyone trying to catch me for anything. I was quite ashamed of my friends coming to class for the first time of the semester when the term was about to end. I wondered why I loved school so much and could not relent, and leave school for good and join those who perform illicit diamond mining.
I was also very lazy at manual labor; perhaps that drove me out of the diamond business.
The senior prefects were sent to call out those who had not paid their school fees. Patrick Lebbie knew me by face but did not know my name. When he entered our class, 1A2, he picked on me first. “Yes, my friend, stand up. You did not pay your school fees yet,” he said. “I have paid,” I said in a strong voice. “What is your name?” he asked. I said, “Thomas Mbayo.”
“It is a lie,” he said. He grabbed my bag and took out a book, but it bore the name Thomas Mbayo. So he left me gently and went out. I was free for that period.
Life atschool was settling down. The principal, Gabriel Amara, and his secretary knew me very well. I feared them seeing me. There was not a time I would not hide from them. I did not know there was a ban on the tap in the lab. I went there to drink. I was called by the principal, who reprimanded me and threatened to expel me if it happened again. There was something wrong in the lab, but I was not aware because I had not been in school for ages. I was asked to go to class. I was later recalled to go see the principal or his secretary. I knew what was coming.
When I entered the principal’s office, he laughed and asked for my receipt. He said that without the receipt, I was committing a crime by coming to school. He told me in a loud voice, “If education is expensive, try ignorance. Go quickly and bring your receipt.” I returned to class and continued the day as though no one knew the deal. But I knew I would miss my classes because I had no receipt.
One of the prefects had already seized my slippers and I walked around barefoot. It was shameful, but I had no shame about it. I ran around town without slippers as we played around; it did not bother me. I knew that I was still not ripe for wearing good shoes, as my grandmother had put into my head. “When the time is ripe, you will wear the best shoes,” she said. “God’s time is the best. You are still small for a good shoe. Just be patient.”
I trusted her and I learned humility from her patience. it made me a patient young man. I have endured in the face of turmoil and hardship, and I keep going. That is the result of my going without shoes and other materials.
On our way home, friends praised me for knowing the principal so well that he would not suspend or expel me for the tap I drank from, since the place had chemicals leaking and no one should drink from the taps there. They recounted my woes in trying to see how resilient I was. I had gone through different troubles in my life. But it always seemed to be only starting.
On our way, Kumba Gbandeh, my rival at school, talked about my situation and provoked me. She said that was the result of being poor. Everyone laughed. I told her off, and reminded her how stupid she was even though she was not stupid. I reduced her to nothing. She grabbed me by my old uniform and pressed me hard to fight. I tried begging her to stop, because I was quite hungry and frustrated. She insisted and tore my only uniform into pieces.
I lifted my hand and gave her a knock on her forehead with a clenched fist. She fell down as she left me. I was afraid; passing cars stopped to see if she had collapsed or died. She only fell to let me leave her. She got up and cried on her way home from Yengema to Motema. I took a different road and left quickly.
She was picked up in a car by some good Samaritan. I arrived home, and her mother and family members were hanging out, waiting to see me. They all threw their voices in support of the mouthy girl. I escaped and went to my grandmother’s house.
I had come to my brother for my school fees. I slept with his children, who were almost my age. It was quite close to Kumba Gbandeh’s house. I escaped to my grandmother in our garden, and I went to help her. That was an easy thing for my grandmother; she could solve the problem. She was a self-appointed local lawyer for me. I was never wrong in public, but she would tell me the truth when she prayed me to sleep. My grandmother claimed it was not the girl’s first time picking on me, and that it would suit no one to just endure provocation when you are in need. The case then died.
I had no courage to return to school, which was coming to a close. I told my grandmother that I wanted to visit my brother, Duran Kanjia, in Daru, the soldier who had earlier on displaced me going to Wesley Secondary School in Segbwema. I said going earlier would help me return to help my grandmother in her business to get me uniforms. She accepted, and gave me money to pay my way.
I was quite happy. I took my books and packed my two shirts and wore my only shorts. The next day, there was a strike: All schools protested against the government for excessive poverty. During assembly, they all sing the national anthem by standing and saluting the flag. My friends told me that this time, everyone knelt down. Police were involved and they shot teargas in the air.
I was not in school that day. Many students were apprehended and put in cells in Motema. I went to see them. They had to pay money for their release. I would not have been freed if I had been among them.
Days had passed when I decided to go quietly to my brother again. I travelled the whole day and arrived in the evening, tired and hungry. When he saw me he asked, “Tamba, what happened again? No school? Were you involved in the strike?” I stood for a long while after he asked me. I did not know where to start. But I was not short of words or answers.
I explained to him the humiliation I was facing at the hands of my class- and schoolmates over the lack of school fees and clothes to wear. I was told how poor we were, and it was bothering me. “Is it only that you came to tell me?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” I answered, “to let you help people stop calling me poor, that my family cannot pay my fees. My grandmother has been doing her best, but at this stage she is old and wants you to help me out, not to become a dropout.”
He was a bit baffled. He said, “Well, we will see what to do. But the difficulties of this country are found in all facets of society. We shall try. What class are you in now?” I told him I was still in Form 1, an equivalent of Grade 8. “You are still small for Form 1,” he said as he played Bingo with his gambling soldier mates.
I sat down, hungry, and took out a book. I started studying the notes from my class. School was still on.
Duran Kanjia had long stories to tell about how our dad died; how they stole his money when he was alive; how rich he was; how our dad loved our brother, Sahr Moiwa Joseph, also a soldier and how he was treated badly, mostly due to his behavior; and how our dad had many wives. I got the full picture of my dad’s reign from him and my grandmother. Late in the night, when I was sleepy and extremely hungry, Duran got up from the Bingo game and asked us to go to his room, which was in the same compound.
I started seeing bad signs, because he said his money had been played at bingo, that he often did not win, but sometimes won a lot of money when God turned toward him. He was godly, but God did not encourage him in gambling. I ate nothing that night or at breakfast. He asked me to meet him at his workplace and said if he had money I could come and cook for us.
It was all lies. He made me suffer from the first day. I could not return to school to complete the semester and pass to the next grade. Instead, I stayed on to labor like an orphan in Africa.
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