The wizened security guard swung the dull grey steel gates open and directed us to the matron’s residence, a quaint green bungalow surrounded by January blooms and an inviting queen-of-the-night fragrance. A young girl ushered us into the living room where the matron discussed my welfare in my new school with my mother. My folks had raised me in a mainly Anglophone household where my siblings and I never spoke in Igbo, and I could barely understand what the matron and my mother were saying, but who cared? The house captain in charge of JSS I boarders arrived to introduce me to my new environment, and I said goodbye to my mother who urged me to behave myself and study hard, and I waved her goodbye until the house captain grabbed my arm and led me to the place that would become my new home. For the next eight weeks until the holidays arrived.
A few other girls sitting outside the dorms watched me struggle with my heavy portmanteau and other belongings and laughed, none of them offering to lift a finger. Most of them looked my age, but the older ones were the snootiest, and their rudeness irritated me. I arrived at my own dorm and stood by the door, taking in these new surroundings. This was boarding school? How did these girls survive in this cramped hovel with nearly no space? At home I slept on the lower half of the double bunk my parents had brought when we still lived in London, a bunk bed with a ladder. How on earth did the shorter girls here manage to climb onto the top at night? You could tell everyone used extra bed sheets and blankets—no-one had bothered replacing the smashed glass on the windows. No windows in harmattan? How did they not freeze to death from that chilly dust in their sleep? The floor reminded me of Port Harcourt’s Elelenwo district—potholes here,there, and everywhere. What about the TV? Did any of the girls own a radio? People actually lived like this? I hadn’t exactly pictured Mallory Towers when I imagined boarding school, but Lowood? Jane Eyre had my deepest sympathy.
I proceeded to stock my cupboard, and three girls bombarded me with their thousand-and-one questions. What was my name? What village did my parents come from? Where had I attended primary school? How old was I? Why didn’t I speak Igbo? I recognised one interrogator as a former Military Primary pupil aware of my British ties, and while my accent had now mellowed, my pronunciation often gave me away. Of course, my old schoolmate had to open her big mouth, and all hell let loose. For heaven’s sake, hadn’t they seen a Naija-Brit before? Word quickly spread, and more girls gathered round to stare at this mysterious newcomer, speaking in hushed tones with the Military Primary girl taking the lead. No rocket science required to work out exactly who they were talking about.
I managed to finish unpacking despite the hell-raising huballo, and asked to see the dining hall prefect to present my meal ticket to her. Her assistant sat in front of the senior dorms chatting with her friends. I greeted them and presented my dining pass before returning to my dorm. I WISH! The prefect repeated the questions those pesky girls had bombarded me with earlier, throwing in a few snarky remarks for good measure. Was my fault I sprouted upwards when her own growth was horizontal? Savage fat bitch, no wonder she took charge of dormitory meals. Handing over my meal ticket only should have taken a few minutes but this was ridiculous, and the other seniors who giggled each time I opened began to piss me off.
“EVERYBODY, COME AND SEE!” One of my tormentors yelled excitedly at the top of her lungs, alerting the whole senior dorm. “COME AND SEE THIS TALL LONDON GIRL!”
More students arrived, most of them in normal house clothes as opposed to the boarding uniform—a burgundy V-necked sleeveless A-line dress – or the Sunday uniform—a white V-necked gown. A few even sported S-curls in their hair…how unfair. I’d cut my own precious hair to get into boarding school while they used chemicals? One senior kept taunting me in Igbo, and I vaguely understood her vile insults—Mum and Dad spoke to each other in their mother tongue at home, meaning I’d already learned a few words—but of course I couldn’t reply, and the language barrier greatly amused the senior students. I hadn’t even cracked a single joke in their presence, and in less than five minutes they’d elevated me to school jester status which I hated, but what could I do apart from grin and bear it? I’d heard too many horror stories of what happened to students who even dreamed of challenging a prefect. This was boarding school?
The bell rang for supper, and I made myself a long cool cocoa to accompany my meal, and the other girls howled with laughter. Plain water only, they instructed. I nearly felt the dining hall prefect’s cane that evening, but she agreed to let my error pass. The main dining hall prefect, not her fat assistant from earlier. The dark miserable dining hall consisted of long tables, and nothing else. No chairs. No benches. No lightbulbs. They expected us to stand in near-pitch darkness to nearly choke on hard, rough gari dipped in cold egusi soup? Soup prepared with more bitter leaf than egusi? And the prefects eating all the fish… are you kidding me? Those greedy savages even received larger potions despite having paid the same fees as other students, and none of those privileged bitches stood with us in that rundown dining, preferring to eat in their dorms instead. How unfair.
Supper ended, and I longed for some peace and quiet. Bring it on.
Dream on, more like…
© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved