"She remembered who she was, and the game changed-" Lalah Delia.
“I told you to come back home, Adanna. You’ll never be good enough there.”
My mother. The woman I know loves me so much, but times like this, I'm not so sure. I’ll never be good enough for her. It doesn’t matter what part of the world I am.
“I’m not coming home, Mum. I can’t.” I could. I know that, but coming home means accepting defeat. It would mean I had failed and while I have, a couple of times actually, I don’t believe failure means total defeat. I refuse to go down.
“Igá fu ifé ghémérégí, Adanna.”
You’ll regret this, Adanna. I sigh. Maybe I will, but I’m going to hold on to the possibility that I won’t.
I don’t bother arguing with her. It'll be pointless. “Bye, mum. I have to go for rugby prac-" She hangs up before I finish my statement, but it’s not new. She hangs up on me every conversation we have.
“For the last time, Miss Adanna, girls don’t play rugby. It isn’t done.” I wondered how she could have butchered my name so much. It wasn’t that hard to pronounce, but then again, I never told her how to and she never asked.
I left Nigeria the first chance I got. I had to get away from the traditional restrictions of what a girl is supposed to be. I guess I could have moved further and still wouldn’t have been able to escape it. At least there I wasn’t alone. I was just like everyone else.
“Well, I’m a girl and I play, so I’d say it can be done.”
She rolls her eyes. “Well here, you can’t. That’s not how our establishment works. Pick a sport other girls are interested in.”
“With all due respect ma, Miss rather. I’ve read the mission statement for Middleview High more times than necessary since I moved here, and one of the lines says to come and be accepted for who you are. And I know for a fact that there was a girl on the team three years ago.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says. She does, but she won’t admit it. I’m not getting anywhere with her. I need to change my tactic. Maybe if I’m more desperate, she’ll see how badly I need this.
“I need to do this. You don’t understand, but I do.” My eyes are shining now. She’s the Guidance Counsellor, so she decides what extra-curricular activities students can take. The problem is rugby isn’t just an extra-curricular, it’s my life. I got a sports scholarship here, but for athletics. That was at least until last week when I convinced Coach Michaelson to let me be on the rugby team.
She looks at me sadly and says, “We don’t always know what we need. You don’t want to hurt yourself. No one needs that. You’re not like us.
Her name is Louisa. The girl that was on the team three years ago. She looks like us, but she’s not a guy. She dropped out of the team a week later. When I saw her afterward, she wasn’t the same. Something inside her shattered. I won’t be responsible for that happening again.”
Slow, hot anger burns inside me, but I don’t say a word. I can’t. I’m afraid the tears will fall and I won’t be able to hold them back. I’m afraid I’ll say something I’ll regret, and the last thing I need is a disciplinary issue after being here less than a month. She didn’t say it, but she implied it. I can’t play because I’m a girl. Not just a girl, an African girl. I push the chair back and stand up to leave when she looks at me and says, “You care that much?”
I nod. A tear falls. She has no idea.
“I hope I won’t regret this,” she says finally.
These three weeks have been the worst. I’ve been tackled and bruised and shunned by my teammates. I don’t know what I was expecting though; it is the boys’ rugby team. Making the team wasn’t the problem. The problem is staying on it.
It hasn’t been all bad though. I’ve gotten a quarter of the locker room to myself to change. Coach Michaelson says I deserve privacy. It’s a nice enough gesture, but it won’t let them forget I’m different.
I look in the mirror and remember my mum’s words. “The mirror is the truest reflection of who you are. Remember who you are, Adanna.” I breathe, but my lungs are still gasping for air. I’m still drowning. I brush the imaginary dirt off myself. I can do this.
We huddle up as a team, hands in the center. I know if I put my hand in, they’ll take theirs out. I do it anyway. As expected, everyone does. Everyone but Jacob. We’re all wearing helmets, but I see him look at me and nod. It doesn’t last for more than a few seconds. He doesn’t realize how much I needed that. It’s the nicest thing anyone on the team has done for me.
