My school was one that the government seemed to remember it existed during national day celebrations and those other Christian ones when they would request to use our field. One could witness how lonely and forlorn it appeared. Classes made of pure bricks, broken wooden windows, roofs that belonged to the eighties and a compound full of dust and remains of mud bricks. However small, it did accommodate a large number of pupils. My class, grade four, was even the worst, this road to grade five had an inconvenience of potholes, full of dust and in them a bunch of jiggers. Desks that leaned on one side, holes in the walls such that we always were informed of the learning in the adjacent classes. The blackboard was tainted and only one side was available for use, even so, the writing wasn’t clear because of how rough it was let alone the fact that our teachers did not know of the existence of dustless chalk.
After reaching school-that is if I was not late as was my routine-I sat on my side of the desk and started cerebrating over life. I would empty my conscious into the world of possibilities and fantasies. I would cogitate on how to be like my father-the chief administrator of the location. I would think of an alternative to schooling, why we had to learn, why we had to wake up early in the morning. I would also think of my elder brother. He wondered why he wasn’t created a rooster, so he could skip school. I smiled at the fact that even if he were a cockerel, he would still have to be an early bird to crow and be slaughtered. I would think of my future, the woman I would marry, will she be a Jackeline, Salma or even Fatima? At this stage, I had all hopes of marrying a white woman something I wouldn’t dare do now.
From my spot in grade four, I could discern visually what was betiding at the gate-itself nothing more than a mark of two tree stumps facing each other, unwavering like the queen’s guards. The teacher on duty would sort out pupils into three groups, for those who were absent. The prefects were left to pass and go fetch cudgels. The second group was of those who came late but carried water in jerricans and some firewood. These were given some leniency of five strokes each. The other lot was the useless one, late with nothing in hand but the tools of their education, one which rarely produced exceptional individuals. They would be made to lie down and be scourged severely, after which they would pick leaves and paper all over the compound and lastly, they would be allowed to come to class.
The smell in the class was staunch most of the mornings because unlike pupils in town-based schools, we seldom took a shower. We only washed our faces and maybe our hands. Breakfast was not a routine in my village and only the likes of me and my brother would occasionally take tea since our father worked for the government, so he had some pennies to spare. It was said brushing your teeth without anything in the stomach will make you nausea, so most of the pupils wouldn’t brush their teeth. Ironing of clothes, wearing shoes, and combing of hair was vocabulary in this part of the country. In my school, even girls shaved and I swear, we saw them as beautiful still.
Breaks were time only allocated on paper and we had them hardly ever. Most of the teachers would stay in class till the bell for the next lesson had gone. Increasingly, they would make that subsequent teacher wait for some time too. And when we had a break, we would breathe fresh air, free from unbrushed teeth, bodies unwashed for weeks, and feet infested with jiggers. In my school, you had to fit in to survive. Everyone would deride you if you dared adorn shoes. They would call you names and boo you. Most of the new pupils admitted gave up their wearing of shoes either by the third or fourth day. The pressure was just too much.
The bell seemed to play both sides, it was just as friendly as it was our foe. Itself, a rim of a large truck tire-that when hit, resonated far and wide-acted not only to apprise us of the next step but aided the neighbors in knowing the time. Efficient as it was, it was during lunch hours when it controlled no one. At this particular time, students rang before the bell. Some would run for miles to their homes to fetch something to eat before coming back for the afternoon session. My school had no feeding program, therefore, nursery to grade three had only the morning session. The rest had two sessions a day, whether full or hungry.
For grade 8, their parents would be compelled to pay four kilos of beans and five kilos of maize every term as lunch. Seemingly an out of the textbook strategy to avoid wastage of time. Time those guys never utilized anyway. To make life more comfortable the mixture of maize and beans would be smoothened by using avocado. It felt nice.
In my school, the junior grade teachers doubled up as both educators and cooks. This was out of both greed and necessity. Whenever food would be served in the staffroom, it was always a race upon who gets what and at times fights broke out. Our teachers would send students for kilometers to buy them snacks and they wouldn’t have a taste of any. We wouldn’t lament since we knew not that we should ask for pay. We lived a life of obedience, total obedience without question.
Every Friday we had dictation and then the top three of each class would be summoned on assembly and be rewarded-with a single pen each. Yes, just a single pen and sometimes nothing. I do not mean to brag but I scooped almost every present for every exam I ever did in that school. As it turned out I had a cousin with an unvarying name as mine who joined my school that term. When it came to position one matters, no one knew who was who. One female teacher had a beef with my mum-I think my mum confronted her over her treatment of pupils. She was unprofessional, abusive and would punish a girl severely for growing tits. She shouted all over in support of my cousin so I let go until when handwritings were compared. That’s when our bald headteacher took back the present and it was never presented to its rightful owner-that would be me.
On assembly, whether you were a Muslim or pagan it mattered not. We had to sing and praise the Lord the Christian way. Additionally, we would recite the lord’s prayer in full and then pray. All the more, Muslim teachers would teach Muslim students the lord’s prayer and coerce them into leading others in Christian prayers sighting universality as the excuse. I thought those were just cock-and-bull stories. It was dumb but as I said and I reiterate it, we were taught to obey. We certainly would attend church during functions and sing in choirs to delight the guests and consequently be ‘blessed’ by figures disguised in large white robes. It was terrific.
I expected to learn and have the support of my father as always but the future was unknown and undoubtedly that never happened. He died even before I knew I will ever conclude primary education. I would sit and wonder, why on earth would he be in a hurry to leave. Since then everything changed, I became like the rest, no breakfast, sporadic brushing of teeth. Even worse, there was no lunch. When it happened to be present, we would eat cassava leaves with avocado and porridge and run back to school. One important thing was the pat on my shoulder by my mother. She would smile bravely and cry while alone. It took her ten years to stop crying over my future, a long time it was that the marks of tears remain to date.
For these reasons, remind me dear earth when I become too proud to step in open shoes that I schooled by stepping on the dew and the stones. Remind me when I fritter away food that I barely had enough to mitigate my hunger years ago. And you will be sure to remind me when I want to cry, that I cried enough and it’s over, and that the future is always bright.