This backpack is HEAVY. Far too heavy.
“How many classes do I even have today?”, I asked myself as I continued my swift trot towards the bus-stop behind my dad. Our trot was a sort of morning march, like the athletic speed-walkers I used to see on TV.
My dad at this point is way in front of me, marching along with his imitation leather brief case. His maroon coloured tie was constantly flapping over his shoulder in the breeze.
“YABAOYINGBO!!”, he suddenly shouts as he reaches the bus-stop, trying to stop a bus that had an available seat in it. When I say bus, I mean a danfo, or combi van converted into a passenger vehicle. I know there must be some regulation against over-crowded vehicles but honestly, if there is, none of the transport workers in Lagos ever complied. Thus, when I say my dad was yelling for a “bus with a free seat”, I really mean a stuffed van that cud just about fit one more passenger by the doorway.
This invariably meant sharing the small opening if the door way with the conductor. That’s if you could refer to the thin but sinewy, hoarse voiced, sweaty, smelly, teenager a conductor. He was at this point arguing with both the “yellow fever” (traffic warden), and “agbero” (tout) at the same time.
“BABA YELLO! Abeg make we settle abgero first. We go see later, Oga bros. Shebi na Shandy u need? No lele egbon!
My dad had hopped on the bus, and I was hopping beside the bus with my fingers gripping the doorway, one foot in the door beside the conductor. The bus was moving at about 30km/h and I took a deep breath and lifted my second foot up to the door before the driver cud really pick up speed.
During the fluid movement of hopping on the bus and adjusting the weight of my school bag and landing on my dads lap, I heard a distinct ripping noise that had to be none other than my school uniform pocket that got caught in some exposed metal nail attached to the door.
“Pscheeeeew”, I hissed.
The conductor hastily holds out his hand to my father with a disgusted look on his face. My dad hands him a ten naira note.
“Wetin be this one?” he spits.
“No be ten naira?”, dad throws back, with an even more disgusted look on his face?
“The pikin nko?” He yells in reply.”Abegy na 10 naira for one yansh o, oya pay 15”.
I throw the conductor a doleful look, and say before my dad tries to grab the guys shirt, “Oga abeg now, I no go reach last bus-stop o”.
My voice was at that point very tiny and innocent. Too innocent to sound intimidating, to the conductor. But I think the eyes worked on him. Well, it could have been the fact that we had now reached another major bus-stop, and some passengers wanted to get down. He was distracted and by the time he remembered my 5 naira I was already at Sabo, the bus-stop I was heading to.
“OWA O!! Drivaaa!!”
I cud see some chauffeur driven, shiny cars turning before the junction carrying some students to school, as I got off the bus. I waved at my dad who was dozing in the bus, but am sure he was too tired to have seen me wave, but the wave made sure that the girls in the bus didn’t see me.
It was 7.45am by the post-office clock. Crap.
I had 10 minutes to make a 20 minute walk to the school gates.
I gave a brief glance and the Herbert Macaulay statue, and started a swift trot towards Queen’s College.
I avoided the prefect’s eyes as I walked through the gates. Her perfectly ironed uniform gaetus could cut a 2 minute late junior student like me in half, if I didn’t act cool.
Time seemed to stand still, as I seemed to be floating past the prefect, anticipating doom in seconds, when It felt like hours. I had just gone passed her, when I felt my own rumpled and dusty beret seem to fly of my head of its own accord.
“JUNIOR GIRL”, the sharp, snarly yet girly voice called out.
My reverie dissipated, I put on a sweet smile, and turned.
“Why aren’t you wearing socks?”
“I am wearing them, senior Bukky”
“Ok, so those brown, slack things on your ankles represent socks?”
I look down and truth be told, my socks looked disgraceful in comparison to the prefects, pristine, probably brand new pair.
I stuttered and piecing the lie together as I went along, said “I walked through mud on the way and couldn’t get the stains out”.
1 year,3 hours later, with sore knees, a bruised ego and dusty uniform, I made my way from the assembly grounds to my classroom.
I quickly adjusted my training bra currently stuffed with my brand new navy blue socks. The “v” of the uniform neck of the senior blouse of Queens College had a way of letting a little more skin show than the pinafore I was more used to.
