‘Do you know my class? You are nowhere near my level. You are too small for me to handle. I can crush you with my bare hands!’ These were the words that spewed off Senior Nkeiru’s fat and misshapen lips. She imitated the sound of a cracking nut as she pressed her equally fat palms together to show me how easily she could crush me.
She had no idea of the ugly picture she painted when she got into her ‘seniority’ mode. She would contort all the muscles in her round face and gesture so frantically with both hands and legs in such a way that anyone watching would immediately assume that she was practicing Taekwando moves. ‘Gorilla’ and ‘Warrior’ were the nicknames the other students called her; behind her of course. I seriously doubt if anyone who said to her face would have lived to tell the story; not because she was as powerful as she claimed to be but because of the stream of saliva she would pour into the person’s face as she verbally assaulted the person. It didn’t help that she was well over six feet tall because the average height of the junior students in St.Agnes girls’ private college was approximately five feet, three inches. I know that becaues earlier that year, one of our Physical and Health Education teachers measured our heights and calculated the average. So, when Gorilla began her tirade, the unlucky person would either be sprinkled with or drowned in her garlic smelling saliva depending on the gravity of her offence. In mathematics terms, one could say that the volume of Gorilla’s saliva on a victim is directly proportional to the Victim’s offence.
I had already been anointed with it as I knelt before her. My offence- I had ‘mistakenly’ poured away half of the total quantity of water in the metallic twenty-five litre bucket that Gorilla had mandated me to carry across a distance of 400 metres which was the distance from the water well to her bed corner. I barely weighed forty-nine kilograms and somehow she expected me to carry something that heavy without spilling a drop. It seemed that she also reasoned like a member of the ape family.
Quite fortunately for me- in her opinion, she didn’t tell me to replace the lost water. She only left me kneeling on the hot earth under the scorching sun for five hours. My complexion turned from a fair one to a red one at the end of my sentence.
We had barely a week left before the day came for us to vacate for the Christmas and New year celebrations. We had finished our first term examinations and the school management ordered that the week spent awaiting the teachers to grade our papers and compile our results into individual folders, should be used to tidy the school environment. The various school prefects were asked to assign the washing of the bathrooms and rest rooms, clearing of the tall grasses and uprooting of the small weeds, pushing in and burning of the trash in the garbage pit, darkening of the blackboards in all the classes with crushed charcoal dissolved in water, clearing of the school gutters and scrubbing of the dormitory floors to the junior students. It was a horrible week and the chores never seemed to end. It was also a wrong time to offend a senior student as she would immediately assign you the worst job she could possibly think of.
My best friends, Chiamaka and Onyedikachi, and I sat on a bench located under a mango tree for the shade it provided from the merciless sun to plan ways to avoid joining the rest of the class four girls in clearing the tall grasses in the school compound the next day.
‘We could go to the school clinic and get a nurse’s report exempting us from the work due to medical conditions’, Dikachi suggested.
‘No. It will raise eyebrows if the three of us submit exemption reports at the same time, minutes away from the commencement of the work.’ Amaka said. That was typical of Amaka. She liked to use big words. ‘Miss England’, was the name she was fondly called by our classmates. She was very smart and very humble about it.
‘And besides, Gorilla will just squeeze the report sheets into a ball and toss it at our heads or even better, reserve it to be used as toilet paper’ I added and this erupted laughter.
Nkeiru ‘Gorilla’ Achebe was the labour prefect and was solely in charge of assigning each student a portion to clear. Seeing as I was already in her bad books, I imagined her giving me a Vee portion to clear. A Vee portion is one that starts out narrow and extends just like the letter ‘v’. I really had to find a way to skip the work or I would end up with blisters on my palms and it really hurt me when they popped open.
‘We could go to the school chapel and pretend to pray at exactly the same time that the work is being shared among our mates’. I suggested and the two of them immediately shook their heads in dismissal of it.
‘Haba, Mary.’ Dikachi chided me. ‘ We cannot lie by something sacred. We will be punished by God.’
Sometimes, I wondered how I ever became and remained friends with someone like Dikachi. The way she thought, sometimes irritated me. As if she did not know that planning ways to lie and abscond from our duties was a sin itself.
‘Not even that’, Amaka chirped in. ‘Gorilla will share the work according to the list of names of the students in Class four that Sandra will give her. So whether we are present or not during the time the work is being shared, our portion will be kept for us. Sandra will see to that. She doesn’t like us much. Remember the Home-Econs episode.’
Sandra was the class prefect of our class. She also bore a grudge against us; with good reason, though.
Earlier that school term, our Home-Economics teacher gave everyone in our class an assignment to sew a big doll-sized gown with frills and shiny buttons and all the works. It was a really colourful assignment, to say the least. At all times during the period of the assignment, the class was littered with bits and pieces of cotton and lace materials in all colours. It was a period to showcase one’s talent in dress-making although I had none to showcase. I hated dress making so much because I always pricked my finger tips with the needle. When the assignment was given, Sandra was so boastful about how her mother was a well-sought after seamstress in their community and how she also had been blessed with gifted hands like her. She was very certain that her grade would be the best in the entire class. She was always seen with her on-going work in her hands at all hours of the day paying little attention to anything else.
