Literary Zone

Short story: When the bullied becomes the redeemer

3 February 2023 at 02:29 | 3123 views

When the bullied becomes the redeemer

By Jacob B. Palmer, New Jersey, USA

Mr. Henry Saffa, the headmaster of the Methodist Primary School in the town of Lolahun was a tall, strict, astute and bald headed fifty-five year old man with over thirty-five years of teaching experience. Having been teaching for so many years, everyone in Lolahun and the surrounding towns know him as Teacher Saffa. He has been Headmaster of the Methodist primary school for about fifteen years and was well liked and respected throughout the Chiefdom. Through his teaching career, Mr. Saffa has always been punctual and was the first teacher to arrive at the school every morning, rain or shine and this trend continued even after he was promoted to the position of headmaster.

On this rainy and stormy Monday morning, Teacher Saffa had been up as usual at 5:30AM, dressed up and ready to walk the one-mile distance to the Methodist Primary school from his modest home on the west side of the diamond mining town of Lolahun. On a normal day, some of the senior class students would come over to Teacher Saffa’s house at 7:00am to carry his books and teaching materials to the school whilst he will walk stridently and quietly behind them as they meander their way towards the school through well beaten bushy paths and dirt roads.

On this rainy Monday morning, none of the class seven boys showed up so the headmaster had a good breakfast, picked up his books, bade farewell to his wife, Mama Marie, opened his big umbrella and headed for school. Teacher Saffa was not surprised that the boys did not show up this morning. It had rained heavily throughout the night and it was still raining slightly this morning.

The dusty roads were now muddy, and it was a good thing that Teacher Saffa had put on his rain boots that would protect his suede shoes and freshly pressed khaki trousers from the rain and mud. As he made his way through the muddy roads, he came across some of his students who were brave enough to venture out to school early despite the bad weather. Some of the students greeted their headmaster with a hearty ‘good morning Teacher Saffa` as they trooped to school partly drenched from the rain that was now subsiding.

Even though the weather had been bad, the school children were still running, joking and playing as they hopped, skipped and jumped to school and did not seem to care much about the rain.

By the time Teacher Saffa arrived at the Methodist Primary school it had stopped raining and the sun was now peeking through the receding clouds. The Headmaster and the other teachers were now getting the students ready for their morning devotion which had been delayed because of the rain. The Methodist primary school had no assembly hall, so morning devotions are usually held outside when the weather permits. Now that the rain had ceased, Teacher Saffa conducted a very short devotion before dispersing the students to their respective classrooms.

The Headmaster then went into his small but well-kept office to start his administrative duties for the day. He always devoted the first two hours of his workday towards administrative matters and going over the attendance registers that the class teachers would drop in his office. He was going through the class registers when a knock on his office door startled him. Teacher Saffa knew it would be one of the class teachers coming to report an incident or an emergency that needed his attention. The headmaster stepped out from behind his small wooden desk and asked whoever it was to come into his office.

A bearded man who could have been in his mid-sixties walked into the office with a shy young lad in tow. The old man introduced himself as Allieu Hindowa from the nearby village of Kombama and he then introduced the boy to the Head Master as Salia Hindowa, his twelve-year-old grandson. Headmaster Saffa pulled out a chair for Allieu Hindowa whilst the young Salia was left standing timidly beside his grandfather.

The visitor went straight to the reason for his unexpected visit. He told the headmaster that he is a retired civil servant and had worked at the provincial office in Bo for 36 years. He retired 5 years ago but moved to Kombama in the last two years to enjoy his last days in his quiet village. Headmaster Saffa quickly realized that Mr Hindowa was quite educated and though he may not have been in the higher cadre of the Sierra Leone civil service, he must have retired as a provincial clerk which was in itself a middle level and well respected civil service position.

‘I want to enroll Salia in your school`, he said to the Headmaster. He explained that the young boy was in school in the big provincial town of Bo but his dad took him out of school three years ago so he would work in the family farm in Kombama.

“I was educated by the missionaries in Bo, so I know the value of a good education. I want all the young boys In Kombama to be sent to school”. Headmaster Saffa nodded in agreement and was quite thrilled that someone from the village of Kombama is seeking to get the young boys in the village educated.

‘I will be very happy to enroll Salia as a student in the school but since he has been out of school for three years, I will have to put him in a class with much younger boys`, Teacher Saffa advised Mr. Hindowa.

Mr. Hindowa was not too happy with that but he would rather have Salia in school than plowing his father’s rice farm in Kombama.
It was agreed that Salia will be enrolled in class four with the nine to ten-year-olds even though Salia was almost thirteen.

‘This is a mission school’, the headmaster affirmed ‘so we do not expect Salia to pay school fees and books will also be provided at no cost`. The headmaster however gave Pa Hindowa a list of school and uniform regulations. ‘Salia can start school next Monday at 8:00AM` the Headmaster confirmed.

