Of Snakes and Stairs – Oluwatoyin Ajagunna
They say you have some of the best experiences you will ever have in secondary school. I don’t know about best, but I did have some memorable moments that make me laugh now, despite myself. I was a wallflower in my school, you see; the kind of girl that wore oversized uniforms, the same pair of socks every day, and eternally dirty rubber sandals that urgently needed the services of a shoemaker. Oh, and I was not particularly big on ironing, so sometimes I’d go to school looking like I substituted my nightwear with my uniform. I was also a bookworm. A spark for my schoolbooks came to life in my senior year, and it never died. Due to my shyness, I had a small circle of friends and wrapped them protectively around me whenever I could. We were the gossips of the class, those pesky flies on the wall that recorded everything, and then buzzed excitedly about it for hours afterwards. That rather unhealthy habit of ours led to a rift at some point, but that’s a story for another day. Despite my introversion and relative geekiness, my more vivacious classmates still gave me moments to remember. Like the time a snake entered the class.
I attended a Catholic secondary school, so it was managed by Catholic priests. Anyone who knows the ways of the Catholics knows that they value education. Our priests were no exception. To make matters worse, our administrator (we called them administrators, not principals) was transferred to my school from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. Yes, that made matters worse. When you transfer a Father with big ideas from a highfalutin school attended by the children of the rich to a school located on the mainland in Lagos and attended by children of the middle class, of course you’re looking for trouble! Father Emmanuel, tall and fair and scary, turned the school upside down with his policies and ideas. Well, he developed the school in many ways but he stepped on many toes in the process.
One of his ideas was the establishment of boarding facilities in the school. I assume the school’s management wanted to see what it would cost, both financially and otherwise, to have students living in the school. So, out of the blues, the SS3 students were informed that they would live in school for the duration of their external exams. You know, WAEC and all that. The school’s management met with the parents and informed them, and though it was a surprise, they agreed. That was how I found myself a boarding student for about six weeks. After the sixth week, we were all sent back to our respective homes, ostensibly because we were more than a handful; we were a bucketful and then some. Personally, I think the school management had run out of money to support our continued stay on the premises. But what do I know?
Anyway, imagine this. About a hundred plus young people with wild imaginations, raging hormones, and the proverbial youthful exuberance suddenly find themselves living in close proximity to each other for a number of weeks. True, there were teachers and priests and others who were supposed to keep us in line, but come on. A couple of older people were not going to keep resourceful teenagers from the objects of their infatuation. Laws are meant to be broken, after all. Indeed, laws were broken! Cell phones were smuggled into the hostels, boys and girls found ways to meet even at night, we got up to all sorts of amusing tricks to entertain ourselves during prep.
Actually, that’s how we got into trouble. The curious case of the snake in the class was apparently one practical joke too far. At least that is how I see it in retrospect. Interestingly, the prank was played by the girls, during prep. You see, the guys and girls had their night prep in different classroom blocks a field apart from each other: to ensure propriety and all. Eventually, it turned out that the girls were the ones they should have kept a very close watch on.
The night a reptilian inhabitant allegedly joined night prep started out as a peaceful one. After dinner, the ladies and gentlemen went to their respective blocks for night prep. Shortly after we settled into our respective classes to read, a noise started from one of the classes at the extreme end of the block. Soon, a stampede ensued outside. Girls ran out of their classes, nearly falling over each other in their haste to get out of there. Those in my class looked up, baffled. What’s going on?
“There’s a snake in the class!”
Of course those in my class joined the frantic throng outside. Who wants to die? We hadn’t even gotten into the university yet! In my hurry to get downstairs, I fell down. Quickly, I picked myself back up and rushed into the class right in front of me. This class was filled with quiet girls quietly poring over their books. When I threw myself at the door and stumbled in, they, well, most of them, looked up and at me.
“Can’t you guys hear what’s happening? They say there’s a snake in a class.”
“A snake?” somebody else said. “I doubt that jare.” And they refused to budge.
Well. Now I felt rather like a moron. Of course snakes can’t climb stairs. It was probably another prank.
Unfortunately, one of us ran straight to our no-nonsense administrator to tell him about our alleged reptilian visitor. Enraged at the suspicion at yet another prank form these godless children, he strode to our block and went directly to the offending class, where he discovered a scarf. A scarf that from a distance, and a little hallucination, could be passed off as a snake. Father Emmanuel flipped. He ordered all of us into the field where we knelt down in a cold drizzle while he harangued us, wondered why we were so irresponsible and said other things angry people say when they have been pushed to the very limit of their patience. I really didn’t care about what he was saying, to be honest. The chill was seeping into my very bones; all I wanted was to get into a warm room and under my warm wrapper. I remember a girl shivering violently when we were eventually allowed back into our room.
It certainly was an experience. The next day, I heard about how I had been trampled to within an inch of my life (I had no idea) and teachers wondered why the girls in my set were naughtier and more irresponsible than the boys. What kind of mothers and wives were we going to be? Then, the future of the females in my set as mothers and wives did seem really grim. At least, that was what we were told. Well, some of us are either engaged or married with children now, so I think we turned out quite nicely.
Still, one good thing came of that experience. Our departure date was moved up to the very next Monday, as opposed to the two weeks we were still supposed to spend in that place. I was indeed grateful about that; I had missed my family so much! I still chuckle when I look back and remember the general reaction to the punishment. I have never seen any group of people look so happy to be ‘punished.’
I look back on that day and chuckle. I might have been a wallflower, but I did have some memorable moments in secondary school.
Oluwatoyin Ajagunna is a dreamer who spends half the time in her own world. When she’s not recreating this inner world in writing; she delves into other people’s worlds through movies and books. She also loves music, as it is both pathway to her world or the seal that keeps her there.