Late one night, after the night prayers had been long said and most students were fast asleep in their beds, I was awake; searching for the key to my dormitory cupboard. I figured that I may have left it in the classroom during the night prep and I decided to go and retrieve it. I stepped outside the dormitory but it was very dark and the and I was somewhat scared. I had heard stories that the school was built on a burial ground and at night when humans were asleep, the ghosts of the buried bodies arose to convey in the trees, classrooms and the refectory. It was rumored that if one walked alone at night, she was taken to the ghost world and never returned to tell the story. I didn’t feel like being a ghost just yet so I went back inside and awakened Dikachi and Amaka. They complained at being disturbed but followed me though in the darkness with only a torch light to light the path.
When we got to our classroom, they both perched tiresomely on the front row tables while I went in further to look for my key. I did find my key inside my locker and I also found Sandra’s finished sewing work on her table which was next to mine. She must have forgotten to put it back in her locker when she left for night prayers. Out of curiosity, I picked it up. To her credit, it was really beautiful and all the finishes were perfect. She had even attached a paper label with the inscription- Sandy-Best designs. I showed it to the others and they both agreed that it was really beautiful. My admiration quickly turned to envy. I had read somewhere that ‘To be on top, you either have to work very hard to get there or work very hard to ensure that no one else gets there’. I knew that with such a beautiful effort, Sandra would get the best grade and I imagined what it would be like to have to listen to her gloat about it for the rest of the school year. I shuddered. And with that I made up my mind. I held the soft cotton cloth in my hands and with one move, I ripped it apart. Dikachi and Amaka were so shocked that for about five seconds they just stared at me. Then Amaka suddenly burst into laughter and grabbing a piece of the ripped part, she ripped it into smaller pieces. Dikachi followed suit and soon, we were all laughing and tearing cloth. It was a really terrible thing we did, I admit. But at that moment, it was wickedly fun.
We even felt worse when we realized that the next day was the submission day for the assignment. That morning, I was already seated in class when Sandra came in. She strode with such purpose to her locker that I immediately knew what it was that she sought. She searched the locker for a few minutes before glancing about the class in frustration. That was when she saw her cloth or rather, what was left of it. We hadn’t even bothered with hiding the evidence. She gave out a piercing scream when she realized that it was actually hers. She cursed and cursed before leaving the class to report to the Home-Economics teacher. I was told that the teacher was in a foul mood and refused to listen to Sandra’s complaint. Sandra scored zero out of the thirty marks that the practical work came with. I felt ashamed and I know my friends did too when she spent all week crying and asking the unknown what she did to deserve it. I wondered if I would have preferred her gloats to her tears and I decided maybe not. We probably would have gotten away with the act if barely two weeks later, Dikachi hadn’t grown a conscience and decided to tell Sandra in an effort to ‘un-burden her soul’ as she put it. Sandra had threatened fire and brimstone and had reported us to everyone she possibly could. We were flogged in the presence of the whole student body in the assembly ground and then given a week of grass-clearing. Sandra would probably have forgotten the whole episode except that the teacher neither awarded her marks nor gave her a chance to re-do it. She looked at us with distaste for the rest of the term and proceeded to make our lives as miserable as she could. She was always the first to notice our absence during work or prayers and she always reported to a prefect who proceeded to punish us. I almost wished I had not seen her cloth.
‘How about we go to Mrs. Adenodi’s house and ask to help her fetch her water. She can then excuse us from the work herself, and then we neither have to lie or dodge work?’ Amaka suggested. Dikachi and I nodded our heads in agreement and the next day we did just that. We had no problem convincing Mrs.Adenodi who was heavily pregnant to help her with some domestic work. If Gorilla and Sandra were unhappy with the fact that we would not be working with the rest, they did not say it.
We finished with the water fetching and carrying a lot earlier than those clearing grass on the school field. Mrs. Adenodi asked offered us some food and put on the television in her one bedroom apartment that the school management leased to her and her husband who also worked in the school as the head cashier. We thanked her and accepted the offer but almost as soon as we sat down to eat, I remembered a drug that I was supposed to take at noon and leaving my friends there, I rushed to the dormitory to get it. I had some pain in my left ear and the school nurse had prescribed an analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug for me.
When I got to the dormitory area, it was not surprisingly quiet as all students were working on the fields and farms. Even the dormitory doors were locked. It didn’t deter me as I usually left my corner window slightly open so I could get in through it if I needed a quick snack or something. I slipped my tiny frame in without making much sounds and bent down to my locker to get the drugs. That was when I heard the strange sounds coming from one end of the hostel.
‘Yeeees! Yeeees! Ooooo!’ The sounds were obviously been made by a female and led by curiosity, I inched closer to where they came from. And that was when I saw them; Gorilla and my mathematics teacher, Mr. Austin, having sex! He was astride her and naked as a jay bird. She too was naked and buckled wildly beneath him. I should have gone as silently as I came. I should have disappeared into thin air. I should have done anything but what I did- scream. As they both stopped abruptly and looked at me, I closed my eyes and I deeply prayed that the ground would open beneath me. I don’t think it did because the next thing I felt were Gorilla’s palms around my neck.
Maybe, she really could crush me after all.