My heart pounded with the expectation of returning to school after a whole year. I grabbed and held the few notebooks my mother had bought me under my arm, and ran ahead of her by the roadside.
We reached the school building and went to the principal’s office, which was among a long line of classroom entrances along a wide porch with stairs to mount.
My mother knocked on the door. After a moment, she pushed the door open; we both entered the office.
The principal, a tall man with a shaved head, stood up to greet us. He shook hands with my mother and motioned for us to sit in the two chairs in front of the desk. We sat down; my mother began to speak with him.
I tried to grasp what she was saying, my head tilted to one side, like someone straining to hear a conversation barely above a whisper. As my mother spoke, the principal would turn and look at me with raised eyebrows, which made me believed that my mother was speaking about me and that whatever she had said must have left the man surprised. At last, my mother finished. The principal rose to follow us out of the office, and I noticed that he avoided looking at me in that way people who knew me did when they came across me. Many would not speak to me and pass me by as if I did not exist, like the man in Ralph Ellison’s book, Invisible Man.
A hundred pairs of eyes greeted the principal, my mother and I as we entered one of the classrooms and the students rose to greet us in unison. The teacher, who had stooped to write on the blackboard, straightened up. We three – my mother, the principal, and I – went to stand in front of the board.
As the principal spoke, I noticed that the students, like the principal had done before them, looked at me with raised eyebrows, their mouths wide open. One girl in particularly couldn’t take her eyes off me, and after my mother and the principal had left and I had gone to sit next to her, she moved to the end of the bench, like I was a leper.
The teacher wrote something on the blackboard. In an undertone I read it:
“What was the main purpose of the Berlin Conference?”
I waited for awhile, hoping that one of my classmates would come forth with an answer. But nobody did, and I stood up and said:
“The Berlin Conference was a meeting between European powers on how to divide Africa among them for colonization.”
The teacher began to clap, and so the classroom erupted.
As I sat down, I realized instantly that going to school would be the most important time of my life, and I vowed that even though I was deaf, I would use my education to prove that everything is possible.