Tuesday, 10 October 2017

SMOKE SCREENS AND FIRE


Have you ever had a false rumor spread about you? I have. Twice that really hurt me. And it wasn’t good.

The very first time was when I was in Junior Secondary School (JSS) 3.


One of my friends came to me and said we needed to talk. I was surprised at his demeanor; something was obviously wrong. My head went everywhere. Did something happen to him? Was he in trouble? And then I imagined…did he want to ask me out? I knew that would ruin our friendship so I hoped it was not the case.

So after school, we went into an empty class and sat to talk.

‘Ramat, I am disappointed at you.’ he started.

I was shocked. This was ABOUT ME? I HAD DONE SOMETHING?

I laughed; skittish. He didn’t respond with his usual laughter. For someone who was so fun-filled and bubbly, his entire presence was such a picture of disappointed, that I was scared. What had I done?
I asked, trying my best to keep my hands from shaking and my heart from exploding in my chest.

‘How could you? Like what were you thinking?!’

At this point, I was getting angry. I was in suspense already and I felt that he was being melodramatic. I said as much.

He decided to cut to the chase.

‘If you wanted to have sex, you could have had sex with ONE GUY. What the hell was wrong with you that you slept with SEVEN guys? Like I am so disappointed with you.’

I swear, my mouth was hanging so wide, you could have seen my trachea. And no, this isn’t an exaggeration.

When I got myself together, I ask what informed that thought. He said boys talk and the boys I had been with the week before had talked. Again, I asked for more information.

‘Were you at B’s bunk last week?’ to which I nodded in the affirmative. ‘Was there alcohol there?’ Again, I nodded, yes. ‘What happened after you all got drunk?’

First of all, I have NEVER drunk alcohol in my life. That statement still rings true till today; more than fourteen years after the allegation was made.  

I looked at him…and knew I had to describe everything that happened; in detail. So I did.

A couple of us had snuck out of school. Three girls (including me) and four guys. They weren’t my regular crew but they knew I loved to have fun so they pitched a fence-jumping misdemeanor. Yes, I was that girl! Anyways, we went B’s bunk; a bunk being what we called a house owned by a student that was supposed to be in the school hostel. When we got there, it was a party! I was excited, more about the thrill of being away from school than the people I was with. Again, they weren’t my crew. Almost as soon as I thought of it, two of my ‘friends’ walked in and I felt like, ‘now that is what I am talking about’!

We all laughed and talked about absolute nothing. Typical teenagers. Nothing untoward…until the last guy – whom I would say was my only true friend in that room - came in with a bottle of vodka or gin. I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was everyone was uber excited. So typically, I was too. I was finally going to drink some alcohol!

As the bottle was passed around, I eagerly awaited my turn. I must confess, I was scared. What would I do if I got drunk? Would I be able to get home? Would my father kill me? And even worse, would my mother?! As these thoughts passed through my head, the bottle finally got to me. Soon as I stretched my hand to collect it, my friend – I will call him M – snatched the bottle. I went, ‘Hey! It is my turn.’ I tried to reach for it but he kept me at arm’s length. We struggled a bit and he dragged me outside.

‘Ramat, I no think say you get head for alcohol. Even if you get, I no go let you drink. The rest of us no get head for book. You get. We fit use drink spoil our head. If you do am, you fit no get sense again for book. So I no go let you drink.’

I was livid. I threw some choice words and we got into it a bit. In spite of my insistence, he refused to let me take a swig from the bottle. By this point, the rest of the gang were bored with our argument and one of the guys did them a favor by collecting the bottle and returning to the party.

Mad at what I perceived was an epic embarrassment, I turned and left, swearing not to speak to any of them anymore.

Fast forward to my conversation with my friend. Until that moment, I didn’t know the party went south; or was said to have gone south. So you could imagine my indignation; righteous that it was. Till today, I don’t even know if the group actually had an orgy or if it was a couple of boisterous boys who spread the rumor. What I do know is that most of them transferred schools for their Senior Secondary education and there was no one to ask who set fire to the rain.

Despite everything I said, I don’t know if my friend believed my version of the story or not. He acted weird for a few days and I acted ashamed for more. I couldn’t bear to think that EVERYONE saw me as that girl who slept with SEVEN guys!

Was there probable cause for the rumor? Yes. I had snuck out of school; I was at the apartment; there was alcohol and underage drinking; and supposedly, a lot of underage orgy. Why in God’s good earth should anyone believe that I wasn’t a part of it all?

