Helena

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Helena was walking to her dorm as fast as she could without running. Her breath came in short bursts because of the lump in her throat, all the words that she had been desperate to scream earlier were clawing at it. She was so angry she felt it in every part of her body. Her eyes were fixed on the ground but she only saw the hazy lines of the cobbled rock as she walked past.

She saw the white building obscured by two huge elm trees and quickened her pace. She took the side entrance and made a beeline for her room. Thankfully, there was no one in the hallways since it was still early evening and they were out to supper. Once the door was closed she collapsed against it and let the floodgates open.

What kind of idiot says something like that? The kind that thinks rebellion equals a disdain of anything loved by many. And he was so bloody confident, ‘Shakespeare only had a talent for structure that was an obvious result of his work as an actor but his talents end there.’ As though the very language he speaks doesn’t owe half its idioms to the works of Shakespeare. And quoting Tolstoy like he’s an authority on anything but tragedy and cynicism and dismissing Orwell on grounds of being a loyalist Englishman, because 1984 was all about his love for Great Britain. I should have stopped him right there. The self-obsessed prick.”

In the morning, Helena chastised her window, working herself up to a justifiable and rational point. She did this a lot after the tears and the frustration were gone, yelling at her work table until she came around to the point that whoever had caused the fury, frustration and sobbing, be it the professor who ignored her raised hand or the lady at the salon who insisted that her afro was too 80s, was wrong. She would make the argument that she could have made, like telling the self-obsessed prick that if he was going to choose a dissenting voice on William Shakespeare, he should have gone with George Bernard Shaw.

She met Jenny on her way to class, the university was small so even though they were taking different courses- her International politics and Jenny, Journalism, they frequently met on the campus.

You disappeared on us yesterday, just when Odhis was hammering in the last nail on your coffin” Jenny said.

I was tired and the argument was pointless anyway.” Helena tried to remind herself that she had been right but the itch in her throat started all over again.

He went on after you finished, I think he was pumped by you leaving after he made the brainwashed comment,” Jen went on, “you should have stayed and really given it to him. You get way better grades than him, and you’ve probably read War and Peace front to back.” Jenny said.

Helena walked into her Foreign policy class feeling much less satisfied than she had been after her talk with the window.

The first mistake was allowing Jenny to take me to the common room. The next was taking the bait when the prick asked if I was enjoying Macbeth after he saw it in my bag. The last was forgetting to take a sleeping pill so I tossed and turned and had the nightmare.” Helena mentally checked this list to make sure that she would not repeat the events of last night.

She was a good student and that was it, no hobbies, extra skills, or talents. She liked to read and enjoyed messing with the curve. The first challenging exams she had taken were the College Qualification Tests at the end of the four years in high school. In the weeks running up to the tests, she had trouble swallowing and told the doctor it felt like there was a ball of cotton wool stuck in her throat and had trouble sleeping. Within a week of the tests, she was not sleeping at all and the sleeping pills were prescribed.

The class was filling up quickly. From her vantage point at the back of the raised lecture hall she waited for the hulking form of pure arrogance and misinformation that went by the name of Odhiambo to walk in. He came in with the Professor Greenwald, shook a few hands, and took his place at the front. ‘Who does this guy think he is, Mandela?’

Helena tried not to pay attention to Odhis- it was hard, he made grunts of agreement every few minutes as though he needed to qualify the professor’s statements. Professor Greenwald was her favorite teacher. His grasp of the subject matter was unsurpassed and she knew for a fact that he could quote every Shakespeare sonnet that was out there.

The topic today was Africa’s role in the international community. He posed a question to the class after they had gone through the basics including Africa having been non-existent on the global stage before the late half of the 20th century; Why was Africa emerging as a player in global politics now and what had stopped it from doing so before?

Odhis’s hand shot up, prick. “Africa had been colonized for more than a century, its people denied rights to self-determination and other civil and political rights. Africa was a non-entity in the International community because the colonial machinery could not let it participate. It is emerging now because Africa is independent and has embraced democracy, thus becoming aware of its position on the globe and taking up the privileges and responsibilities that come with this role.”

Helena’s throat was on fire. Greenwald smiled patiently and asked if there were any other opinions. Other students raised their hands and either added to Odhis’s argument or took up the colonial issue and went with neo-colonialism and continued interference. Helena could not take it. She raised her hand.

When Greenwald nodded toward her, the entire class turned, many of them looking at her as though seeing her for the first time. Her vision became hazy again, she almost missed the smirk of Odhis’s face.

It goes back further, the powers of Europe were established well before the 19th century, so were those in Asia and last came the U.S.A. Africa was not a global player in politics because it was not aware that the game was being played. Sub-Saharan Africa had little to no interaction with the outside world before the colonialists knocked on our doors with their bibles and guns. When interaction did come our way it authoritarian and allowed no room for development or growth. If Africa had not been an island, literally and figuratively, it would have played a more significant role in global politics. Colonialism was not our downfall, isolation was.” No lump in her throat, no tears in her eyes, no words scratching at her to get out.

The girl to her side who had been sleeping was now staring with eyes wide open at her. “That’s right. Good.” Odhis had deflated and sunk into his seat.

Maybe I will go back to the common room.” Helena thought as she packed her bag at the end of the class.


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