I catch the sight of my pink night shirt in the line area as I take slow nervous steps towards the hostel. I still haven’t washed it after last night’s episode. I might not get a chance to do so, so I’d rather just warm up to the idea of sleeping in it tonight, smell and all; that’s if I get to sleep at all. My eyes are still a little heavy, joining forces with my banging head. It feels like a bag of rice in there, and if I get careless with my next few words, it would feel like several bags really fast. I haven’t mastered getting used to Sinemile’s slaps yet.
How she became my bunkmate is still very vivid in my memory. I feel unfortunate: maybe If I hadn’t been at the wrong place all these wouldn’t have happened to me. Maybe I’d never have known Sinemile, and my life in school would have been so much better.
I remember that episode as though it was yesterday. I was a naïve JS1 student who just broke free from the confines of domesticity. I was excited to finally be free from my mum’s strict supervision for a while. I had dreamed of that moment when I would not be sharing a room with my sisters Chinelo and Kelechi. It had finally come and I was more than glad to explore.
On that fateful day I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to defy the norms a little. In my school, junior girls never went for social night, except they had two heads. Seniors, for whatever reason, believed that it was daring for any junior girl to come to any place where seniors were gathered. People who had tried it in the past had horrifying stories to tell of the things they had experienced afterwards. People who had witnessed it had exaggerated versions of the story, making it even more dreadful to dare.
I, naïve as I was, didn’t know so much at the time though. I didn’t know about Remi, a girl whose story is told around school about how she showed up in senior’s dining hall because she thought junior’s dining hall was too dirty for her, and how seniors beat her blue black till she was taken to the sickbay, and later fled the school for fear. Nobody had told me about Franca too, who had an influential school mother, and assumed that made her immune to the general rule, until she was made to lie on the courtyard and lick sand for twenty-four hours straight while her so-called school mother watched and laughed with the other seniors. No one had told me it was such a big sin to trespass.
So that day I decided to go for social night. I didn’t let anyone in on my plan, I didn’t really have any friends –it was only my second week in school. Plus, the idea of going for social night was exhilarating as it was a grown-up thing. I longed badly to feel like a grown-up.
I was already inside, maneuvering my way through the cluster of tall warm bodies in the hall when I was suddenly yanked up by my house wear collar by some really tall creature. I was practically dangling in the air.
‘Who the f** are you?’ the Yanker bellowed.
‘Ermm..my name is Ebube’ I manged to reply in crippling fear. The neck of my house wear was now squeezing around my throat and I was starting to run short of breathe.
‘Who cares what your f**ing name is?’
I heard some giggling around me. I couldn’t see any faces, those seniors were tall, or maybe it was I who was too short.
‘What are you doing here? Are you not a J-girl?’
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t respond. For God’s sake, didn’t she realize I was choking?
‘Are you deaf?’ she screamed. I was already throwing my legs wildly in the air, trying to catch some breathe else I die. My hands where desperately fiddling with my collar and her fat fingers. My mouth was wide open, gasping for air and I was feeling the life drain out of me. I could just pass out here and no one would care two damns about it.
‘Lara! Lara! Put her down, something is wrong with her!’ one of the spectators started shouting.
Thankfully, Yanker released my collar and I landed on my butt on the hard floor, drinking in as much air as I could from the over-crowded hall. Around me was numerous feet and I dreaded looking up to see the faces that owned them.
‘Stand up!’ I heard Yanker order. I obeyed. Then she bent close to my ears, her cheap perfume filling my nostrils and making me want to choke yet again.
‘If I ever see you here again, you won’t live to tell the story. You hear me?’ She said a little above a whisper. The stench from her breathe, mixed with the overwhelming scent from the perfume created an upsetting effect in my stomach, which under normal circumstances would have made me upchuck the moinmoin and garri I just ate for supper.
‘Emily, get her out of here!’ Yanker finally said, pushing my head and shoving me into someone’s waiting arms. I staggered out of the hall, my eyes were clouded with horror and blankness, and my ears were resonating with loud incoherent music. Emily, who was assigned to me, accompanied me out of the hall into the darkness outside.
‘You are in JS1 right?’ she said to me, when we were far from the noise.
‘Yes ma.’ I said, tears forming in my throat. I had never been so humiliated in my life.
‘No wonder’ she replied. I could sense the mockery in her tone.
‘Do you have a bunkmate?’
‘Do you have a bunkmate? Someone to serve when you get to JS3 and move to the main hostel?’
‘No ma.’ I didn’t know we could plan ahead so soon.
‘Look at me.’ she ordered. My eyes shot her face a timid glance and fell back to her feet in split seconds. I managed to catch the big scar near her left eye, it was very conspicuous even in the darkness.
‘My name is Emil. I’m in SS1. You will be my bunkmate. Ok?’
‘My name is not ma. My name is Emil.’
She must have made a mistake and omitted the ‘y’.
‘Sorry! Yes Senior Emily’
‘What ma?’ I was confused.
‘Emil. Emeeeel! There is no ‘y’ at the back of my name, ok?’
‘Ok ma…ok Senior Emile.’
She turned and started walking back towards the hall. I turned too, running to my hostel, tears falling freely down my cheeks.
I had not the slightest idea of what I was in for.