Remember the carefree days of school-when we’d run around aimlessly through dusty playgrounds, veering off pillars in the corridors, gliding across passages, sliding down a banister in the stairwell only to find a frowning principal, hands solemnly behind his back, busy conjuring creative punishments, sardonically smiling, when we’d kick a soccer ball with all our might, hunch together to grumble about the endless assignments teachers threw at the hapless souls we thought of us, scribbling names on the greasy desks with a date, an act of remembrance, bickering over now trivial then frivolous matters? We invariably reminisce days spent at school as blissful, days when the only worries eclipsing our frolicking days were assignments, tests, exams, an inconsequential fight with a friend and if we could triumph over time, build a time-turner, we would happily slip into the days that were.
I zealously wish I could think of my schooling as happy and exuberant but, blatantly and regretfully, it was not. I did not particularly hate school, nor did I love it. I was bullied.
I was the quintessential nerd, the one terrible at sports, the one who’d sit behind the school chapel and share his lunch with his other nerdy friends, outcast that they were; I was the butt of all jokes, morbid and unpleasant, the one who found comfort in the magical smell of library books, who’d rather spend his recess gazing at cherry trees and conifers than be laughed at on the playground; I was horrendous at Physical Education classes so much so that the teacher found great pleasure in poking fun at me, mercilessly inventing names, much to the joy of my other classmates who’d scornfully repeat the jibe for days. Entwine my nerdy idiosyncrasy with an effeminate exterior that I apparently paraded, the amalgamation was lethal!
I do not have a guttural voice and to this day a customer care executive mistakes me for a woman on the phone. I laugh at the mistake but it took me years to shun the embarrassment. School found amusement in my voice.
I walked ‘like a penguin’ claimed and laughed a teacher one day, enacting my ‘shameful’ walk to the entire class! Another word to the long list of names they kept conferring upon me each day. Being an all-boys school, the part of a woman in the drama class was always, cruelly, bestowed upon me. I remember a class on Shakespeare when we had been reading Julius Caesar, a conversation between Brutus and Portia. Invariably I was Portia while another classmate Brutus and happily the teacher chose to address me as Portia, unfazed by the devilish laughter that followed, while the classmate by his name. Reddening I continued to read, wishing every minute to run away. My plight knew no solace when I overheard the teacher mirthfully sharing the cynical joke of making me Portia with other teachers that afternoon she assumed was hilarious!
I tried hard to fit in, practised throwing a ball in the basement of our home, tried speaking hoarsely but nothing worked. I had to be shunned for I was the object of their vicious mirth!
Insulting remarks found a freeway upon my desk. An unsuspecting foot to trip me, blameless classmates taking solemn pride in misplacing my books, my stationery became norm. And if I dissented or complained, Be a boy that you are, was tossed upon me. My father never understood. Boys do not cry or complaint. They battle it out, was tattooed upon my soul. My mother had no opinions. My sister laughed.
I had mastered the art of holding back my tears. I chose solitude, it was peaceful. I found comfort in colours and paint, in books, in Enid Blyton, imagining a Magic Faraway Tree somewhere in the blue hills yonder, in Elvis Presley and Boney M that my neighbour played day in and day out. I wanted to get out of school, of the town, escape to an unknown land where I could begin anew, erasing all that was.
Time has cloaked the macabre memories now, distance has lengthened the separation of my present from the shadowy past now, but scratch the scar and the crimson blood of unpleasantness appears.
Yes, I was pitifully bullied.
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