Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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The victim

By Fayza Hassan

Fayza Hassan My older daughter took to kindergarten like a fish to water. On the very first day of school, while other children sobbed and hung to their mothers, she walked away, forgetting to say goodbye. In no time she had her little gang and felt perfectly at home in her new surroundings. She was never a teacher's pet; nor was she a troublemaker. We moved a great deal while she was growing up, but I knew I could count on her adapting perfectly to new schools. Making friends was as natural as breathing to her.

Her daughter seems to have had the same easy time of it and, at 15, she is incontestably the most popular girl in her grade. With a checkered record in the popularity department myself, I often wondered about this special aptitude. "It is just a matter of making it known that you will take no rubbish from anybody," explained my daughter. "Once this has been established, everyone will want to be on your side. I never wanted one of my children to be like Gabriella," she added.

Gabriella had been in elementary school with my daughter. She was Venezuelan, a pretty little girl with long dark curls and huge brown eyes. As a three-year-old, she already oozed kindness and generosity, running after the other children in the playground to share her treats with them. For a reason that I could never fathom, she inspired pure hatred among her playmates. They literally went out of their way to push her around. Gabriella invariably accepted the undeserved punishment, obviously making a tremendous effort to hold back the tears. As soon as she got over the shock, she would force a smile to her lips and mutter: "It doesn't matter, it's alright, they didn't do it on purpose." Having often been on the receiving end of similar malice as a child, I became quite interested in Gabriella. Why, I wondered was she singled out, and why did she not rebel? She was slightly larger than the children in her age group and could have put up an honourable fight, to say the least. Why did she choose not to?

Her teachers were as mystified as I was, but usually put it down to the fact that Gabriella was too clever in class but not so good at sports. "This new generation is quite intolerant," they would comment. "Those who differ in any way seem to be rejected by their peers." Having diagnosed the trouble, the teachers did nothing to reign in the offenders. As long as Gabriella was not in immediate physical danger they were loath to intervene. "Rejection will not kill her," was the generally held opinion.

Gabriella was not simply rejected, however, which, in view of her gregarious nature, would have made her unhappy enough; she was attacked constantly. Her mother, a very bright and beautiful young woman with the same happy disposition as her daughter, had little to offer in the way of enlightenment except that it probably ran in families, she herself having been bullied incessantly during her school years. "Gabriella is lucky," she told me; "at least when she comes home we talk about it and I try to console her. My mother used to spank me under the same circumstances, claiming that I must have brought it upon myself."

We moved before I could solve the mystery of Gabriella's victimisation, but somehow I never managed to forget the surprised look in her eyes every time her overtures earned her a swift kick in the shins.

"I saw her, you know," my daughter was saying. "She came to one of our school reunions." My daughter attends a large number of school reunions, having been to so many schools, and made and kept so many friends. "She came all the way from Caracas, she is married to a millionaire and has three kids." According to my daughter, Gabriella was a real stunner, better looking than any movie star. She has an exclusive haute couture import business, but success has not changed her. She is still trying to spread happiness around her and shower everyone with presents. Ann had also attended the reunion, my daughter added; "do you remember her?" The name vaguely brought to mind a skinny, rather highly-strung little girl, whom I had identified at the time as the ringleader of Gabriella's tormentors. "You were right," my daughter confirmed. "She hated Gabriella, although she never told us why, but you know, the saddest thing happened at this reunion. Gabriella tried to remind her of how she used to trip her up in the playground and Ann claimed that she did not remember her at all. She could recall all the names of the kids in the class but when she came to Gabriella she seemed to draw a blank. Worst of all, I don't think she was lying. Fancy having your life spoiled for years by someone who later does not even recall your name! That is why I have made sure that my daughter never goes through the same ordeal. If Gabriella had been able to return the blows instead of counting them, I bet Ann would never have forgotten her."

Is my daughter right? Was it Gabriella's gentle disposition that set her up as a victim? "And how can you protect your child?" I asked, rather sceptically. "I sharpened her claws in the crib," bragged my daughter. Sprawled on the sofa, my granddaughter waved her expensive acrylic nails at me. "Do I look like a victim?" she asked.

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