Was the ‘Forbidden Fruit’ accusation justified?
Have the old scars in your life completely healed? Still healing, or far from healing? Do you see yourself getting worked up when the thought of a particular incident rears its obnoxious head?
The truth is, unless you take action, there will always be a negative or positive reaction. Many times, it is therapeutic to delve into the archives of your life and excavate one or more torturous experiences for the purpose of re-examination and permanent closure. This is why, after more than 34 years, I am riding back to my high school days to open an incredible can of stinky worms.
In Form 4 (high school), I was the treasurer of my school’s Literary and Debating Society. Our annual party was held on a Saturday, and it was a huge success. I was scheduled to meet with the president, vice president, and secretary of the Literary and Debating Society the following Sunday to go over finances and other matters. It was supposed to be a brief meeting. A popular student, G. E., was the president. A.A. was most likely the vice president, or the third guy, whose name and face I cannot recall. They were all senior male students.
The following Sunday at about 8pm, I climbed the staircase to their Upper Six classroom. I didn’t know I was climbing up to a life-changing event. There were students reading in the classroom, and one particular guy sat behind the teacher’s table with his eyes and ears supposedly buried in his books. In the corner of the classroom, a few feet from the teacher’s desk, was a small storage room called a cubicle. It existed in certain classrooms in the school. This particular one was transformed into a reading oasis with two desks and chairs. It was here that one of the officials ushered me for our meeting so we wouldn’t distract those who were reading. I sat on a chair by the door. The guys sat behind the desks. Our meeting was over in less than 20 minutes. I showed them the financial log, we discussed a thing or two, and it was time for me to go back to my hostel before lights out. I walked out of the cubicle into the classroom and caught the sneaky eyes of that same student behind the teacher’s desk. I dismissed his gaze and went my way.
Five days later, on a beautiful Friday morning, I was greeted by warnings from some students about my name gracing a very damaging headline on the Press Club notice board. (Back then, Press Club was a group of faceless students who wrote about disorderly students. They backed their tales with despicable caricatures and stories of their subject. Sometimes, they used their cowardly pens to fabricate and settle personal vendettas against other students. They didn’t report to a higher authority, hence the occasional abuse of their freedom of written expression.)
I was wondering what they were talking about until I stood face to face with the notice board and saw in bold letters: “Did Esohe Oyairo [my maiden name] taste the Forbidden Fruit? Check for full details on Monday morning.” I was frozen in shock. What? How? Who? Why? Is this a bad dream? What is going on? “Forbidden Fruit?” These questions kept echoing in my mind. I was dizzy with confusion. Unrestrained tears began flowing. I knew my life in school would never be the same again. Throughout that weekend, I begged the ground to open and swallow me. It declined. At the same time, I kept looking for anyone who knew at least one of the faceless members of the Press Club. My efforts proved futile.
On Monday morning, the article came out as promised. It was dripping with gory details accompanied by vulgar cartoons that still provoke shivers today. My good name was dipped and stained with cruel lies written by a faceless monster. I wondered why. Who did this to me? Who?
The article detailed how G.E., A.A., the other guy, and I were engaged in consensual intercourse in the cubicle. All of them were taking turns with me, and the writer could hear me saying, “I am tired, I am tired,” but G.E. kept saying, “Just one more round, just one more round.” The writer talked of how, when they were done with me, I dressed up like nothing had happened and walked out of the classroom like a peacock.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Can you imagine what I was going through, considering how painfully shy I was back then? The principal, Mr. Udofia, called me to his office and told me I was going to be expelled from school if the article was true. I remember the terror in my eyes as I told him with tears rushing from my eye sockets: “Sir, I have never been with a boy before, and I am ready to go to any hospital to take a virginity test.” I was fighting for my life. He said he had already talked to the boys in question, and they disputed the article. He promised to ask the Press Club to investigate and take it down. The sad thing is, though he never called me back to his office, he did not order them to take the story down.
