SCHOOL MEMORIES: No friend to those who weep

I found Margaret Bamwiine crying helplessly. I saw the look on her face and it was clear that she was hiding a terrible secret. I had seen that look only three weeks before. One dreadful afternoon, I had found Lorraine Ishanga crying and I had persuaded her to confide in me

I found Margaret Bamwiine crying helplessly. I saw the look on her face and it was clear that she was hiding a terrible secret. I had seen that look only three weeks before. One dreadful afternoon, I had found Lorraine Ishanga crying and I had persuaded her to confide in me. She was hesitant at first but I assured her that she could trust me with any secret. Lorraine opened her mouth and said, “I think I’m pregnant and so I am planning to escape from school today. Please don’t tell anyone.” I had never been burned with such an awful secret before. The secrets I kept revolved around envy and jealousy. And so my brain froze, my limbs were dazed with temporary paralysis, my throat ran dry and my heart raced and pounded and threatened to rip my chest open. For two straight hours, sweat poured through every pore in my body. At last, I lost consciousness.

Lorraine Ishanga was…how can I put this politely…extremely friendly with the opposite sex. Most fifteen-year-olds were treading very carefully when it came to boys. Sex education at school always came down to one statement; “Stay away from boys; they are bad for you.” Of course, we didn’t stay away from boys. It was prestigious to have a boyfriend. Prestige was hard to come by in a school of one thousand, six hundred girls. But most of the relationships were just on paper; exchange of love letters with exaggerated promises. “I will love you until the grass turns blue.” But Lorraine’s relationship with boys wasn’t just on paper. She was doing ‘bad manners.’ She had a clique of girls with whom she shared such details. I wasn’t part of her clique. I wasn’t part of any clique. Why she felt that I deserved to carry the load of her dreadful secret, I will never know. Maybe she hated me.

When Lorraine heard that I had fainted, she came running to my dormitory. Her stare was so piercing that I screamed inwardly and I felt my blood rushing through my body. I fixed my eyes on the floor.  “Have you told anyone, Liz?” She asked. “No,” I answered, still looking down. “You’re lying to me! Stop lying to me!” She raised her hand to hit my face and I buried my face in my hands. She stormed out of my cubicle. At 11:30 p.m. that night, Lorraine was caught trying to escape from school disguised as a boy. And as it turns out, she wasn’t even pregnant. She was just growing fat.

I was still reliving that day in my head when I heard Margaret say, “Liz, I’m sorry but I can’t tell you what’s going on,” “I understand,” I replied. “I’m scared and confused and I don’t know if I can trust anyone,” she said. I patted her back and said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.” I stood up to go and Margaret said, “I can tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.” I looked at her and my brain said, “Run!” And so I did. I refused to become a custodian of another dreadful secret. And from that day onwards, I was no friend to those who weep.

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