I've been writing my autobiography and thought I'd share one of the chapters with you. It's all still very rough and unpolished but let me know what you think.
The events are true, however, I have changed people's names to protect their identities.
Background info for this chapter: I'm 17 years old in Year 13 studying my A-levels . I've bracketed some information so things are slightly clearer. So here it is:
I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to bottle things up anymore. I had to tell someone, anyone, so I decided to tell a teacher at school. I saw my sociology teacher, Ms Collins, the most because she not only taught me 4 days in a week but was also the head of my year [year 13]. Even though she came across very strict, I trusted her.
It was a Thursday and sociology was my first class of the day. When the lesson had finished, I deliberately packed my books slowly and waited until all my classmates had gone. I’ve always been private, never wanting anyone to know my business. Until now. I walked up to her desk slowly while nervously twiddling my fingers.
“Erm, Miss.”, I said timidly.
She looked up with a warm smile and said, “Yes, Rebecca.”
“Can I talk to you about something at the beginning of break time, please?”, I asked with a shaky voice.
She had a slightly confused yet concerned look on her face but immediately replied, “Yes, of course you can. I’ll be here at the end of second period. I’ll see you then.”
“OK, thanks.”, I said desperately trying not to let my emotions prematurely get the better of me before I had even confided in her.
I had private study time for my second period. You’d be fooled for thinking that I couldn’t focus on my work because strangely enough my mind wasn’t preoccupied on speaking to Ms Collins. By this point in my life I had, I guess, subconsciously trained my mind to shut out certain things if they weren’t relevant to what was going on at that present time. I suppose that’s how I’d managed to maintain top grades. School was my escapism. A world where no one could hurt me, control me or manipulate my thinking. Mind you, five minutes before I was due to see Ms Collins I went into distressed mode.
My eagerness and anxiousness got me to her classroom two minutes early. I patiently waited outside until the bell rang and her year 12 students left the room one by one.
“Hi, Rebecca.” She said as she placed a seat next to her desk for me to sit on. “Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”
I thought the best way to begin was to just give her a quick breakdown of my young life up until that point: How I was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa and was adopted by an aunt in England when I was 4. My adopted mum sadly died from a heart attack when I was 8 years old and I lived with a neighbour and her family for just over a year. Then I went to stay with another aunt for about two months in South London. Then I went to live with my adopted mum’s first cousin, Irene and her husband [who I call grandpa because he’s considerably older than me] a day before my 10th birthday. They obtained legal guardianship of me and that was my present ‘home’.
I looked up and the expression on Ms Collin’s face was that of shock. I could see that she was trying to take it all in.
Describing Irene was tricky but easy at the same time. Hate is a strong word and I’ve only ever seriously used it once to express my feelings for her. I hate her with a passion.
I got on with my grandpa. He was a peaceful, laidback kind of person- the total opposite of that witch. He couldn’t stand her, that’s why he would go abroad for months at a time. Peace of mind. He, like most people, couldn’t wait get away from her. Her nagging, her deluded way of thinking, her garbage filled mouth.
I could feel my eyes begin to well up as I told Ms Collins all the nasty things she would do to me like slap me round the face on numerous occasions and pull out my hair. “You think you’re beautiful, eh?” She asked me a few years back. “Well you’re not!”, she informed me before giving me a look of disgust. I suppose it didn’t bother me so much because a)I don’t consider myself to be a vain person and b) I thought she was uglier than my very own black arse. On that day, she grabbed chunk of my hair and pulled so hard I could not only feel, but also hear the strands of hair ripped from their roots.
As I continued telling Ms. Collins the details of my daily ordeal, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Irene would cuss me in Krio [one of the main languages spoken in Sierra Leone] by calling me “Basta pikin!” which means bastard child and saying things like “Noto me fuck yu papa n bon yu (translates: I didn’t fuck your father and give birth to you) so why should I care about you?… Yu noto me pikin (translates: you’re not my child).” My thoughts to those comments were “True. Very true. Thank God Almighty, you’re not my mum.” She’s the kind of person who, if it were possible to divorce or legally disregard certain family members you’d definitely want to eradicate every living memory that you’re even related. Ironically her parents weren’t married either when she was born so she’s technically a bastard too, by dictionary definition of the word. Made me chuckle a little while wondering if she realised she was cussing herself and her own son.
“Oh, my... Rebecca. I had no idea.” Ms Collins gasped while promptly grabbing her box off tissues and offering me one. “You always seemed so happy and together.”
Yep, that was the me people saw in public: smiley Rebecca, focused Rebecca. But inside I was an introvert battling isolation.
“Now, you listen to me,” she continued, “You’re a lovely girl and you have so much to offer. Don’t you ever let that woman get you down. Education is the key. It’s you’re way out. You’re a very bright girl so remember, whatever’s happening at home, you need to focus on getting those top grades that you deserve.”
I was wise enough to know the importance and value of my education. Hearing those kind words from Ms Collins gave me a confidence boost. It certainly made a change from being called “bastard child”.