Finally a senior, SS1V. Yeah right. If it was so cool, then why had I just finished spending 3 hrs kneeling in the sun for noisemaking?
“BONJOUR MES ELEVES!!!” came the loud, chant like teachers voice from the corridor. “BONJOUR MADAM OBI”. Came an even louder reply of adolescent female voices. Bored, frustrated adolescent female voices I might add.
Of all teachers, it had to be Madam Obis class I was late for.
She was the one no-nonsense teacher who didn’t care if I was coming from another teachers punishment. She would most likely send me right back to where I was coming from. This time I wud probably have to raise up my hands as well.
I had now reached the floor to ceiling louver window panes close to my “window seat”. Previously vandalized by some other “v girl” it was the perfect stealth entry route for almost all the class. Well.. those of us brave enuf to use it.
The trick was to slip in thru the window in one stride so that no one behind u wud see u move between the pillars an also, time it just right as the teacher was writing on the white board.
The real reason it was tricky, was because a teacher could just walk along at any second and catch an idle student in the corridor, and or be looking from below. Might I add that the corridor in question wasn’t in the true sense a corridor. It was just a long balcony with class entrances along it. No opposite doors, just a long level garden with was open to all eyes.
Ten paces… nine… eight, the teacher turns to the board to write something, six paces…five..four… almost at my window. I prepared to duck through the hurdle type louver gap.
“REPETE!!!”, she almost yell at the class, who mumble back.”quelle est la dat, aujourd oui?”
“ENCORE!!!” madame Obi yells.
.”QUELLE EST LA DAT, AUJOURD OUI?!!!”
I was almost at the window, my window to freedom. One more step.
I paused briefly like those cops i’d seen on TV, canvassed the surrounding with lightning speed and made my move.
I never hear the rest of that particular class. In fact about 50 or so paces towards the tuck-shop area about 2 or 3 mins later I was thinking I should have realized it was just easier to go buy some thing at the tuck shop.
Lami the great. She had done it again.
I don’t know if there are just some girls that love to make your life hell, but with Lami, it sure felt that way.
“what on earth was she doing in my seat anyway, with her fat ass?”
shrugging I made my way to aunty Chika’s shop. I could cool off with some ice-cold “Zobo”
I have learned that its sometimes called Sorrel. But you weren’t a QC girl if u hadn’t tasted Zobo. Made with a deep red, flower like leaf and brewed like a tea with ginger, pineapple, oranges and A LOT of sugar among other things, Zobo was like forbidden juice and was the closest we could get to an addiction.
So much Zobo was made ech day that Anti chick must have been making a mint. I for one never bought less than 2 bags of the stuff at a time and I didn’t have that much cash to throw around. The other girls that had cash, stashed it in bottles and flasks to take back to the boarding house for after hours.
I guess it was even more fun since it looked as red as blood most of the time. We even called it vampire juice.
The shop was closed.
I had walked all this way, I was crazy thirsty and she was closed. Where to next? I heard the distance warning siren, almost end of class.
Should I go back before next lesson? I was still thirsty. Maybe the Mallam would have water. Yes the Mallam. Why didn’t I think of it before.
The staff quarters of QC is a high rise building with probably had about 10 floors. Cant be sure any more. But what I do remember is the smart mouthed mallam- aboki who set up shop where the life was supposed to be.
I have no idea about now, but then the life wasn’t ever functional. It made rem remember the lift at Broad Water farm in Tottenham, London and how clean and sophisticated it looked compared to this one.
The nostalgia passing gradually, I got to the car park under the building. There was always a risk of getting caught. It was of course “staff quarters”, but what the heck. I brought out the 50 naira note my dad had given me in the morning. It was stained, rumpled, smelly, a bit ripped. It was perfect.
“aboki good morning sir!!”, I chanted like I had known him all my life.
“wetin you dey fine for here, enh”, reaching for his cane.
What was it with all the flogging anyhow?
I hastily responded stretching the note in front of him, ”na teacher send me o, will I say no to my teacher?”
“na the same teacher go come dey report me later, abi?”
He laments almost though out the whole transaction, but the sight of the money was the only defense I needed.
50 naira gone. Now 30 left, in change. Oh well, I wud need to walk a bit further today , if i was to get a cheaper bus ride home.