Don’t Look Down On Me
By Chimezie Benedict Ihekuna
Antonia was far from being raised with a silver spoon. Her dad died when she was barely five years old. Margaret, her mother had been taking care of her through her petty trade business.
At school, Antonia was always a laughingstock. Her clothes were always torn. She would always wear a pair of worn-out shoes. Peter and Pamela, the best students in Antonia’s class, were fond of making fun of her.
Every term, particularly at the beginning, Antonia would always be sent home; she could hardly keep up with the term’s tuition fee. She escaped through the eye of the needle of not being sent out of school because of her hardworking mother. This disrupted her academic performance. Although Antonia’s brilliance was seen by her class teacher, Mr Sam, her results in various tests and examinations were nothing to write home about.
Added to Antonia’s challenges was the fact that she was always fond of coming late to class. When asked the reason behind her lateness, the ten-year-old would answer, ‘I have to help my mum set up her shop and get the goods ready for sale before I trek down to school. My mother can’t afford the transport fee.’ Most times, Antonia would get into class a few minutes before Break Time.
On a certain occasion, Antonia came to class a full hour before break. Mr Sam was in his mathematics teaching period. As soon as he was done and left the class, Peter and Pamela headed straight to where Antonia sat. The rest of the class looked on, laughing her to scorn, as usual.
‘’Antonia, it’s quite fascinating you came quite early today,’’ Peter said, laughing.
The rest of the class suddenly became quiet to hear more of what Peter would say. Some were seen holding their mouths with their hands while the rest were mocking her torn clothes.
‘’Peter, Antonia has now discovered lateness can’t be forever’’ Pamela added. ‘’She’s even good-looking today!
‘’Pamela, why have you chosen to make that statement? Don’t you know that Antonia’s lifestyle is lateness?’’ Peter responded, shaking his head and laughing at Antonia.
‘’You’re right. My apologies. Oh, I forgot! She came earlier today! This time, an hour before Break Time!’’
The rest of the class busted into uncontrolled laughter. Antonia had been silent all the while. But, this time, she could not endure the shame meted out to her. Tears were seen rolling down her cheeks. That didn’t stop Antonia from courageously responding to both Peter and Pamela, and the rest of the class, who seemed not ready to go for break.
‘’Peter and Pamela, don’t look down on me.’’
‘’Do you think so, Antonia? We know you’re down…And, of course, out!’’ Peter reacted.
‘’I agree with you all the way. But let’s hear what our latecomer friend has to say.’’
Antonia told them a piece of her heart.
‘’You can call me the latecomer or any other name you like. That’s your opinion. But let me tell you, my mother once told me, ‘all fingers are not equal. I am fond of coming later. Yes, I am. But always remember I wake up early to assist her in her trading before coming to school. But you, Peter and Pamela, do simply nothing apart from going to school and making fun of me. I know one thing for sure; things will never be the same. I won’t be the latecomer you have known me to be. ‘
’You make me laugh. I hope it won’t be when we’re done with studies,’’ Pamela said, not taking Antonia seriously
‘’I will watch the space,’’ Peter answered, taking a look at Antonia from her head to her worn-out pair of shoes.
Antonia stood up and walked out on them to observe Break-Time. The rest of the class, including Peter and Pamela, followed suit.
Antonia’s dedication to class activities and assisting her mother in trading drew the attention of Mr Sam. Having understood Antonia’s plight, Mr Sam related her challenges to the proprietress who later invited them for a discussion, together with Antonia’s mother, in her office.
‘’Mr Sam, you’re the Class Teacher of Antonia. You’ve told me about Antonia’s challenges. I sent for her, her mother and you. I’m glad that you honoured my invitation,’’ Ms Diana said. She was seated comfortably in her spacious office as she played host to them.
‘’Thank you, Ms Diana. I’m honoured to be with you at this time,’’ Mr Sam replied, with excitement.
‘’I’m grateful, Ms Diana, for this opportunity. It’s a great honour to me, ma, to be invited,’’ Margaret said, looking happy.
‘’Good morning Ma,’’ Antonia greeted. She looked lively.
‘’Without wasting much time, I would like to hear from the horse’s mouth, Ms Margaret.’’
Margaret was sober as she opened up: ‘’I lost my husband, Antonia’s father when she was barely five years old. Since then, I have been taking care of Antonia, not to exclude her schooling endeavours.’’
Compassion took over Ms Diana. ‘’So sorry to hear that. How do you get to cope with the demands of the home and that of your daughter’s schooling?’’
I try my very best to see that my daughter’s education becomes my priority. I’ve been nurtured and am convinced that education is an enduring legacy. So, I work the extra mile to ensure that Antonia doesn’t miss out!’’
Ms Diana nodded her head in agreement. ‘’Very good. That’s quite inspiring’’
‘’Yes, it is,’’ Mr Sam agreed
Ms Diana looked at her wristwatch. It was obvious she was late for an appointment. ‘’Oh! I forgot I have an appointment. You know what, Mr Sam…?’’
‘’Yes…’?’ Mr Sam was curious to know the next line of action.
‘’Please, talk to the authority about the challenges Antonia and her mother are facing. They’ll place Antonia on a Scholarship to complete her Elementary Education. With my approval, Antonia’s tuition fees and other academic expenses would be covered. I have to go!’’
‘’Okay Ms. Diana,’’ Mr. Sam said. ‘’The Scholarship Review Committee will hear me.’
Margaret could not believe her ears. ‘’Am I dreaming? Could this be true?’’
Ms Diana answered, ‘’you’re in the real world. Congrats!’’
She shook hands with Margaret, Mr Sam and Antonia. As Ms Diana was about to leave the office, she advised the happy-looking Antonia: ‘’I am doing this because I know you are a good student and your mother loves you so much that she’ll go to any lengths to support your education. So, I have decided to assist her, having known the challenges being faced. Please, leave a good name. Don’t abuse this privilege that would be yours. Don’t end up like Frank and Hanks who were expelled from school because of stealing.’’
‘’I will be the good girl you’ve always known me as,’’ Antonia smiled. ‘’I will make sure Peter and Pamela, and the rest of the class don’t get to look down on me. That, I promise.’’
‘’They won’t look down on you,’’ Mr Sam assured.
‘I’m very happy for you, my daughter. You’ve made me proud’.’
They left the office. Mr Sam locked the door and accompanied Antonia and her mother to the school gate. They went past the gate to their home while Mr Sam hurried to the office of the Scholarship Review Committee to discuss Antonia’s matter.
Antonia ceased to be a latecomer. She started wearing good clothes and pairs of sandals and shoes. Interestingly, she came out top of the class at the Final Leaving Elementary School Examination, followed by Peter and Pamela.- Total nr. of readings: 160 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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