Academic Heroes

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“Our best student in A level and the recipient of our annual overseas scholarship to study in Malaysia for the year is Simbarashe Bosha,” the headmaster’s voice boomed, amplified by the codeless microphone he held like a toy in his huge hand, a hand that had during the course of the long schooling year connected with so many cheeks under harsh conditions and whose presence was a threat to the student population who by now had learned not to be within striking range of his right palm.

It was a moment of suspended reality.
Instead of the expected usual whistling from the boys and ululating from the girls, the name was accompanied by a sudden silence, as if birds of prey were circling above, or as if a ghost had just passed by.

 
There was a low murmur from the crowd and the faces of most of the teachers showed mixed reactions. Not one of them could accept it. It couldn’t be the Simba we knew, the thick-headed, naughty and seemingly empty headed Simba we had learned with since our primary education. The Simba who had been thrice suspended for the use of drugs, the Simba who sold all his books to procure drugs.

 
Even the headmaster himself frowned as if questioning the truthfulness of the announcement and found himself squinting at the paper as if he was reading it for the first time whilst he in effect had read it over and over again through the course of the week. The senior teachers shifted uncomfortably in their chairs as if they expected the whole school to fall into chaos as if they expected the students to protest against this award.

 
I knew that everyone at the school expected me to be the recipient of that award, for everybody knew I was a genius. I was the holder of all the medals from my class since the start of my A levels and I had a growing confidence about the reality of going to learn abroad, a dream I doubted wouldn’t come true for the scholar in me was always on the surface and every year he proved that as I topped my class.

 
What would my parents say when they learned that I had not got the scholarship? What would all the relatives who had made preparations for my departure say? I wondered.
Simba stood up from among his friends amid a loud and cheery round of applause from his drug dealing comrades. A broad smile adorned his face, a grin of pride and satisfaction for some great work completed, the same smile that must have been on Alexander Bell’s face after the completion of the first telephone or on the Wright brothers’ faces after the successful first flight. He walked slowly as the crowd recovered from its momentary shock and applauded.

 

Joalin, his girlfriend broke from within the crowd and ran forward and hugged him amid much clapping and cheering. Simba held her hand and walked with her to the stage where the Guest of Honour stood holding two medals one for being the best student and the other, a merit for the scholar.

 
Simbarashe bowed as the medals were placed on his head and he shook hands with the man of honor, the cameras flashing, capturing and forever preserving this moment in Simba’s history, a moment whose value would not falter even under the so-called all-conquering test of time. Something came from within me, something that stopped in my throat threatening to choke me. It was an emotion that I knew was wrong. I couldn’t admit to myself that I felt jealous of someone like Simba.

 
Students broke into song and dance as Simba turned and hugged Joalin before his parents who had just recovered from the initial shock closed in on the two.
My eyes moved to the crowd and met my father’s. I looked down quickly, embarrassed. Beside me, my girlfriend Noreen took my hand in hers and squeezed it, a sign of reassurance which I well understood. She was silently telling me that she would stand by me through thick and thin. My eyes began to dim and tears gathered in them ready to escape at the first opportune moment.

 
‘Hero! Hero!’ the crowd began chanting. The words were just indistinguishable noises in my ears which I did not care to listen to for they squeezed tears into my eyes. The huge disco began blaring and people stood up to dance. These were dances of joy but to someone whose heart was full of pain and jealous these were a just complete mockery and the people were just shadows moving around, seen through the glossy lenses created by the tears welling up in my eyes.

 
I looked up again and this time my eyes met my mother’s. She was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. I realized she was weeping. Even before I could stop myself I bowed down my head and closed my eyes. Noreen wound her hand around my neck and drew me to her and whispered.

 
‘Do not worry Rey, my dear, these things happen in life. You know that you were always the champion from the start, keep those memories, for memories good or bad often become the lens through which we examine our lives.’
Finally, the headmaster gestured for silence and the excitement died down as people took their seats.
The head spoke into the microphone.
‘I give this moment to the boy himself, Simba to share with us all the ingredients and methods to such overwhelming success.’

 
A smiling Simba stood up and the crowd broke into song again, a clear indication of how famous he was and how well loved he was by fellow students. He strode to the pulpit and bowed as he received the microphone from the headmaster.

