By Valentine Makoni
When I was 11 years old, I wore pyjamas to school. I studied at a local government primary school that had a non-descript uniform of khaki shorts, khaki shirt, checked green tie, grey knee length socks and black shoes.
As part of the school’s fundraising efforts, it would occasionally sanction “civics” days, where people could wear casual clothes to school for a fee.
I honestly do not remember why I wore pyjamas to school. I can speculate. Maybe I was annoyed at the pretensions of social class and standing that fancy clothes implied. Maybe I was rebelling against the ZWL$5 fee that the school demanded for wearing casual clothes.
I definitely had two “partitions” of clean clothes in my wardrobe, so it was not because I had to. Maybe, I wanted to cause a stir (for no logical reason). It was enabled by my parents being out of the country on a work / vacation trip leaving us home with my grandmother. If I left for school early, she wouldn’t be able to see what I was wearing.
It is possible, that the reason I wore pyjamas to school was petty. Loveness (not her real name) was my classmate who lived in the same neighbourhood as me. Sometimes, we would cycle past her house on a bicycle ride with my father. On one occasion, I took my evening shower early, changed into pyjamas and then went riding with my dad around the block. As it were, Loveness saw me, then passed the gossip around class: “Valentine was riding around with pyjamas in broad daylight.” Maybe, I decided to be petulant.
I wore a clean pair of pyjamas to school. After my morning bath and brushing my teeth, I changed from the summer pyjamas I had slept in to winter pyjamas. They were a thick cotton fabric which was both comfortable and warm. They were dark brown in colour, with intermittent white stripe detail. They were full length pyjamas: the trousers extended to my ankles and the shirt to my wrists. Neatly washed, ironed and folded in my wardrobe, I changed into these before dashing out of the door.
The pyjamas I wore to school were quite hot. I mean that literally. Smack dab in the middle of summer, I was clad in full length cotton pyjamas while in school. Admittedly, this was only something I became aware of later in the day, squirming in my seat from the discomfort of the heat. I may have undone one button as a form of respite, but not by much. It was hot.
I was prepared to defend my decision to wear pyjamas to school. The rules of civics meant a student paid ZWL$5 if they were wearing casual clothes and ZWL$10 if they forgot and wore uniform. I had enough money to pay for myself. It was common knowledge that clothes had to be “decent,” but primary school children rarely wore immodest clothes anyway. As it were, my teacher simply acknowledged my attire, then called for all the snickering to stop.
By break time, everyone knew I had worn pyjamas to school. I don’t mean everyone in my class, I mean everyone at the school. Even though I was in Grade 6 Green, the news spread to all other classes. Even kids from Grade 1 and 2, who played on a different playground, came to see for themselves if it was true, that someone had worn pyjamas to school.
I let everyone see that I had worn pyjamas to school. I remember being gawked at, especially during break time. I walked around, going nowhere in particular. I spoke to friends only intermittently. It’s possible some were embarrassed to be seen around me, just as it is likely I was a loner who had few close friends to play with anyway. Regardless, there was a swarm of curious students that shadowed me a few metres away. In shock, amazement, curiosity.
For a while, all everyone wanted to talk about was that I had worn pyjamas to school. “Who was this guy? Where does he come from? Did he sleep in the pyjamas he wore to school? Does he have any other clothes? Can I also wear pyjamas to school? What did his teacher say about him wearing pyjamas to school? Is it your brother that wore pyjamas to school? Did you know he would wear pyjamas to school?”
I was the only one who wore pyjamas to school. Civics day was one where people’s personalities could really show. There were many children who wore t-shirts embezzled with their favourite cartoon characters: Tom & Jerry; Power puff Girls; Captain Planet; Cinderella. Others tapped into the latest fashion trends. Summer shirts were a thing at that point: oversized shirts with synthetic material that had colourful imprints. Orange and yellow were popular colours for these shirts, with dragons and fire featuring prominently.
Some wore “smart casual”. I don’t know if we called it that at the time. But, formal trousers and a shirt could be found among primary school students. Wearing your favourite team’s football jersey was desirable. Caps United, Dynamos, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Kaizer Chiefs. Those who had their names printed on the back of their jersey felt like stars.
By the end of break time, there was little interest in me wearing pyjamas to school. The novelty had worn off. Kids being kids, had looked and indulged the oddity, then had gone on to be distracted by whatever else grabbed their attention. Admiring their friend’s clothes. Using a makeshift ball of plastic and string to play football. Running around the yard playing tag. Buying packets of chips to argument their lunchboxes. Life, moved on.
A couple hours later, the day I wore pyjamas to school came to an end. As the bell rang, everyone streamed home in their cars, buses and walking groups. I did too. Trudged home, changed into shorts and a t-shirt then plopped in front of the television. It was time to relax with a couple episodes of Power rangers. Superheroes.
I, on the other hand, was just a regular kid. Who had worn pyjamas to school.