Monday, June 23, 2014

A Very Short Story: My First Month in Boarding School

It’s been 4 weeks since I enrolled into an all-girls boarding school, and it’s been nothing I imagined it to be. I’m not sure where to begin to describe my boarding experience, but I think my first day is a good start.

On my first day at boarding school, I was assigned a dormitory, an apartment and then a neighbor. Apartments are huge halls varying in size that are partitioned into corners with the help of bunk beds and lockers. Junior students have their lockers placed in front of their bunks, while senior students have theirs in their corner.

Girls who share a bunk are referred to as neighbors. Usually, seniors occupy the bottom bunk while junior students sleep on the top bunk and are expected to perform miscellaneous tasks for the bottom occupants. These tasks involve, but are not limited to, fetching water, running errands, making her bed, washing and ironing her laundry.

Personally, I find some of these menial tasks annoying to undertake because everything in school takes undue time and energy to perform. Take, for instance, the task of ironing clothes: The laundry room where every junior student is expected to iron their clothes has only ten sockets which, by the way, never work simultaneously, so people have to take turns to iron. This usually is frustrating as you have to wait for 10 or more other people to iron one item of clothing before you can iron your next item.

Topping off this frustration is the fact that the room perpetually reeks of sweat with the occasional stench of human feces. What’s more, the usual heat generated from irons and human bodies makes ironing an insufferable activity I’ve come to dread. Another nightmarish task I dislike is fetching water. Since the location of the six taps servicing the entire school is quite a walk from my dorm, toting two buckets of water every day isn’t exactly a walk in the park for me.

Admittedly, the first week was very rough for me. Between figuring out my new environment and grappling with bouts of homesickness, I had to work out the pecking order in my apartment and where I fell. This was crucial as it determined how your peers and seniors related to you in future years.

I discovered that there is a social spectrum with those on one extreme branded ‘jebbies’. Generally, jebbies are polished girl from rich homes. They are easily recognizable from their school bags, sandals as well as the types of provisions found in their locker. Junior jebbies are treated nicely, sent on fewer errands, and since they have the protection of their neighbors, who were mostly in their final year, they seldom get punished severely.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘kpakos’, who are usually less refined in speech and manner, and had fewer provisions. They are treated less kindly than their polished counterparts, and are liable to be paired with a kpako neighbor.

Depending on the size of the apartment, some Kpakos are given the worst corners in the apartment, which means they occupy bunks closest to the door of the apartment along with the dirtiest girls in the apartment. Door corners are deemed the worst corners since everyone passes through them and there is no privacy. Moreover, since most apartments are missing doors, there was no protection from the merciless wind when it swept through the gaping entrance.

Notwithstanding, the social spectrum is fluid, so one could end up on the other side of the spectrum depending on one plays the game. A dirty or rude jebbie could easily end up at the door; while an amicable kpako who associates with jebbies, makes friends with senior girls may very well find herself in the big leagues.

By default, I am jebbie and intend maintaining that status, or at least, falling in the middle of the spectrum. I’ve realized maintaining this status requires finding the sweet spot between diplomacy and passive-aggression when dealing with senior students, as evidenced by a recent incident between a junior jebbie and her neighbor. The senior girl had used her neighbor’s towel to dry her wet hair which understandably upset the junior girl. When she voiced her displeasure, she was punished and made to scrub all toilets, after which she was banished to a spare bunk at the door corner.

Personally, I felt the punishment was cruel and uncalled for, but I quickly learned confrontation is never the way to go. For example, my neighbor has an uncanny habit of giving me her undies to wash. The first time she did it, I thought it was a mistake so I removed them from the bucket containing our dirty laundry and left them on her bed. Minutes later she walked to where I was washing, and dumped them in a bucket without saying a word. Needless to say, I was incensed but I knew it would be suicidal to let my emotions get the best of me. Instead, I simply put her undies in water and hung them out to dry without washing them. That way, I managed to tell her to go to hell without uttering a word.

One of the things I can never get acquainted to are the filthy toilets. I’ve never seen anything as vile and putrid as these dorm toilets in my life. For the first 3 weeks, I couldn’t get myself to use them which in turn resulted in constipation. Most users don’t care to flush the toilets after use and often wipe their filthy hands on the walls. Their inability to flush after use is mostly out of laziness, but sometimes it’s because the toilets are blocked and the only way to get them to cooperate is to pound the excrement with a stick, which demands a lot from one’s eyesight and nostrils. This unpleasant task of pounding the toilet is usually best reserved for toilet workers (mostly junior students), or for the unfortunate soul who falls into the trap of a prefect or SS3 student.

Another contributing factor to my constipation, I believe, is the awful food served in the dining hall. The so-called dining hall is a large room with a few rotting wooden tables and seldom any benches to sit on. Most students either sit or kneel on the floor to eat. Strangely enough, the dining hall is usually full on days when rice is served. I think this has to do with the fact that rice portions are relatively large compared to other meals and it can easily be made palatable with the help of spices and tinned sardines. Incidentally, since meal portions are usually measly, girls strike deals with fellow table diners to forgo their least favorable meal in exchange for a larger portion of a much preferred meal.

It’s been only 4 weeks and I’m already weary of boarding school. I’m tired of the school uniforms. I’m tired of being greeted by the urine-fragranced lawn morning, noon and night. I’m sick and tired of waking up before 5am every weekday just so I can take my bath in the smelly, lichen-decorated bathroom. I’m tired of subsisting on my provision, but most of all, I can’t stand the ever-clanging bell that announces the next cycle of events.

