This new term, I have a goal, to not be the quiet and depressed girl anymore. I was tired of watching others laugh and live life to the fullest. I was tired of observing others being happy. I wanted to be happy myself. So during the long break after we wrote our junior Waec exams, I made a resolution to be a changed person. I had a plan, to make more female friends and most importantly, some male friends. And possibly, quite possibly, maybe by a stroke of luck or miracle, I would find a way to talk to Alex. It wouldn’t necessarily be a relationship thing, but at least, we could be casual acquaintances. And if all goes well, from there we could be friends, and who knows where that may lead to.
But come what may, Alex or no Alex, I would most definitely strive to be happy this new term.
My mother took me to the market to buy blue check material to sew my dormitory day wear. I was in charity house and charity house wore blue day wears. I insisted on going with her to the tailor just so I could insist that she wouldn’t make my skirts too long.
All through my junior classes, my mother had always insisted on extra long tunics for me. They have been a constant source of embarrassment for me. I mean, other girls wear tunics just slightly below their knee. But my mother insists on making mine so long that they almost reach my ankle.
By sheer force of will, I convinced the tailor to keep my skirt just slightly below my knee. She agreed, much to my mother’s dismay.
The plan was good and ready to go. Till I entered the school compound. The first person I saw was Miriam.
You see, we were now in Ss1, which means we would now wear skirts. No more tunics. And we had all been anticipating this for a while. So when I saw Miriam, in a beautiful skirt that fell just above her knee, her beautiful face glowing with life and happiness, I immediately took the form of the opposite. Dark, angry, unhappy and sad.
How could I hope to be as beautiful and happy as that? I am the sole meaning of darkness. Sometimes, I don’t fade into the wall, I am literarily the wall. Nobody cares or notices me.
And I stood there with my box, watching other girls greet their friends affectionately and laughing gaily. I had no friend. Not one. No one came to meet me gaily. I picked up my box, hung my bucket on my elbow and entered the dormitory.
I could hear talks of calls and visits during the holiday. I hadn’t received any call or visit during the holidays. I hadn’t made any call or visit. I had no one to call or visit.
But my anger was not about all that. No! My anger came from the fact that almost all the SS1 girls came with skirts that fell just above their knees. Three inches above their knees to be precise. I soon found out that we had a new senior boarding house mistress and she had told them just before the long break that she didn’t like long skirts and gave them permission to sew skirts three inches above their knees when coming back.
I hadn’t known about a new senior boarding house mistress, or about the skirt thing. And no one had told me. Of course I hadn’t asked. And who would I ask? Most of the girls in the dormitory don’t know am alive. Especially my classmates. The few times I ventured to ask some of them some questions, the look on their face was one of utter contempt. One of the disadvantages of not having friends, especially friends from your class, was not having access to some vital information you missed somehow. Like how everyone except me knew that the biology teacher was going to give a test. And now, how everyone knew about the skirt thing, except me.
Yeah, I was a senior student and i had automatic rights to send the junior students on any errand but I never did. I was too afraid. Too afraid that they wouldn’t respect me, obey me, or even listen to me. The junior students would most definitely see me as nothing too, just as everyone else did.
So I ran all my errands myself. While other ss1 girls would send the junior girls to fetch their buckets, sweep their corners and all that, I did all that myself. And whenever I would see a junior student watching me as I carried my bucket or swept my corner, I would pretend that I didn’t feel ashamed or humiliated. I would tell myself that I was only being kind to them, that I didn’t like sending my juniors on errands.
However, I always sensed that they knew that I was afraid of them. I mean, the fear had to be written all over me. Just one more deep wound on my body.
Though I planned to make friends, it wasn’t easy. Every time I tried to talk to somebody, anybody, I would get too scared and leave. The only person I talked to was my seat mate Hadiza, just to ask her to borrow a pen or pencil or such stuff. Hadiza had her own set of friends and she only sat on our seat when a teacher was in class. I think she chose that seat just because it was the only available one.
But, something wonderful happened to me in the middle of term, just before we wrote our second tests. I was going down to the shop beside the dining hall to buy chewing gum for senior Nene, a senior girl in my house.
It was just after we had eaten egusi soup and eba in the dining and the sun was really fierce that afternoon. As I was walking back to the dining, I was angry, grumbling at going back to the dining just minutes after leaving it, all just to buy gum. I got to the shop and asked the woman to bring me chewing gum. She put it in a black polythene bag and gave it to me. Then someone behind me asked me gently “all that gum, just for you?”
I turned back. I didn’t know the boy but I knew he was most definitely an ss3 boy, he was wearing a peace house check over a charity house check. No junior student could ever try that. You see, we were required to only wear our house colours but the Ss3 students, especially the boys sometimes interchanged these colours. You could see them, wearing a charity house shirt over a peace house trouser.
