It was fair to say, I faced a few months of pure hell. Returning to Portugal was exactly what the doctor ordered. Smelling the sea salt filled my nose with its powerful fragrance as well as cherished memories. I was home, finally. As always, when we return to Portugal, especially in Lisbon, we visit all our uncles and aunties. My mum had a big surprise up her sleeves. Visiting our grandma, my dad’s mum, is always something I enjoyed. She was the only one in the family who didn’t judge me. In fact, she was always the one who spoilt me rotten. While other family members would laugh at me for being a little tomboy, she wouldn’t I guess because I resembled my dad. Me and my grandmother will forever be linked as I had her name (my second name). She was known as ‘Dona Joana’ or Madam Joana for being so posh I guess. My mum’s mum, was known as Maria just like my sister. I wonder if the names were just pure coincidence or it was meant to be. The visit to my grandma this time was different. Usually, our mum would leave us to the front door. This time, we went to her house by ourselves as she didn’t want to come up. As we arrived, our grandma asked where my mum was. We just say we didn’t know. Unconvinced, our grandma pipped at the window. We followed as well. My mum’s hand was clearly visible in the car as the car drove off. Our grandma wondered why our mum didn’t accompany us and brought us to the doorstep at least. We didn’t know. A few moment later, we saw our dad. I thought I was dreaming. My happiness was short lived. He was with his new wife and his son. Jealousy ran through my body.  

We spent a whole day together, when I sat on my dad’s lap, he was all mine for a brief moment. I wanted this moment to last forever. He was caressing my back, showering me with kisses. All my troubles vanished for a moment. I was reminded my dad wasn’t only mine. My half- brother kept on calling him. My half-brother shares the same name of my father. Our 2 weeks in Portugal flew by and by the time we knew it, we had to return to Geneva. Returning ‘home’ was horrible. I simply wanted to return with our dad. In reality, I just didn’t want to return to the school ever again. There is a say, be careful what you wish for. Unbeknown to me and probably my mum, my teacher was slowly getting rid of me. I guess he has had enough of me. It all started when he asked me to ask my mum to sign some papers. I forgot of course. He asked me a few times and I did forget each times. The urgency of his persistent reminder was in fact my mum signing an agreement that I should move schools.

One day, as I came into class, the teacher was blocking my way. He demanded the letter. I forgot to sign it again. I didn’t think it was important. Well, it was important to him but not for me. I wasn’t aware of the content of the letter. He demanded I return home to have my mum sign the letter. My mum was at work. I tried to tell him that, but he wasn’t interested. All he wanted was for me to have the letter signed by any means. As he shut the door, I had no choice but to leave the school’s premises. Alone, scared and pressured, I hastily made my way to my mum’s workplace. It was quite far from the school. In order to get there, I needed to take the tramway and a bus. I had no money either and I was scared to be caught. I simply knew I had to do what I was told. Armed with my letter, I took the tram until central Geneva. Then I took the bus to the clinic where my mum works. The area where I had to take the bus was and still is, a hotspot for ticket inspectors in Geneva. Looking around, I didn’t see them so I jumped in the bus. The stressful thing is when you travel without a ticket, you never know when or where they (ticket inspectors) would appear. The whole bus journey, was a nerve wracking one. I was so mad at myself for not giving any importance to the letter. Despite everything this teacher did to me, I always tried to impress him. Well, it was clear, I failed quite miserably.

Once I arrived at my mum’s workplace, I nervously entered to the reception area. I was an animal entering the slaughter house. Everyone looked at me without saying a word. You could in fact hear the deafening silence. The nosey receptionist asked me why wasn’t I in school, whether I was bunking school. To be honest, it was a blur. Before I had the time to answer, my mum came by and asked me what was I doing at her workplace. Speechless, I handed her the letter. I urged her to sign it so I can quickly return to school. She signed it and gave me some money for the transport. She said she would come to pick me up later and have a word with the teacher. I thought, she would speak to the teacher about how careless I have been not handing her the letter sooner for her to sign. As I quickly rushed to the school, my teacher asked me for this damn letter. As I gave him the key to allow me back to class, he moved aside and I was allowed in.  

