I had presented myself at the Principal’s secretary’s office and was about telling her that the Principal had sent for me when I heard a voice from his office bellow;
“MARY! MARY! COME HERE IMMEDIATELY!”
Mary, the principal’s secretary fled her seat like a scalded cat. When our Principal is angry, everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) got out of his way and responded to his every command, double quick time. I mean, this man could bite! It didn’t help Mary that she was the Principal’s sister-in-law.
Still, Mary took the courtesy of knocking at the Principal’s door.
“Are you dense?” screamed the voice from within. “Will you come in here!”
Mary muttered something about not being dense before opening the door.
“Did you say anything there?” the Principal yelled.
“No sir,” Mary rep-lied, stepping into the room and forgetting to shut the door behind her, meaning I had quite clear view of the Principal’s office from where I stood.“You sent for me sir?”
“Yes, I yelled for you,” the Principal affirmed. “Can you explain this?”
He held up a piece of paper. It was rectangular and, from where I stood, looked like a certificate of some sort. It also looked like it had been visited with the wrath of Bruce’s extended family; there were holes everywhere and the edges bore the tell-tale marks of something that had been heartily chewed on by rats.
“Sir?” the bewildered Mary responded. Was this man in any way asking if she had dined on the certificate? If that was the case, then he was finally stark staring bonkers.
“Don’t sir me, you rodent!” Our Principal had a penchant for calling everyone rodent when he was annoyed. As it turned out, it was quite appropriate for the situation and Mary was more convinced than ever that the Principal suspected her of feasting on the certificate.
“But sir, I didn’t eat it.”
“That’s what I’m sa…..what?” The Principal stopped short. “Who said anything about you eating anything? I’m asking why rats had access to this certificate that I’m supposed to present to the board of governors when they arrive any time from now. Didn’t I tell you that this was the Certificate of Excellence presented to this school by the State Education Inspection Board? And that if anything happened to the certificate, it had better happened to you as well?”
Mary considered the prospect of being chewed on by a group of rats and did a mental god forbid.
“By the way, didn’t I ask you to get the exterminators to get rid of the rats in and around this office?”
“Yes sir, but..”
“And……” the Principal started, waiting for an answer.
“The exterminator saw the number of rat holes and said the job was too much for him alone.” Mary responded.
“Mary, what do I present to….” The Principal broke off, having seen something. Mary prayed in her mind that it wasn’t his birth certificate that had been chewed as well that he had spotted. “Is that….” started the Principal.
“RAT!” Mary finished, leaping onto the nearest chair as a long tailed rodent sprinted across the room in her direction.
“Will you get off that chair and kill it!” Our Principal yelled.
There was no way Mary was going to get off that chair to kill the rat. Even the chief priest in her village wasn’t going to make her do it. Principal spotted me standing in his secretary’s office.
“You, come in here and get that rat!”
I stepped into the office and got down to work. Having been part of some of the rat hunts in the hostel, I knew the first few steps to take in a rat hunt. First was to block all the rat’s available escape routes. Then make sure it had no access to its hole, if the hole was in that room. However, the Principal’s office was a jumble and there were a gazillion and one places the rat could hide. We had to do this the direct way.
I ran out to Mary’s office and grabbed a mop stashed away behind a drawer (yes, students know where everything is, you’d be surprised). As I stepped into the room, I didn’t even have to ask.
“It’s there,” squealed Mary from her fort of safety atop a chair in the Principal’s office.
I approached the corner she was pointing at and poked randomly. Immediately, something sprang out straight at me and for a moment, I wasn’t sure if it was a big rat or a small cat, till I spotted the tell-tale tail. This one had definitely fed fat on the Principal’s papers and the Principal began to wonder aloud which other important documents of his were now making their way down different rats’ digestive systems. As it approached me, I felt a small pang of fear. Wasn’t this thing afraid? Then I swung at it with the mop. It dodged the mop and changed direction, headed for The Shelf.
The Shelf was where the principal proudly displayed trophies and plaques won by the school at uncountable competitions. It was a multi tiered shelf and at the very top, all on its own, was a glass plaque, an award of excellence that our principal was presented with at some international event. Only the Principal and the Senior Prefect were allowed to touch it. Not even Mary was allowed near it, not even to clean it. At the start of every term, the Principal would sermonize about the rewards of hard work at the first assembly, the Senior Prefect standing beside him (at a good enough distance so the Principal wouldn’t knock it out of his hands by mistake while gesticulating), bearing the plaque in full view of the students as evidence that the rewards of hard work were beautiful, glass plaques.
The rat leapt onto the lowest level, bearing the shining trophies. I raised the mop, poised for a clear strike.
“Stop, stop you rodent!” Principal yelled. “Do you want to break everything?”
