There are hacks for everything, for keeping a man, for pleasing a girl or pitching to potential investors; for preventing your shoes from smelling or your clothes from getting worn out easily.
But there are no hacks for surviving boarding school. You can’t be sure of anything, so you can’t prepare against it. Even if your father were the principal, you still manage to get screwed sideways.
Now, this is a typical day at Laurels High School.
Wake up at 4am, stand in the cold for an overly boring morning devotion even God would be exhausted from. Fetch water for a hundred and one seniors before having your bath. your five minutes to assembly and get punished for coming to the assembly ground late. Nobody cares that you were slaving for seniors.
The first two lessons of the day are the most interesting. After break, we just sleep through the classes. Except it’s Mr. Victor a.k.a Mr. I-See-Myself. You dare not blink in his class. He is more wicked than the devil. Or Ms. Anfela, there’s no boring moment with her. If there was a subject Laughter and Jokes, she’d be the perfect facilitator.
School hours end at 2:00pm, prep starts by 2:30 and runs for one hour. We retire to the hostel for compulsory siesta and then wake up after an hour to wash our uniforms or serve punishments as the case may be. Night prep begins at 7:00pm and ends by 10:00. The smart ones read, the tired ones sleep and the juvenile ones hide in dark corners to kiss and pleasure themselves.
10pm is lights out but on many nights we’d have to serve strings of punishments before sleep, most times for not committing any crime at all. We get punished for doing everything right. From kneeling down, to lying down to picking pins and driving machines. We are often left with sore thighs and I wondered what part of hell those seniors evolved from.
But 29 September was not just any other day. It was two weeks after resumption for the new session. The dull ones repeated, the clever ones changed school. The regulars like myself and Afe, my best friend since JSS1, came back. We were now seniors but with no ‘liberty’.
We were at the dining area for lunch. And all of a sudden, senior Kenneth barged into the hall and asked all of us to go underneath our tables. It wasn’t strange, it’s one of the mildest punishments we get to serve in Laurels high, we got so used to it, we anticipated it every meal time. We’d squeeze ourselves into a fold till the dining prefect was satisfied that we had suffocated ourselves enough and then he will shout ‘disengage’.
But when we went underneath our tables that day, we didn’t have the luxury of hearing senior Kenneth’s smooth baritone echo ‘disengage’.
Nike Jasper got stung by what we kept referring to as ‘something’ as we weren’t sure what it was exactly that stung her. Her screams threw the inhabitants of the hall into chaos. They girls were screaming, further complicating the situation the boys were crawling out of the underneath of tables and sprinting into the fields Students were falling over themselves and some getting injured. Everybody was running. Little did we know we were rushing into more danger. A swarm of bees sturded the fields. We weren’t sure what provoked the plague but there we were in a war with bees.
I too ran out and before I knew it, I had a colony of them on her lush hair. They stung, till I almost ran mad. I found my way to the kitchen, they said the smoke gets rid of them. I sat by the fire, exhausted from running. My scalp felt like an overcooked piece of potato.
In the school compound, teachers were running to the staff room, some to their cars. The security guards had taken cover with the driver in the school bus and were refusing to open it to allow anybody in.
I sit to think about it now and I can laugh but nothing was funny that on that day and the days that followed. For after that storm, another brewed on the 30th. It was the SS2 students. During the afternoon prep, there was noise from SS3 block and then blows were being exchanged and then labor prefect Shammah was seen being made to eat sand. It was a reprisal attack, they weren’t the bees that attacked the previous day but they had a hand in making the situation what it turned out to become.
We too rushed out of our classroom and joined our immediate seniors. The wave of vendetta had been passed. We were collecting our liberty by force.
Moreover, if they weren’t busy punishing us the previous day, we would have been more aware of the bees and careful too. Afe wouldn’t have lost her glasses, my scalp wouldn’t have felt like an overdone potato, Nneka would not have had swollen cheeks and eyes.
Our intifada was justified but it escalated too quickly. The teachers could not stop us, they began to run away even but the no nonsense principal Bola knew exactly what to do. The police were her friends and as soon as she received news, she invited them to the school.
We were dispersed with tear gas.
In the days that followed, the whole students in senior arm were suspended. Innocent and guilty alike.
“We are not training criminals here. If you want to fight, go back to your parents house and do it there.” Her voice was steady and strong, piercing every ear that was under its command.
I felt no pain or regret, the picture that kept lingering in my mind’s eye was that of me dragging Senior Rachel by the hair. I wish I had given her sand to eat as well.
My father would ask how it happened and I’d explain to him exactly as it happened. The students didn’t go on suspension due to the mediation of the PTA. Our parents were tired of having us at home and the school wasn’t ready to deal with thugs the coming weeks.
Though we were back in the jungle in no time, Laurels High never remained the same.