My column for Femina Magazine, dated September 2nd
There’s no better way to put it, but I was kind of a bully in school. Not the menacing, “I’ll carry a knife and threaten the teacher with it” kind of bully we see in Hollywoods films, but the kind of snide little schmuck that needed a smack upside the head, good telling off and reminder to be respectful. To put it in Harry Potter context, I was not Draco Malfoy, I was one of those two side kicks that just hung around Draco. I was too lazy to be malicious, it required thinking- a thing I preferred to not do till I was almost 20. Moreover, like any side kick, I was too low in the pecking order to do any real harm. In order to survive boarding school I learned to point and laugh in whatever direction everyone else was pointing and laughing in lest the finger get turned on me. As you can tell from my desperate attempt to psychoanalytically explain it- I’m not proud of mybullying tendencies from the past.
I’d like to attribute it to childhood cruelty and ignorance but I can never forget the incident with Nina (Name changed because I would DIE if she read this). Nina was the new girl and was eager to fit in and that was not an opportunity we were about to let go of. We told her we were having a midnight Feast. (These were amazing, we would sneak in a large amount of snacks from our personal snack supplies into the dormitory, wake up in the middle of the night, eat them and go back to sleep. As 12 year olds in boarding school, this was us seriously going rogue. If the teachers found out, we were to expect nothing less than the guillotine). Nina was told that we are having a midnight feast that night and that she should sneak her chips and biscuits and wafers during the day and give them to us for safe keeping. We didn’t want her to get into trouble, you see. That night we “accidentally” forgot to wake her up in time for the midnight meeting but feasted on her food indiscriminately.
I remember looking up at her with a mouthful of Mava cake when she walked into the laundry room. (The location of our glamorous Midnight Feasts was left of the giant pile of dirty clothes that people gave to the dhobi every week). That day I learned the definition of betrayal because of Nina’s eyes. They were large, hurt and I could almost see my own stuffed, greedy face dripping cake crumbs reflected in her pupils.
“Why didn’t you’ll wake me up? Did you’ll just want my food?” she asked- her voice cracking under the strain of the tears at the back of her throat- without waiting for an answer she spun around and ran away, sobbing in deep breaths. She kept her distance from me and my friends from then and at the end of the year, she left school.
At a social gathering last week- I saw from a distance, a person who looked like a grown up version of Nina. Every pore in my body opened up into a nervous sweat, while simultaneously my mouth went dry. I didn’t want to look into her eyes and see betrayal again. As a child it may have made me chew my mava cake a little less enthusiastically but as an adult, it made me feel ashamed to be standing in front of someone who had seen what a callous idiot I could be. I adopted the strategy of aggressively slinking into corners for the rest of the evening. The inevitable introduction came.
Like an ostrich, I kept looking down at the floor. If I can’t see her, maybe she wouldn’t be able to see me.
“What school did you go to?” was her first question. This plan of looking down at the floor was a massive failure.
“I remember you! You used to hang around with X and Y. You’ll stole food from me for a Midnight Feast once!”
Of course, the whole room went quiet at that exact time.
“Yes” I squeaked at a decibel level so high that the bats in the neighbourhood went deaf.
She laughed, “You’ll were so mean.” I ventured a look into her eyes expecting contempt or at least coldness and what I saw was just an trusting, open, smile, no hurt, no betrayal. My heart skipped a beat, could it be, that…. she just didn’t care anymore?
In my desperate desire to repent for being a bully, I had forgotten that she no longer cared about being bullied. She had grown up, met better people and let it go without thinking.
What’s worse than being a bully who is remorseful for their actions? Realising that your “victims” just don’t care. That, sometimes, your remorse over your actions is your own burden to bear. This bully repents.