Their laughter was simply symphonic. Never had it crossed my mind that the day would come I would find their laughter musical. It must have been the silly fences they built around themselves that had in the past made their laughter sound like discordant notes which assaulted the senses. Not anymore. They have leaped out of their fences. They had freed the spirit chained within themselves and allowed the harmonious cadence of their laughter to be heard. I wondered when the last time was that they laughed with such joyful content. I had never seen them that happy before. Their laughter was just magical. It was enchanting. It conjured the image of a bird in flight; of a butterfly emerging out of its cocoon. It was a laughter of freedom.
I remembered the times when the sound of their laughter sent chills to my bones each time it strayed into the sanctum of my hearing range. Mother Alma, our catechism teacher, told us about devils laughing each time someone did something evil. If Mother Alma was right and devils did laugh, their laughter I used to hear must have streamed in the same wave.
Their laughter always carried an ominous ring. It foretold of a disaster that was going to strike and always, I was the disaster's moving target. I was its easy prey.
Logic could desert you when pushed to the edge of sanity as logic had deserted me those times. While I prayed for forgiveness to the Lord for wishing evil to people who had done me evil each time I knelt down to pray at night, I had also made a list of people I prayed He would punish for treating me in way I did not deserve. I still could remember a few who made it to that list.
Rebecca topped the list. She did not just make my life disturbed and miserable. She made it hell. I could not believe someone so beautiful outside could be so ugly within. I could write a book on the pranks she played on me but the memory of one that really made me cry stood out. She pretended to be fixing her pen one time and ended up splattering ink all over my white blouse uniform. She laughed. She was amused that I could not hold my tears back.
It was not funny. She knew. They all knew that the nuns only gave me two sets of school uniform. Each night after I finished with my work, I washed the uniform I wore that day to be ready for the day after next. With only one uniform left after the ink disaster, every night, I would have to stay awake till late. I would spend much time fanning my uniform after having it washed trying to get it dry so I would have something to wear the next day.
Regina was also on that list. She was not as evil as Rebecca but almost. One time at school break, she and her friends invited me to the school cafeteria for some snacks. I seldom saw the insides of the cafeteria except when the nuns sent us to have it cleaned when the janitor went on a day-off. Regina told me she was going to give me a treat. My mind told me not to accept the invitation but the naive mountain girl in me insisted I should and I knew why.
Among our people, food was our way of offering friendship. It was our way of making peace. For us, partaking in food with others meant more than just an act of easing our hunger pangs but a covenant of brotherhood; of sisterhood. If you would enter any household back home especially if this was your first time to visit, expect to be offered something to eat. If for some reason you could not eat the food offered you, you would need to explain this to your host and hope he would understand. To simply decline a food offering would be declaring your refusal to be in communion with the person who made the offer. That would be a crime. You would have to understand the full meaning of the act to know why you could not take the offer lightly. Among our people, food is symbolic of life. An invitation from someone to partake in a food is actually an offer to be a part of his life. The act of eating what he offered marked you as his true brother or a sister. If you were a visiting stranger and you eat at someone else's house, you would be surprised how people would be referring to you as this someone's brother or sister and be accorded the due respect. But the world I grew up into was entirely alien to the world of these girls. Regina and her friends would never see food along that light.
The girls loved the cafeteria's chocolate porridge. It was on top of the menu and it was what we ordered. The cafeteria was the serve yourself style. I could hardly take my eyes off the bowl of porridge as I carried it back to my seat. I had to remind myself not to act like one those street kids gawking at the candy bars they saw displayed in the candy store. The smell of the porridge was just lovely. I could hardly wait to taste it.
I did not get the chance. Regina pulled out my chair as I was about to sit. I ended up with a thud on the floor. There I was spread eagle on the floor like a ballerina who missed on her jump. The bowl of porridge spilled all over me. I must have looked like I did a demo on how to bathe in chocolate porridge lying down. Regina tried to offer an excuse saying she only wanted to help me seated which of course was a lie.
Everybody in the canteen found the incident funny. The laughter it invited leaped to millions of decibel. It was not my eardrum that their laughter shattered. It crumbled what took my people years to teach me. Our culture schooled me to always believe in the inherent goodness of people. They could be evil sometimes but you should venture to search for the good that lay hidden within them. That was how enduring relationships are built I was taught. But that moment on, I ceased to believe in the wisdom of such search.
One would think I must have wandered off into a coven of young witches on training and not in the best exclusive school for girls in the country where only the very rich and supposedly well bred girls could have an access if you would look at my list. But I did take pleasure in having that dream, where I was this glamorous witch vigorously stirring the cauldron while I watched Betty begged me to let her out of my boiling potion.
Ah yes Betty! She was the princess of mean. She may not have played pranks on me but she did enjoy throwing me insults. I could not forget how one time, she put spit on her half finished chocolate bar and then offered it to me saying, I should taste it as she was sure I never had sunk my teeth on a Belgian chocolate before. She always elicited laughter of affirmation each time she threw those diatribes on me but that particular stinging insult got the most rancorous reply.
The laughter that found its orchestra and played on beautiful notes was what I kept in my heart. The evil sound that their laughter once held are now only part of my memories' dustbin. I sometimes retrieve it and dust it off when I tell people of my life story but only to let them see by themselves what had been but never should be. Laughter in its pure form could be soothing and healing but when sharpened on its edge, it could inflict a devastating wound. It is a powerful medium of communication exchange. It should be used with care. Laughter does not disguise its message. It would not tell lies. I believe it would be good to ask ourselves whether people hate it when we laugh. Sometimes, they do.