After Daddy’s story, Mummy went to the salon and I stayed in my room. As I lay in my bed, I couldn’t stop thinking of that black man and what he did for his captor. Was that really possible? I wondered if I could do that. I wondered if anybody could do that. I knew what Daddy was trying to teach me with that story, but I was not sure I could be like that. Shortly after afternoon prayers, Daddy knocked on my room door.
He was still in his grey caftan. Even though he was in his early forties, his hairline had receded significantly, and his hair was almost evenly speckled with grey.
I also noticed a small paunch that was beginning to form. He took the chair by my reading table and turned it towards me on the bed. He dropped into it rather heavily and said he wanted us to round off our conversation because he was going to travel the next day. I had a copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations on my desk. He picked it up, flipped through and dropped it back on the table.
“Daddy, I have been thinking about that story,” I said as I braced my back against the wall and pulled a pillow across my chest. “What did you think of it?” “I mean, what the black man did; was that possible?” “Possible? Yes. Easy? No. Aliya, I told you that story because I want you to understand that we can actually influence and change people in a significant way by reacting to them differently.
The idea of showing kindness to people who have been unkind to you, well… I think we can set that as a standard, as something to aspire to. It would be great to be like that. I think that is the essence of all religions. But the important thing to remember is that it is possible for you to change people simply by not behaving like them.”
I thought of all the people who had done nasty things to me, and I wondered if I could bring myself to be nice to them. Maybe? Daddy said it was a standard that one should aspire to. Maybe I would achieve that someday. But each time I remembered some of those things, they still hurt badly.
For instance, how would I ever become friends with that teacher that practically humiliated me in front of the whole class? Or the idiot, Bunmi, who had made it her life mission to always pick on me? How? “Daddy, you know a teacher once called me Fatima.” It was a Monday morning. I had raised my hand to answer a question he asked. It was Biology class. He pointed at me and said, ‘Yes, you.
Fatima’. At first, I thought he was confusing me with another girl in the class who went by that name. I tried to correct him by saying that my name was not Fatima. Then, he went like, ‘Oh, you are not Fatima, maybe you are Latifah then?’ He even put a heavy stress on the last syllable. At that moment, I understood what he meant, just like the rest of the class. Everyone started laughing and he also joined. “Daddy, as if that was not humiliating enough, he was actually teaching about body types, ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.
After drawing the body types on the board, he then called out students that he thought illustrated each one of them. When he got to endomorph, he asked me to come out, meanwhile, you needed to see the very ugly and round drawing he had on the board, which he said I illustrated. So, how can I…” “A teacher did that to you?” “Yes, he did. I felt so bad.” “That was very irresponsible and quite insensitive of him. No one has the right to do that, not to talk of a teacher. What he did is called body shaming, making negative comments about somebody’s weight or size.
Highly inappropriate. It is wrong,” he said. “He is not the only person. There is this girl, Bunmi, in SS3. Whenever she sees me, she would say, ‘Hey you, how do you even fit into that dress?’ She is so mean. After all, I did not make myself this way.” I felt a lump in my throat and I tried to fight back the tears that were beginning to swell in my eyes. “Come on, no need to cry.” He leaned across and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t cry. I don’t want to see any tears on that beautiful face,” he said softy. “Daddy, you cannot understand.”I sniffed and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. “I do understand. I understand. How long has this been going on?”-“Since the beginning of SS2,”I answered, almost in a whisper. “I wish you had mentioned this to. me much earlier; I would have taken it up with the principal. But it’s not too late.
This kind of thing should not be happening.”He tapped his own knee and looked very disturbed. I got up and went into the bathroom. I blew my nose and turned on the tap. I washed my face and grabbed a towel from the rack. “Are you okay?”Daddy called out.