The misfit

Academic learning came easily to Moses Mugadziwa. His assignments invariably earned him straight ‘A’s and he effortlessly averaged well above 90% in tests and exams.

Pat Hulley
Pat Hulley

His years as a boarder at the Gokomere Mission Primary School should have been happy ones, but instead, they were filled with fear and shame. From his very first day at the school, Moses became the target of relentless and brutal bullying by the Playboy Gang.

Born with Albinism, his small ghostly face obscured by thick dark glasses, it was inevitable he would be singled out as a victim. The classic misfit in an environment where conformity is mandatory and sameness rules.

His classmates, unwilling to fall foul of the Playboy Gang themselves, unanimously shunned the alien in their midst. Thin, waif-like and painfully self-conscious, he had no hope of defending himself against the ridicule and torture meted out to him by the Takawire brothers – Pambere (Playboy), Solomon (Starsksy) and Tendai (Topgun). Moses lived in a pit of apprehension, his days fraught with anxiety and dread.

Lived as a shadow

Lonely and demoralised, deep despair twice drove Moses to attempt suicide. When he was in grade 6, Sister Benedictus found him standing on a urine soaked bunk bed with a rope looped around his neck, the other end of which he had fastened to the bed rail. Instead of receiving care and counselling, he was taken to task for his intent to commit a mortal sin.

Like a hunted animal, the hapless boy lived as a shadow, moving silently along the dimly-lit corridors, crouching in corners, ducking down at the back of his classroom and hiding in lockers and cupboards in desperate attempts to evade his persecutors. Yet all too frequently, the Playboy Gang would sniff him out and the cruel insults and punishments would have to be endured.

The modus operandi of the bullies never varied. Playboy always punched and thumped, delighting in inflicting pain. Starsksy would spit all over him and Topgun taunted him mercilessly, wounding with sadistic words. Then there was the meanness and spite. The bullies would hide his glasses, or break them, steal his personal possessions, mess up his school books, tear his clothes. Moses was living in hell. He had no-one to turn to knowing full well that reporting his plight to his teachers would only result in unspeakable reprisals from his tormentors.

Broken-spirited and wretched, he once again sought to end his misery. This time he swallowed the contents of a small, half empty bottle of insecticide he found whilst hiding in a garden shed. The liquid, being pyrethrin-based, merely triggered an unpleasant bout of nausea. The nuns, unaware of the cause of his sudden sickness, were sympathetic and treated him with genuine concern. Starved of kindness for so long, Moses would gladly have repeated the deed had he been able to find more pesticide.

Some trickery

The respite afforded by the school holidays was all too short. Filled with familiar feelings of trepidation, Moses began his final year at Gokomere. The Takawire brothers were waiting in the dormitory when he arrived. They ushered him to a quiet spot behind the hostel and sat him down next to them. Moses stared numbly at the ground, his heart thumping as he waited for the ordeal to begin. But the Playboys assured him they intended no harm. On the contrary, they promised him friendship and protection if he would support their proposition. Astonished, yet still fearful, and suspecting some sort of trickery, Moses listened warily to what the brothers had to say.

The problem, they explained, was the end of year Grade 7 Entrance to High School Exam. Only those students who passed the examination would secure placement in the High School or, indeed, in any of the country’s few secondary education institutions. Re-writes were not permitted, which meant that students who failed would be excluded permanently from any further formal education.

The Takawire brothers’ academic records indicated none of them had any hope of passing the exam unless Moses would agree to help them. Moses knew he had no choice but to consent to co-operate with his former oppressors.

The scheme worked

To the Playboys’ credit, they made good their promises to their former victim. In befriending and protecting Moses, they ensured that his peer group fully accepted him and included him in all of their pursuits. He was welcomed into all of the ‘in’ crowd’s social and sporting activities and he even developed one or two close friendships. Suddenly, his world had opened up. He belonged. School became a positive and enriching experience for Moses and he revelled in it.

The scheme Moses devised for the half-year mock exam worked perfectly. The Playboys made sure they were seated alongside their fellow conspirator. All of the questions were multiple-choice and Moses would tap with one finger on his forehead if the answer was (a) two fingers for (b), three fingers for (c) and four for (d).

The Playboys were primed to throw in a convincing number of incorrect answers to different questions to avoid arousing suspicion. When the results were announced, the Takawire brothers and Moses Mugadziwa had all scored well above average pass marks.

Best mates forever

But a problem arose when the end of year final exam was set to start. The students were seated alphabetically starting with names beginning with A at the front, working to the end of the alphabet at the back. This meant surnames starting with M would be way in front of those starting with T.

Thinking quickly, Moses complained that the light where he was sitting was inadequate and he managed to have his seat changed so he was alongside the Playboys in row T. This time, there was no need for red-herring incorrect answers as the papers from all schools were distributed randomly to independent marking teams in a central office.

The remaining two weeks of term with all the usual year-end jollifications passed swiftly. On the last day, the Playboy Gang members hoisted a glowing Moses onto their shoulders, declaring the four of them to be best mates forever.

In the second week of the holidays, the eagerly awaited results were published in a national newspaper. Predictably, Moses had passed every subject with distinction. Glancing through the list, he smiled, with no small hint of glee, as he read how the Playboy brothers had fared. All three of them had failed every single subject……

Well – it hadn’t been hard for him to tap out all the wrong answers on his forehead for them to copy, had it?

About the Author

Pat Hulley was born in Scotland and grew up in Zimbabwe. She trained at the Bulawayo Teachers’ College before embarking on a career in Special Education. She holds a diploma in Educational Special Needs Teaching and a B. Ed degree from U Z. For several years, she taught at the Zimcare Centre in Bulawayo and at St. Catherine’s school in Harare, where she became headmistress.

She was appointed Senior Education Officer for Zimcare Trust shortly before Independence and was a prime force in persuading government to include Zimcare Centres in the Department of Education rather than Social Welfare. She was a part-time lecturer in Special Education at U Z for 10 years. After leaving Zimcare Pat started her own full time tuition group and for 14 years taught children who had been excluded from mainstream schooling because of specific learning disabilities, ensuring that after intensive tuition they were able to return to normal school and successfully complete their education.

She and her husband Bruce have four children and 11 grandchildren. Pat has written a number of children’s plays and has published some of her poetry and a book of short stories.

Post published in: Arts

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