On Thursday, I called my little sister, Butterfly, to my room. She had been too quiet for the past three days, moving around with a sullen face, practically dragging her slim, perfect body around, smiling at things she would ordinarily laugh at. I asked her if she was OK. She said yes. I asked if she was sure; had nothing happened in school? She said no. I said OK and she left. Only for my mother and my sister to walk into my room about an hour later, Butterfly sobbing. She had just told my mother that she felt like she was about to die. My mother got to narrating.
Apparently, my sister was being bullied in school by this particular rich girl and her friend. It was nothing physical, though, more of emotional and psychological. For example, my sister did not go to school for almost the whole of last week because she had one of her regular ulcer ‘attacks’. She resumed school this week and when in the class she excused herself to eat because she was beginning to feel what it is that ulcer patients feel, this girl, who unfortunately is her seatmate, laughed at her, insisting that she was lying about being sick and that she couldn’t be excused, if not she too will excuse herself. Can you imagine the audacity? To tell a sick person to her face that she was lying about being sick? How sick!
Now, as if that was not enough, the one friend Butterfly has was hanging around bully girl, somewhat avoiding her (my sister) for reasons she did not know. Besides, she had had a terrible morning that morning, what with waking up late, my mother hurrying her up, me angry that she had not mopped the bathroom floor after bathing and she almost missing the school bus. It was too much emotional rollercoaster ride for one day, so it really got to her.
For adults and old folks like my mother, these things mean nothing, especially the bully girl, but for me, it does because I can remember too well how scary secondary school can be. We all had those people that felt like the whole world should fall at their feet, who intimidated even teachers. Sigh… the memories! But I was at a loss as to what to say, because, many emotions. I was angry and sad and just puzzled. So I took my problems to my soul siblings: the TBA WhatsApp support group, and they came through, massively! After which I was equipped with words of wisdom.
So we had a chat, Butterfly and I. It couldn’t be longer because she had exams the next day and she said she hadn’t been able to read for two days, because everytime she opened the books, she remembered school, started crying and just went to sleep.
I wove everything the bloggers said into one thing: that that was just a phase and it would pass; she had to just love herself and realize that we, her family loved her. She had to be strong and confident in herself because nobody is as special as she is.
But that night, I feel like a failure of some sort. I mean, I’m here, she is not supposed to feel this lost. But, the teenage years are the worse and I understand that this was bound to happen at some time. What infuriates me, however, is the fearless abandon with which the issue of bullying is treated in Nigerian schools.
So yesterday morning, as she left for school, I asked her,
“What do you want to be remembered for when you leave that school?”
She looked at me and shrugged, the type that suggests nothing and said,
“I don’t know. Maybe any good thing.”
“Do you want to be the girl that shrunk in the face of bullies and was scared of speaking up, which would be the story of most of your classmates; or the girl that was strong, the bold and confident one that scared the hell out of the bullies because she was unafraid of them?”
The latter concept seemed more appealing and she picked that one. Then I told her that the way to be remembered in that light is to understand that it is perfectly normal not to be liked by everyone. It’s impossible to be loved by everyone, we all have our haters but that is why we have fans.
“There is life after secondary school and that life doesn’t care about right now. In a few months time, this would be as inconsequential as a fluttering butterfly flying past you. You will soon go to the University and, even though I wish I could tell you that it will be better there, I can’t because if you are still this weak willed, it would be worse. Own yourself now, embrace your individuality, savour its sweetness and love you. Be confident in who you are and don’t bother about getting validation from a 16 year old like you.”
(I told you I left that group with more words of wisdom than I’ve had in ages!)
My mother and some other people suggested taking the issue to the school authority.
From what I hear, this girl’s (the bully) influence does not stop at her mates and juniors, it involves the teachers too. So because she brings them little little gifts from time to time, she has their hearts on her palms. My sister tells me of her English teacher, a new staff that is indifferent about the girl and ignores her because of her lacking attitude. One time, this girl flew news around that this teacher was deliberately failing her. Do you know, people of God, that some teachers went to this woman and asked her to mind the way she treats the girl because her father is rich and is influential in the school because he is one of the first to pay fees? The first to pay fees! Lol…
This is why taking the case to school is a no no. Because almost nothing would be done about it when the girl in question is being pampered by a whole school. Besides, she (my sister) might have to live with the backlash from the depth of it all. So no, she just has to change her mindset and be cool with people being indifferent or cold towards her, because that is life, but then not shrink in the face of the bullies.
The truth is, many Nigerian schools prefer to pretend as though issues of bullying do not exist in Nigeria; as if it is a foreign thing we see only in American high school movies. But they cannot be more wrong! And unfortunately, Nigerian children find it very difficult to tell their parents the things that they face from classmates and seniors on a daily basis, and the few that manage to speak up are shut up because not many parents are interested in the social lives of their children, as long as their grades are good. It is high time we learned to give some priorities to important things like this. If not, there would be a rise in how many children fall into depression and honestly, Nigeria is not ready for more cases of that as it is. Not at all!
As at today, Butterfly was lively, her normal self, generously laughing and making jokes and singing around the house. I am still keeping an eye on her, though, just in case.
Have you or anyone you know felt this way before? What did you do about it?