Excerpt from Silver Lining – The Saga of an Orphan by Alieu Bundu
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, Alimu continued to live in misery in his aunt’s house. The wicked woman had become a real thorn in his life. Apart from ordering him to do all the household work, she had also started to beat him with a cane at her whim.
“Alimu, sweep and dust the whole house. Alimu, wash the dishes. Alimu, launder my clothes and those of my children,” she kept ordering him each day.
Just a week ago, she had stopped him from going to school because he delayed to mop the floor. On the day that incident took place, as Alimu was sitting on the porch, doing three assignments he had to submit the following day, Aunt Mariatu called and ordered him to get into the house.
“I have observed my room, those of my children and this sitting room. You didn’t mop them properly at all this morning before you went to school. So you have to mop them again now!” Aunt Mariatu told him, once he stepped into the sitting room.
Shafts of the afternoon sun streamed into it through the open windows. Motes of dust danced in them.
“Aunty, please let me do that later. I’m doing my assignments. Once I finish them, I will do as you ordered.”
“No way! You’ve got to do it now! If not, I will deal with you severely. I’m going to the market. Before I return, make sure you do as I said,” Aunt Mariatu said and walked out of the room with a basket.
“Hell no, I must finish my assignments before I do as she ordered. If not, I will not be able to do them, for once she returns, she’ll keep on ordering me to do one chore to another till midnight,” Alimu muttered.
Afterward, he swept his gaze across the sitting room’s floor. “Aunt Mariatu is just so wicked. The floor is not dirty at all, for I did wipe it properly this morning. She just wants me to mop it again to bully me,” he said with disgust and scuttled out of the room.
When Aunt Mariatu returned about forty minutes later, she met Alimu on the porch, where he was busy writing his third assignment, which he had almost finish.
“Have you done what I ordered you to do?” Aunt Mariatu asked as she placed the basket down. Her body was covered with a light sheen of sweat.
“No Aunty, but I…”
Aunt Mariatu shot Alimu a spiteful look. He felt a sense of dread.
“What! You dared defy my authority, right? You wait, I go show you say are bad pass orbado!” Just wait, I will show you that I’m more evil than the devil!
She grabbed a bucket of water nearby and poured its content over Alimu. He gasped, bounded onto his feet and looked at Aunt Mariatu with an open mouth and horror-stricken eyes.
“Yes, you merited that for being stubborn! Just wait, I’m going to beat the devil of stubbornness out of you!”
Aunt Mariatu dashed into the house and returned with a thick, long cane she called “Babu Bone”, which she started using on Alimu four days after his father returned.
“Now, lie down let me deal with you!” she roared, her eyes glowed of fierce anger.
Alimu didn’t move; he just stood like a pillar, looking at his aunt as an eruption of anger coursed through him. His action flared up the overwhelming rage that was boiling in his aunt’s guts like a fire somebody had just thrown a five gallon of petrol at, because she raised the cane and started to hit him on different parts of his body. Searing pains stung Alimu on the parts of his body the cane landed like a hook; he covered his face with his hands to protect it and his eyes.
After unleashing Babu Bone for over twenty times, Aunt Mariatu stopped and said at the top of her voice, “Yes, are miss you! This is just one part of the punishment you’ll undergo! You want to grow wings in this house because I let you go to school! Henceforth, you’ll never go to that school again! Once I get into the house, I will take your uniforms and lock them in my room!”
“Aunty, please don’t stop me from going to school,” Alimu whined. His voice cracked.
“No way!” She grabbed Alimu’s backpack that was lying on the porch and dashed for the entrance door. Once she banged it behind her, Alimu, whose body felt as though it was swathed with acid, lowered his knees onto the floor as tears gushed out of his eyes. A while later, the door opened with a crash and Aunt Mariatu sauntered out. She was holding Alimu’s school uniforms and backpack.
