They called it scaling, it was an almost seamless operation with one girl astride the old tank holding a bucket to scoop water. Other girls would carry buckets on their heads waiting to fill them with the scooped water and they would carry the buckets to the small clearing where there were perhaps hundreds of buckets, they would exchange the buckets of water for empty buckets while the girls appointed to keep watch over the water stood silently and menacingly.
There was a time when students of that school did not have to scale tanks to fetch water, when they were queens who had come from the cities and hamlets that dotted the country to get a superior education. In the dying days of the military era in Nigeria, many of the girls were champion scalers, champion contraband smugglers, champion cutters of grass, and champion eaters of tuwo.
There was an eleven year old girl who was yet to scale, she was afraid of heights and of falling into the tank and never getting out. She did not want to drown in that water and never see her parents and brothers again, besides her mother would resurrect her and kill her again for dying a stupid death. Because scaling was a rotational operation, everyone would eventually sit on that tank, she refused to join them. She was content with keeping her bucket near the edge of the tank, waiting for the drops from the tiny leak to fill her bucket.
The others finished and went on their way, evening prep class was starting soon and they had to take their buckets to their rooms before it started. Our little heroine prayed her bucket would fill up soon, she didn’t want to face her bunkmate’s wrath if she didn’t bring water to the dormitory. It soon began to rain, if you have not experienced a rain storm in the North Central of Nigeria, think of the heaviest rain storm in your locale and multiply the ferocity by five.
The tank was beside the principal’s office block and the block behind it housed the Vice Principal’s (admin) office, he had an enormous girth and he was regarded as wicked (strict) but the girl would have an encounter with him that made her remember him as a potbellied angel. She ran to the intro-tech lab and crawled into one of the desks there and promptly fell asleep.
Because she did not have a watch, she had no way of knowing the time she woke up but when she went to look at the classroom area- the school was definitely organised by Goliath’s descendants with each section as far from the other as possible, it was obvious that prep was long over, even Senior prep that ended at 10pm. She suddenly felt the presence of her bladder and its insistence to void its content on her dress.
Putting her bucket on her head and walking back to the dormitory took all the heart she had then and in the future, she also carried a four litre container on her left hand, she would have her bath with the water in it in the morning. She doesn’t know now how she walked the distance to yellow house that night, how she ignored the sounds and images her minds produced and the ones that came with the night.
She must have seemed like an apparition to the girls who were standing in front of Emotan house gossiping under the stars, perhaps they were expecting her though because they didn’t scream or run away but removed the burdens from her head and hand. When she is a hundred years old, she will still remember the girls who hugged her and tell their names to anyone who’d listen to the ramblings of a centenarian.
There are many more stories from that night, from her roommate who accused her of witchcraft because at eleven she did what the brainless idiot could not even contemplate or how the next morning, the four litres of water our conquering heroine was to have her bath with grew to more than three buckets.
A wise man once said “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. That nigh, I found that statement to be true.