The teacher was so nicer to me that day. I thought it was because I did what he wanted me to do and that I followed his instructions for once. Finally, I have impressed him and I was in his good books.

When the end of the day loomed, I realised I forgot to tell my teacher that my mum wanted to talk to him. He found out as my mum was waiting outside with her arms crossed. As I went to her, she said I should go home with my sister.

My teacher started to talk to my mum who didn’t seem to be in any mood to listen to him. She shouted at him, saying how irresponsible he was to let me go to my mum’s work place on my own and how he would feel if his sons were treated the same way he has treated me? As we left in a hurry, we could all hear my mum shouting at my teacher. If walls have ears, I was pretty sure they became deaf after my mum going on and on about everything my teacher did to me. In a way, I felt like my teacher would have ammunitions to get back at me for the way my mum was treating him.

I now came to realised his actions that day was a breach of safeguarding. Anything could have happened to me while I was desperately getting to my mum’s workplace in order for her to sign this damn letter. In fact, I could have had an accident, I could have been ran over, kidnapped or worse. The fact was my teacher never liked me. Probably it was for my colour (me and another person were the only 2 mixed raced in the class and we were treated horribly by him always) or because of my strong demeanor or my strong character. I wasn’t an easy person and I can say only in Marcelly was I ever fully accepted for the way I was. My mum’s rightful reaction gave the school another reason not to let me stay there. As she complained to the headteacher, she was seen as a fierce animal on a rampage. The headteacher obviously ignoring my teacher’s action, or supporting his action, informed my mum I  was to find another school as I was just not complying whatsoever nor settled. She had a point, I never settled. I wonder why wasn’t I able to simply return to Marcelly?

I also think that in terms of my mum reaction towards my teacher, no one has ever had the guts to talk to him this way. When my mum returned home, we all sat and ate our dinner in silence. I could feel her disappointment in her eyes. I also reflected on all the injustice I had to endure as well as the teacher never once supporting me, taking my side or ever liking me. All that once again made me an easy target for my classmates. Each times I fought back to the cruel mockeries or arguments, I quickly earned a detention or telling off from my teacher. I was forced to accept all the injustice I was facing. My mum was clearly outnumbered as it seemed the school wanted me out and soon. I didn’t know then what was happening, however, I knew my mum was looking for a boarding school for me and my sister. It was a bittersweet moment for me: I was finally leaving this prison and not returning for my final year in primary school, I was finally going to be out of my misery once and for all. Unfortunately, it meant a new school yet again! Adrien-Jeandin was my 3 or 4th primary school. The others, I had to leave because of the distance. This one, I was literally kicked out.

All I could do was to make the most of the last few months I had with my soon to be former classmates. There would still be more bumps on the never ending roads at Adrien-Jeandin!

Things couldn’t get any worse

Despite the way my teacher treated me so harshly and at times with no mercy, I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one on the receiving hand of his sometimes unfair treatment.

We had a supply teacher once in a whole year. Because of how our teacher was always so harsh and treated us like soldiers instead of pupils, we felt so liberated and the poor supply was the poor prey against us the predators. We were so excited that we all got carried away. Our excitement was bursting like a champagne that just popped. The poor teacher was at her wrist hand with us and couldn’t control us. Our freedom was short lived. Our teacher came back unexpectedly. He was absolutely fuming. We were gob smacked. He didn’t shout, he didn’t tell us anything. His angry look could kill us instantly. He just said, we ought to all write an apology letter to the supply teacher and that was all he said. We did so and swiftly. For the rest of the day, after the supply accepted our apology letter, we kept a close eye at the door just in case he would return back.

