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Defying Odds

Lésania Fisher

‘Living a life she could be proud of? What nonsense,’ she thought. Life had dealt her a hand not even the most skilled bluffers in a poker game could win with. She was content with just existing, for she had no reason to live. Her mother had died giving birth to her younger sister and so they lived with their grandmother. Her father had abandoned her and her sister after their mother passed and she could barely remember him at all, he was a blur to her and so with no present parents in her life she felt as if she belonged nowhere. Of course, her grandmother tried her best, but no one could truly fill the void like a parent could. These thoughts plagued her mind as her first class of the day began, English A.


“Good morning 5 R,” her teacher, Ms. Berry, said as she entered the classroom. 


“Good morning, Ms,” was the united response from the class as the students stood up and waited to be allowed to resume sitting. 


She motioned for them to sit and began her lesson on how to properly structure an essay. English A was Daniela’s favourite class as it was the only subject she found easy and with a teacher like Ms. Berry she felt a little less lost and alone.


“Daniela, could you please read your first paragraph for the class,” Ms. Berry asked just as Daniela had written her final sentence to conclude her paragraph.


“Ok Ms,” she stood up and read, she was a bit uncomfortable and stumbled over some words, but she managed to catch herself and continue reading. As she finished reading Ms. Berry gave her corrections and tasked her with helping the student sitting next to her with his paragraph. 


As the class came to an end and break time began Ms. Berry asked Daniela to stay after class, “I’ve been hearing some things about you from your other teachers, Ms. Tumelo, you are disruptive in classes, you don’t participate, you don’t get your work done and I understand your home life is not the best but I hope you realise that if you leave school with nothing you have no one to blame but yourself.”


“With all due respect Ms yuh nuh really know nothing bout mi life suh please nuh badda assume,” she felt embarrassed being called out like that. Her teacher had always looked out for her, but she had never addressed her so bluntly.


“Ms. Tumelo, heed my warning, if you do not get rid of this attitude and focus you will not only let down your grandmother, but you will have let yourself down. Can you really live with that?” With that Ms. Berry left the classroom and Daniela felt her heart hurt.


Her teachers were talking about her and now Ms. Berry was beginning to see her the way she saw herself – as a disappointment. The remainder of the day consisted of 4 other classes and throughout them all she couldn’t help but feel worse as Ms. Berry’s earlier words stuck with her. Once school concluded she walked all the way downtown to the market to help her grandmother. Ms. Janey sold the produce she had grown to send both her granddaughters to school. 


“Hi mama,” Daniela said, greeting her grandmother with a hug. 


She and her sister were her grandmother’s pride and joy, no one could say a bad thing about either one of them without her responding with the most unsavoury and unladylike words. 


“Mi baby yuh see yuh sista when yaah walk a come?” her grandmother asked as she returned some change to a customer.


“No mama mi did think she reach already,” Daniela said, finding it strange that her sister had not arrived before her.


Her sister, Tiffany, attended the Mannings School while Daniela was a student at Godfrey Stewart High School. Having just started high school Tiffany enjoyed socialising and exploring the many clubs and extracurricular activities at her new school. 


“Well mi girl gwaan pack up fi mi deh when she come mi call the taxi,” her grandmother said as she clutched her lower back and slowly sat down.


“Yuh alright mama? Memba the doctor seh yuh nuh fi push yuhself,” Daniela asked concerned.


Her grandmother waved her hand at her dismissively and Daniela knew better than to push the issue, for although Ms. Janey’s health was not what it once was, she was feisty and acted as if she could take on the world. Just a couple weeks before she had lifted a heavy container and hurt her back, she was unable to move and was bedridden in constant pain. The doctor warned her not to overdo it as any strain could cause her permanent damage and she may never walk unassisted again. While she was unwell Daniela had sold the produce in the market instead of going to school; the family needed some way to make ends meet and she stepped up to the plate. Daniela packed up the produce that wasn’t sold as her mind drifted once again to her teacher’s earlier words. 

“Come Daniela see the taxi here and yuh sista come,” she heard her grandmother shout.


The taxi ride home was filled with Tiffany talking about her day which acted as entertainment on the long journey. The conversation in the taxi was soon between Ms. Janey and the driver while Daniela and Tiffany opted to share horror stories about their least favourite teachers from their respective schools. As they drew closer to home, they could see that the road was wet, and the sky was gloomy.


“Rain did a fall hard up yah from day thank god it stop yah now but the place mud up and wet,” the driver remarked as he parked in front of their home. 


The house was a wooden two bedroom with a kitchen and a living room; they had their bathroom outside, yet it was their cozy abode. The driver and Tiffany took the produce from the trunk and placed it on the veranda while Daniela attempted to help her grandmother make her way inside.


“Mi a nuh handicap enuh Daniela gwaan guh help them tek up the rest a something and mek mi walk,” her grandma remarked in an annoyed tone as she shooed her away. 


She obeyed her grandmother and helped take up the last of the yams and as she turned to head inside a loud BANG was heard and she knew that could only mean one thing. She dropped her school bag and turned to see her grandmother laying on her back in the mud. Tiffany, the driver and Daniela slowly carried Ms. Janey into the house as she moaned and groaned complaining about her back. Once a towel was put down and she was placed on her bed the driver took his leave and Tiffany and Daniela made quick work of cleaning her up. 


Tiffany stayed with their grandmother, holding her hand and talking to her as Daniela quickly made some food. She gave her sister the food which she carefully fed to her grandmother and once she was done, she gave her pain medication. Ms. Janey soon fell asleep and as the girls settled in the living room to eat Tiffany voiced her concerns.


