Worse than a Heartbreak.

I sat alone in the park, feeling like the grey clouds above me matched the greyness of my soul. The cold wind blew through my hair, mirroring the chill in my heart. I have had this heavy feeling in my heart since the previous week when I got the news that Brenda, my favourite student had passed on and it was as though I had lost a piece of myself. The news made me feel like a part of my world has lost some of its colour with each passing day shrouded in sorrow. The day I got the news of her death was the same day I quit my teaching job.

I remember the first day I walked into her class as the new English teacher. What made her particularly noticeable to me was the fact that she didn’t share the same enthusiasm or excitement as her mates. It wouldn’t have been exactly worrying, but it was rather unusual and nonplussing that a child of her age came across as stoic, not on one or two occasions but many of them. I’m not sure she was shy but she was…indifferent to a lot of things. She barely interacted with her classmates nor was she interested in participating in class activities. Her name was frequently mentioned by other teachers too that she doesn’t do assignments, and she was never perturbed by the punishment she got from its neglect. She constantly gave off the ‘I just want to be left alone’ aura.

I heard rumours from the other teachers that she had an abusive father who beat up her mother frequently for slight mistakes. It dawned on me that her abusive home could be a major reflection in her behaviour. She was only a child who craved more love. I began to shower her with more attention including gifts, to at least be able to elicit a reaction from her. I guessed my little actions eventually paid off when she began sitting with me every afternoon while waiting for her mother to come pick her up. Her mother noticed her attachment to me, and from there also became an acquaintance of mine. 

Brenda eventually began to open up to me some of those afternoons while waiting for her mother. That particular day, she had been so dull that she refused to eat her food during the school break. When the school later closed for the day, I enquired if anything was troubling her little mind. The question she asked next had me feeling very disconcerted. I could remember her asking in a quivering voice- Miss Mercy, Am I going to lose my mother? I quickly wiped the shock and disturbed look from my face and asked her why she said that. She told me she walked in on her father pummelling her mother yesterday night, and her mother has become very ill as a result of the beating. I was able to lift her spirits and clarify her thoughts. That day, she was picked up by her neighbour. 

A few weeks after that incident, I began to notice Brenda’s frequent absence from school. On a fateful day of such absence, I reached out to her mom who disclosed to me that Brenda had been very sick; she was an SS patient. ‘Appalled’- can pass for what I felt that day. Brenda looked nothing like a sickle-cell patient! She was a beautiful child with such smooth and fair skin enshrouding an amazing soul. I promised to visit her before the week came to an end.

The priceless reaction on Brenda’s face when I gave her the gift I got for her on my visit to her home made me feel delighted. I remembered embracing her in a little hug. I got her the popular ‘ Kingdom Keeper’ book series among kids. The only difference with this gift was that it contained small reflection pages in it – that could pass for a mini journal. I was aware of her interest in writing which was what inspired the gift I got her. Brenda returned to school a few days later and even showed impressive changes in interactions with her classmates and participation in class activities. I had even laughed inwardly when she dropped a derogatory remark on one of her classmates, a boy who had been teasing her. I corrected her with a small frown on my face in disapproval of her action. It wasn’t exactly a positive social reaction from her, but it was something, a step ahead from ‘Indifference’. She was at least acting her age now.

The day before I got the news of her demise, we had a small talk before her mom came to pick her up from school. She had told me about how she has always wanted to be strong for her mom, which I figured would have been a major influence in her lack of outward show of emotions.  My heart shattered for the poor girl – she has been taking up ‘adult’ duties from a very small age. I saw her in a different light after that day. She was a mature soul in a child’s body. 

The headmistress called me the next morning after the school assembly and she informed me that Brenda had passed on the previous night after a long episode of pain resulting from her sickle-cell crisis. Throughout that day, I bawled my eyes out. Little Brenda had become a significant part of my life. Even though the heartbreaking news had me resigning from my job that same day, I was glad I had a positive influence in her life and she would forever live on in my memory.

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