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to die. I wanted to change schools so bad. But what was I going to tell my father was the reason I wanted to change schools? And knowing my father, was there even any point asking? So I stayed in the school, ashamed, and imagining that every single look that came my way was filled with judgement for something I didn’t do. I hid it well with a merry-go-lucky attitude. Whilst everyone thought I was such a fun, bubbly person, I spent most of the first year of my Senior Secondary School smarting from the allegation. I never showed it, but if there was any time in my life that I was completely broken, it was at that point.

I started out wanting to share two experiences that broke me but having written this one, I don’t know if I want to go into the second; because it is much worse than this. Maybe another time.

So let me share an experience from the vantage point of one hearing a rumor.

A while back, I met this lovely girl with who was a breath of fresh air. She was in love with this guy and was very protective of him. They weren’t dating or anything but they spent a lot of time together. One day, I heard she was sick. I asked what was wrong from her closest friends. They all said she had stomach upsets.

I didn’t think too much about it until I overheard some people talking about her health. They kept laughing and I wondered why her stay in the hospital was funny to these people. I asked, wanting to know what the joke was. My approach may have turned them off because they clammed up. At this point, I wanted to know; NEEDED to know. Why the hell was a person’s stay in the hospital a thing to joke about?!

Later, I asked someone who was brought in on the joke to tell me what it was. The rumor was that, the girl had slept with the guy and the sex was ‘so good’ that she needed to be admitted to the hospital. The details got more lurid. She had supposedly fainted from how big the guy was and the ‘quality’ of his sex making. I was shocked! How could that be possible?!

I kept asking if they had sex or if she was raped. The story remained the same; she had been having sex. Again, I was shocked! When, after a third day, she was still sick, I went to see her. At the hospital, I discovered that she had the worst case of Dysmenorrhea. That every month, she needed to be admitted to the hospital because of the level of pain she went through.

And while she was going through her monthly hell, a rumor had gone about this wild sex that made her faint; enough to be rushed to the hospital.

So here is what actually happened.

Her pain started in the middle of the night, and knowing only one person who had a car, she called the guy she was in love with. He came to get her. When he got there, she was doubled over and writhing in pain. When she was rushed to the hospital, she had lost consciousness and guy was visibly panicked. The hospital revived and stabilized her. At the time I got to see her, she had ANOTHER episode; as the last dosage of pain killers wore off.

Again, was there probable cause for the rumor about her? Yes! She had been sick late at night; the guy had been the one to pick her up; when they got to the hospital, she had been unconscious. Who was to say she hadn’t been at his house, having a night a wild, wild sex when he got too much for her and she lost consciousness? 

Good thing is, I don’t think she ever heard that rumor. I am sure it would have crushed her spirit and her resolve.

I have so many more stories to share along this central theme. But I will stop at these two.

The question then is, are all rumors true? I do not need to tell you that the answer is no. Some may say ‘yes’ and then back it up with the clichéd and overly flogged ‘there is no smoke without fire’. It is unfortunate that we still have to have this argument in this day.

There can be smoke without fire. There has been smoke without fire. There will be smoke without fire. I cannot even say this enough.

From the stories I shared, you can see that the rumors were nothing but smoke screens, designed to create an illusion of roaring fire. Yes, the smoke choked enough to assume it had to be followed by a raging fire but if people had just held their breath long enough, they would have realized that it was just that; smoke screens.

But people do not want to look deeper. Shallow is the new cool! Any opportunity to watch someone decimated in the arena proves to always be too juicy to ignore. So we pitch in, using our tongues as sharp knives and absolving ourselves of any guilt by saying, ‘na wetin I hear oh.’

I have always been one to say, if a rumor about me is true, I will most likely be the one talking about it. I will own up to it, accept where I did wrong and move on with my life. If it is something bad that I have done, I will still own up to it and accept that I did wrong. When I haven’t done something that is peddled about me, it feel so much worse. This is because no matter what I do, there are people who would only see me from that perspective.

In many other climes, people who have had to deal with false rumors have committed suicides. In countries like the United States of America, suicides are the third leading causes of death among young people, with 4400 deaths recorded yearly – Bullying Statistics. The series, Thirteen Reasons Why, shows exactly how damaging false rumors can be on a person’s esteem, worth and will to live. While many black people will not go down that route, they become recluses or live sub-par lives; depending on the temerity of the rumor spread. It is all fun and games until a person is completely broken as a result of your cruelty.

So when next you want to share something you heard about someone, think about it a little. Is it true? Are there facts to back it all up? Then think again. Is there a possibility that it isn’t true? What other explanation could there be for what you are hearing? Is it worth it to ruin a person’s reputation for four seconds of tea? And lastly, think. If I was the one something is being spread about, would I want someone to give me the benefit of doubt?

That there is where you separate smoke screens and fire.

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