Even though I had revealed how vulnerable and distraught I really was, by the end of our chat I felt somewhat emancipated, as if a load had been lifted off my shoulders. The BT campaign slogan at the time summed up my thoughts: ‘It’s good to talk’.
The bell rang and I made my way to my Politics lesson but less than 15 minutes into the class, one of the school’s receptionists came in and said: “Sorry, Miss but can I take Rebecca for a moment? There’s someone at the reception who wants to see her.”
All eyes were on me. As I stood up I racked my brain trying to think of who could possibly come to the school to see me. I shut the classroom door behind me and asked the receptionist who it was. “She said she’s your carer.” Irene loved it when I called her mum but when she’d go off on one she used to say “I’m not your mum. I’ll treat you like a ward. An orphan.” ‘Carer’ sounded funny because she didn’t embody the true meaning of the word in any way shape or form.
We turned the corner and entered the reception. I braced myself.
Irene was standing in the middle of the foyer and before I could even say hello she started shouting at me. Her voice was getting louder and louder and her tone more aggressive. So much so that the receptionist called a senior member of staff who was in the office. It was Ms Deely. I had her as head of year when I was in Year 11.
“Rebecca? You OK?”, Mrs. Deely asked as she saw me standing there motionless staring straight ahead. A gush of warm tears cascaded down my face.
Her presence didn’t faze Irene, who, at this point, was just getting warmed up. “What, did you take your bank card to school because you wanted to run away with him? That 30 year old man?” She exclaimed. Irene loves to exaggerate EVERYTHING. She’d always make mountains out of molehills. My boyfriend [now my fiancé], although quite a few years older than me, was no where 30 years old and I took my bank card to school purely because I needed to go to the shopping centre after school to get some hygiene and femi products. To this day she’s probably still convinced that I wanted to run away with him despite the fact I didn’t pack any clothes, my passport etc. Dumb Ass.
“Erm, excuse me!” Mrs Deely exclaimed in a very authoritative teacher voice, “As long as our students are on our premises we have a right to protect them, now please leave.”
Irene left. But before going demanded my debit card and threatened “Wait ‘til you get home.”
The receptionist looked at me unsure what to say so just naturally asked “Are you ok?” even though I clearly wasn’t. However, I was far from embarrassed. If anything, I felt a little triumphant. Triumphant that Irene had exposed herself as the mean, intimidating bitch she really was. Triumphant that she couldn’t get me at school: a no Irene zone.
“So what’s all this about a 30 year old man you’re apparently going to run away with?” Mrs Deely asked pulling me to a quiet corner. In Sierra Leone we call this type of person a ‘bisabody’, which simply means someone that is too nosey for their own good. I felt like telling her to mind her business in a not so polite way, but instead just firmly told her that I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry about what was going on in my life, and quite frankly didn’t feel obliged to. People always want to know so much but do fuck all to actually help you. I remember thinking, “Sorry, but this isn’t gossip hour at Aunt Claire’s press and weave. This is my life and unless you’re living it, you’ll never be able to even begin to understand the emotional trauma I’m going through, so mind your own.”
I didn’t return to my Politics lesson. Instead, I spent the rest of the day in the medical centre. I didn’t feel ill but I preferred to be in a solitary place where I could gather my thoughts. One of my classmates kindly packed my bag for me when the lesson had ended and dropped it off at the centre. I had totally forgot about my books and stuff because I intended to return but had no clue that drama would transpire.
Word got back to Ms Collins and she came to see me at the medical centre. “I want you come and tell me if anything happens. Don’t keep it to yourself.” She instructed. I felt warm inside. Like I had a friend, some one who cared. “OK”, I promised.
My politics teacher Ms. Knight saw me walk past her class teary-eyed after the incident so she came to see me too. “I heard what happened and just wanted to check that you’re OK and let you know that we’re here for you. No one should make you feel that low.” She, as well as Ms Collins was one of my favourite teachers. So genuine. So kind. They were both concerned about me going home and what sort of an evening I would have. Believe me, so was I. But I had endured Irene’s vicious onslaughts for 8 years now, so I was almost aloof to whatever fresh treat she had in store for me. I just took it as it came.
As I walked home from school, I was transfixed on almost every house I went past. “Funny”, I thought to myself, “No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors, behind those curtains, behind those ‘hi neighbour’ greetings.”
I was ‘home’. I nervously turned the key and opened the door. When I got in, I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs thinking “God, I’m in this house all alone with her-again.” That was her ideal situation. One-to-one so she could say or do whatever she liked. Everything would be my word against hers. I could see her standing in the kitchen with her back facing me. She was peeling potatoes. As I calmly walked through to the TV room she turned her head to the left revealing a sinister smirk.
“H-H-Hi” I said meekly.
“Hi? Hi?” she said exclaimed aggressively.
She stopped peeling the potato in her hand and dashed it onto the floor.
“Hi” She repeated, this time mocking my voice. In one swift motion she turned around to face me and approached me with the sharp knife in her hand.
Also see my blog post Homeless But Fearless, which is a fast forward snapshot look at my life a few months on.