As Christmas loomed, I was emotionally washed up. My results were just not improving, the teacher kept on breathing down my neck about my results. The only great news I received was that one of the bullies was moving to South America for good. Finally, good riddance. Of course, being one of the teacher’s favourite pupil, he planned a mini party for him. We all said our goodbyes. I was trying to bury the hatchet, as I was approaching to say goodbye in all good faith, he barely looked at me. In fact, he even barely shook my hand. Despite one less bully to deal with, I was still causing mischief.

I was back to my rebellious way and returned into fighting again. One of my sister’s mate and I, had a disagreement. Out of nowhere, I started to fist fight her. She was obviously not strong enough to fight me back and started screaming. I pulled her hair even harder, by the time I was punching and kicking her, I felt a teacher grabbing me from my back. To my horror, it had to be my teacher. As the girl was still crying, I was in detention in class and not allowed to play with my classmates for a while. I eventually apologized to her and we became friends. After this incident, it was clear that I was on my teacher’s bad books for good. There was no reversing from there.

As we made our way home for lunch one day after school, we saw 2 kids (one in my year group) I could sense they were up to no good. How? Well, the whispering was a give away. What happened next was so shocking. As we approached both boys, they threw something at us. Before we could even react, the 2 cowards ran away. Our eyes were hurting so much we could hardly open them. Something stung our eyes. Me and my sister were crying, I couldn’t even protect my sister but I could sense her pain as well. We were screaming for someone in fact for anyone to help us. Worse still, our mum was not at home either. I thought I was going blind. After a short moment, we could open our eyes briefly, but it was still painful. A woman who was parking her car saw us in distress and came to our aid. She asked if our mum was at home, we said no. So without any hesitation, she took us to the hospital. While driving, she asked us what happened and we explained what happened.

While we were in hospital we were treated and returned home. Without realizing, our whole lunch break vanished. Despite the traumatic experience, I was fearing my teacher’s wrath even more. We had no time to eat anything. So we rushed back to school. My sister was first. Her teacher was so welcoming and after listening to my sister’s explanation to her lateness, she warmly welcomed her in the class with full understanding. I was hoping for the same with my teacher. I was wrong from the start. Standing at the door with a look that could kill, I reluctantly approach my class. He still was staring at me in an angry manner. I explained my story and exaggerated details including sobs to gain some sympathy. Well it didn’t work. When I finish my story, the only source of comfort I received from that man was to see the headteacher and the teacher of the 2 responsible for what happened to us.

I went to denounce the 2 who caused us harm. When I went to the class, the boys responsible attempted to hide. It was futile. They faced exclusion. When we finished school, we told my mum what happened. She went ballistic. She went on a rampage. We first thanked the good Samaritan who came to our aid. Then, my mum went to the boys’ house and had a go at them. They were shaking like leaves.

I have never ever seen her this way before.

It was clear we needed a distraction and fast. My mum purchased tickets to Portugal. Finally, something to look forward to. In the meantime, I carried on my many activities such as scouts, Gens, music lessons, piano lessons and visiting my beloved godparents. That year, one of my best ever French film came out ‘Les Visiteurs’. I just loved that film. It is about a knight and his servant from the 12 or 13th century, who after a sorcerer mixed up a potion to have the knight and servant go back in time, actually they are thrown in the 20th century with so many comedic scenes. I identify myself with them as they are so out of place in the 20th century and I felt this way every day in Switzerland especially in that class! The film provided a much needed distraction, I can’t recount how many times I have watched the film.

Finally, the moment arrived to return to my beloved Portugal. My home. My mum prepared us a surprise, well the best ever surprise I would never forget as long as I lived.

From bad to worse

I could sense things were not improving with my teacher nor with my classmates. You could clearly see who was my teacher’s favourite pupils. He never hidden that fact. He would give his favourites pupils nicknames. I was nonexistent, well only to humiliate me it seems which happened often. Despite my efforts, I was still struggling. Worse still, when I asked for help, he’d simply dismiss me by saying I should have paid more attention or that I don’t try hard enough. I sensed the pattern I faced while at St Marie, if your grades weren’t good, you are a target of ridicule for the teacher and classmates. Once again, my classmates distanced themselves of me. My only friend really was the new girl, well we were both new.

