By Marymartin Okoabu:
I have watched Chike for a while now and I don’t know why I feel drawn to him. I can’t explain the pull, it’s like our souls are in communion and my tongue burns to speak with him. I don’t even know what that means, but I know I can’t talk with him, because nobody talks with him.
Chike joined our class third term of JSS2 which is very odd. Our school does not receive students to JSS2, talk more of receiving in the third term. But his was a special case as the proprietor had made us understand. But I’m not sure we really understood what that meant, even when our class teacher- our pecky miss Becky had come to the class and with her whinny voice had introduced him laying emphasis on special. “He is a special child, very special,” she had said, smiling sheepishly as usual, and that had caused the class to burst out in laughter. But I had known they were not laughing at miss Becky’s face, but of the young boy who looked like he came out from the cartoon we watched at home.
“Hey, why the laughter, stop the noise right now,” she had tried to stop us, flailing her hands vainly. But that had only caused an increase in volume. She had then told the petrified boy to go find a seat at the back, which to my opinion was unfair to him. But nobody asked for my opinion. Some persons snickered as he walked passed with confused steps and sat heavily on a bad bench.
Classes had continued that day with loud conversations of the new comer.
Chike is really a special child. He is shorter than many of us and has a funny shape of head- a head that one of my classmates had described as that of Mr Patrick in SpongeBob SquarePants, causing the whole class to upturn in loud cackles. The weird thing is; Chike never responds to all of these. After his attempt at speaking one Monday morning and only succeeding in stuttering all through and the class mimicking him all week, Chike had closed up, and our teachers does not act bothered. But I feel bothered though, and I wonder how he will learn if he keeps on like this, and I feel bad for him, really bad. Chike’s mouth is a little lopsided, maybe that’s what makes him stutter. I really wish to talk to him, but I only sit miles apart and watch the strange kid in our class.
This Tuesday morning Chike is not in class and it seems to affect the atmosphere. The class is quiet- for there is no one available for the students to turn their wits on. Our class teacher comes in and calls our names for attendance, and everyone replies to their names. When she calls Chike’s name and gets no response, she looks up and asks, “why is Chike not in school?”
We turn to look at each other and no one says a word. She then continues and I feel hurt. The rest teachers comes to class and none ask for Chike, which is making me more hurt.
The rest of the week goes by with no sign of Chike and gradually the class forgets about him, but my mind remains with him. Chike surprises us and returns after two weeks. He looks sick and his neck has deeper hallows and his eyes sunken. I shouldn’t tell you how the class reacts to his coming, and as usual he has nothing to say. When our class teacher comes and and sees Chike, she asks how he is doing with something close to pity in her eyes. Other teachers comes, and their looks mirrors that of miss pecky Becky, which leaves me wondering. Does our teachers know something?
I feel the itch to talk to Chike gets stronger, and when school closes for the day, I throw fear to the wind and go to talk to him. At first he looks at me, surprise clouding his face for a second, but then it quickly disappears and his face becomes impassive again. He says nothing to me and I feel disappointed. Not that I expected him to say anything, but I can’t help my feelings, they seem to be in control of me these days. I notice the whole class stare at me, wondering what I am up to talking with Chike. But I don’t care anymore. Suddenly I feel like shouting, I feel like screaming at the whole class for treating Chike like a plague. He seem to be in obvious need of help, but nobody cares, just because he is a little different from us. But he is human!! I feel the sting of a tear, but I quickly bottled in my emotions and walk with the remaining part of my pride home.
The next day, I do the unbelievable and sit with Chike. This causes heads to turn, but I don’t care anymore. Miss Becky comes in and looks surprised, but quickly hides it with a half smile, but I don’t care for her pretence too.
Chike’s first word to me comes as a surprise. We are sitting during break and minding our business as it has been, none of us ready to join the kids outside, when Chike suddenly stands and steps on my right foot, of course I know it’s a mistake. He says sorry, loud and clear- the two syllabic sorry and not the other sorry with many syllables. I am too shock to respond, my lips tightly fixed together. Chike leaves and I get hold of myself. Did that just happened? I mutter and then I smile up my sleeve.
I finally succeed in getting Chike to talk to me, and when I mean talk, I do not mean monosyllabic words but a full sentence and more sentences everyday, to the point of having conversations with me. He stutters, yes, but I don’t mind, afterall, my name is Patience. The class is now more open to him and when they laugh, I know it’s not one of mockery, but of genuine happiness.
I get to find out one day, Chike tells me himself, that he has Down syndrome, a genetic defect that affects part of the brain, which affects reasoning, sometimes speech and development of the body. His family has money and has been following up his treatment home and abroad. But he will never heal completely, but I don’t feel perturbed. What matters to me is he is my friend and I am able to help him. And I spend every night scrolling through my father’s phone, trying to learn more on Chike’s condition.
And everyday when Chike smiles and laughs more easily, speaking as natural as he could, I realise that the scars we see everyday also have names.