I remember it like it was yesterday. We had just been put into groups for our up-coming seminar presentation and I was standing outside the seminar room, straining my eyes to see the list of names above the heads of other people in front me without my glasses. It was first semester and though we were all just getting to know each other and forming tentative friendships that would or would not last for the duration of the post graduate programme, I was already one of the most popular people in class.
Whether they liked me or not, the fact was everyone knew me. Or they thought they did. She was one of the more elderly people in class. Probably in her forties, she was one of the people who looked at me in a way I really couldn’t decipher-kind of like a mixture of disdain, pity, malice, disregard and loads of dislike. And we had never even said a word to each other. I breeze into class with my mega watts smile and hug everyone who found me good enough to talk to. She wasn’t one of them but you‘d probably guessed that already.
Back to the story, she stood near me, trying to find her group too. The people in front of me moved away into class discussing their various topics and I had space to move closer. I was jotting down my topic on research methodology when the guy beside me spoke. “Princess, you look so nice this morning. Fine girl, how body?” I smiled and greeted him in return. He then went on to tease me on how he’d like to marry me if not for the fact that he was taken. I burst out in laughter and that was when she spoke. “Marry who? People like Princess no dey fit stay for husband house o”. My jaws dropped. My laughter died.
I’d like to say that I ranted and raved about the kind of people that could stay in husband houses to the yeye woman but that would be a lie. I couldn’t say a thing. I was speechless. I didn’t even hear the man’s reply. Blood had rushed to my head and all I could hear were her words. My eyes followed her as she moved away like she hadn’t said a thing. If a friend hadn’t come to drag me away for one reason or the other which I can’t remember right now, I’d probably still be standing there.
But she wasn’t the only one in my class who had put me in a box. Throughout first semester, people complained when they were put in groups with me. They figured that since I was tattooed, loved short dresses, loved to rock my full natural hair, loved extra big earrings, loved to laugh and goof around, would never raise my hands to answer any question in class except when called upon by name, laughed instead of contributing to discussions and arguments; that I had to be a ‘blockhead’. That my head was big for nothing and that I had a rich father who had nothing else to do with his money and so sent his spoilt daughter to get a Masters degree. Yes, someone actually told me that. Rich father? I laugh in Chinese. If only they knew how I was moving mountains to pay my school fees while trying not to close down my business from the heavy expenses.
But wait. Must I wear a suit to class? Do you have any idea how hot Nigeria is? Must I answer a question? Is it by force? Must I wear maxi dresses and tie my head? Must I try to fit into your perception of what a young girl should be? Must I come to night class when I have a house simply because that is what others are doing? Exactly who can stay in a husband’s house? Do I have to wear long, shapeless gowns for people to see me as a wife material? If so, then how come pastors end up been divorced? Why judge a book by its cover? Why not get to know me before drawing any conclusions? You just might be suprised.
Well, suprised they were when exams came. No one wanted to sit with me, even my friends except a girl who was my course mate during my bachelor degree days. She blatantly refused to sit with anyone else. By the time we were done with the second paper the next week, it was as if the world had shifted albeit in a very subtle manner. Everyone looked at me with new found respect. Some actually brought academic problems to me. Me? The generally acclaimed olodo of the class? Empty rectangle head? Okay o. It was only a few brave friends who owned up to the fact that they had judged me wrongly. Others never did but at least, they respected me now.
By second semester, it was a whole different situation. No one judged me by my playful demeanor anymore, hell, they even seemed to like it. I doubt there was anyone that didn’t end up as my friend by the time final exams came. Including sisi clara who could stay in her husband’s house. And eventually I was convinced to attend night class for a few days although I ended up sleeping on a desk and eating bread and eggs at 2am. Mad fun, loved it.
I still face those challenges; at work and at play. I have realized the merits of dressing appropriately but that is if my head does not shake that day. But even on days that I am dressed like a member of Deeper Life Assembly (no offence meant), one look at my tattoo by the people I meet and we are back to square one. Sometimes I wonder if the tattooist drew an empty head with two small circles within instead of a butterfly and have to look at it again just to be sure.
When I see people and I’m tempted to judge and put them in a box, I give myself a mental knock on the head. Pot calling kettle black. But I’m confident enough to be me and I appreciate it when others are as well. I own who I am and I’m always true to myself. Notorious for saying what I like and doing what I want, I have come to understand that some people may never see me as being good enough. I have also come to understand that it’s human nature to see a person and draw certain conclusions. But please draw your conclusions in pencil and be open hearted enough to truly know the person. Who knows, you might need an eraser. Yes, you just might be suprised!
Eseosa Princess Ogbeide