It Starts with One Pen, and Two…
Written by Di MadWriter (Contributor)
I could not hold back the tears. It still stands as one of the most heartbreaking moments in my life. What I learned on that day, I’d never forget.
We had just finished one test in class and was about to write another one when I began to search for my pen. I ran through my locker, searched my schoolbag, my pockets, it wasn’t anywhere around. It felt really strange because I hardly ever lose anything. I’ve always been a very coordinated person. So how was it that I lost my pen in a space of 5 minutes?
The test had already begun when I spotted it in the hands of another guy. He wasn’t my best friend, but we were all friends in the class; a small class of just 20+ students. Relaxed, I called out to him to return what I was sure was my pen. I even thought it was funny that he wanted to play a quick one on me, thinking I wouldn’t catch him. But what followed wasn’t funny at all.
He refused to give it back. He looked me dead in the eyes and told me the pen was his. And the worst of it was the smirk on his face that made it clear that he was neither mistaken nor confused. He knew exactly what he was doing. I looked to my friends but they were also his friends, so they kept mute.
The teacher picked up on the rowdiness and intervened. We both sounded so convincing, and no one else was willing to testify, so she seized the pen and asked us both to go find another one. Like the classic case of the two women who came to king Solomon with a living child and a dead one; after the teacher seized the pen, the boy had a broad smile on his face and I was deeply hurt.
As much as I had tried to hold back, I burst out in tears. I was about 11 and he was 12. Fresh out of a private primary school, nothing had prepared me for a situation like that. The teacher, seeing that I was crying, played king Solomon and handed the pen to me. But then it wasn’t the happy ending that it was supposed to be. The entire class turned against me. Apparently, I had cheated without knowing it— crying was cheating. I got to learn the rules: you don’t cry, you don’t snitch, you fight and win elegantly or lose honourably. Most importantly, you NEVER cry.
The next time it happened to me, I was sure not to make that mistake again. The moment I noticed that another boy who sat next to me was trying to replicate what had happened a few weeks before, I went wild. Screamed at the top of my lungs. I displayed my notes from the previous class on the table, called the teacher, and forced the boy to present his notes as well. I did that because I knew he had a black pen before he tried to steal mine, and I used the very dark blue one for those classes, the one he now claimed was his.
It got the job done. I had my pen back. But still, it wasn’t all flowers and glory. The teacher who was in the class at the time, our English teacher, liked me. He thought me to be calm, smart, and a good boy. So he had shock written all over his face as he watched me scream and swear. In the end, he was a little disappointed. But how could I have told him that good boys were sliced and eaten like apples here? I let him down, but it didn’t really matter. The class was impressed; the boy was learning to play this game.
I learned to play quite alright– went from being the victim to being the perpetrator. Eventually, I stopped caring to fight for my stolen pen. For every one pen that I lost, I stole three more. And I became good at it. I’d do so many mechanical improvements on your pen that I’d lend it to you out of pity and you’d return it after using, without even suspecting that it’s yours. It wasn’t that my parents could not afford to buy my writing materials; I was simply protecting myself from being hurt repeatedly.
To wrap this up, a comedian in my country said in one of his clips: “The funny thing is that the people waiting in line for the slightest opportunity to embezzle public funds are much more than the people embezzling at the moment.”
It’s funny because it’s true.
I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of people on this issue, and most of them had this to say.
“I love the country very much. If I am given a leadership position, I’d try to fix things. But I’d also make sure that my family would never be oppressed again. I would be seen as a failure to my family if after holding such positions, someone needs money to get treatment and we can’t afford it; or we can’t afford to send our kids to good schools and cater to them.
And in the end, it doesn’t even matter what you do, because the persons before and after you are all after one thing: freedom. To not have to hope on a failing state ever again.”
… just like I didn’t want to depend on a crooked class justice system to return one pen to its rightful owner.
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