Samantha walked down the path to a lecture room in the Business School at Civitas University, Nairobi. It was 10:45 in the morning and she was headed for her first of two classes of the day. It wasn’t a class she was looking forward to. In fact, she didn’t have more than a few classes that she looked forward to. It wasn’t that she didn’t like school. She loved learning and loved the courses she was taking and for the most part could tolerate her lecturers. It was her classmates that she wasn’t getting along with. Or at least, they weren’t getting along with her.

She reached the glass door to lecture room B18 and looked inside. Some of her classmates were already inside. She couldn’t understand why her classmates shunned her. She wasn’t an unpleasant person, nor was she an unbearable person. In fact she considered herself good company. But her classmates didn’t seem to think so, and they weren’t always subtle about making that known. She held her breath and pushed the door open. The door squeaked as it opened and heads turned at the sound to look at her. When they saw who it was walking into the lecture room, they shot a number of looks her way.

Most of them were borderline disdainful looks and the rest were feigned indifference. Her heart dropped a little at the less-than warm welcome to class. It wasn’t the first time she’d had that sort of welcome, but it still stung when she got it. She didn’t believe it had anything to do with something she’d done. She tried to stay out of people’s way and was mindful about minding her own business. She wondered if it was because of the way she looked.

She walked to a chair towards the front of the room, a chair that wasn’t next to anyone, and sat down. She pulled her laptop and headphones out of her bag and put them on the desk in front of her (she was sat in one of those chair-desk combo furniture pieces) and put the bag on the ground next to her.

She put the headphones over her ears. She wasn’t actually going to listen to anything on her laptop. She sometimes had to catch up on what had been covered in the previous lecture because she didn’t habitually study. Not like she had that much else going on in her life, she just couldn’t be bothered to study. And since no one seemed to want to approach her she thought she might as well play the part of the unapproachable girl, so the headphones were part of her costume.

But she also wanted to listen in on the conversations going on around her without looking like an eavesdropper. A few times she’d overheard her name in a less than flattering conversation between some of her classmates. They criticised her aloofness. They found her proud and arrogant. They thought she thought she was better than they were and could do whatever she wanted. They thought she was full of herself, because she thought she was prettier than anyone else in the class.

Samantha didn’t understand how they assumed such things about her. They barely knew her. They had hardly ever interacted with her and the little they had couldn’t have been enough to base a solid opinion of her on. And it always seemed to be the same group of girls talking badly about her. She didn’t know why it was always them, or what she’d done to make them think so poorly of her. And why did they think she was full of herself? She didn’t even think she was that pretty anyway. Was it really because of her looks that they had the presumptions they did?

Or could they be right? Was she really so unpalatable as a person? Did she have an inflated ego? She didn’t think so, but clearly quite a few others thought different. Even the men in class didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with her. So this particular class hadn’t been together long, and there were only a few men in the class anyway (as is typical in humanities courses), but they still only interacted with her on a need-to basis. She couldn’t understand why that was. And it seemed to happen in every class she had. Maybe she was the problem, or there was something wrong with her she couldn’t see.

It was 10:55 and the lecturer, a wiry man in chinos and a button-up shirt, walked into the room. He uttered a cherry greeting to the class as he walked to the front of the room but stopped before he got there to greet Samantha. Samantha smiled and greeted him back, catching the unpleasant looks she got from some of her classmates as she did so. They probably also thought she was a teacher’s pet.

Yes, the lecturer did like her, but was he then supposed to ignore her? Or did they think they had an inappropriate relationship? She had a friend (one of two she’d managed to make in the class) the lecturer also took a liking to; why didn’t they give her the evil eye when the lecturer gave her”special treatment”? Or could it be because of the way Samantha looked? She felt it might be.

The chairs around Samantha were still mostly unoccupied. One of the ones next to her would probably be filled by one of her two friends who was always late to class. The other friend only attended enough classes not to fail the course. And she didn’t enjoy his company as much either. She felt he had ulterior motives for being her friend. He might have been more interested in getting between her legs than in getting to know her. She thought it might be because of the way she looked.

Her friend Maria walked noisily into the lecture room just as the lecturer looked up at the class to start the lecture. He shook his head as Maria plopped down in a chair next to Samantha. Maria turned to smile at Samantha and fished in her bag for a notebook. Samantha smiled to herself. Maria had this unflappable air about her that she wished she had. She couldn’t care less what people thought of her, which could have been how she ended up being one of just two who approached Samantha and became friends with her. But was she sincere? Maybe Maria was also friends with her because of the way she looked. Samantha just couldn’t be sure.