The next Monday morning, Salia was up very early and instead of getting ready to go to his father’s farm he was getting ready to go to school after a three-year break. He was thrilled that he will be back in school and had always dreaded working on his father’s rice farm, but he had no choice then. He has since been grateful that his grandfather retired to Kombama and saved him from working in the rice farm at such a young age.

The young Salia was happy that he was going back to school but the thrill of being back in school evaporated as soon as Salia was introduced to his classmates by his new class teacher, Mr. Maligie. Most of the students started giggling whilst a couple of boys laughed openly. This was because Salia was bigger than his new classmates and looked very much like he should be in class seven. Mr. Maligie has always been a very stern teacher and he admonished the boys in his class not to laugh at the new student but to welcome him as a friend to their class and the school.

Mr. Maligie was able to restore order in the classroom but there were undertones of giggling and snide remarks were made whenever Salia was around. Notwithstanding the apparent bullying, Salia was determined to complete his primary and secondary schooling and if possible, go to college. His grandfather had given him a lot of reasons to finish school and be the first in his family to go to college.

Barely a month or so after Salia started attending the Methodist primary school, the Provincial Education officer, Mr. Thomas Nelson sent a letter to all proprietors of primary schools in the Southern province that the inter primary and secondary school sports meet that had been postponed for the last four years due to inadequate funding will be held in two months at the various district headquarter towns. Students had been looking forward to these athletic meets, but the provincial commissioner could not get the Chief Minister’s office in Freetown to fund the annual competition. Now that funding has been provided this year, the Provincial Education office will once again organize the sports meetings.

When Headmaster Saffa made the announcement that the inter primary meets will be held during the first weekend in April, the students were elated and could not stop talking about the pending sports competition.

The class teachers had the responsibility of finding the best athletes in their respective classes whilst Mr. Samai and Ms. Lebbie the designated sports teachers will conduct trials amongst the athletes before naming the finalists who will represent the Methodist primary school in the junior and intermediate division at this year’s competition.

When Mr. Maligie was conducting his class trials, he told Salia that because of his height and age he will not qualify to be part of the junior team that the class four teacher was putting together. He asked Salia to go talk to the teachers in the senior class to see whether they would include him in their class trainings for the intermediate athletes.

Salia felt shy to walk up to the class six or class seven teachers to ask them whether he could participate in their trials, so he stayed away whilst the students in his class were participating in trials after school.

After a month of practice and class trials, the names of the successful junior and intermediate athletes were forwarded to the Headmaster and the two sports teachers. The sports teachers arranged for two weeks of practice and on the third week a mock athletic competition was held at the school grounds to select the junior and intermediate athletes who will represent the school at the various track and field events. The mock competition attracted an excited crowd of students, staff and parents with everyone rooting for their favorite athlete to win and represent the Methodist primary school at the all-important meet.

The trials went well and the sports teachers were able to select a very good team that will represent the Lolahun Methodist School. Salia knew he was a well-rounded athlete and would have beaten any of the senior students especially at the 100 or 200 meters dash. However, he was not well known in the school and he was in a junior class where he could not be selected to participate because he was past the height and weight for junior athletes. Salia was disappointed that he could not prove to the staff and students of the school that he was a very good athlete, but he put on a brave face and applauded the students that were winning their events.

The regional sports meet was the only thing that the people of Lolahun and the surrounding towns and villages were talking about leading up to the big day. Pa Sandy who was the best tailor in Lolahun town had sewn sports uniforms for the athletes that were trimmed with the school color of red.

The day before the regional sports meet, headmaster Safffa and the teachers met with the athletes and gave them a pep talk that ended with singing and dancing. Pa Saffa told the students who will be participating in the sporting events to go home and have a good rest before the next day’s meet.

The next day, the sports teachers were at the school early in the morning to await the arrival of the athletes who were told to be at the school at 10:00AM. The students started streaming in at about 9:30AM looking happy but anxious and were joking with each other whilst they await the arrival of the other athletes. By 10:00AM all the athletes were there adorned with their ill-fitting uniforms and ready to board the bus that would take them to the district headquarter City of Bo that was about 6 miles from Lolahun town. When they were ready to board the bus, sports teacher Samai realized that they were missing Alfred who is their number one sprinter and was scheduled to run the 100- and 200-meters race for them. By 10:15AM Mr. Samai and Ms. Lebbie became anxious that their main athlete is yet to arrive, and they were scheduled to leave the school grounds at 10:30AM. Five minutes before their scheduled departure they saw Alfred’s mother looking worried and running towards the school. She had come to let them know that Alfred is very sick at home with stomach pains and diarrhea and he will not be able to join the team for the regional sports meet.

