Dad took one look at my golden ticket before heading straight for his bedroom without a word. No surprises there. He could avoid the subject all he wanted, but my long-awaited posting had finally arrived. Either he paid for secondary school, or I stayed at home for a whole year. Not that I had enough nerve to make that declaration to his face, but I proved my determination when I refused to board the school bus the next morning. Dad no longer had any excuse to keep me in that horrid Military Primary with those unsympathetic staff and pupils, but I’d never seen a man change his tune that fast. He put the blame on me, arguing the situation could have been avoided had I passed the Rivers State common entrance exam. Excuse me? How did one fail an exam they’d never sat? Thank God Mum had witnessed his stubborn attitude when he denied me that opportunity. Why couldn’t he admit responsibility for his mistake, and why did I have to suffer? Tears ran down my cheeks, and I pleaded desperately, begging him to withdraw me from Military Primary. My father exhaled deeply and promised to sleep on the matter, and just before I turned in myself I fervently asked the Lord above to touch his heart.
A few days after my heartfelt prayer, my mother hopped on the Aba-bound staff bus, my placement slip safely in her bag, and returned that evening with Future Hope’s boarding prospectus. My father grumbled at the exceedingly long list, asking if we could afford every item required. Not my problem—he’d refused to fork out twenty measly naira for that Rivers State exam the previous year, at least I could have attended a nearby school as a day student instead of having him spend a fortune on boarding education. Thank goodness for my uncle in Aba whose children who had gone through the boarding system, meaning any old equipment—lockers, cupboards, blankets, textbooks etc—could be passed down to me. Problem half solved.
With every effort made my heart beat with excitement, but sunk in despair when Mum led me to the local barber. I’d grown my hair long all my life, and now some stupid rule demanded I shave off my crowning glory to discourage vanity? I nearly cried when I caught my reflection in the mirror after the barber went to town on my hair with his shears. I smiled and pretended the style suited me. In reality I resembled a 11-year-old homeless hooker on crack. The neighbourhood kids laughed mercilessly, but who cared? Small price to pay for getting the hell out of that God-forsaken hell-hole called Military Primary. Laugh to death guys, I don’t care…
The night before I moved into the dorms, Mum sat me down and gave me the talk. That talk. The message? Mess up with any man, and you’ll get pregnant. And your dad will kill you. I knew what happened to girls who bulged unexpectedly after ‘sexy time’ with some random dude—either they found themselves discarded by their families, or they ended up marrying the guy responsible. Nice one Mum, but why are you telling me this? Why did I require this info I’d already acquired from Lolly and Ikebe Super when Future Hope only admitted girls? I hadn’t even started wearing bras yet—what red-blooded male would look twice at an eleven-year-old flat ironing board?
I lay in my lower bunk for what seemed like hours until I finally drifted off, excited at the thought of sleeping in another bed the following night. Earlier that day, I’d written to Mrs. Agim, thanking her for having me in her class and informing her I’d gained admission into Future Hope. What a joke—I had nothing to be thankful for—I wished I could have faced her one more time to tell her where exactly she could shove her lessons. The next day after one last meal at home, I said goodbye to my brothers and father before my mother and I made the journey to Aba, stopping briefly at my uncle’s where the family wished me good luck and gave me a parting gift. ₦23, all for me? More money than I’d ever owned my whole life. Dad never allowed his children to handle money as he felt we were too young. Now I had all that dough in hand. My first instinct? Spend, spend, spend…what else? My uncle and cousins said their goodbyes, loaded the rented car with my luggage, and I waved as the driver led to Future Hope Girls’ Commercial, my main home for the next six years of my life.
Boarding school, here I come. Little did I know what lay ahead…
© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved