That day, the school park was jammed and the students let loose their rascality, flying into the buses through the windows when they couldn't get in through the doors. The buses plying the nearby cities were crammed to the full, seeing that everyone had been asked to vacate the school premises with immediate effect and head homewards. There was no other option but to jostle for a space, and risk getting your clothes torn. Some of us were getting bruises and resulting to fist-fights when the occasion rose to it.
Like most youngsters, I like it better in school than at home. These two places were evenly compartmentalized in my head: school for scholarly pursuits - well you could throw in a large chunk of social activities; and home was for domestic goings-on: going to the market, scrubbing floors, washing cars, throwing the garbage…. Holding up with school work at home has never been my forte. I liked it better in school because school set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, the ability to make your own choices between what was vain and what was worthwhile without anyone’s overriding opinion. This to me was the essence of being an adult, the gist of real life. It summed up freedom for me. To say, today, I shall go to church and also give a heartfelt offering, or I shall move in with my boyfriend, go clubbing each weekend, and knowing that whatever happened to me, whatever befell me, was brought upon me myself.
But home left you few choices; it only set before you life, and the town where I lived in is such a small and quiet place where everyone guarded their reputation in their loins; in all your doings you had your parents’ fragile emotions to consider.
Had the school calendar not been disrupted, I would have been preparing for the second semester exams that were coming up the following week. But here I was heading home, even though so reluctantly. In the bus, we sat in fives. The girl in front opened a food flask and started eating rice that she had just made before the orders came, sweating profusely as she ate with the stew flavor filling the entire bus. When the boy seating beside her scowled at her, perhaps meaning to ask her, Umuahia is such a short distance, why can’t you hold yourself and quit making us all salivate? She ventured into a long tale, of how hungry she was after a long day at the lab and on setting her table to eat what she had just cooked Voila!, the orders came. “And I am still very hungry.” she said. “What was I supposed to do? Throw the food away? I don’t think I’d make it to Umuahia on an empty stomach. If you don’t mind, you can join me, please.”
Third week at home. Before ten a.m. I had all my chores done and my parents would be off and about their business. So the entire day stretched before me like the expanse of a vast panorama. I’d return to bed, awakened in few hours by the sound of my own snoring to take my shower. I was so idle that I’d interest myself with watching a cockroach crawl pass, muttering to it, Dude, today’s your lucky day, or I'd watch the brown sugar ants as they moved up and down the wall, salaaming when their heads collided.
My school books lay piled on the table neatly arranged and unopened. I could not bring myself to touch them. I felt betrayed by them but if anyone had challenged this train of thought, I couldn’t bring up a proper defense for my feelings. But I felt betrayed nonetheless. In my heart I asked them, would your contents really play a major role in my life? Those nights of tireless efforts, reading your tiny texts with the dimmed brightness of my rechargeable lantern, were they in vain? Would they come to naught?
I thought of my tutors, the bad ones and the good ones whose hearts were in their teaching. But like any laborer, no matter how zestful and brimming with vigor he was, if he entered the woods with unsharpened tools, his zeal would be made nonsensical of. I thought of them with their wages coming in trickles, and how no sooner their enthusiasm to pass knowledge to us ebbed away like the tide. And as for my course mates, where they in bed too? What were they up to?
I became enthralled by power, how very defining it was and the sheer strength of it. That a few men would sit down, put heads together and decide the fate of a large number of people, and if their counsel was good, the people rejoiced; if their counsel was bad, the people were done for, like we were, having to sit at home for months.
Radio offered an escape some days. I’d listen and take part in the call-in relationship programs and offer advice to imaginary people with imaginary issues. My husband and the maid…or the secretary, oh what should I do? The cars had a louder wheeze as they drove past. In those days I had enough sleep to last me a lifetime. Then when power came, I’d watch TV, dozing off till the people in the TV began watching me.....