Woof! Woof! The dogs barked at me as I paced the streets to school. I had mistakenly set the alarm to 6pm. Their bark was passive as if they had not eaten in ages. I felt like shutting them up with a kick to their jaws. I was going to be late for Mr Laso’s class again.

When I got to school, there was a soft noise coming from classrooms. I stood in front of the red door and peaked through the keyhole. Even though I was outside I could hear the screeching sound made by the chalk on the chalkboard.

Mr Laso was writing a weekly activity on the chalkboard. I went in as quietly as I could but because the windows were open, the wind forced the door closed with a bang. Mr Laso looked at me sternly and opened his mouth like a fish but the words didn’t come out. He shook his bald head and harshly signalled me to sit down. The desks and chairs squawked as I squeezed through other learners to find a way to my seat.

I took out my Math book and wrote ‘Question 1’. There were about six questions on the chalkboard and I had no idea how to solve any of them. I put a pen to paper just to hand in something when the time was up. Mr Laso had taught us everything over the week but I couldn’t grasp the concepts. He always asked if anyone had a question but I never felt at ease to ask. I had noted that every time I asked him a question he would call out another learner in the class to answer me. This made me feel empty-headed.

I barely got a code 3 from Mr Laso’s exams. I was a living example that it is difficult to pass a subject if you don’t like its teacher. But Mr Laso didn’t like me too, at least to me it felt so. He loved making jokes in class but I’d not laugh. Because mostly they were about how terrible my surname sounded.

We gave him our books to mark when we were done. We chit-chatted in class while he was busy marking. Suddenly, Mr Laso called out my surname, “Mbuxalala!”. The class laughed mockingly but my girlfriend, Tumi simply looked down at her book pretending to read.

For heaven’s sake, my surname is Mbuxa not Mbuxalala. Mr Laso added ‘lala’ which means ‘sleep’ in English to my surname. He believed I was a sleepyhead. All eyes in the classroom went to the back where I vulnerably sat. I looked up. “Yes, Meneer!” I replied.

“Hayi iyakushaya iMaths mfana!” Mr Laso said I was terrible at maths as he tossed my exercise book over to the learner who sat in front to pass it to me.

My classmates’ suppressed laugh prompted the rise in my body temperature. For a moment I couldn’t breathe; it felt like there was a big lump in my throat. I took my book and stashed it in my backpack without looking at it. As if it wasn’t enough for the day, my desk mate made fun of my light- skin-face that had quickly changed to pink. I swear I could have punched him on the face if he wasn’t bigger than me.

I pushed a smile as I remembered, a few days back I wrote an English essay which got me the highest marks in class. It was titled ‘Where do I see myself in 4 years’ time. It was so good that my teacher asked to read it to all other grade 12’s. I wrote I’d be in university studying Engineering. Now there I was, sitting in the math class trying to digest what Mr Laso had said. Apparently, Maths wasn’t for me.

Mr Laso made me feel dull-witted and he succeeded because I let him. This will never happen again; I will prove him wrong for thinking so little of me, I told myself as I nursed my heart to sleep that evening.

Later that year I went to school to collect my end of the year results. There were students who were screaming, hugging each other and those who were crying in the corridors. I bumped into Mr Laso. He stretched out his hand and with a warm smile on his face he congratulated me, “Usebenzile Lizo mfana!” I hesitantly stretched mine and shook his. I didn’t expect him to congratulate me. On that day I was over the moon – I got a B for his Mathematics.