My mother was furious, she had been away when I had taken the common entrance exam and passed to enter a Federal Government College. My father on the other hand, was not keen on me leaving home so he had enrolled me into a local state school in Lagos. I had heard horror stories of boarding schools so I was on dad’s side on this issue.
But Mother was back now and she wasn’t having this for her first daughter, as far she could see, my father had enrolled me into a farm yard school with a stable for a classroom. She couldn’t get over the fact that the classrooms had zinc roofs and no windows or doors, just a gap on both sides of the room for cross ventilation. But I liked it there, it seemed like a natural progression from Primary school. For one thing it was across the road from my primary school, the driver still dropped and picked me up and I was the aje butter kid on the block. Besides, this school was co-educational and this Federal school Mother wanted to send me to was an all girls’ school, yuk! Well, today was my last day there, my mum followed me to say my last goodbyes and pick up the last of my possessions. We bumped into Mrs. Adeniyi a heavily built, very black woman with shifty eyes. I despised her, and had every reason to.
My mum was explaining to her how I’d be leaving for boarding school that weekend and blah di dah when Mrs. Adeniyi’s chubby fingers reached out to my chest and grabbed my left breast, feeling the small swollen area that I had developed in the last couple of months. Talk about infringing privacy laws!
‘ Ah Madam, you need to buy her a brassiere…she has breasts o…’
My mum had disagreed at first and argued that I was too young and that my breasts weren’t big enough yet. I was glad. But not for long as the following day my mum returned from the market with some zebra crossing patterned bras.
So you see, Mrs. Adeniyi was the reason why at 10 years of age, I entered secondary school wearing a bra.
I didn’t cry when my mother dropped me off and left. Now I know why. I was saving up my tears for a rainy day…and many of those days came to pass. Nothing had prepared me for the events that followed. I wept. I wrote home and pleaded with my parents to set me free of the torture I was going through. My face was constantly tear-stained.
I was weak. I had never had any responsibility in my life and this way of life was proving too difficult for me to deal with. I couldn’t comprehend the rules of this new institution. At first, it all boiled down to my carelessness, I had hung all my clothes outside and not collected them before Saturday inspection. That was the last I saw of all my school and day uniforms. I had lost everything including all but one of my underwear. For the rest of the term I was dressed in my ‘outing uniform’.
Then I got smarter, but was still outsmarted. The stealing began, my locker was constantly broken into, and so my mum sent me a combination lock. It didn’t resolve the problem because the thieves had moved on from the padlocks to the staples and then to removing the nails off the back end of the lockers. I just couldn’t win. I gave up and again I wept. The interesting thing was that the thieves in this instance were well known, in fact they didn’t pose any puzzles as to their identity as you’d expect thieves to operate. Instead you could go and speak to them personally and inquire if they had stolen your provisions. And so I waited in a queue with other girls to confirm whether or not the chief suspect had stolen my last tin of Milo. We were addressed one at a time.
‘No o, I didn’t steal your own’
‘Ehm … yes, I stole your own’
‘Ekene (my first name), I didn’t steal your own o! Go and ask Mercy Ikeduru’
And so I did, I went searching for Mercy who contrary to what her name implied was far from merciful. Her attitude was aloof and to be quite frank I don’t know why I had bothered. But I trotted down to the classroom area where I heard she was. When Mercy wasn’t stealing, she spent most of her time by the fruit tree ‘plucking fruit’ with the aid of a metal rod. This fruit was to be sold for a profit during ‘night prep’.
‘ Kelechi said that you stole my Milo’ I demanded
‘E heh… and so? ‘
Why had I bothered?
In my junior days we lived according to classes. Apparently, the bullying had got to extreme levels and as a result junior girls were separated from senior girls (this arrangement was reversed in my senior years). Regardless, senior girls still came to fetch us in our dorms and worse still, once you got into their dorm you never got out. Green house was a dreaded dorm; it was the form 6 dormitory. Seniors, they scared the daylights out of me. Why where they so big? Maybe things changed later on but I could have sworn that some of them were bearded with muscles that would put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame.
Another thing that baffled an innocent girl like moi was the nakedness that flaunted the place. They often walked around the place topless and had their bath everywhere else but the bathroom. The bathed on the front lawn, the corridors, the back lawn, but never in the bathroom. The senior dormitory was always an experience. On one occasion I had barely stepped in when I heard the dreaded words.
‘ Hey come here, that junior girl…’
Well, I was in a senior dorm so there was no guessing who was being referred to here. I clumsily headed towards her, my chubby legs supporting me as I walked briskly toward this big senior.
‘ Go and fetch me drinking water from the main tap…’ she placed her jerry can between my fingers.
‘ What’s your name?’
‘Ekene ‘ I was almost whispering.
‘Eh heh are you Ekenedilichukwu’s daughter? I hear she’s in you set’
Yes, she was in my set but do you think her father would be dumb enough to blow her cover and name his daughter Ekene, I thought.
‘No’ I replied, my eyes looking in every direction but at her.
‘ Are you listening to me… look at me…’ she demanded.
But I couldn’t, her humongous boobs were in the way. She was topless, I just couldn’t look.
That term I was glad to return home, back to civilization. I returned home with nothing but an empty suitcase, a packet of Omo and a few bars of Premier soap. For the first time in my existence I was thin. A week after my return home I fell very ill, the doctors diagnosed ‘resistant Malaria’ as I was not responding to treatment (I still believe it was triggered by the Jane Fonda work out I had done with my mum the previous night). I wasn’t sure which hurt more, the drip in my arm or the fact that my cousin’s wedding was in a week’s time and I might miss being a flower girl. All my Dad could say was ‘Man proposes, God disposes’
I knew deep down he blamed my mum for sending his little girl to that ‘prison yard’ of a school. I lay critical in hospital for three weeks and as if this wasn’t enough suffering for a poor child, I had lice.