I stopped. The rat didn’t, however. It continued to the end of the lowest level where it could find leverage to climb to the next, higher level. Which it did. The second level also bore trophies and cups; no danger there. Then it mounted to the third level, bearing wooden plaques. We all waited with bated breath, watching the rat’s every move, Principal nearly blue with holding his breath.
Then it made it to the fourth level, bearing the more beautiful wooden and glass plaques. It didn’t even pay these any attention; just raced to where the top of a book shelf was within reach and with a small leap, made top of the shelf. Principal heaved a sigh of relief.
Then the malevolent rat turned around back to The Shelf. If it took a leap down, it would land on the fourth level. If it took a short leap up, it would make it to the top level where, at the center, the Principal’s most prized possession stood on a rather small base. The Vice Principal had once suggested that a small wooden base be constructed to make less susceptible to a fall (and of course shatter). Principal had nearly turned purple at the suggestion, debunking any chance of making the plaque any less beautiful by “tainting it with unnecessary additions”. He no doubt saw the wisdom of that move now.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Principal muttered under his breath and I must confess, I was amused. The only time we ever saw him like this was when the school football team was playing a match. It was usually followed by a slap to our closest player if we missed a great opportunity to score. And funnily enough, each time he slapped someone, we scored a goal. We soon took to shouting “slap him, slap him!” at any player close to the Principal if our team ever found itself a goal or two down. Players started avoiding playing the wing where our Principal usually stood except we were winning the game handily.
The rat took the leap……..and landed on the top level.
Principal nearly had a cardiac arrest.
“STOP THAT THING!” he yelled at me.
“But sir, I will break….” I started quite frankly.
“DON’T YOU DARE GO NEAR THAT PLAQUE!” the man yelled, both at me and the errant rat. Me, I stopped. The rat, it proceeded leisurely, like it was daring the Principal to do anything. The man was sweating like a Christmas goat. Each step the rat took closer to the plaque, our Principal’s color went closer to blue. Now it was half a metre away. Then a quarter metre. Then less than a quarter metre. Now within sniffing distance. And finally right next to the plaque. I though Principal would drop dead right about now.
“Don’t even think it,” Principal said, addressing the rat squarely. I wished the rest of the school could see this; it was priceless.
The rat turned to look at him as if to say, “ehhn, okay na. Let’s see if I can do it or not.”
It nudged the plaque with the tip of its nose once. The plaque shook on its tiny support base then stabilized. The rat poked again, this time a bit harder. The plaque wobbled a bit, then again stabilized. We all stood and watched this malicious rat try to knock the plaque off the shelf. It poked again and again and each time, the plaque would wobble then stabilize itself. Principal heaved a sigh of relief and actually laughed.
“The silly thing,” he said. “Thinks it can knock it off.”
The rat stopped and looked at him, as if to say, “Oh, so because I’ve been having mercy on you and this rubbish thing, you can now insult me abi? Okay.”
The rat turned around and ran a short distance then stopped and turned straight at the plaque.
“Oh, no, no no!” Principal yelled, realizing what the evil thing had in mind. The rat then ran full speed and bumped into the plaque, this time knocking it clean off the shelf.
“CATCH IT!” Principal yelled. I lunged but I was too late. The thing smashed against the hard ceramic tiled floor.
With a roar, the Principal lunged from behind his table at the shelf and, in one clean sweep, grabbed at the rat as it tried to make good its escape and crashed into the shelf, knocking down a few cups and plaques then falling to the ground. I immediately rushed over to help him but he pushed me away and stood up, a bit painfully. Then I heard a squeak as the Principal held something aloft, like a champion’s prize. In the Principal’s right palm, gripped tightly, was the rat’s tail and of course, attached to the tail was the rat.
“AHA!” cried Principal. “Let’s see if you don’t get a swift trial!”
What? Did this man know about our “trials”? What was he talking about “swift trials” at a rat?
“And what is going on here?” A smooth, cultured voice asked. Standing in the doorway, peering in at the drama going on inside through his half moon glasses, was the secretary to the board of governors of the school. Behind him was the rest of the board. It was traditional for the board to first arrive the Principal’s office before being led to the board meeting room by the Principal. Goodness alone knew how long they had been there watching the little home video going on within. Principal was still holding up the squeaking rat and Mary was still perched on a chair and I was still clutching an old mop. Goodness, we must have looked ridiculous.
“Any explanations?” the secretary prompted.
“Er, just cleaning out my office sir,” the Principal responded. The secretary ran his eyes over the scene again. Obviously, it did not look like an office cleaning to him. Behind him, the other dignified members of the board were trying to get a peek of the action.
“Let us proceed to the board meeting room,” the secretary said, ushering the rest out. The Principal was about to follow, then stopped, gripped me by the collar and whispered fiercely into my ear;
“If anybody and I mean anybody hears about what happened here, you will become an unofficial cleaner in this school, okay?”
“Yessir,” I replied and the man made off after the board.
Boy, was the school going to hear this one!