“To show you that I was serious when I told you that I wouldn’t let you go to school again, I’m going to burn your uniforms and your school bag. If I keep them, you’ll hope that I’ll change my mind and send you to school again someday. But burning them means you’ll never go to school again,” Aunt Mariatu said, glowering.
Her words struck Alimu’s heart like a hammer. “Aunty, I beg you in Allah’s name, don’t do that!” His words were lined with grief like the cry of a woman whose beloved child was massacred by a car in front of her.
Aunt Mariatu didn’t pay heed to his words. She walked out of the porch and dropped the uniforms and the bag on the ground. Once they thudded on the ground, she poured kerosene on them and set them on fire. As flames of orange and blue meandered skywards as the fire consumed Alimu’s school bag and uniforms, he felt like a hostage, who had just been informed that the person that was to pay his ransom had died in an accident. Alimu closed his eyes and for a fleeting moment he caught the image of Mr. Kamara, his English Language teacher, who rained down strings of praises at him in front of his classmates because he scored ninety eight percent in his test, a mark which Mr. Kamara said no pupil had ever got in his subject before.
Alimu’s heart shrunk with anguish. He was certain that he would not see Mr. Kamara, Mr Dumbuya, Dave, his best friend, and the other teachers that loved him so much again. He opened his mouth and howled like a lioness that was in pangs of labor.
At school, Mr Kamara’s action of praising Alimu had sparked a mixture of emotions among his classmates. Some from middle-class and rich homes, who had given him a cold shoulder since the beginning of the term, came closer to him and befriended him. On the other hand, a couple of them grew colder towards him and started calling him names. Among Alimu’s classmates who troubled him like hell, the one whose image still loomed clearly in his mind like the Bintumani Mountain, the highest peak in Sierra Leone, was Saul. Saul was a fourteen-year-old charcoal skin boy with a face like a mongrel. His father was rich; he was the manager of Rokel Commercial Bank in Freetown. Before Saul took the N.P.S.E. Exam, his father told him to sit for The International School in New England Ville, one of the best secondary schools in the municipality of Freetown, with the belief that if Saul attended it, he would secure a good grade when he took the General Certificate of Education years later that would help him gain admission in one of the grade A universities in England. When the result came out and Saul’s father learnt that his son almost failed by scoring two hundred and thirty marks, his father tried to bribe the principal of The International School then, who said that for a pupil to be admitted into his school, s/he must score two hundred and ninety marks, but his effort was fruitless. So he took Saul to the Henry Ferguson Junior Secondary School out of frustration and enrolled him there after paying a huge sum of money to the administration because he didn’t sit for it.
The moment Mr. Kamara stepped out of the classroom after teaching them that day, Saul had given Alimu an owlish look and said in a voice that was sharp with contempt, “See the pig Mr. Kamara said scored ninety eight percent in his subject!” Some of his classmates roared with laughter. Their laughter was grating and spiteful.
“That’s a bold lie! There is no way a village goat like this can score more marks than we “Freetonians”! You must have bribed Mr. Kamara!” he had added once the laughter died out.
Alimu felt mortified and sorely troubled at the same time. He gazed at Saul as all the veins in his body bulged with abhorrence. He would have engaged in a verbal war with Saul, but since he didn’t want to disappoint his aunt, who had advised him not to engage in any kind of trouble in school, he ignored him by taking one of his books after gazing at him for a while and read. But Saul didn’t stop there. When Alimu approached him and some of their classmates as they prepared to play soccer one afternoon of the same week during recess, Saul pointed at him and burst into laughter and said, “Bush boy wants to play soccer with us city guys! Do you know how to play soccer where you came from? I bet you only know how to hunt bush rats!” His face was pinched with disdain.