“Get your head in the game, Andrews! Your game has been suckish all week!” Coach yells. I wince. Peter Andrews. Everyone on the team looks up to him, he’s the captain.
Coach blows his whistle and Jacob recycles the ball and passes it to me. I look to my right and it seems like the safest way to pass, but also the easiest way to intercept the ball. Peter stands behind me to the left. It’s a pass he can catch. The ball sails through the air and when it looks like he’s going to catch it, it slips through his hands.
Coach blows his whistle. "That's that a knock-on, change over."
He turns and his eyes meet mine with a murderous expression on his face. I fear what’ll happen next. “You.” That’s all he says, his voice cold. It’s the first time he’s directed his comment at me. He talks about me, but he never directs his words at me. It will be nothing good, I can feel it. “You think you can make me look bad in front of my team. Rugby is a boys' sport. You don’t belong on the field. You don’t even belong in this country. Go back to the hole you crawled out of.”
“Stop,” Jacob says. His voice is firm. Surprisingly, he does, but it doesn’t matter.
“What’s going on here?” Coach Michaelson asks. It’s too late though. The damage has already been done. The words hang in the air. They can’t be taken back. Each sentence pierces into my heart. I can’t breathe. I’m still drowning.
“It's me or her,” Peter says, throwing a disgusted look my way.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Coach Michaelson says out of frustration as he uses his hand to massage his temple. He won’t kick me off the team, but it doesn’t bring me much comfort. I’ll never be a part of their team. The lines have been drawn. It’s him against me.
“Practice is over!” Coach yells.
I stuff my duffel bag in my locker and leave the locker room.
I can’t breathe. I’m still drowning.
“Don’t let them get to you,” Jacob whispers.
I hadn’t noticed he was standing there until I heard his voice.
“Like it’s that easy,” I scoff.
“No one said it would be easy.”
“Why the sudden interest in me?” I ask. I don’t want the answer, not really because I’m not sure I’ll like it, but the question slips out of me before I can help myself.
“We’re all in this team because we love rugby, but I don’t think I’ve met someone who loves it like you do. You don’t give up on something you love like that. Fight, Adanna. Our battles are different. If you don’t fight for yourself, no one will.”
He walks off before I can say a word, but I don’t know what I’d say to him anyway. “Thank you” doesn’t feel appropriate. I’ve wanted someone to get the pronunciation of my name right for so long, yet when it happens, I barely notice. It isn’t what matters.
5 am is a strange hour. People wake up. I haven’t fallen asleep, not since yesterday.
I tie my shoelaces to go for a run. This is weird, I do it anyway. Uncle David wouldn’t care. He lets me have as much freedom as he thinks I need. Too much freedom isn’t good for a teenager, but he doesn’t know that, and I have no friends anyway.
I wonder what my mum would say if she were here. “Adanna! This is crazy. Go to bed before people in the estate see you.” She’s not here though, so she doesn’t say that. I close my eyes. I can’t breathe. I’m still drowning.
I run. I run until I can’t. I run until the images from the last three weeks have disappeared. I don’t see the stares anymore. I don’t hear the whispers. I forget the weird African girl on the team no one spoke to. I’m not her.
I forget her words, “You’ll never be good enough there.”
I forget his words, “Go back to the hole you crawled out of.”
None of it matters anymore.
Humanity needs saving, but we’re so selfish, we only save ourselves. Most of our hands are dirty, we’re just afraid to make them dirtier. Sometimes the wrong done is too much to handle, we join in it and while our actions seem insignificant, they aren’t to the people around us. They hurt because of it. I’ve hurt because of it.
Things need to change, and I have to be the one to change them. This is my battle.
I run. I run until I’m out of breath, until I get to the top of the hill. I lay on the grass. It’s 6.30 now. We used to watch the sunrise together, my mum and me.
I shiver and sit up. And the sun does rise, illuminating the blue, filling the sky with shades of orange and pink, peach, amber, and a bit of gold. It radiates hope, a new beginning. Another chance to live and be better.
My lungs are still gasping for air, but I’m afloat. I’m not drowning.