Growing up African, few things were certain. These things were so certain, the entirety of Africans could pass for one big multicultural and slightly dysfunctional family. For one, we were all products of a patriarchal system; one that almost ensured a complete semblance in the structure of every home. Another rather common occurrence, was the mellifluous tales of intelligence, conquest, and victory that our parents never hesitated to tell us about. Proud raconteurs; they spared no details as they recounted how they were always first in class, teachers’ pets, and how they gave meaning to the phrase “burning the midnight oil”.
At every family discussion that placed me and my siblings at the receiving end of this recurring ‘folklore’, I would replace the expected albatross of thoughts with an almost frozen pall. This was partly because I saw them for what they really were – beautifully garnished bed of lies, told to create just the right amount of push to success that their kids needed. I could not blame them really. However, it was mainly because I knew, at the time, that I was never going to meet up with those hell deep expectations. It saddened me that I was not going to have genuine tales of victory to shove down the brains of the next generation of me’s to come, but worse off, the fear of this being my own reality burdened me.
Failure was a term that was not uncommon to me. I had seen it one too many times and I could smell it from test scores and office calls away. Strangely, it was not always like this – at least that is what I was told. I was smart; so smart that I cried at every ‘99 out of 100’ report card I had. Again, as I was told. It was either that my kindergarten through nursery and early primary school report cards were forged for my perusal, or I was truly an Einstein. One thing was certain though – those were all in the past life. The new me was as dumb as a rock. Although I really did not feel dumb, the red buzzer of failure rang too many times. Mockery did not sting so bad with time, and I was finally accepting that brain fluid was not shared equally amongst us all.
My early teenage years moved me from 7th position, to 15th position, to numbers that were so oddly or evenly relegated to the background. I was not so bad, you know. I never came last, not even second to the last. However, I was becoming as obscure as my skin colour. The dumb girls were pretty at least – so pretty, they got all the hot guys. At least they were winning at something. The sad part of being an all-round failure was not just that I had to choose friends who were just like me or slightly better, but that even my diary was getting depressed. A life with fate on the opposing side was not living and God had refused to heed to my cries and make me just a little bit more pretty, with less overlapping teeth, and with breasts that were just one or two cups bigger.
Believe it or not, change comes when we least expect. On one very random day, I had my minimal makeup on in my painfully choking boarding school prep class. As I walked into the class, one compliment came – “you look good today”. Unusual, but, who knows. Another came. “You are so beautiful!” Before I could understand if it was my birthday or if Christmas came soon, the compliments I had gotten between my 3pm prep class and 9pm curfew had hit two digits and counting. I remember that day and a few of my friends would too – I could not shut up about it. God works wonders, but, a few visits to the dentist, padded bras, and a growing smile almost finalised that turnaround in about a minute.
The success I needed had to come from within, you see. Even though it took a day of random compliments to remind me of the star I was, I found it. When I found it, I did not lose it for even a day. With every smile, came a new win and with every win, came a self-confidence that surpassed all the doubts I had in me. The great part about winning was that it came with an almost cocky believe that I could do even better. With every 4 point grade point average, came a realization that I was truly a first class human. Finally, with every certificate of success and plaque of commendation, I became the person I wanted the world to see me as. I was a winner even though I was too blind to see it. While I do not remember the young lad who said the first compliment that brightened up my mood that hot afternoon, I do remember the one that constantly fuels the drive to the top every single day. I am my own motivator and I create my own success stories.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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