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Selective Mutism. That’s the medical term for what I went through for a good portion of my childhood. Crucible of Suffering is more accurate if you ask me. Apparently millions of kids all over the world suffer from it every year, but none of them went to school where I did.
Mother carefully tied the yellow scarf on my head so as not to tamper with my neatly plaited hair and slowly led me towards the fancy yellow car. Yellow was undoubtedly her favorite color, but I didn’t understand why she was forcing me like it too. I just stared at small edges of the yellow scarf that were hanging to my tiny shoulders and shrugged.
But I have to tell her today, I said to myself as I treaded along. But how? I scratched my head. I have to find a way, I was now almost in tears.I don’t want to go to that school again. No. Never again. Soon tears were rolling down my face and she turned to face me.
“What is wrong mami?” she said as she stopped in her tracks. She lifted her hands and wiped the tears from my face all the while whispering softly, ‘Don’t cry.’
“When are you going to get used to your school? It’s been more than six months now since you joined,” she once again said using her hands.
How am I going to tell you mother? I thought to myself.
Mother held my hand firmly and made me sit in her sparkling clean car.
“Your teacher says you haven’t yet learnt to write the letters…you have to work harder mmh?” she gestured to me and softly patted my head.
But that is the problem! How can I tell you anything when I can’t even write besides everything else?
When you can’t talk or write you cry.
When you cry, you get reprimanded and punished or at best pitied.
I all but squeezed my mother’s hand as we approached the school gate. I could see my colleagues playing in the compound with so much zeal, all dressed in uniform pink skirts and white t-shirts. I stared at them for a moment. They were all younger than me…and smarter. At least they know how to write.
Mother kissed me on the cheek and gave me a slight push towards my teacher; Miss Khadija who was standing some steps away. My teacher was elegantly tall, but “tall” wasn’t adequate to describe her height. She was reallytall! I always feared looking up at her because I thought my neck might break in the process. But that wasn’t all; Miss Khadija always wore that same scarf throughout the six months that I had spent in the school. She wore it tight enough only to reveal the middle part of her face which made her look old and grumpy. She always managed to match her dark veil matched with her scarf but even that could not distract fromthe fact that she was scary.
She bundled her way to where I was stood and hugged me so tightly her expensive perfume flooded my nostrils. I wriggled myself out of her grip and quickly walked away.
I stood by the wall of the school and hunched; with my hands covering my tiny face except for my teary eyes.Then Leila, the kindergarten prima donna with hordes of sheep following her around, appeared with a smirk on her face. She pulled out her tongue and made funny faces to me. I decided not to bulge from my place. But soon enough, a whole gang of other bullies joined her and were now laughing hysterically at me. I tried to speak out but all I could make were incomprehensible sounds, useless mumbles. My mouth betrayed me again.
Selective mutism, you still remember that term right? I should have told you it’s worse when you are deaf as well as selectively mute. Once in a while though, the rage that stems from being different and misunderstood can be quite liberating. I rushed to Leila and pulled her scarf off. I got hold of her long pigtails and pulled them with all my energy. Her screams filled the entire compound immediately. The other bullies suddenly freaked out and called Miss Khadija. I was breathing heavily when Miss Khadija finally succeeded in stopping the fight. I saw Leila say something to our teacher in between tears, although I couldn’t exactly understand what she was saying, I knew she was hurt. And that was enough to satisfy me; at least for the day
During the lunch break, Miss Khadija came and sat opposite me. She slid my lunch box across the table and stared me in the eyes. I looked away to where the other children were playing. I sighed with a longing; I wished I could have friends too, even if just one. I sighed again My helplessness was killing me!
Miss Khadija drew my lunch box closer to her. My lip-reading was not perfect but I understood the words she mouthed to me perfectly. I was to be punished for losing my temper that morning, not that my account for that event mattered. I stared at her long nails as she grabbed my sandwich, pushed it in her mouth quickly and gobbled it down, maintaining her stare as if to gauge my reaction. She cleared my lunch in no time and left my table without a word. Mother has to know about all this…I have to learn how to write! I declared with a finality.
I grabbed my book and held the pencil firmly with all fingers. I slowly started drawing the curve to shape an ‘a’, struggling my way through. After what seemed to be an endless energy-draining hour, I wrote my first letter. It was enough to make me jump up in delight.
I am going to write a letter to mother soon! Yes I will!