I remember the uncomfortable, starched uniform. A navy blue skirt, a white shirt, and a blue tie. I wore white knee length socks and black Bata shoes. My hair was pulled back in a ponytail, fastened by a plain black elastic band. I was conscious of all the eyes locked on my frame, of the unbearable silence in the hall, of my parents sitting next to each other.
I remember the night before. I sat with the dictionary, looking at the words, one by one, absorbing the patterns of the words, feeling them against my fingertips and on my tongue, feeling them roll around my brain – b-e-f-u-d-d-l-e, befuddle; r-a-m-b-u-n-c-t-i-o-u-s, rambunctious; b-l-i-t-z-k-r-i-e-g, blitzkrieg. I picked words with chunky and boisterous alphabets, the kind that I could repeat over and over again to drown out the angry words, the spit fire and the venom; to drown out my parents.
I remember the word. SYCOPHANT. I took it in, one syllable at a time, and then I asked her to repeat it. My voice was strong; my palms clasped behind my back were sweating. The auditorium felt dark and heavy. I knew this word; one of my old dictionary friends. I was going to win this. I’d hold that trophy in my hand and everything would be alright.
I remember the tears rolling down my face as she repeated the word.