I am a child. My name is Aritesioma, but I prefer to be called Arit. Not that anyone has ever asked me. But even if someone did, I would not be able to tell them. It because of the kind of child I am. You see, there are two kinds of the children: number one, the ones everybody runs away from, and number two, the ones everybody likes. When I grow up, I would like to be number two. By that time, people will like me—and maybe my real mummy will come for me.
“It is time to recite two little black birds,” my teacher says.
I smile my really big smile. I do not smile my big smile all the time, because when I do, I get to drool more than usual. But this smile is reserved for special occasions like now.
“Two little black birds sitting on the wall, one named Peter, one named Paul.”
If I was a number two child, I would be able to recite the poem along with the class. I cannot do this yet, so I settle for the next best thing—I watch Kayode. He is the smartest boy in my class, and the most handsome too. I know that Peter and Paul are boys, but I cannot help but wish that Kayode was Paul and I was Peter so we could fly away together.
Kayode is almost like a number two. Except that there are so many people that look like him. I once heard our teacher say that the first child to be recognized with that kind of condition was Down. I am glad Kayode was not the first; what wife would want to be stuck with a surname like Down?
So, I have my dreams all listed out in my head: Become a number two child, recite two little black birds by myself, and marry Kayode.
I am awakened from my daydreams when the class finishes the poem. I let go of my big smile. My teacher will not be pleased to see more than the usual amount of spit on my desk. My hands are not really stable, but I try my best to clean my desk before she notices.
“Now, let us sing the welcome song.”
No…not the welcome song, we only rehearse that when we’re expecting visitors. And I do not want us to have any visitors today. Being stared at like you’re some sort of two headed monster could be really annoying. And that’s not even the worst thing that can happen; some visitors would point and laugh, and some could be really mean. I almost burst into laughter when some visitors become genuinely afraid at the sight of me. But I get along with those kinds of people the most…I scare them even more! I cannot talk and my hands are too weak to write, so nobody really knows what I’m capable of. If pulling the hair of a scared number two kid could get me some attention, then why not? My main reason for not liking visitors is because they ignore me. And I would rather be shouted at, stared at, pointed at, than be ignored. But visitors never seem to care; I see the awe on their faces when Kayode sings, and the joy in their eyes when they see
Blind Temi’s artwork. But everyone seems to steer clear of the non-speaking-spittle-brewing-cross-eyed-girl-with unformed hands.
I am still thinking about my dislike for being visited when the visitors arrive. The kids who can walk, run to the window to see the visitors. I can use my legs, but I will save them for a much more meaningful task.
“School bus” somebody screams.
I am not happy at all; our visitors today are number two school children. I go to the back of the class and sit with the wheel chaired kids. Better to be passive and uncaring, than to be friendly and rejected. My classmates go through the motions of singing that stupid welcome song, and the visitors get one on one play time with us.
Just when I am sure no one will talk to me, a girl walks up and smiles sweetly at me.
“Hello, what is your name?” she asks cheerfully.
I cannot believe that she is talking to me, nobody ever really talks to me.
“I’m Rita,” she says and checks my name tag for my name.
“Ar..rites… wow, that’s a really long name. Can I just call you Arit?”
I smile my really big smile. How could she know that I have always wanted to be called that?
“Our names sound alike. Arit, Rita. We are going to be really good friends, I just know it.” She is bouncing with excitement.
She takes my hand and doesn’t even flinch at how awkward it must feel in hers.
“Let’s go and play! I want to know what your favourite game is.”
I cannot believe how amazing my day is going. I have a real number two friend and she wants to play with me.
I signal at her to come with me. She looks around to be sure no one notices as we sneak away. I have the perfect game in mind for us; something about the way we leave unnoticed tells me Rita would be very good at hide and seek.
Rita and I have been having so much fun, I have no idea how much time has passed. It was easy the first time I caught her. This is my room after all, and I know it like the back of my hand. I think she let me win a few times though. She must have noticed my shoes when I hid behind the curtains, but she pretended not to. That’s fine, I don’t mind winning at all. I think she enjoys winning too, because I cannot seem to find her at the moment.
I hope she did not go beyond this room, the matron won’t be happy if she finds a visitor upstairs. I see her hair ribbon close to the door. She must be just behind it. But when I open the door, there is no Rita there. Just smoke, lots of smoke. I walk into the passage, wanting to call out Rita’s name, frustrated that I can’t.
to be continued
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