In fact, it remained on the notice board for more than a week. I wondered then and still wonder what was fueling this shenanigan. Out of pity, two members of the Press Club broke their code of silence and revealed some of their confidential discussions as well as the brain behind the article.
Remember the guy seated behind the teacher’s desk in the Upper Six classroom pretending to be buried in his books? Yes, it was him–Justice Jonusa. A tall, skinny, dark guy with a funny haircut, disturbing cough, and a very weird aura. I still cannot fathom why Justice slapped me with such injustice by inventing something out of nothing.
Indicted for AN illegal indulgence that never Occured
My reputation was shredded to pieces. Some junior students and classmates whispered “Forbidden Fruit” to me. Life in school became unbearable. I withdrew into a very traumatic shell, and at the same time became a shell of my old self. My academic performance was marred as well. It seemed like no one cared. The principal failed me! Press Club members failed me! The system failed me! I couldn’t even tell my parents what was going on. Where would I start? Second, I was 261 miles away in boarding school.
This stigma followed me till I left for university a year later. I was too happy to start a new life free from false accusations. In my second year, I went back to my high school for an event. Guess what? Someone in the boys’ hostel shouted at the top of his voice: “Forbidden fruit.” I walked on like I didn’t hear him, but my heart skipped several beats, and showers of shame drenched me.
I think it was during second semester in my second year in the university that I began taking a shortcut after classes through the teaching hospital. From the window facing the narrow path, I could see patients on admission in a particular ward in the hospital. I always looked at the patients any time I walked by. Most of them seemed lost in space. One day, my eye caught the eye of a new patient whose bed was directly beside the window. I stopped in disbelief. My heart started racing. Our eyes locked briefly, and then I ran as fast as I could. Guess who it was? Justice Jonusa! I didn’t know it then, but that ward was called B1. It was for psychiatric patients. Jonusa was mentally ill.
The next day I looked at him properly. He was lying down on the bed staring into space. His eyes were blank. He was in another realm. Frankly speaking, I had zero compassion for him. How could I not? I was angry, very angry! The arrows his malicious act lodged in my heart resurrected and started pricking me ruthlessly. If I had the courage, I would have flung open the door of my mouth and rained many “forbidden” words on him. Luckily, I settled for a stare that I hoped spoke volumes.
I kept seeing Jonusa most times I took the shortcut. Our eyes locked on some occasions followed by prickly silence till I walked past. One day, I noticed his bed was empty. The next three times, it was still empty. I wondered if he had recovered or been transferred. It was later I learned the sad truth: Jonusa was dead.
As strange as this sounds, my heart was heavy with sympathy this time. The disdain melted almost immediately. I realized Jonusa was a victim like me. All the while his pen declared Armageddon on me, he was wrestling a mental monster in his personal life. No one recognized it. Like me, the principal failed him. The Press Club failed him. The system failed him big-time.
It is only recently that I began to marvel at this story. Who would have thought I’d end up in the same university with Jonusa? Why is it that when I decided to take a shortcut, I noticed him in the psychiatric ward? What of the silent encounters? Did he want to say something to me? Should I have at least extended an olive branch with a smile? How come I saw his last days? How and why? Only God knows. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
I am grateful to God that I am healed of this bad experience. Who knows, maybe Jonusa was hearing voices and simply hallucinating back then in high school. Whatever the case, I thank God it is over and life continues. May all those suffering from mental illness get the help and healing needed, in Jesus’ name.
I urge those nursing one hurt or the other to look at their pain from another angle. What if the perpetrator has unimaginable issues going on? After all, hurt people hurt others. Right? As painful as it sounds, forgiveness is the best option. It frees one from the cell of bitterness, anger and hatred. It is not easy. Once a decision is taken and implemented, the relief is golden. I pray by God’s grace we find it in our hearts to truly forgive those that caused us pain.
May Oyairo is the Publisher/Founder of MannaEXPRESS.