BY THE TIME, SARA WAS 15-YEARS-OLD she was nearing her maximum height. Although she was a year older than me, we both were almost at our maximum height of five foot six, which commanded more teasing from our schoolmates. We’d learnt that anything that made us stick out physically wasn’t a good thing. Being taller than most of the boys wasn’t a celebrated feature, and many of our classmates adamantly reminded us of that fact. Sara didn’t seem to let the teasing get to her. She couldn’t grasp the fact that we would never be popular because she always believed there was a chance to climb the social ladder. Sara decided to push it to the limit when she got tired of being flat-chested. She stole her sister’s bra and wore it stuffed with rolled up tube socks to school. Regardless of our friendship, I often wondered what possessed her to do these things. No matter how silly we may have seemed as teenagers, there was no way that we believed she grew breasts overnight. This fact was quickly pointed out at school the following day when everyone responded by laughing at her or by crushing up wads of tissue paper and throwing it at her. Even at that age, I didn’t consider myself to be a risk taker, and before I did anything, I carefully examined the consequences of my actions. Sara was a logical person, but she never took insults or attacks to her pride personal. Eventually, I had to commend her persistence because she kept wearing the bra for an entire year despite the teasing. Ultimately everyone stopped talking about it, and it became the norm. She continued this routine, and by the end of the year, everyone was convinced that she wasn’t flat-chested. This was how things worked in Sara’s world; she did things regardless of what people thought and was persistent with her intent. At the time she did this, I assumed she wanted attention from her peers. While this was part of her need, she absolutely craved attract from the opposite sex more.
Once I started going to high school with her, I uncovered more about her. Another part of her personality that everyone preyed on was her willingness to please. Sara was often taken advantage of by her peers and adults. The same people who socially ostracized her took her kindness for a weakness. Taking classes with her in the seventh grade, I began to see her in a different light. I witnessed her bravery in the face of bullies, her kind heart, and how intelligent she was, but I was well aware that while she went out of her way to show kindness to others, it was seldom returned. One minute someone was calling her ugly moon face, then in the next breath they were asking her for money, and she gave with little reluctance. This was one of the greatest difference between Kathy and me. People who openly ridiculed me, I avoided and offered no lifeline no matter how much they begged. Classmates did this to her over and over and even asked her to perform like a court jester. Sara loved to sing, but she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. As terrible as she was, ever so often other students would ask her to perform a song or dance for their amusement. I often warned her about this, but she did it anyway only to be laughed at her. Her sister Jenny exhibited the same behavior. Jenny was known for playing the saxophone and looked for any opportunity to play it. I recall one incident when she performed a solo for the church Christmas program. Just like her sister, Jenny wasn’t the best performer; as the audience couldn’t decipher what she was playing. The children and even the adults took that moment to laugh and publicly humiliate Jenny. I often wondered why they participated in social activities. Both sisters gave readily to everyone knowing that it would never be reciprocated, and from an onlooker’s point of view, it was very disheartening to witness. I concluded that it was their way of gaining acceptance or seeking positive acknowledgment from their peers. Regardless of what they did to make people like them or recognize their kindness, they were always treated poorly; and even adults with average levels of intelligence participated in publicly mocking the sisters.
OUTSIDE THE TEASING AT SCHOOL, SARA ALSO FACED THE VILLAGERS who had a lengthy history with her family. When we became close friends, my mother warned me to keep my distance and asked me never to bring her inside her house. Demands like this weren’t uncommon, as she often requested that we didn’t bring other children to her home. My mother had a very backward approach to hospitality, especially when it came to the children in the village. She created an air of mistruth, forced upon us for various reasons. When Sara visited, we were often reduced to staying in the yard or on the verandah. Although my mother took pity on her, she constantly referred to her as the dirty girl. Sara didn’t have the luxury of having a washing machine, so her clothes weren’t always the cleanest. Many things were lacking in her life because her mother wasn’t well enough to help her. It was unfortunate that Sara was cast aside by the villages, but many of the reasons why she was teased were valid. Sara often smelled because she didn’t wear deodorant, her clothes were often dirty, her hair was frequently disheveled, and she didn’t brush her teeth every day. Sara represented a shabbiness that was borderline repulsive. To counteract my mother and the villager’s redundant prejudice, while my mom was at work I invited Sara over and often did her laundry. In those days she would come over to do her laundry and help me with my chores, then we would go to the beach during the drying cycle. I knew I couldn’t change the way my mother or the villagers thought of her, but she was my friend, so any opportunity I had to help her in this way I did it. I stole my mother’s excess personal hygiene products and other useful items and gave it to her. While my mom was at work, we had fun by dressed up in her expensive party dresses, using her makeup, accessories, and perfume. We created lasting memories with each other during those days, but I had to keep it a secret. If my mother knew the details of her time spent with me, I would have faced punishment. While I was taking a risk inviting Sara inside, it felt like I was revolting against my mother by getting back at her bourgeoisie self-worth. Many villagers believed that the Galloway family were a backward clan and considered them an oddity among us. Sammy left all the parenting up to his son David, who eventually moved to another island after graduating high school, leaving Jenny and Sara behind. Both sisters cooked, held part-time jobs in their teenage years, cleaned, and did all the household chores. Their father worked in construction, fished, owned livestock, and had three low-end rental homes. He was also known as a notorious rum drinker, sea turtle poacher, and manipulator. Most villagers didn’t care for him based on the many negative run-ins they had with him. Although I knew my mother and grandfather wanted me to limit my time with Sara, I didn’t understand why they did this until I was in the ninth grade. There were many things about the family that was whispered among adults that I wasn’t privy to. The gossip about the Galloway family ranged from trivial to scandalous, but I’d managed to avoid hearing any of these stories until I was in high school.
