The Academic Terrorist

Short Story Entry 12

I used to ask myself what the hell was my mother thinking, moving back to Trinidad after all of her years living in New York and California. Yes I loved Trinidad, but I loved the Trinidad that allowed me to retain my celebrity status as the cousin from the States! I came up for summers and holidays, got into endless mischief, received my share of ass lickings, disrupted the lives of old people with my endless curiosity and questions. After exhausting all resources and holidays, I would return to my life in California with a slight accent that my grandfather loved to tease me about.

Living in Siparia, Mendez to be exact, was an entirely different life. While I grew to love my childhood adventures of migration, I was pissed most days with the challenges of school. Not the academics, I could handle that, but the assumption from the teachers that I was somehow an idiot by location of birth. So anyone who treated me like all of the other students, in my eyes was an ally, and yes I use that term because it seemed like I had to go to war to prove I wasn’t completely an imbecile simply because I was American born.  

Deep down I was heartbroken by how I was treated at school. For so many days I had watched the starched and pleated girls, hair full of ribbons, faces shining with the sheen that only pure coconut oil can give. Necks full of powder so there was never a question of if they had a bath, and the light waif of bay rum or limacol. Boys with short pants and shirts crisp, a tie and socks high. Book bags slung across the chest, a novel or lunch kit in hand, walking briskly in the morning to avoid being late. The afternoons were different, ribbons loose, ties undone, mango stains on shirts, a scraped knee from a lunch time game of cricket, and the loud laughter of children making jokes on their way home. I wanted to be them, and couldn’t wait to join the long line of those climbing the hill that cut across the yard and down the back. I wanted to be starched and pressed, powdered with my hair full of ribbons. 

The reality is that I began school in street clothes, because my uniform had to be sewn by a seamstress, the shirts could be bought, so that’s all I had. I never knew that Bata, a major shoe distributor, was a no-no, and made you an instant source of ridicule because you were wearing “bata dogs”and my unruly hair didn’t have one damm ribbon on it. School supplies were different, they used actual inkwells and you literally had to fill a fountain pen with ink to use it, ballpoint pens were not allowed and pencils were reserved for math only. All writing was done in these antique composition notebooks, and you dare not tear a page out of them. The school building itself was in need of much repair, no running water or bathrooms inside, and we were made to sit on wooden benches, no air conditioning, stare straight ahead and digest every word Miss said. Torture! I couldn’t ask a damn question, you never participated in the lesson unless you were certain about the answer for fear of getting slapped on the hand with a ruler, and worse being called a dunce!  My hands were blue from the fountain ink, my shirts had dots on them as well because I only had two and I couldn’t get the ink out of them no matter how much I scrubbed. My uniform was a rush job so my pleats didn’t sit neatly, they shifted in a lopsided angle even when ironed.  The heat caused me to sweat profusely and with my frayed nerves no matter how much powder I used, I was still a bit musty. To top it off, I was treated like an idiot, because the norms of island school life were foreign to me. 

I became an academic terrorist, wrecking havoc and causing fear in the hearts of teachers with organized, silent classrooms. I spoke up, talked back, took penance, received licks, had my mother summoned to the school to deal with her child who had no behavior. Not once did anyone try to understand my plight, they simply used me as an example of how not to behave, and carried on with the grind of preparation for the dreaded Common Entrance, apparently this was the exam that determined your success or failure in life based on the school you passed for. I had never heard of such stupidity, even as a child, this just seemed to cause lots of frustration and stress on kids who didn’t even have air conditioning in class, how could they possibly be ready to make lifelong decisions in primary school in this heat. I would soon learn the importance, and join the trail of those marching to one home or another for “Lessons” on Saturdays and during holidays to prepare myself for this monstrosity of an exam that seemed to change lives. Maybe it would change mine if I miraculously did well, nobody thought that was even a slight possibility. In these moments, I knew differently, and planned to prove them wrong. Sadly because my life was on the downhill spiral, just as I got myself acclimated to Penal Quinam Government Primary School, we moved to DeGannes Village and St. Christopher’s Anglican was now my new academic house of frustration. 

Much Love from the brown girl, sharing short stories for Blogtober, keep writing, even if no one is reading❤️

Nyri~The Unnerved Traveler

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