Weekends are too short. However, I would often go to my beloved godparent’s house. Also, recently, my mum introduced me to a friend of hers who is black British. Somehow, she always asked for me to spend time with her. I was gob smacked because usually, people would prefer to have my sister over me because she was such a goodie two shoes compared to me. I was aware I was quickly becoming the black sheep of the family, a title previously given to a cousin of mine who was getting himself in many troubles. What I liked to do with my mum’s newest friend is to bake muffins and sing to clip videos we’d watch. Our favourite song to sing to was Sinead O’Connor ‘Nothing compares 2u’. We sang off key and loud, but she didn’t care and she allowed me to be myself with no judgements. The clip video marked my childhood for so many reason, the poignant lyrics and video to accompany the song. I loved the fact Sinead is alone in the video and zooming on statues reflected that she was alone or felt lonely. I didn’t understand English then, but I understood that the song was about a broken heart or a break up. Sinead O’Connor even cried at the end of the video which made it extra emotional. We also used to enjoy 80s songs and we’d dance around the house. I had so much fun and I was so glad to let it all out.

Then, Sundays loomed too quickly for me. I knew it would be a long week. I could see how strict my teacher was in every aspect of what we did, felt and expressed. Some aspects, such as our work presentation I get that, but other aspects I just didn’t understand the severity such as the fact that not everyone was at the same level. I was way behind and the teacher doesn’t help at all. Sometimes, when I didn’t get to finish my work on time, I would have to stay in class during break time. As I looked at the window I could see my classmates having fun. As I approached the window and poked my head outside, I saw a bottle of what seemed whiskey in a rubber bag. Shocked and shaking like a leaf, I quickly went back to finish off my work. When the teacher returned, I showed him what I did. I didn’t receive any well done or any encouragements. All I received was a telling off for not finishing my work when I should have. Also, I remembered he set homework for us to do for the next day. I couldn’t find any glue to stick the work sheet on. I used honey instead as I knew if I didn’t stick the sheet in, I would be punished and be deprived of break time (I was often deprived of break time for various reason).

In class, I rarely put my hand up to answer a question because when I am wrong, I am told off for not paying attention. One day, in class, the teacher asked us all if we understood. We said in unison that we did. He said, if anyone had a question to raise their hands. As no one did, he picked a person at random to answer his questions as a retrieval practice he did often. I was the unfortunate one. As predicted, I didn’t know the answer. He berated me for pretending I knew when in fact I didn’t. That split second of humiliation was enough for me to put my head down in shame. He asked someone else who didn’t know either but no berating him. He simply explained the topic again. I was so used to this unfair treatment and frankly, to whom can I complain? Another person used to get the same treatment although not as harsh. He was mixed raced like me, although lighter than me. When he forgot something, the teacher would make him leave the class and retrieve it at home. We both lived in the same block of flats. He was also the subject of ridicule like me. His mum, a single mum of three boys, and my mum befriended as they were in the same boat in term of our treatment. However, my classmate’s mum was battling depression as she was often at home all day, on social welfare and was on so many medications. Unfortunately, for that fact, the teacher still treated him with no mercy and even more harshly. His mum was such a weak person which made her an easy prey for our teacher who was such a ferocious predator.

