As the terror swept over me – my whole body visibly shaken, I felt a secondary calm, a pleasurable sense of having stopped time to step away – in my mind – from the chorus of panic being shouted by all my other senses. I felt closer to that interior voice, that one that had lingered many a time in times of great perplexity and solitude. Its calming tone drawing me ever close with each passing second.
A giggle from Boakye, holding his bony fingers to his lips in order to avoid being heard, brought me reeling back from my thoughts to the present. As I looked at him and followed the direction of his eyes, I couldn’t help but chuckle as well at the very visible single stream of pee meandering beneath the ugly brown school shorts into my white socks (forced on us by the draconian teachers and enforced again by lashes, although the entire school compound was sandy, making it a pain to wash every Saturday afternoon). I couldn’t decide what would be more hilarious now.
My big brother, ironing his dress shirts and pants to sit at home since he had not found a job after his national service, had called me foolish in the morning, saying “they will catch you oo, and they will whip you and you will regret”. I knew that there was a possibility but that was why I always wore two shorts underneath the uniform, just in case.
In fact these shorts were special to me: I bought them at the Community Five Market for twenty pesewas. Twenty pesewas for two shorts, with the Big Six on them! And so these were my lucky charms.
But I didn’t feel so lucky today. I was well prepared for the lashes, in fact they didn’t mean anything to me anymore that is why when Kommeh came up with the idea to remove the nails from Mr. Otibu’s chair I did not even hesitate and agreed to do it. We just needed a good opportunity – one that presented itself the next day when I was asked to stay late and do some woodwork for pre-technical skills. This timely chore allowed me to go through with the plan before we all got too scared and gave up.
I couldn’t give up now; I really only had two options: to risk a lifetime of ridicule at this school – even though we had finished writing the BECE a story like this would quickly be passed down for generations to come – or risk even more punishment from the teachers, many of whom were irate and wanted a hand at me themselves. I could take a little solace from Mr. Baah who I know felt bad, for me, mostly because of the way he is said to have laughed when the fall happened, and had been smiling happily at all the students since, as if to say thank you to whomever one of us it was. The story goes that Mr. Otibu, always arguing about current affairs before the start of the day, dismissed Mr. Baah — a notorious CPP stalwart as a fool — for his ideological believes and support for the party. Mr Otibu, reeling from his self-imagined victory in the staff common room proceeded to sit at his desk adjacent to the solitary window in the circularly arranged room only to sit and have the chair and his ego come crashing with himself.
Kommeh and I had to settle for hearing the solitary laughter (of Mr. Baah) amidst the shouts of concern two rooms away on the JSS block and tried not to look at each other, or act out of place as the Catering madam rushed out of the classroom, followed closely by some curious students.
My only regret then, was not thinking of a plan to divert the watchman who remembered and submitted my name upon inquiry by the headmaster as the only student left on the school compound. It was this same watchman that I would have to outrun if my plan was to succeed. All I had to do was duck past the head master, outrun the watchman and hop over the fence in one bound.
My two seconds of hesitation were up, and alas I had no option but to step forward and receive my lashes as the headmaster called my name…I took a third moment of hesitation looking into the eyes of all the students as if to say to remember this moment.
So one step forward, a quicker one and a flurry of even quicker ones afterwards, with my mind, soul and body after the only goal of the fence; The only thought invading my conscience as front part of my sandals stroke the ground with each stride was “why is Ghana so dusty?” Nevertheless: Forward Ever, Backwards Never, Abi I Lie?