Saul’s words entered Alimu like a scythe. He stared at him. As anger began to seethe in his guts, he could feel his fingers trembling, so he clenched them into a tight fist. He had wanted to step forward, punch Saul right in the face and shouted at the top of his lungs that, “Of course, we do play soccer where I come from. Who knows? I might know how to play more than you.” But as he made to move, Aunt Mariatu’s words of never engaging in any trouble at school flashed into his mind. So he took a deep breath and bit his lower lip. At this, Saul’s eyes wandered at Alimu’s hands. When he saw how clenched they were, he roared with laughter. Alimu tasted bile in his throat.
“Who did you clench those hands for? Me? Then come forward and hit me,” he said once he stopped laughing.
A long, fierce silence simmered between them.
“You don’t have the nerve, right? Okay, since you can’t. I will deal with you.” He stepped forward and pushed him. Alimu staggered for a while before he kept his balance.
Saul gave him a cold smile. “You are strong! You didn’t fall down! But I assure you this time round your body will grace the ground!” Saul said before he started to step towards Alimu.
“Ah, Saul! Leave him alone! If the teachers see you, you’ll find yourself in hot waters!” one of the boys said.
Saul halted and stared at Alimu with eyes that were frosty with pure hatred. “You are lucky this time round. If you clench your hands for me next time, I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget!” He wheeled around and headed for the field. As he did, Alimu gave his back a cold look before he turned and made his way for his classroom. The shiny sun that was sailing across the sky burned Alimu’s nape like a branding iron. Once he stepped into the classroom, he headed for his seat, plodded into it and bowed his head on his desk. Saul’s taunting words pained him to the core. He was sick and tired of him. If only he and the others would stop bothering him, he would be very happy.
“Hello,” a soft voice said, after Alimu had bowed on his desk for a while.
Alimu lifted his head as he pushed the tears that threatened to spill out of his eyes, and looked at the person that had just greeted him. He was a plump boy that was about fifteen with thick eyelashes. He had a heart-shaped face and his skin was the color of Coco Cola’s juice. The boy, who was standing by the door, flung him a warm smile and walked up towards him.
“Hello. How are you?” Alimu returned his greeting with a forced smile.
“So so,” the boy started as he put his backpack on one of the desks. “By the way, my name is David, but you can call me Dave. I saw what transpired between you and that animal outside. So that’s why I came to have a word with you since some of my classmates always have a knack of taunting me.”
“Yeah,” David started as he sat beside Alimu. The smile on his face melted away, and the shadow of some deep sadness creased across it like a branch of a tree. “Those rascals are really a pain in my neck. They have been calling me a sissy, “woman-pikin” and other names and sometimes push or punch me in the classroom and outside since I came here three years ago, because they said I acted and talked like a girl. Though they are right, it’s not that I chose to talk or behave the way I do. In fact, when the taunting began I hated myself, so I told myself that I would do all it takes to stop talking or acting like a girl. Unfortunately, all my efforts to change myself proved futile. So I decided to accept myself the way I am,” he added with a voice that was tinged with anguish. He clumped his lips together, looked at Alimu right in the eyes and smiled at him. “But you see dear, I’m proud of myself because I never let their words and actions get the better of me. To be candid with you, when their taunting started, it used to disturb me deeply. Each time somebody called me a sissy or a woman-pikin or any of their other invented names, my heart would feel as though it was squeezed with claws. But with time, I hardened myself to it. I told myself that I’m here to learn and that no form of discrimination I faced here will let me stop coming or neglect my studies. And that had helped to keep my head above water since I’m always within the first five pupils in my class since I enrolled in the school. So I want you to do the same. Don’t pay much heed to what that animal or any other pupil for that matter say to you here and let you lose your cool. Just concentrate on your studies, okay.”
Alimu nodded as he looked at him with admiration. “I promise you, I won’t let anyone’s words or actions let me lose my focus.”
David smiled at him. “Good. But I only hope you will stand by your words and not disappoint me like Richard.”
“Who’s Richard and what do you mean he disappointed you?”
