I was sitting somewhere watching some children play. They ran around screaming with the kind of joy that can only come from being set free from class, to enjoy a forty-minute break time.
Nearby, on the playground, stood a boy surrounded by a few boys and girls. They were asking him questions and laughing at his replies. Then one other boy pushed this boy in the centre. The girls giggled. Another boy made a vicious comment.
“Olodo, you’re just a coconut head. Nothing inside this your skull.”
The-Boy-in-the-Middle looked down, embarrassed, and with no quick repartee.
I was instantly hopping mad. I can’t stand bullies. How dare they? Is it the boy’s fault if he’s a tad less intellectual? I bristled with righteous anger and took a step towards them to set them straight.
Just then, a memory flashed.
I paused in my tracks, momentarily stunned by what my mind was playing. A memory or a vision?
Then the memory came again unbidden, this time with a companion, lingering in their revelations. Things buried in my subconscious for a long, long time. Events I’d completely forgotten.
The first was of me in primary school, sitting in my corner, warily eyeing a certain girl. Maria.
Nothing was wrong with her, except that she had Down’s Syndrome. The adults around us referred to her as an imbecile. She’d never hurt anyone or been violent to any of us in anyway, but they taught us to fear her. They showed us how to call her names and predict what a failure she’d be.
When Maria came over to my desk, I flinched, gasped with terror and flew from my desk. Somehow, my mind remembers the sad look she wore when I did that.
The second memory was of me, standing with a few friends laughing. We were all teenagers, laughing at Patrick, a boy who was one of our members in the Youth Fellowship. He was a jovial fellow, just a bit slow on the uptake, with a knack for laughing at nothing, at the most inopportune moments.
We called him names, the chief being “Mister Slow.” We poked fun at him, again and again. And yet, unflappable, Patrick laughed each time we put him down and then walked away.
And then, I was back to the present.
For a few moments, I awkwardly stood where I was, like the breath you hold when your father walks in on you watching a sex scene on TV. It was weird that these memories should choose that moment to surface.
My anger at those teens slowly dissipated in the face of my mental evidence.
I, Eketi, was once a bully.
Ashamed and repentant, I took some steps back to where I’d been standing before. Right there, I asked God to forgive me. For treating, with disdain, someone who’d done me no harm. For laughing at another over something he had no control over. For judging those teenagers so quickly. For being who I used to be. Amen.
Finished, I walked over to where those teenagers were clustered, friends and a victim just like me, many years ago.
This time, I went with a different purpose. To educate, rather than berate. To show, rather than shame. To act in kindness, rather than anger.
Back then, I knew no better. Now, they’d learn what is proper, only earlier.
Written by Eketi Ette