By – Peace Popoola
“School’s over, flat face!”
Jack the tallest boy in class jeered at him and kicked his chair. Others giggled from behind their desks. It was closing time, Michael blinked and packed his books as fast as he could. Although he’s been treated this way for as long as he could remember, he just couldn’t get used to it. He ambled home clutching his books to his chest and kicking the west-african earth into the air with his short limbs. Kids scampered away from his path, women re-tied their wrappers and spat while muttering “Ogbanje” under their breaths.
The atmosphere at home was gloomy. Oga Tisa- The headmaster was talking in low tones with Michael’s mother, Alice in the living room. They both gave him a look he recognized. Of course they were talking about him. Michael walked past, muttering what sounded like “Good afternoon sire”. The headmaster nodded and Michael went into his room…
They are hidden like objects of shame. Darts of insults are thrown at them daily. Sharp arrows of taunts shot at them consistently. Their potentials, concealed and under-utilized. They are neglected and underprivileged. Especially in Africa. Even the few parents who try to give them exposure are ridiculed and laughed to scorn. They live everyday of their lives with a condition that affects them mentally, physically and psychology. The condition- Down syndrome (DS).
This condition which occurs when an individual has an extra copy of chromosome 21 is not linked to race, nationality, religion and social or economic status. ANYONE can be affected. A few common traits are low muscle tone, flat face, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes and a deep crease across the center of the palm. DS victims experience developmental delays and impairments. They also have health complications beyond the usual childhood illnesses. Nevertheless, they possess great potential, talents and gifts and should be given opportunities to develop. People with DS have in the past risen to great heights- graduated from college, worked in government offices, grown to be innovators etc. All they need is a voice- You and I- to speak for them and a chance to live a normal life. They are not disabled, they are “specially-abled”.
The headmaster had come to break the news that Michael could no longer continue at the school. He advised that he should be sent to a school of “slow-learners” Alice- Michael’s mum sat and wept bitterly. She was absolutely at a loss for what to do. Her spirit had been wearied by the comments from the villagers. “Stop wasting your money on this retard” they advised. Someone had even said Michael was a curse from the gods for their wrongdoings “Eradicate this abomination from your history”, they yakked. Insensitive words came from all directions, even from her family members. The door creaked open and her husband walked in. She reiterated the Headmasters’ words and lamented endlessly. He sighed deeply and seemingly fixed his gaze upon a bird that just perched on the windowsill. But he saw nothing.
Michael closed the door to his room. He had heard enough. He laid on his raffia mat and stared at his charcoal drawings on the wall for a while. Eventually, it rolled from his eyes to the pillow- a tear.