I was writing about going to ‘Mango village’ while I was in JSS1 with Glory (I can’t remember if Martha came with us or if she was supposed to be the sentry} but as I wrote, I remembered the story you are about to read and began to write it instead.
When I was in JSS1, I was a bony, big eyed bibliophile who had only one bucket, a green OK plast contraption that provided for all my needs which was only one- washing my body. I washed my clothes at the tap and formed a pouch with my house wear, as other girls did, for taking the clothes to the dormitory without needing a container for them. You didn’t need a bucket of water to flush the toilet, you simply needed a paper or leather (nylon) bag and a good throwing arm for flinging the products of your business far into the corn farms that framed the back of our dormitory. If you were not in the frame of mind to expose your tender buttocks to other girls and most importantly, the teachers in staff quarters who used the road a few meters across from Culverwell, you would brave the faecal landmines to have only the budding ears of corn and God as witnesses to your bowel unloading activities.
But this story is not about shit.
Water was used for cleaning the dormitory too and once a week (twice a week if we had inspections) we submitted a bucket of water for this cleaning, sometimes we submitted two buckets. But I was not a corridor scrubber, room sweeper, bathroom washer or gutter girl/washer at the time, although as a form one girl, I could only have been a scrubber and a form four student could only be a gutter girl (the gutters were where we had our baths, very few girls used the bathrooms) Those were the girls who needed water for their chores and they got to use the leftover water as they liked (I never rose to any of those positions, I rotated between quadrangle sweeping and sweeping the front of the hostel and dodging from the matron, Hajia Mamu’s morning shouts of “Adieze” in the three years I was there). It began to bother me that I’d give up my one and only bucket of water for these girls to party with, I decided to stop submitting water.
It was the easiest thing I’d ever done, leaving the dormitory at 5:30am while the house captain and most of the girls snored. I wasn’t missed because my morning duty didn’t involve water and I had already mastered the art of not sticking out. I did it successfully for a month and like all perfect things it ended too soon. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one with the same brainwave and that soon became a big problem.
One Saturday morning, the house captain and my school mother noticed the declining population of both nubile girls and sand caked buckets of water, she roared and the foundations of Culverwell trembled. Form four girls (an SS1 girl in that school was still a junior girl in the dormitory) were sent to gather up all Culverwell girls where they were hiding, it was a bloodbath. Girls were hauled out of box rooms, only SS3 girls, usually prefects stayed in box rooms. It was a tremendous breach of protocol to take a junior girl who had gone to hide with her sister or friend in the box room but the girls empowered by the House Captains rage, knew no fear.
In thirty minutes, there was only one junior girl unaccounted for- her name was Adaeze. Her name is still Adaeze by the way, and Chinanuekpere and Ezeada and Nnedinma and Ulonwadi and Adaku and this is not a name recitation post. When I’d leave the hostel on Saturday morning, I wouldn’t head for any of the other six dormitories. My legs would take me to the senior dining hall while the bible my mother had bought me and Everyday with Jesus would be clenched in shaky fists as my beating heart provided the melody for my flight. Before I went into the dining hall, I would enter the kitchen and greet the staff, this was the most important part of the process. Saturday mornings were for akara and pap- my favourite food on the menu and there was little chance of getting extra akara because everyone came for breakfast, but after frying the succulent balls, one of the staff would come to bench where I sat reading my bible, inhaling its scent and missing my mother to give me balls of akara wrapped in a black leather (nylon) bag, there would also be a cup of pap in his hand too.
When it was time for breakfast, Glory (the only person who knew where I went) rushed to me and told me all that had happened and how I had become a wanted criminal. As she told the story, I noticed something odd, Culverwell Form four girls getting in formation around the dining hall. I enjoyed my breakfast while they milled around and just as I stepped out of the dining hall, they appeared like “film trick”.
“Princess of Culverwell” One hailed.
“No, she is Queen of Culverwell” another corrected and I barely restrained myself from rolling my eyes.
“So you are the one we have been looking for throughout today abi?”
“Where did you hide?” another asked.
“The girl is a spirit, I have said it before”
I looked at the girl who’d called me spirit, I was pleased that my suspicion that she did not have sense was proved right. I continued to look at them, they would be tired of the game soon.
“Senior Chinedu said we should carry you on our head from wherever we saw you to wherever she is,”
For the first time that day, I felt real fear.
“Please don’t carry me on your head, if you do, people will never forget even when I get to SS3.” I tried hard to keep my voice from breaking.
“You should have remembered that one before you went to hide” the senseless one intoned.
“Ok let’s go, but when we get to the front of the hostel, we will carry you. So that she doesn’t punish us too” the leader of the delegation patted my cropped hair and nudged me to walk.
We walked and talked about many things, soon I forgot the undoubtedly heavy punishment waiting for me and almost laughed at a couple of their dry jokes and was absorbed in their fascinating gist. Just before we got to the peak of the erosion fashioned hill on the way to the dormitory, they lifted me off the ground.
The house captain was laughing when they put me down before her, I wondered if that was a good thing, wondered if I would live to turn twelve. She was still laughing when she asked where I hid and why I felt the need to run away.
“I have only one bucket, if I submit it then if I wouldn’t have water to have my bath.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked softly and I took my eyes from her face to the many faces flanking her.
“Go and have your bath, the gutter girls can use your water to start washing the gutter”
As I loped to my room with the mumblings of the disappointed, blood thirsty crowd behind me, my heart was singing.