Mine Is An Eternal Burden; How Badly Words Can Hurt?

The Story; An Eternal Burden – How Badly words can hurt teaches us to be cautious while verbally abusing people.

Paschal, M

“John Bar” he called out to me disrespectfully and harshly too. My face turned red. It’s a good thing I’m not really fair-complexioned if not he could have detected my fury. I was hurt badly by his words, but I turn with a smile and muttered an insult at him.

You see in most secondary schools in Nigeria, you have to be sharp-mouthed to survive or so I thought. I was a brilliant kid and I was creative too so this came easily to me but the truth is that I hated it with every fiber of my being. I felt I died each time I said ‘black devil’ or ‘chibi’ or ‘duse’ but that didn’t stop me though. I figured that if they found out I had a ‘bad mouth’ too, they would leave me alone. I convinced myself that it helped me, that it was the only choice I had. It worked for the most part; I think. Well, in a way.

Those who you ‘outrank’ in the artistry of bad-mouthing would leave you alone for the most part but then there were those who were as creative, as intelligent, and probably more experienced in the game. These ones would never leave you alone. You have to constantly battle them until one of you submits to the other or you find a way of befriending them. When you befriend them, at least the insult or ‘yabbying’ as it is called would be more private.

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“John Bar, Big ass, Papa, Yam leg, Red boy, Lord of the bar”. These were some of the names I was called back then. Now I laugh when I think of it. But back then, I wept. Secretly but deeply, I started to feel I was not good enough, not handsome enough, that something was wrong with me because I thought, ‘who has a bald head in their teens’? I mean I have seen bald MEN but God, couldn’t you have spared me the ridicule and mockery at least in secondary school?

As far as I can remember, I’d always been somewhat bald. In the first haircut, I can remember, the barber was in awe of my hair distribution. I was told there and then not to carve the front of my hair but I did repeatedly. Was it that I wanted to look like everyone who was carved? Or didn’t want to feel left out? or just sheer stubbornness?  I didn’t listen and I continued to bear the insult and ridicules. Well, I wasn’t a martyr and as such, I didn’t bear it silently. I had my boundaries at insults but boy, did I dish it out. I spread it evenly, garnished it, and served it cold.

I didn’t know the impact on others but I knew how it affected me. How it spoilt my day, made me sad, disturbed my day, and gave me a bad night but I continued. You see I told myself I was fighting back and the others who were not strong enough to bear my wrath of insults were just casualties caught in the crossfire. I didn’t know the impact of my words.

Not until I met Precious. You see, Precious was a plump, nice, naïve kid. Her mother was verbally abusive and her father a drunk. No one in the class knew this though. The other thing with Precious was that she wasn’t a very hygienic girl and with puberty taking the driver’s seat, a not-so-hygienic kid turns into an untidy eyesore.

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Words Can Hurt Badly

What was her crime on that faithful day? I was called some name I can’t even remember and then she laughed more loudly than the rest of the class. As my attacker was taking the first hand, I pounced on the next logical prey who had only offended me with her high pitched laugher. ‘Akpu smelling bastard, can you close your mouth before you kill us with the poisonous gas coming from your smelly decaying intestines? Pig.”

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Immediately I said the words, I wanted to catch them but they were out there already wreaking havoc in the little girl’s mind. I felt extremely sorry for her, my words hurt her badly. I had passed my boundaries by miles and I just wanted to say I was sorry almost immediately but I held back. I thought “this has to take effect. They have to know I wasn’t taking it today” and it worked. Too much if you ask me. A grave silence swept through JSS 2 B and they all stopped laughing.

 It was in the middle of the last period and our teacher had not shown up, we would normally make a whole lot of noise but no one did. The rest of the day was just silent. I consoled myself saying that I was going to apologize at the end of the class meanwhile Precious bowed down her head on her desk in disgrace.  At the end of the class, I felt indignant.

If I was to apologize, the silly boy who started it should apologize to me too. I decided to apologize anyhow but Peter decided to tell me how horrible I was and while I was telling him how horrible he was for starting it in the first place, Precious left.

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An Eternal Burden

I was to apologize the next day but she never showed. That day was hell. All the bad-mouthed crew came out of the woods and told me their mind. That day though, I appreciated the virtue of silence. I was hurt but I was quiet and I didn’t die not unlike Precious did the day before. We were told she was hit by a car when she was going home the next day by our form mistress.

Was it suicide? Did it really happen? Was she thinking about how much I hurt her in her last hour on earth? Did I cause this? These are all questions I would never get answers to and no matter how sorry I was and still am, I can never turn back the hands of time. She left me a burden I will carry for all eternity. More questions come up every time I think of that faithful day in May. What would she have become? Was I a murderer?

These questions made me get close to her sister Martha but I would never be able to say how sorry I truly am, never to Precious anyway. The class was sober for about a week but after then, the routine of the barraging amount of insult continued.  I would like to say I never tried to use words to hurt someone badly since then but I did, rarely anyway. I couldn’t stomach it anymore, it makes me literally sick but none of that would bring Precious back or relieve my burden. Mine is an eternal burden.

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