 
‘Eeeeee ello comrades,’ he began mischievously and the students broke into laughter.
‘I come before you in a mood of personal joy. Today I have made a lifetime achievement which came after ten years of trying. In these ten years, I learned never to expect success to come overnight. Changes, if any should be gradual. I know many teachers regard me as naughty, it just comes naturally and I despise it ….., there were cackles of raucous laughter which quickly subsided when the senior teacher stood up and walked towards the benches where the students sat.

 
Simba continued,‘You can always successfully change your personality to be the man of your dreams. The secret behind my success is hard work and endurance, for genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Anyone can reap great rewards but only after very hard efforts. I sailed through even after experiencing many setbacks. In the last two years I lost my father and mother and for some time thought that I wasn’t going to finish my studies but in came my uncle Tonde over there,’ he gestured to a short lean man in huge sunglasses who sat on a chair with an air of self-importance hanging around him as if he owned half the world, ‘pitied me and sent me on to school.

 
It was then that I acquired a new stance in this life, it was then that I promised in my heart not to let him down, but to pay him twice fold. Here I am now, more than a conqueror. Many said that I wouldn’t make it in this life but the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do. I have learned that you can change your whole life if you take stimulus from all the setbacks and challenges life throws your way. If we are to go through life without any obstacles it would cripple us. Without wasting time I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the teachers for working hard to see me through, and all my friends, thank you for the support. This to me is the dawn of a new life phase that promises advance in all the areas of my life. I thank you.’

 
There was a round of applause as Simba bowed, handed the microphone back to the head and left the stage, on his face a smile of contentment.
‘This year is a good year for the school,’ the head said.
‘I want Reynold Sibanda to come forward.’
I clumsily shuffled to the front, shoulders lowered as I felt more than a thousand pairs of eyes scrutinising me. I stood beside the huge hulk that was the headmaster and he addressed the crowd, his hand on my shoulder. It felt very heavy and for some time I thought I was going to fall.

 
‘I know most of you here know this young man beside me.’
There was an inaudible murmur from the students.
The head went on, ‘This boy has always emerged the best among his peers since form one and I now know from the reaction of the students that everyone expected him to be the best student this time around but unfortunately he wasn’t because of some sleeping giant that needed tragedy to awaken it from its exploitative slumber.’
I blushed and bowed my head, embarrassed.

 
‘Yes, he may not be the best this time around but because of the outstanding trail he left in his times at the school the school and community decided to honour him with a scholarship to study in Malaysia…’
There was a girlish shout, probably from Noreen and the crowd screamed. My father stood up and triumphantly clapped whilst my mother ran forward and embraced me. It had not occurred to me that most of my relatives were here until this moment when they all surged forward to embrace me in tearful joy.

 
My mother was weeping on my shoulder and all emotions long suppressed in my heart surfaced and I couldn’t contain myself. Tears rushed freely down my cheeks, tears of joy, tears that only ten minutes ago could have been of another kind.

 
‘I now give Reynold the chance to share with us his own recipe for success.’
The microphone was handed to me and I addressed the crowd, overflowing with confidence
‘I want to thank all those who inspired me during my days at this school. It really was a pleasure interacting with such good and excellent teachers and students most of whom made my stay here worthwhile. I was near tears as I sat there watching Simba receive the award. It wasn’t because of jealous but because I hoped that I would be the recipient of the award,’ there was a murmur from the students which I ignored completely and went on, ‘I know some have mixed feelings about this because they never hoped or expected to win the award and, he who has never hoped in life will never despair,’ this brought a round of applause from the teaching staff and parents and my confidence soared.

 
‘Now you juniors must learn something here, I am not the best but yet I received a scholarship, why? It is because of the pace I set for myself in the past. So you see that life is one long test and that victory comes not from a single win but from a series of accomplishments,’ there was another round of applause from the staff at such an open show of great philosophy coming from me, many teachers’ favourite.
‘Your destiny is a result of your decisions, so make informed decisions. My success is like a journey, for when we take a journey, sometimes it is the journey and not the destination that spurs vivid memories. It is good to have to an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. I think this is all I have to say….

 
The students surged off their seats and clapped in unison shouting my name and singing,‘Makorokoto our hero.’
Tonderai ran forward and embraced me and whispered in my ear
“ Congratulations Rey I would have been bored to go alone to Malaysia.
What a day it turned out to be. This was not the end of my achievement but instead my launch into a journey of conquests……

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