(photo credit: Olayinka Babalola via

“Excellent results. Quiet and reserved.”
The remarks on Lola’s report sheets were consistent every term. Excelling in her school work was not negotiable, it was the demand from her parents. “I am not raising a Mongol”, her mother would exclaim, pacing the floor of the living room. She was a bit of a sickly kid, but it did not really matter as malaria fever took the fall for every calamity that befell an African child, especially one with the AA genotype. It was as though the burden of her school work, house chores, and looking after her two brothers were telling on the 8 year old reticent child, but the poverty was so tangible, she saw no way out than to persevere and breakthrough in her academics.
“It is just for a while” she would encourage her brothers. “Life won’t be this tough forever. We can pray and God will send help, especially if we faced our studies. That’s just the only way out.” She would join hands with her brothers and they would pray for a meal. Sometimes, go to bed hungry, trusting God for a better tomorrow.

It became increasingly difficult to focus in school with hunger and the incessant blow her dignity received whenever the head teacher reeled out the name of debtors. On some occasions, she got flogged before she was admitted into the classroom but when the school management decided enough was enough, she got evicted from the classroom. She would get sent to the shed beside the gatekeeper where her brothers were often waiting for her till the close of the day. It became embarrassing and demoralizing for them to dress up to face the same humiliation every day, but they held on to a hope deeply anchored in their souls. Having been raised the religious way, they woke up each day, trusting God. On a particular day, her teacher sent for her from under the tree and she ran to class with joy, hoping the management decided to have mercy. She was wrong. A parent had visited the class and the teacher thought it was decent to use Lola as an example of a bright student without parental support. “Sir, look at this child. Even though she’s hardly in class, she’s a bright student. But her parents never come to the school. She does not even have notebooks. She has just two notebooks and no textbook. She’s not been admitted for classes in over a week because she’s a chronic debtor.” The teacher reeled out Lola’s misfortune to the parent in front of the entire class and all she could do was fix her gaze firmly to the floor as tears of embarrassment clouded her sight. “God, please open the ground. I need to be swallowed up”. The ground did not open up. The parent did not pay her fees or buy her books. Lola returned to the shed in shame, where her noble classmates brought her lunch she did not deserve as a debtor. Her parents did not pay the outstanding fees. She was allowed to write the term exams, but she did not return to school. Their family friend would eventually bring her report card home and the award she got in absentia at the prize-giving ceremony. She came third in class. She would later drop out of school.

Was God real? Did he even hear them? Perhaps, he did.

Lola’s dad came home one night and her mother erupted in joy. He got a great job. The kids were happy. Each one of them went to bed singing and thanking God. He heard them.

The blessing became quite sour sooner than they expected. Lola’s dad shifted his attention outside the family. Their poverty deepened. The kids would starve because he needed to send money to his family. On many occasions, she would hear her parents get into a fierce fight and it was either money problems or infidelity. Lola began to learn about her half-siblings. They became so poor, but her mind was not. The conflict drove her crazy. She became more “quiet and reserved”. As God would smile on them again, they did not drop out of school forever. The parents, valuing education, enrolled them in a community school, promising them it was just for a term. It was a school whose uniform Lola and her siblings were ashamed to be seen in.

The transition negatively impacted her. She did not only become withdrawn, she literally hibernated till she graduated from the school. It was not for a term.

Lola’s father sternly warned her that she had just one shot at passing her entrance exams for secondary school. She also had the privilege of just one school. It was a public school, however, highly competitive because it was the best in town. Lola would hide and lower her gaze on the day of the exam to avoid running into her classmates from her former school. No student in her school chose the best school in town because they were confident it was for a certain class of students. She was judged for aiming at the impossible. The results were released and Lola passed the general exams. There was nothing to celebrate. She had to pass the second round of the school-specific exam for her to gain admission into that particular secondary school. Lola prayed day and night for success, knowing she had just one life line. On the day results were released, Lola approached the board with fear and trembling as she saw kids sobbing into the embrace of their parents. They did not pass.

Would she be able to return home if she failed the exam? She ran trembling fingers down the board as she traced the alphabetical order for her name.

She passed.

(to be continued….)

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