ALTHOUGH SARA AND I WERE CLOSE FRIENDS, by the tenth grade we started drifting in different directions. We were always in the top classes battling for first or second place, but by the ninth grade, everything changed. I wasn’t quite sure what the problem was, but I saw it in many of my classmates back then. When it started happening to Sara, I assumed there was nothing wrong, but when Sara’s attendance record declined and she became religiously tardy I knew something was wrong. She stopped caring, and evidence of this was seen in her poorly prepared homework, test scores, and appearance. At this point, we were both in separate worlds. She had a job on the weekends and was spending more time in the city. She even changed the way she dressed and became more fashionable. With her extra money, she stopped wearing her sister’s hand-me-downs. The changes I noted in her no one else seemed to observe or even care about. Everyone still saw her as a pitiful person and continued their systematic bullying whenever the chance arose. The real change for me started when rumors about her family sneaked into the side conversations at every household in the village. First, it started out with village kids saying that her father touched her and Jenny inappropriately. Even this was made light of, as they incorporated it into their bullying. Then rumors would encompass other things such as prostitution and the torture of her mother. I didn’t believe any of the rumors because there was a history of the villagers over embellishing stories about various community members. I never asked Sara about any of this because I felt like it was inappropriate to ask. I knew what it was like to be gossiped about, so it wasn’t a burden I cared to share.
After a long time apart, and only seeing each other in passing our relationship grew distant, but we always reunited as friends whenever we had the chance. One day after a long break apart, I had the opportunity to walk around the school with her engaging in inconsequential chatter on lunch break. I told that I noticed that her behavior seemed a bit unusual just to see what she would say. It wasn’t noticeable for people who didn’t spend time with her, but for me, I discerned frivolity in her thoughts and behavior. During the lunch break, we spoke about movies we saw and romance novels we read. Then she started talking about a guy by the name of Conner. She showed clear signs of being infatuated with him, so I listened to her quietly. I found it strange that she of all people found a boy who was interested in her. I didn’t want to seem crude, but I could never honestly believe that a guy was interested in her or me at that age unless there were ulterior motives. I played along with her new bubbliness, and I hoped that she knew what she was doing. During our conversation, she asked me if I started menstruating. I told her no, and that I was happy to be almost sixteen and never had a period. Sara started her period long before me, and it was thanks to her I learned all the horrible things to come. I recall that afternoon our conversation jumped from one topic to the next, and then she told me that she was pregnant. She seemed freakishly happy while I was in utter shock. I didn’t believe her although she poked her distended belly out to indicate that her tummy was growing. Something about the way she was talking and behaving didn’t seem real to me. It looked as if an alien took over her brain and was controlling her thoughts and body. At this point in my life, I knew no one who was sexually active or who would openly say they had sex. She didn’t seem like the girl I met more than four years earlier, so besides the shock, I was disappointed. Her disposition seemed somewhat believable, but what was unbelievable was the manner in which she handed me this information. I digested what she told me and left it there. I never told anyone what she told me for fear that it was true. Then I thought if my mother found out, she would tyrannically insist that I stop being friends with Sara. After that, we never talked about it again. I was left to ponder her predicament, while she disappeared for two weeks. When she resurfaced, she never mentioned what she told me and proceeded to have a normal life.
To be continued….