I wake up nervous. I didn’t sleep well all night because I kept having dreams about the Spelling Bee today. The dreams were bad – in most of them, I had embarrassed myself by not being able to speak, or starting to cry. I had woken up a couple of times to pee at night, something else that disturbed my sleep.
Mum knocks on the door, and I quickly burrow under my duvet, faking sleep.
“Championnnn, wake up!” She crashes into my bed, saying “champion” in a sing-song voice.
“Mummy, I’m still sleeping,” I groan.
“Sleeping people don’t talk, my love.” She pulls back the duvet.
“I’m not feeling well,” I say. And it is true, the thought of today makes me sick to my stomach.
“Did you sleep well?”
I hear the tension in her voice and I know she is as nervous as I am, maybe worse. Mum has always been protective of me. I sit up and hug her, to reassure her.
“How do you feel? she asks, her voice muffled.
“I don’t know. I’m scared, but I also want to do it.”
“And you will,” she sits back, holding my shoulders. “All you have to do is do what you do best – Spell. We’ve practiced so much, I think you are ready.”
My hands are cold, and my tummy rumbles, a sure sign that today is going to be a huge test.
“Go and get ready, baby. I’ll get ready too, and make breakfast. See you downstairs in thirty minutes.”
The school parking lot is crammed with cars coming in, looking for a place to park. Literacy Week is a pretty big deal at school. Today’s Spelling Bee is one of the last events of the week. My teacher suggested that I focus on the Spelling Bee and not bother to overwhelm myself with any other activities.
The Spelling Bee is often the highlight of the week because of the prizes attached to it. My teacher has told us how it would run; the inter-class spelling contest would take place and then the three finalists from there would go on to face the invited school.
The spelling is not my problem, rather it is the thought of the large crowd that will be watching us that troubles me.
My mum gives me one last hug and I make my way to my classroom. The contest starts in about an hour but parents are showing up to support their children, and to get the best seats. Mum said she took permission from work for a few hours just to be there for me. At times like this, I am grateful to have a mum that really cares and is always ready to support me.
I catch up to Ona in the hallway, and she does her scream-dance, pulling me along with her.
“Today is the big dayyyyyy,” she sings. “You are going to win, I can feel it!”
I laugh, because her joy is contagious. We head to our class together and Mrs Taiwo smiles at me.
“Ready for today?” she asks after I greet her.
“No. If you already feel that way, it will be harder. You have to be positive,” she says.
“Okay,” I paste a smile on my face. “I am positive.”
She laughs, pats me on the back, “you will be fine. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m rooting for you.”
I nod and go to my desk.
My palms are sweaty as I sit in the audience. I got a good seat in the third row, thankfully. I am surprised by how many parents turn up for these events.
The first round is over, and I release the breath I had been holding while it was going on. In that round, Brenda had gone head-to-head with her classmates. She had used the technique we practiced – focusing on her fellow mates throughout the entire episode. I told her to keep her eyes on them and block out the thoughts and noise from the audience.
“Pretend you are in a room with just those classmates of yours who you are familiar with. They are your opponents, but they are also your friends.”
She scaled through that round, and emerged as one of the top three candidates to compete with students from the other schools. For me, I am already fulfilled. This is the first time my daughter is doing something this brave, and for that alone I am grateful. What she doesn’t know is that I don’t care if she wins or not, I just care that she has done this. She has taken a step towards her fear and is conquering it. I am so proud of her for that.
I don’t know whether to be happy or sad when they call me up, as one of the top three winners. The fear seems to be closing up my throat and I can’t speak. Mum taught me to focus on my classmates when spelling, and that was easy when I was doing the inter-class contest. How am I going to do that with these strangers from another school?
My feet wobble as I stand behind the table given. The idea is to work as a team and beat the other school, but our tables are so far apart that we can’t even communicate. I am tempted to ask whoever is in charge to skip me whenever it is my turn. I do not want to be responsible for letting the team down.
I spy my mum among the audience, her head is bowed, like she is praying. Pray for me, Mummy. I am so scared.
I am so focused on my thoughts, my fists clenched, that I do not hear when my name is called.
“Brenda?” the voice is loud over the mic. It snaps me out of my thoughts.
“Brenda?” I hear the voice again, but I can’t speak.
I turn to focus on the person with the voice. I blink.
“It’s your turn now.”
I don’t speak, but my head moves in a nod.
Easy. I spell it. B-A-R-R-I-C-A-D-E.