That day was a nightmare. That is what I remember. The first day of school and there I was lost in the midst of girls my age chattering like mad about their exploits during the school break just over. I wanted to keep attention away from myself but attention was precisely what I got. How could I not be noticed when I stood out like a rag doll among well coiffed girls all smelling so sweet. I wanted to run out of the room as all eyes riveted on me. I could tell by their looks they were wondering whether I wasn't lost. Avoiding their gaze, I looked down as I walked at the farthest end of the room to take my seat. The nightmare was to go on. Each student was asked by the teacher to introduce themselves as soon as classes started. When my turn came, everybody laughed loud when I told them my name. It was like I just told them a funny joke but it was my name they found funny. Everyone one else sported surnames that sounded foreign courtesy of the colonials that ruled the country in the past while mine couldn't sound more native. That moment on, I was marked as different from the rest.
I was indeed different in many ways and my schoolmates made that very clear. Back then missionaries run exclusive schools for the elite and my new school was among the best school for girls in the country. It was no wonder that to the wealthy students that patronized it, I was an eyesore. They called me the mountain girl which meant I come from people who lived in the stone age. My people were of course much more civilized, they treated people like people but of course they did not know that. They also referred to me as the nuns' servant. There was a ring of truth to that. I lived with the nuns and did housework for them. In exchange, they sent me to school. Branding arrogates to the brander some power. By branding me as a servant, the girls in my class also arrogated unto themselves the right to treat me as one. I was every body's maid. I must have detested the role but I remember playing along. I guess I was trying hard to be one of them.
I counted the days and longed for the school term to end. I was so happy when it did. I wanted to go home. There was nothing more I wanted to do but go home and be with my family. But my sister and I had to work for the nuns during the break. I had no choice.
I remember intensely praying each night that the next term would not come but it did. Again the princesses came back and so did I, their lady in waiting. Everything was going to be a replay of the previous term or so I thought if not for our new classmate named Eva. She was the senator's daughter. She moved in from another school for reason I could no longer remember. Eva was not like the other girls. She always wore smile on her face. She did not throw her class into any one's face. She was the first one to call me by my name in a way that was full of respect. It sounded musical then. She was such a well raised girl. She was the school's little miss congeniality.
I would skip the long story on how it happened but Eva and I became good friends to the chagrin of the other girls. She told everybody each time she had the chance of how her father gave high regard to my people. She also told them her mother had high respect for people who worked hard for their dreams. She must have exaggerated it, as children often do, but I knew her intention was to get the other girls thinking and it had the desired effect. From then on, things began to change. Eva started calling me Juls (it sounds icky now but it sounded good then) and everybody followed suit. The girls even apologized for mistreating me. The servant girl is now their friend. No, I did not become one of them. We were still different. I was still the mountain girl who had to work as help to the nuns to get to my dreams. Young as we were then, I believed we saw the silliness of hate. Our young minds may still not be able to comprehend how hating others who were not like us got rooted in our persons but we were certain we had to learn how to bridge those differences.