“We nuh have no money fi buy no more medicine fi mama when this done now a weh we a guh do, suppose she caah walk or suppose she dead we naah guh have nobody,” she said as her voice cracked.


Daniela grabbed her sister and hugged her, “Mi naah mek dat happen, gwaan guh eat and go sleep me will sort out everything.”


Tiffany did as she was told and Daniela made up her mind: school was secondary now. She intended to sell in the market, her sister had a brighter future than her and she needed to make sure she gave her every opportunity to succeed. Her grandmother would soon run out of medication and she would need money for a refill. There was no other choice.


For the next two weeks Daniela went to the market to sell and would return home with her sister in the evenings where they cared for their grandmother. Ms. Janey disagreed with this arrangement, but she was powerless to do anything to stop her granddaughter. Her health had declined, and she simply did not have the energy to fight anymore. She did however have the energy to make a very important phone call. It was a cool Friday evening and when the girls arrived home, they saw Pastor Mason on their veranda waiting for them.


“Good evenin Pastor,” they said in unison.


“Evenin girls I juss come to see yuh grandmother I hear she not doing well,” he said as he moved to the side so Daniela could open the door. 


They headed inside and as Daniela made some food for dinner and instructed Tiffany to bring some water for their grandmother and the Pastor. When she returned, she informed Daniela that they wanted to speak to her so Tiffany was left to finish the cooking while Daniela went into the room.


“Daniela yuh grandmother here telling me you haven’t been going to school?” he asked as he looked at her pointedly.


“No Pastor I been working in the market to get more medicine and send Tiffany to school,” she responded.


“My child you have so much potential and your grandmother here worrying about you throwing your life away, I know times hard but you have your church family, you have God, you have your neighbours all you have to do is reach out,” he said as looked at her as if he could see her very soul.


“Pastor a pray till mi tired God nuh tek my prayer dem no more. Mi nuh have no mada, no fada and mi nuh suh bright mi a do weh mi can do enuh,” she said as tears filled her eyes.


In that moment her grandmother sat up and her face sported the angriest look Daniela had ever seen and before she could think to ask how she sat up Ms. Janey slapped her across the face.


“Yuh think mi work so hard fi yuh work a market girl, yuh think mi mash up mi back fi yuh waste time, yuh nuh have no mada and no fada yes all the more reason fi work hard fi get outta poverty but no you waah lie dung in deh,” she spat angrily.


Daniela clutched her cheek but what truly pained her was the words spoken. Her grandmother and Pastor were right, she needed to change. She needed to do better, to succeed, to make something of her life. 


“Daniela the church is going to provide lunch money for you and your sister to go to school, on the weekends you work in the market to make sure you have food to eat during the week and enough medicine for your grandmother. You are a smart girl and you are capable, your SBA’s need doing and you need to be studying, bring your worries to God and he will help you,” the Pastor said as he pat her on the back and left the room.


“Come outta mi room Daniela mi nuh waah no worthless pickney inna mi room,” her grandmother said as she slowly settled back into her resting position.


She left the room determined to prove her grandmother wrong, she would become someone her family could be proud of. The next week Daniela returned to school with a new attitude, she was determined to catch up on all the lessons she missed. She completed assignments and went to the Savanna la mar Public Library to do her SBA’s; she was making no excuses. This was a pivotal time in her life and she had no time to waste.


She took care of her grandmother, informing her of her progress, she began going back to church where she found that cultivating a relationship with God proved to be integral in the whole process of being successful. She put him first in all she did and could feel a confidence building in her abilities. She spent her weekends working in the market, but she made sure she had her books with her and if she wasn’t selling she was studying.


Ms. Berry had been a huge help to her and made her aware of any and all scholarships she qualified for; Daniela was going to study business. She had no idea how she would afford it, but she knew it would work out some way somehow, God would never bring her that far to leave her or forsake her. Exams crept up before she could even blink and despite studying relentlessly, putting in the necessary work and completing her SBA’s she felt nervous. Failure was not an option however and before each exam she said a prayer, with God and all she studied she would pass.


Just as fast as exams rolled around so did graduation, Daniela Tumelo was officially graduating. Her hard work and incredible turn around were noticed by the school, and they asked her to give a speech about how she did what she did. 


“Daniela Tumelo, class 5 R and recipient of the GraceKennedy Foundation Scholarship in Business Administration,” the announcer said and a round of applause could be heard.


Daniela made her way to the stage, and she could feel her palms sweating. “Good afternoon everyone, it is my pleasure to stand before you all. I never imagined myself here graduating and sharing my story with my peers but if I can turn my life around anyone can. I was raised by my grandmother as my mother died when I was 3 years old and my father left. My sister and I were lucky to have such a strong woman in our lives believing in us. Although I have no parents I found my family within the church, my community and of course my teachers. They are my legacy and I intend to make them proud. This speech is my legacy, my testimony is my legacy, everything I do and say is my legacy. My story is just beginning, my legacy will be my success, I will be a success ladies and gentlemen. I went from not caring about school and selling in the market to graduating with a scholarship to further my studies.”


As Daniela looked out into the crowd in the back she could see her sister holding up her grandmother and she couldn’t help but smile, “I am a success story and I owe it all to those who believed in me, they all encouraged me to believe in myself.”


An applause could be heard as she stepped down, she wasn’t where she wanted to be yet, but she was close. Her life was now her own to live and she would live it.

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