I vividly remember my first day in Secondary School. I woke up that Sunday morning with a spring in my step. I was finally going off to boarding school and not just any school, the famous Queen’s College aka QC! Every single item (useful and useless) on my check-list had been bought. Between my mother and myself, we knew that I didn’t need 12 dozen name tags or 10 dozen handkerchiefs…but if the school said I needed it, so be it!
I walked through the gates of Queen’s college in my oversize Sunday wear, dragging my matching suitcases behind me. I had bought the cases while on holiday that summer and refused to tear the protective covers off until that morning; I needed everything to be brand spanking new. The confidence with which I approached the check-in desk was impressive. I refused to let my mother speak on my behalf, determined to handle the process like a big girl. I banished her to a corner while I sorted out the formalities. I didn’t want her escorting me to my dorm room either but she insisted so I grudgingly let her. The corridors were filled with the sounds of JSS1 girls bawling as their parents left but no, not me. I all but shoved mine out of the door so I could explore my new found independence in peace!
The reality of my situation didn’t dawn on me until I woke up at 1am the following morning needing to pee. There was no light (power cut) and the silence that engulfed the boarding house area was deafening. All the stories I had heard about witches, wizards and some female spirit that wore stilettos (madam koikoi), visiting students in the middle of the night, came flooding in. For the first time I wondered why the hell I was not in my mother’s house where her fervent prayers were sure to keep demonic forces at bay. I didn’t want to be the newbie that wet her bed though so I grabbed my Rosary, flicked on my torchlight and sprinted to the toilet. I have never peed so fast in all my life. I raced back to my dorm and buried myself under my bedspread in record time. Clutching my Rosary, I chanted Hail Mary’s until God had mercy on me and put me to sleep. That was how I survived my first night.
My first shock came when I was woken up a couple of hours later to have a shower. I stared at the well-meaning junior dorm captain (JDC) like she had lost her mind.
“But it’s 3am!”
She patiently explained to me that junior girls didn’t dare venture near the bathrooms after 5am, especially not a fresher like me. Earlier was better if I intended to attend my first day of classes smelling fresh. And that was how I found myself having a shower at roughly 3.30am. In the coming days I discovered that that shower had been a welcome present from the gods; for it was one of the only times that year, water flowed in the bathrooms!
If you went to boarding school in Nigeria, you will know there is a hierarchy and JSS1 girls are at the bottom of the food chain. I didn’t know this till I had my first encounter with a senior the very next day. I was lying on my bed hatching my escape plan when my thoughts were rudely interrupted by a senior shouting my name.
At first I ignored her, I really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, but the third time she screamed my name, I sensed danger. It was too early in the game for drama so I dragged myself out of bed.
“Take this bottle to slabs and fill it with water.”
It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t have the right to refuse, so refuse is what I did.
“Sorry but I’m not in the mood to go anywhere.”
I knew I had said the wrong thing when all the seniors in the vicinity, who had been lazing in bed half naked, sprang to attention.
Shouts of, “Ehn, junior girl what did you just say?!” filled the dorm and in hindsight, I would like to thank God for sparing my life that day, for only He can explain how I dodged a bruising!
The senior, under the influence of grace, sat me down and gave me the lowdown on how things worked. In this new order I found myself in, I was the equivalent of a slave, the property of my seniors. If I dared disobey them or be rude to them, they would send me to join my father in the afterlife. Once she was satisfied that I understood my place, she thrust the bottle in my hand and ordered me to find my way to slabs. The JDC pulled me aside and kindly informed me that slabs were the rows of taps by the Sick Bay, where students fetched water.
And that was my first encounter with a senior. Much as I hated the fact that I was rudely ejected from my bed without a choice in the matter, I like to think I won that round. If she looked closely, she may have spotted traces of saliva floating through her bottle of water. Or maybe not. After all, I did give it a good shake!