The whole team of athletes and teachers were disappointed that their star athlete will not be able to participate in the much-anticipated meet, the sports teachers however rallied the rest of the team spurring them to go compete and still win the regional championship trophy. The bus ride to Bo was not very exciting for the team. When the team bus pulled up at the Bo playing field, most of the Lolahun Methodist primary school students were already assembled anxiously awaiting the arrival of the school team.

As soon as the team arrived at the playing field, word quickly got around that Alfred the sprinter is sick and will not be running for the Methodist school team. This was distressing news for all the students of the school because their hopes of winning the regional championship had been resting on the participation of their senior sprinter, Alfred Coker.

When Salia and his brothers arrived at the playing field, everyone was talking about the absence of Alfred Coker and the rival teams were quietly celebrating the fact that they will not be facing the dreaded Alfred Coker in any of the sprint events.
After Salia heard the sad news he bravely walked over to the sports teacher, Mr. Samai and introduced himself as the newly enrolled student in class four. He told Mr Samai that he had been running for his Primary school in Bo but had dropped out for two years to work on his father’s farm. ‘I can replace Alfred and win his events for the school` he said to Mr Samai. The bewildered Mr. Samai was not quite sure of what to make of Salia because he had never seen Salia in the practice field and he does not look like someone who can beat the boys representing the other schools in the district. As if he knew what Mr. Samai was thinking, Salia said, ‘Give me a chance, Mr. Samai`. At this point the sports teachers were desperate and would want someone from their school to at least challenge the other good runners from the other schools.

Mr. Samai gave Salia the nod, much to the consternation of Misss. Lebbie who had been training the girls team. No one at the school knew who this young man was except Salia’s classmates who had spent most of the time taunting and laughing at him. Now he has been given the onerous task of representing the Lolahun Methodist primary school in the sprint events.

Word quickly went around the jam-packed playing field that Salia will now be replacing the much-dreaded Alfred Coker in the sprint events. The other five primary schools that were taking part in the regional meet were very happy to hear that an unknown has been selected to run in place of Alfred who they had feared would have won all his events.

The sports meet was going on well and by the early evening everyone in the playing field was on edge as the starters and Judges summoned the senior sprinters to the field for the start of the 200 meters race. There was much fanfare as the announcers called out the names of the runners that will be representing the five schools. Salia did not get much applause even from his own schoolmates because most of them did not know him. However, he confidently took his place in the lineup even though he was a little nervous. He took his mind to his school days in Bo when he had to race with boys that were older than him. He has always been a confident lad and was ready to give his best for his new school.

The starter was the British expatriate, Mr. Mike Ford. The stern, tall and abrasive District officer in the District office. Mr. Ford was well respected in the district but feared by the Civil Servants working in the District Office because of his strict demeanor. However, he seemed to be more relaxed today without his tightly knotted necktie and heavily starched white long sleeve shirt.

After a word with the five runners, Mr. Ford was ready to start the 200 meters race. He got the runners on their marks, ready and he fired the small starters gun that signaled the start of the race and off the runners went. In the absence of Alfred Coker, everyone knew that the Methodist School stood no chance especially with a replacement runner standing in for Alfred. All eyes were now on the other four schools especially the Catholic Boys school and the United Methodist primary school sprinters for a possible winner.

About twenty yards into the race, and with the packed field on edge, Salia was suddenly sprinting into third place and was closing in on the United Methodist School sprinter who was in second place. By mid-way in the race, Salia had caught up and was now passing the United Methodist School runner much to the surprise and excitement of the Methodist Primary school students, teachers and parents. With about Ten yards left in the race, Salia the unknown runner was now literarily breathing behind the neck of Alex Vamboi who was now the favorite to win the race. All the spectators were now edgy as the two hundred meters race has now taken a turn that was not expected. Salia was now abreast with Alex Vamboi with five yards to go in this decisive race. The dash for the final two or three yards saw Salia sprinting as fast as he could go and as he estimated that he was about a yard from the tape, he made a quick dash and leaped towards the tape just before Vamboi could get there. Salia had won the two hundred yards sprint event for the Methodist Primary School.

Within seconds, there was wild jubilation by the Methodist Primary school students, staff and parents who had raced to the field and hoisted Salia shoulder high singing his praise with special songs. Even Teacher Saffa joined in the celebratory song and dance for the indomitable Salia Hindowa.

From where she was standing in the dusty playing field, Elizabeth, who was in the same class as Salia who had been bullied and belittled by the same students who are now lifting him shoulder high, shook her head and said to her classmate Betty who was standing next to her, ‘this should be a lesson to all of us`. ‘Never look down on someone because they look different from you. You never know what that person can do to get you out of a big mess`.

About the author
Mr. Jacob Palmer (photo) is a Sierra Leonean businessman, poet and short story writer living in New Jersey, USA.