My mum possessed such a strong character like me. We were similar in many ways, we also had to learn quickly to suffer in silence. It was clear my teacher was racist. He didn’t physically attack me, however his treatment of treating me different to others was evident. In class, I was bullied by 2 boys who obviously had great grades. I used to get remarks and often stayed silent and tried hard to ignore them. Obviously, I wasn’t easy either. I wasn’t your typical girl either. As I made my way home, I was ambushed by them both and with no one in sight, they cowardly beat and kicked me. I tried to fight back, but I was outnumbered. Once they finished attacking me, I went home and tried hard to fight off the tears waiting to roll down my face. I knew no one would help and approaching the teacher was not an option because he would never back me or do anything. The next day, one of the bullies did a presentation to how far he rode his bike with his dad and impressing the teacher in the process. I couldn’t care less and looked away. During break time, one of the bullies who did a presentation to the whole class starting arguing with me. I decided I had enough and will no longer ignore it. He was insulting me with racial slurs and telling me to f off. I insulted him too. As we were arguing so loud, it caught the attention to our teacher who asked to see us. I though foolishly, finally justice will prevail. How wrong was I! We both told our version of our stories. To my shock, he just let the bully go without any consequences. I told the teacher how he told me to f off. The teacher said I took it out of context and that it’s not an insult or perhaps I misunderstood him. There was no point mentioning the racial slur I was forced to endure. Confused and shocked, I left the class to ponder to what exactly happened. What was clear, I could never get any kind of support.

I was so disappointed and shocked which knocked me down to 6. Then I thought to myself, I should be used to it by now, yet I wasn’t. One day, I was so reluctant to go to school. As we were running late, my sister bravely went to school. I knew if I went to school, I would be told off so harshly and I just couldn’t face another humiliation after being bullied and the teacher not even backing me at all. I did the unthinkable. I just didn’t go to school that day. After an hour, I was bored already. I did something crazy and returned to my former school Marcelly. I still couldn’t comprehend why I couldn’t stay there? I had friends, my teachers accepted me the way I was, I loved Marcelly. I would learn decades later that because we moved near Adrien-Jeandin and I was forced to leave Marcelly. It was so unfair as I was literally living like 5 minutes away from Marcelly. Anyway, after a short pause outside the class, I knocked on the door. I was received with opened arms. I asked to stay for the day and my wish was granted. I met the pupils who replaced me. I forgot all about Adrien-Jeandin and for a very brief moment I felt like I was part of Marcelly again. Eventually, I was asked why I wasn’t at school. I said something stupid like the window broke and it was unsafe to be in the class. I wish I told the truth that in fact I wasn’t coping and that I missed the class. I simply wished that I was still there and not in this horrible school that I hated so much. After lunch, I returned to Marcelly and everyone uncovered my lies. I just pretended that I didn’t hear. I was allowed to return to class anyway. I knew how deep in trouble I was in. Inevitably, I would have to face the consequences knowingly I was sinking deeper in trouble first with my teacher and then, with my mum.

I spent a fabulous day, however, I didn’t know how to cover it up. I just knew there was no lie I could say to cover the fact I skipped school that day. I resigned to the fact my mum would know eventually the truth. The very next day, my teacher asked me outright what happened and why wasn’t I in school that day when my sister was. I had no answer. He said he would talk to my mum. I knew what that meant; my mum would be absolutely livid. I could feel a beating coming my way. Somehow, I can’t recall what happened or whether I was punished at all. Skipping school is like an offence. I think I told my mum the truth as there was no point in lying. I told her how much I missed Marcelly and how miserable I was in my new school. Surprisingly, she perhaps felt my pain as I can’t recall any punishment. I didn’t feel relieved to have escaped a punishment, but more relieved that I set the truth free. Indeed, I missed my former classmates and my teacher. I missed all the trips we did, often with our teacher spoiling us using his own money to buy us treats, or sometimes he would take us by the lake usually in the afternoons, or allow us to have afternoons free of lessons. My former teacher really was so caring; with a moustache I obviously took him like a father figure. He was, above all, approachable. Clearly, I still missed my dad terribly. In this new school, days felt like weeks, weeks felt like months and months felt like years. In fact, it was just a few months I was in that new school and it felt like an eternity. Unfortunately, the bad times didn’t stop but they came thick and fast. Usually, there’s a say that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. But this tunnel was never ending and without no light in sight, it was just plain dark!