I woke up this morning with a memory.
I was five years old. I was in Transition – the class before Primary One. And on this day, I wasn’t listening in class, I was playing. I know, I know! I promise I usually listen in class. I don’t know what happened that day, oh! My teacher also didn’t know what happened, but wasn’t having it. And resolved to teach me (and some others who had been caught wasting the school fees our parents paid, sorry playing and distracting others) a lesson.
So, all five of us were brought to the front of the class. It was mortifying for me because I usually don’t get in trouble in school – with teachers, I mean. But on this particular day when something sparked and told the 5 year-old to do something out of character, I stood before the class with my fellow rule-breakers. Teacher gave us pieces of chalk and told us to spell “George”. Very strange punishment, abi?
You see, we’d been learning sounds and it wasn’t difficult for some people to write down the word and go back to their seats. I was doing fine, till I looked at what the others had written. Then, I became confused.
The thing is I spell by sound AND instinct. The sound bit is the reason I insist people speak and enunciate properly. The instinct one is odd. I can look at a word and know instinctively that the spelling is wrong. Even when the rules say one thing, I can sense when there should be a deviation. As I did that day.
I knew the ‘j’ sound and the ‘g’ sound were different. And everyone who had been at that board also knew that. Which was why they had all spelt “George” with at least one ‘j’ and no ‘g’. I was torn. I must have stood there for at least five minutes, writing and wiping. I thought, “But all these people cannot be wrong” and I wrote what they wrote. But as I made to return to my seat, I felt, “You’ve just made a mistake” and I wiped again. Wrote what my instincts told me was right, moderated the battle between my brain and my instincts, then took a plunge.
I couldn’t return to my seat quickly enough. For following me were whispers and giggles. Then, they became full-blown laughter. In tandem even without choreography or prior practice. I had nowhere to hide.
I’d nowhere to hide because since I’d been the last to leave the board, it was easy for everyone to see what I’d written. And the ground refused to open and swallow me, oh! It was easy for everyone to forget that the only reason the others had been there to write anything was because we had all been caught doing the same wrong thing. I’d been the last to leave the board, so my own olodo-ishness (if I hear you say it’s not a proper word eh?) was glaring for everyone to see.
The laughter subsided and dried up when the teacher went to the board, put a tick by my own spelling and crosses by the others’ spellings. This was the prelude to a lesson on why some rules have to broken for the world to go smoothly. Or something like that. Me, that was my first lesson in following my instincts and not comparing myself/my results to what others are doing or producing. Yes, I’ve needed several refresher courses since then.
Someone will read the above and conclude that the moral of the story is “Don’t listen in class”. Omooo, they gonna use you as prelude to a lesson, oh. Or an outsider can use you and ya group to shine.
But on a serious note, what’s that thing that’s pushing you to ape another person’s results?
Such that you’re tempting yasef to marry a person you cannot stand “because I don’t want anyone to laugh that my younger sister got married before me”?
Or you’re envious because someone that didn’t barricade any embassy, travelled abroad to work or study and you didn’t?
So you do all sorts to be with a so-called in crowd. You lie, you cheat, you steal, you see white and call it black because you’ll die if you’re not in a group.
Or – this is my favourite – you attempt to erase your results to make others feel more comfortable. You play smaller to make tiny people think you’re “good people”.
So that they will not accuse you of rocking the boat.
So that they won’t say you’re arrogant or insensitive, or ask who the hell you think you are.
And that’s how you muffle the sounds of your baby’s cries, so that the barren neighbour can be “more comfortable”. But the problem with that is that – in order to muffle a baby’s cries on a long-term basis, you have to kill that baby.
So, you starve your baby. You don’t take him or her to the clinic for their immunisation thingies. You don’t invest in those beautiful baby-friendly soaps and lotions. Then, you let others abuse your baby. They say, “Wetin? Na only this pikin dey this world?” And you agree, just like you agreed when they said, “Are you the first to birth a child? Why do you think you or your child are so goddamn special?”
You agreed and that’s why when your baby started to show signs of malnourishment and unwellness, you thought, “This child ain’t that special and you’re still upsetting the barren neighbour!”
And your baby died. Then, you became the same as the barren one. Childless.
Except that you ain’t the same.
A woman who’s survived IVF, seen the literal difference between life and death as she pushed that child out, then felt that child suckle, can NEVER be the same as the woman who’s bitter because she doesn’t even know what an ultrasound looks like! How can you be the same when you’re the one who heard a team of surgeons say about you, “We’re losing her”? Or you heard them ask your husband “Mother or baby, choose one. Choose one because we can’t save both.” And you called on every power and resource within you to say, “NOBODY is dying here today!” How can you be the same as the one who’s pissed that she’s never pissed on a stick and seen two lines? Your case is worse because your own is what Nigerians call “I get am before”.
And to stand back and empower someone else to kill your baby; what are you, a special brand of stupid?
Because that’s what it takes.
That’s what it takes to go and cheat on your wife because your so-called friend who’s never had a woman look at him with anything but disdain, tells you “Women are nothing.” Yet, you know what it looks like to feel empty till the woman who looks at you like you’re the only man in the world, comes home.
That’s what it’s gotta take for a woman who knows she has a good man gaga over her, yet she feels the need to fit in with a bunch of bitter hags at the local (or even upscale) salon or an online group, whenever they talk about how useless their men are.
That’s what it takes for a student who’s gained admission into a tertiary institution to listen to the one who can’t even read an admission slip.
That’s what it takes.
To kill your own baby.
To destroy the thing that’s wiped your tears.
To throw away your own gift and trample on your dream.
To satisfy the one who’s bitter that they’re not you …
All Rights Reserved, Chioma Nnani