I was 11years old and leaving home for the first time. I’d been home alone with my mother for two years and I envied my brothers their independence. My mother and I turned up at my new school with my two bulging suitcases in tow. The prefect at the check-in desk had a check list as long as my face and efficient mother that I have, I wasn’t missing a thing. Not even the twelve dozen handkerchiefs they insisted I bring.
Parents of new boarders were allowed into our dormitories to help us settle in. Most JSS1 girls cried when it was time to say goodbye to their parents but I didn’t. As soon as my mother had helped haul all my property to my dorm, I gave her her matching orders.
“Don’t you want me to help you unpack?” she asked in surprise.
“No mummy, I’m fine, you can go now.”
The seniors laughed at me. “You had better let your mummy stay as long as possible because as soon as she goes you will start crying.”
Cleary they didn’t know me. I smiled at them politely and then sent a frown my mother’s way.
“Mummy go now!” I moaned.
“Okay,okay, I’m going.”
As soon as she left I unpacked my bags and made my bed. I couldn’t wait to tie a wrapper round my chest, bra straps on show, and lie in my bed like everyone else was. I could taste the freedom…and it was sweet!
I’d been there twenty four hours when I had my first run in with a senior.
“MEE, take this bottle down to slabs (the taps) and fill it with water for me.”
As soon as I responded the entire dormitory went silent. I was confused. Had I done something wrong?
“I don’t feel like going downstairs.”
She smiled at me and patted her mattress. “Sit down.” I sat.
“Let me explain how things work around here. I’m a senior and you’re a junior. When a senior asks you to do something, you do it.”
“What if I don’t feel like doing it? It’s not by force is it?”
“It is by force. If you don’t do it, she will punish you and believe me, you don’t want to serve punishment.”
“What kind of punishments can they give you?” I didn’t get it. Only my mother, aunties and teachers had ever punished me.
“They can ask you to kneel down and fly your arms. Or pick pin. Or hang from a bunk. Or if you really piss them off, they can beat you.”
“Beat me? I will beat the person back!”
At this point, all the seniors in my dorm had gathered round us and were listening in awe. The laughter was deafening.
“Don’t worry, you will soon learn. For now, take the bottle and go and fill it for me.”
I obeyed. I wanted to go and visit my cousin to explain this foreign concept to me and the slabs were en-route. When I replayed the conversation to my cousin she laughed herself to tears.
“Thank your stars that the senior was nice to you. Anyone else would have punished your life out.”
“Please this punishing business, how does it work? You mean any senior can just punish me if they feel like it?!”
“In a nutshell, yes! I suggest you do as you’re told if you don’t want to land yourself in trouble.”
I stared at empty bottle in my hand, thanked her for her advice and headed to slabs. I wasn’t ready to be punished, not just yet. I knew I would be at some point though. There was no way I was going to spend all my time running errands for people. Some of them would just have to accept no’s from me but until I figured out which one’s I could afford to defy, I smiled politely and said yes to every Tom, Dick and Harry.