David tore his eyes from Alimu’s and stared at the blackboard. “Richard was a friend of mine in this school. Like you and me, some of his classmates used to make fun of him because he was overweight. They used to call him “Fatty-bumpie”. I can still see them clapping behind him after school, singing in Krio, “Fatty-bumpie lek lek one pound weight.” When the taunting started shortly after he came into this school in J.S.S. 2, I called him aside and told him not to let the taunting of his classmates get the better of him. He promised me, but at the end he didn’t stand by his words. Before first term ended, Richard stopped coming to school.”
David paused and looked at Alimu right in the eyes. His eyes had a glassy sheen.
“My dear, please we must not let our bullies win. If you chicken out like Richard, that good-for-nothing boy and the others will emerge as victors. So please stand by your words, okay.”
Alimu reached for David’s right hand and covered it with his. As David started explaining about his experiences in the school earlier, he felt his heart bloating with pure love for him, by the time he finished his story and started talking about Richard, he realized suddenly that despite himself a strange kinship had sprouted like an almond tree between him and David, whom before now, he had only seen occasionally in the school compound.
“Dave, don’t worry yourself about me. I’m somebody that always honors his words. I assure you, I won’t turn out like Richard, okay,” he said after a brief moment.
“I hope so.” David took a deep breath and said as he pulled his hand gently from Alimu’s, “Can we be friends?”
“Sure,” Alimu started as he held out his hand to him. “My name is Alimu. It’s nice to meet you, Dave.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” David started as he shook Alimu’s hand with a smile. His hand felt smooth and warm in Alimu’s. Then he stood up and added, “I’ve to go now because I’ve some notes to copy. But I promise you, I’ll come here once in a while to check on you, okay.”
Alimu nodded. “What’s the name of your class?”
“Okay. Would you mind if I pay you a visit there once in a while?”
“Yes. You will be always welcome, okay. Have a nice day,” David said as he started for the door.
“You too,” Alimu shot at his receding back. The classroom was sharp with the smell of the Smart Perfume David wore.
Hours turned to days and days turned into weeks, Saul and the others continued to pestering him, but Alimu, who paid heed greatly to David’s advice, didn’t let their words get the better of him and fight them or lurch streams of dirty names at them. He always found a way to get away from them, no matter what. Saul and the others continued to badger Alimu until one of Alimu’s friends in his class told Mr. Dumbaya, their class teacher the taunting that he endured. Mr. Dumbuya stalked into the classroom on the day he learnt of that and looked at his pupils with eyes that glinted with fierce anger and said,
“Saul, a sober minded pupil here told me that you and few others are making life a hell for Alimu in this school! My eyes and ears are on all of you! If anyone of you dare trouble him again or anyone else, I won’t only beat that person till s/he pisses on herself/himself, but I will suspend him/her for two weeks as well. I hope you understand me clearly?”
“Yes, sir,” the class muttered.
Mr. Dumbuya shot them a crocodile smile. “Good. See you later!” He wheeled around and flounced out of the room.
Alimu looked at Saul as soon as Mr. Dumbuya stepped out, but Saul, who until now would have stared at him with disdain and called him a dirty name, tore his gaze from his and stared at the window. From that day, nobody ever badger him again. When David visited Alimu during lunch two days after Mr. Dumbuya warned Saul and the others to stop taunting him, he told him what Mr. Dumbuya had done.
“Wow! That’s great! I’m happy for you,” David said with a grin.
Alimu looked at him pointedly. “Why can’t you tell your class teacher about what you are going through in class?” His forehead was furrowed with concern.
“It’s needless, dear. My class teacher is a laisser-faire man, who doesn’t pay much attention to scolding pupils in his class received from their classmates. He called that a trivial issue. In fact, I have been called a sissy in front of him for a couple of times, but he never did anything.”
Disbelief masked Alimu’s face. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, dear friend. I’m not. Anyways, don’t worry yourself about me. I will soon get out of the claws of my classmates that taunt me, because once we take the Basic Education Certificate Examination a couple of months from now, we will head for different senior schools, okay.”