Somehow, I smiled back at him as he looked at the amount of chewing gum in my bag. I knew it was ridiculous. Senior Nene was known for chewing gum loudly in the dormitory.
“Is it for you?” he asked me.
I nodded my head in the negative.
“Who sent you?” he then asked. “Senior Nene.” I replied.
He laughed at this. “So Nene sent you to buy all this gum. After asking junior girls to smuggle egusi soup for her, she wants to use the gum to eat the egusi abi?” he laughed heavily.
In the boarding house, it was forbidden to take food out of the dining hall. And most senior students, especially the girls didn’t usually come to the dining. They were too big to come and eat eba and soup in full view of their male classmates. So they would ask us to smuggle food out of the dining hall for them.
Of course, this meant coming up with ingenious ways. Sometimes, some girls would even put the food in their school bag just to sneak it out. But this was only when a teacher was around. Most times, when it was just us students, we would get the food and simply hold it in our hands.
The ss3 boy was still laughing and somehow, I laughed too. And that’s how I made my first friend. His name was………..okay, I can’t really recall his name but his nickname was NFA, short for No Future Ambition. Looking back now, I realize what a horrible nickname it was. But NFA became my friend. He would call me whenever he sees me and we would talk. Mostly, he would ask me questions and I would reply.
Then one day, while we were sitting in my classroom block, he asked me the BIG question “who’s your boyfriend?”
I laughed. I laughed so hard, I think he got confused. He got the idea.
“How can you not have a boyfriend, a fine girl like you?” he asked. He seemed genuinely confused and I looked at him in surprise. I mean, couldn’t he see that I was not beautiful, or bold or anything. Couldn’t he notice that I didn’t even have a single friend? Or that nobody spoke to me?
But I could tell that he was genuinely surprised. So here I was, with a boy that honestly thought I was a beautiful girl with lots of friends and a boyfriend. I became ashamed, ashamed to tell him that I was a nobody.
So I shrugged, like it didn’t mean much, like being boyfriend-less was all my idea. He looked at me speculatively, like it was too hard to believe. I felt good, good that somebody could actually believe that I had a life. I smiled all day.
But before he left that day, he said “I will send somebody to you.”
I guess he meant he would send a boy to me, someone to be my boyfriend. I would like to say that it all ended happily, that his friendship caused me to open up, I made some friends, eventually had a boyfriend, etc. But all that didn’t happen.
He graduated. And that was it. My only friend graduated. And secretly, I kept hoping and looking for the boy he would send to me. But nobody came.
I decided to start making my hair in my ss1 second term. I have been on a low cut since my jss1 to my mother’s insistence. She seems to think that making my hair will somehow distract me from my studies. Now, almost every girl that had been on a low cut had saved their hair during the long break and were now plaiting it. So I began saving mine.
After about three weeks, I met a girl called Adanma to plait it for me. Adanma has always been very kind to me and she agreed. But when we started to comb out my afro, she discovered that the hair was still too short for her to plait it properly but I insisted.
So began the most painful experience of my life. I have never experienced pain like that, coupled with the fact that Adanma was just an amateur in plaiting hair. Till date, the left upper section of my hair, close to my ears are sore. I still wince whenever someone plaits that part of my hair till today.
After Adanma finished with the hair, it looked okay, manageable for a very very short hair. But by Tuesday, the hair began to pull out of the edges, making me look like I hadn’t combed my hair properly. I couldn’t comb it out because I didn’t have the time to make it again till weekend.
Soon, a classmate said my hair looked like somebody threw up on my head. It didn’t really affect me. Until the day I almost ran into Alex. I was so self-conscious about the hair that as usual, I ran into hiding. That week, I became 007, the way I would scout the area just to make sure that Alex was nowhere in sight, and if I sighted him afar, I would most definitely throw cartwheels just to make sure he didn’t see me.
You have to understand that it wasn’t the fear of talking to Alex that made me run this time. It was my hair. No matter how shy I was, I had made up my mind to talk to him before the term ended. I just didn’t want anything to spoil that moment.
I could only breathe easily when the week ended and I continued saving my afro, pressing it down hard to make it look like a low cut.
Something happened to me that term. I became friends with a new student in my house, a fat black girl named Adeola. I had lost my bucket so she began sharing her bucket with me. We would bathe together with the bucket then fetch it and keep it under her bed. Adeola was a very outgoing person. And a bully. She used her weight to bully our classmates out of their monies, provisions, food, or even plates when she didn’t have any. For the first time, I had a protector, someone to walk with to class, someone to talk to during the evening prep.