It’s been only 4 weeks and I’m not sure how I’ll survive the first year, let alone the next five.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Very Short Story: The Betrayal

“The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.” - Anonymous
Photo: wrecked.org
I’m in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Seun, my husband of almost 15 years, died in a plane crash a week ago, but that’s not really the cause of my breakdown. The reason I’m utterly devastated is because of the mysterious letter I received 30 minutes ago.

Combing through the letters in my mailbox, a silver envelope without any stamps caught my eyes, and upon closer inspection, the writing on it resembled Seun’s, which immediately prompted my opening the envelope. Admittedly, it was a little bizarre receiving a letter from him, especially after his death, since we communicated only via email and phone calls.

Since the letter wasn’t dated I couldn’t discern when it was written, and from the lack of stamps I knew someone had dropped it in my mailbox. But that didn’t matter at this point in time, what mattered now was the letter’s content.

As I reread the letter, I couldn’t tell if my mind was playing tricks on me or whether someone was pulling a macabre April fool’s stunt on me. It was his handwriting and his signature no doubt, but I still couldn’t accept he’d written the letter. The letter’s content was too surreal for me to take in that I opted to go out for a jog in the pouring rain.

“Perhaps by the time I return home, the letter would make more sense, or better still cease to exist.” I mused. “Maybe this is all a horrible mistake and the letter was delivered to the wrong address.”

Or maybe I was just in denial.

I wore my running shoes and left for a jog. I needed to clear my head.

An hour later I returned home to find the letter still lying on the coffee table where I had left it. It finally hit me that I wasn’t dreaming. Walking slowly to my room I retrieved my cell phone, and then walked back to the living room to read the letter once more before making a phone call.

“Hello.” A lady’s voice came through at the other end of the receiver.

“Hi Chika”, I said in an uncharacteristic tone.

“How are you doing? I was going to pass by this evening to see how you are faring”.

“Listen, I need to ask you a couple of questions, and it’s very important that you tell me the truth.”

“You sound so serious. Are you sure you’re OK?”

“Yes, I--. I mean no. I’m not OK, which is why I need you to put me out of this misery by answering my questions truthfully.”

 “Did you have an affair with my husband?”

“Oh, come on, how dare you ask me such a question?! How dare you?” Chika retorted incredulously.

“Chika, please just answer the question. Yes or No. Did you have an affair with him?” I replied impatiently, but calmly.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

Marie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen this way…”

“Chika, please save the explanations for another day; I just need a Yes or a No.” I spat out angrily.

“Yes, I did.”

“And how long did it last?”

“Marie, please don’t do this to yourself.”

“How long did you and Seun have an affair?” I asked coldly.

“Four years.”

“Ah, so am I right to presume both of you got together after he was transferred to your branch?” There was silence as Chika tried to suppress tears.

 “Chika, please answer the question.” I prodded while trying to maintain my composure.

“Yes.”

 “Is J’onn Seun’s son?

The question seemed to hit Chika in her solar plexus.

Again, there was another long silence.

“Look Marie, I don’t think we should talk about this right now. Your husband just passed away, and
I’m not sure you’re in the right state of mind to handle all this…”

“DAMN IT, CHIKA!! ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTION!” I hollered. “You don’t care a fig about my state of mind, so don’t even for a second pretend you do.”

Startled by my unusual reaction, Chika responded in a somber whisper.

 “Yes.”

“So answer me this, because this doesn’t make sense anymore: When you informed me that you had undergone fertility treatment, you hadn’t. It was all a scheme you and Seun hatched to conceal the true identity of the father, wasn’t it?”

Taking a deep breath, I got up from my seat and sat on the floor.

“I cannot believe this.” I repeated like a mantra, half believing my reality was only a bad dream.

“I’m so sorry, Marie.” Chika muttered over and over again. “I didn’t mean to cause you so much pain, especially not at this point in time.”

Laughing wryly, I asked if it was she who had dropped the letter in my mailbox, she said she wasn’t; then I hung up the phone.

As I sat looking down at my wedding ring, tears began cascading down my cheeks uncontrollably. How could he have done this to me? Why would they choose to betray me this way? What did I do to deserve this? I asked myself rhetorically. I did everything he asked of me and provided moral support every step of the way. When his job required him to relocate from Rwanda to Angola, I quit my seven figure salary job and position as a senior financial analyst for a multinational consulting firm just so I could go with him. And this is how he chooses to thank me? By sending a posthumous apology letter?

And to think that Chika, who had been my best friend for 25 years, was involved in such a despicable act is an incredibly bitter pill for me to swallow.

When Chika informed me she was pregnant, I was very excited for her and went about helping her pick baby names. I even tried planning a baby shower, but she vehemently dissuaded me from doing so. What’s more, I was present for the birth of her son, and when I offered for me and Seun to be J’onn’s god-parents, she declined. At the time I was miffed, but now I understand why.

Still in shock I walked to the bathroom, and peeling off my wet clothes I stepped into the shower. After drying my body, I opened the bathroom cabinet frantically looking for the Valium my doctor had prescribed four years earlier. When I didn’t find it there, I walked to the bedroom frantically searching all drawers until I found them. Although they had expired, I was determined to make them potent. I took a bottle of Brandy from the bar, filled a mug with it and walked back to the bedroom. As I sat on my bed crying inconsolably, with the mug in one hand and Valium pills in the other, I caught my reflection in the mirror.

Then the doorbell rings…