I wasn’t always this confident in my early teen years. I, like other teenagers, felt the need to fit in. To be liked and popular. To have everyone accept you for who you are. To not have to disguise as someone you’re not, just to fit in. I had to change schools because my mother felt I was influenced to do things I didn’t really want to do. She was right. She gave me the opportunity to start afresh and be my true self in another school.
So, I was Timilehin Olajuwon. The new kid who transferred from the school on Lawanson Avenue. I heard what they all said when I settled in my new desk that fateful Monday in September 2013: “See how he looks,” “Why is he so short?”, “We have too many fat people in this class already.” I heard all these, but I remembered what my mother and father had told me the night before. It was still very fresh in my memory the way he tapped the bed, telling me to sit on it, the way she held my hand and said, “You’re so unique, my boy. I want you to know that you don’t have to change for anybody and your true friends would like you for you.” I would later realise that they were right all along.
The first few weeks of school were quite uninteresting. I only talked to my seat partner, listened to my teachers and avoided being in trouble. Then, one fateful Friday during clubs and activities, it was pouring hard with rain so we all stayed indoors and everyone was singing, dancing and drumming and they decided to have a mini-talent show. Different people came out displaying what they could do. No one was actually really serious. It was just for laughs. It was funny seeing them have fun. Then I heard my name.
“Timilehin, come and show us your talent and…”
Her voice was covered by the shouts of my other classmates cheering me on.
I don’t know what made me do it. I could’ve easily run into the rain, further away from them, but I didn’t. I stood up and went to the front of the class, closed my eyes, opened my mouth and sang. The class fell silent and my voice rang clear even to the next class. I opened my eyes and saw that everyone was staring at me. All of them bopping and some of them singing along. When I was done, they all shouted and clapped. Some girl who I didn’t know that much rushed to give me a hug. I was feeling very ecstatic until I heard it. That word. That term that was enough to make me want to change schools because it was all happening again. Apparently, a boy from the other class had come in and heard me sing. I would later find out he was one of the cool kids from Science class. He had said, “faggot.” I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. But it turns out my classmates had my back. All I could hear were insults and boos rained on him. He left and I looked at my classmates and realised what my mother had told me when the term had started. I had found people who were just like me, who liked me for who I was.
My confidence started to grow and I felt very comfortable in school. I became very expressive especially in the Arts. I was in the Drama, Music and Public Speaking Club. I was finally recognised for who I really was. My juniors knew me as the senior who spoke well during the assembly. My classmates knew me as the guy who could sing. My seniors knew me as the drama dude who could portray any Shakespearean character well. Don’t get me wrong. There were still people who thought I was different and didn’t hesitate to show it. But I didn’t mind because I was happy.
Now, to my first heartbreak. Do not be deceived. It wasn’t a romantic relationship that had ended badly. I had a friend, Tomiwa. He was in Science class. We ate together, went home together. He did my Maths homework, while I helped him with English. We were good friends to each other. Then his birthday came up. In our school, we always gave gifts to friends of ours during their birthdays. I had been saving for Tomiwa’s birthday for quite some time. I had been eyeing this Avon set for men. A perfume, body spray, deodorant and body cream all in a big black box. The day before his birthday, I went home without him and rushed to the boutique to pick it up and pay. The next day, I was so excited to gift him this set.
I walked into his class with the box and a note. I wished him a happy birthday and told him that lunch was on him. I left and went for my Maths class. During break, just as I was about to go and eat, Tomiwa came to my class with the box in hand a couple of guys from his class. They started jeering at me for giving a guy such an expensive gift. I looked up at Tomiwa and I knew what was going to happen. He was going to choose them at my detriment. I hoped he would make it easier on me but he didn’t. He told me I was a faggot that liked him and that my gift was a way of asking him out. Tomiwa knew the girl I liked in his class. He had promised to help me with her. I told him I was sorry, then I collected the gift back from him.
Tomiwa later apologized to me a few years later, but I would never forget the first person that had broken my heart.
Written By Tunmise Okegbemi.