One evening, during the games period, I made another friend. The games period was held during a chosen afternoon when instead of our nap, we would wear white shorts and shirts and go to the school field to practice our match parade, long jump, high jump, shot put and whatever else kind of sport was available.
That evening, I left the field early and went back to the dormitory so I could dress up for the evening food before everyone else. You see, the game period was also a time ss3 students used to deal with the junior students. While we would be out there in the field, enjoying ourselves, they would lie in wait for us from the dormitory gate to the rooms, barely giving us time to wash our legs, change to our day wear, grab our plates and run to the dining. And God help you if you didn’t have your complete items that day.
So to avoid all this, I had left the field early enough, had my bath and was fetching water when I met Pelumi at the tap. She had also left the field early to prepare for the evening food. Somehow, we got talking and that evening, we walked to the dining hall together. People were looking at us like we had grown horns. And maybe we had.
What you should understand is that Pelumi was the creme de la creme of our set, part of the clique of beautiful and popular girls. Pelumi was also a very neat girl, her socks and white shirts were always sparkling white. Of course it helped that she was friends with a lot of ss3 girls, something I had never managed to achieve.
So when I became friends with her, I couldn’t really believe it. And from that evening, Pelumi drew me close. We would walk to class together, spend time talking and laughing in her dorm room, she even began to introduce me to her friends and they also started to become my friends. Of course, I also had to change some things about me so I could fit in to their group. I began to take very very good care of my appearance, brush my hair neatly, bleach all my shirts, do my possible best to iron, and make sure that nobody stepped on me so my socks would remain clean all day. Pelumi was very careful about these things. Every time I came to her, she would look at me from head to toe and assess me, telling me where I had gone wrong and where I got it right.
I must admit, I am still grateful to her till today. Prior to meeting her, I hadn’t really cared about my appearance but she opened my eyes so to speak. Somehow, I couldn’t believe that I was slowly but surely becoming a member of the clique of beautiful and popular girls. Then something happened.
One day, Pelumi called me aside and began advising me to stop being friends with Adeola because Adeola had a body odour. You see, I knew that the main problem was that Adeola didn’t fit in to their group, she was too carefree, sendless and non-pretentious. And since I was becoming a member of their clique, I couldn’t hang around just anybody anymore. I had to make sure that I only hung out with the popular and pretty girls to maintain their image.
Even though she didn’t come out to say it like that. I began to mull it over in my mind. How could I stop being friends with Adeola, someone who had being my only friend for a long time before Pelumi deigned to even look at me. Adeola, the girl whose body odour probably came from the fact that she had to share her bucket with me.
I still don’t know how I found the strength to say no to Pelumi. Pelumi had become like a surrogate mother to me, I valued her opinion and friendship so much. I did whatever she told me to do. But there was no way I could betray Adeola, the only real friend I had. I started avoiding Pelumi until gradually, our friendship diminished to nothing.
It didn’t help that Adeola left school the next term after she found out she was to repeat a class. I went back to not having a real friend, but whenever I looked back, I was glad that I hadn’t betrayed Adeola. Truly.
Soon after this, the rumour began to spread that Alex was now officially dating Miriam. Yeah, my heart broke literally into a thousand pieces, I did cry but only at night when nobody could see me. I felt betrayed but I knew I couldn’t blame anybody, not even me. How could someone like Alex date someone like me? I knew it was impossible but my heart had held on to foolish hope.
Then two weeks later, another nasty rumour began to spread about Alex. Apparently, Alex had only asked Miriam out on a dare. And now that he had won the bet, he dumped her.
Listen, am not a vindictive person, I don’t find joy in other people’s sorrow but mehn, I was so glad, so relieved. But still, what Alex had done was cruel and even though I was excited that he was still unattached, I wasn’t happy with what he had done.
Miriam cried her eyes out in the dormitory and even though she wasn’t my friend, I sympathised with her.
One cool evening, I wasn’t feeling too well so I walked down to the sick bay to get some drugs. Alex was there, lying on the bed receiving drip. At first, the shyness wanted to overwhelm me, but then, somehow I held my ground. It didn’t matter so much anymore. For three years, I had been having a crush, an infatuation for someone who doesn’t even know I exist, who had cruelly dumped another girl. What did it matter anyway? It was obvious that he didn’t like me. Maybe because I wasn’t so beautiful but I like myself, I like how I look and if it wasn’t enough for him, then he didn’t deserve me. Someday, I would leave this school and meet a nice handsome guy that would love me back.
All these ran through my mind as I swallowed my pills, totally ignoring the sleeping Alex on the bed beside me. But then, just as I was about to leave, he said something, something that made me turn. He called my name.