When I entered the dormitory, there was some commotion going on. Apparently, there was a tussle over who would be Ethelle’s school mother. I smiled. Ethelle was a pretty girl, she had a small stature and a quiet appearance that made you want to take care of her. I wasn’t surprised.
While their arguments were going on, I was in my corner, sitting on my bunk bed, arranging my locker. I deliberately did not want to be involved. I liked Ethelle too but I didn’t want to join the foray. It was kind of funny seeing the arguments going on: I saw her first, no you didn’t, she likes me, no she likes me.
I could see the confusion in the girl’s eyes. She didn’t understand what the trouble was all about, like she didn’t know she was pretty enough to cause so much arguments.
Then came a bright idea from Oniro, the small smart dark girl who loved gisting about lovers and dark corners. Ethelle would pick who she wanted. The two main contenders agreed shakily, each wondering if they had been kind enough to her to be picked.
I thought privately that this would make the little girl feel too important but I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to get involved. I brought out my buckets and started washing.
The girl was sent for. She came as quiet and pretty as you would please, stealing everybody’s heart all over again, including mine but being the tough girl I was, I refused to show any interest. I just sat there and washed my clothes.
Then they asked her the big question. Who would you want to be your school mother? She was afraid, obviously not wanting to offend anyone or cause any bad blood between anybody. I almost felt sorry for her but she had her beauty to blame so it wasn’t anybody’s fault. She stayed quiet a while and Oniro, the mediator who had already picked her school daughter without any fuss, quietly asked again.
What would she do? I wondered. I rinsed my wrapper and started to spread it on the line when she made the most unexpected decision. She walked up to me, still quiet and pretty as you please, and pointed at me. I was shocked but like the ‘tough girl’ I was, I hid it well and quietly admired the wisdom contained in her small frame.
I felt pleased but at the same time apprehensive. I wasn’t sure I could show her the love she needed. I wasn’t the type who called everybody ‘sweetheart’, I downright hated any display of affection. I had never had a school daughter so I started to wonder what school mothers did.
I did the best I could. She was an independent girl so it wasn’t much. I washed for her whenever water was scarce, I ironed for her, supplied her with water and that was pretty much it. I never felt like I was close to her or I had done enough for her. I wasn’t the kind of person who got close to others in very short periods.
The school year came to an end and send forth parties were being organised. We all dressed up to the nines, you would think we were going to a red carpet event. In a way, that was our red carpet event. We all had survived six years of suffering, punishments, water scarcity, lack of provisions and money, flogging, scrubbing smelly floors and toilets, the man the man (a male intruder who entered the female dormitory at night), boyfriends or lack of, and more. We had our laughs and cries and we damn well deserved an ovation. After the music and dance presentations, then came the mocking time, when the junior students would imitate the outgoing students in a funny way. I felt apprehensive, I wasn’t sure Ethelle knew me so well that she would do any mocking but she surprised me.
She brought out a bed to the middle of the dormitory, held a novel, and did my walking step. Everyone burst out laughing. My walking step was unique in those days. (unique may mean good or bad to others, I dunno).
Then she called out her name “Ethelle” in a perfect imitation of my voice. I never thought she knew me that well. It was the perfect gift. I cried though I hid it, and hugged her. She was my little angel.