On the Business of Choosing Dears II

Read Part 1 here

Sister Avery must have done her research or at least talked to my dorm mates. I glanced at Wynie to see if she’d betray Sister Avery’s snooping. She was too busy licking her fingers, slowly melting the piece of chocolate she had popped into her mouth, waiting for the fruit-filled center to reveal itself. I hadn’t even realized Sis Avery had included a box of chocolates. Hmm…had Sis Avery talked to Wynie? I knew I’d get answers in her sleep. Wynie was the best sleep-talker I’d met in my seventeen years. You could count on her to give you a play-by-play of her entire subconscious once she rolled into REM cycle. I just had to channel patience until bedtime.

I opened my locker and placed the book on the top shelf, next to my Fa spray, Jean Nate splash, and Midnight Musk powder. I’d need to write Sister Avery a really long note during Prep tonight. I couldn’t wait to read Darkest Hour, but that would have to wait until Saturday during Visitation time. I knew I wouldn’t be receiving visitors this weekend so I’d have some free time. I could almost dance with excitement! I clicked the padlock on my locker and turned to face Wynie.

“Shouldn’t we go and..?”

“I’m going to find Ama Serwa.” I said and snatched the box of chocolates from her before she could complete her sentence. Ama was my first love. She had barely noticed my existence for most of grade school, but that hadn’t stopped me from showing her all my affection. See, I have loved her since Class Five…but she was the popular girl in Primary and JSS and I didn’t run in her circles. I doted on her whenever she gave me the chance. I made her care packages whenever mom sent me a DHL package. When I burst through the doors of Ama’s dorm room, her bunk mate said she was in the Bath House. I looked at my watch and gasped in disbelief. I couldn’t possible have spent that much time in Sis Avery’s room! It was almost time for supper and I didn’t have enough time to get in a shower before that. If I did, I would risk being late and be punished. Even though I had Dears in upper forms, I was still expected to set a good example. Other upper formers who had no Dears sometimes took delight in punishing “pitsir pitsir” lower formers like myself.  Judging that showering before supper was not an option, I rushed back to my dorm, stashed the chocolates and went to freshen up at the common sink.

“Heeer, akola, where have you been? 3b3 y3 ma hen ay3 late!” Wynie’s voice came up behind me as I dried my face and neck with my towel.

“Eiii P.O.D!” Wynie commented after I hung up my towel.

“Polish on Dirt” was basically the description for girls who didn’t take the strongly recommended evening shower. In an equator country, in a dorm room with fourteen, sixteen year olds, a second shower was almost mandated for the general wellbeing of the entire dorm. Body odor issues were alive and well.  Some girls had already gained the reputation of always being P.O.D because they were too lazy or too uppity to shower in the Bath House.

The Bath House was a large open windowed building with four rows of shower stalls with no doors. The water probably flowed through the taps maybe three times in the entirety of my time there. The Bath House was the bane of my existence  the three years that I spent at Saint Perpetua of Good Faith (St. Pet for short; don’t ask why!)

The morning after Grandmother dropped me off to begin my boarding school career, I woke to the clanging of metal buckets as second formers, now senior to us, fetched water for themselves and their respective Dears. Soon even these second formers would stake their claim on some of us and have us doing their manual labors. That morning, after the second formers got their water, we got ours and traipsed behind them on our way to the famed Bath House. My shock and confusion must have been plastered all over my face because a second former smacked me on the butt and made me jump. When I started breathing again, overwhelm took over. There were female bodies everywhere. These bodies were in various stages of nakedness and undressing. There were skinny and flat-chested ones like myself with butts that always caused a commotion and there were round with rolls of fat tissue. I was mesmerized. I grew up in a strict and very devout Roman Catholic home and we barely even looked at our own bodies in the mirror, let alone another’s. I tried to navigate my way into a shower stall. I used my brand new towel as the shower curtain hoping to goodness it wouldn’t drop. I tried to soap up my sponge with a little bit of water from my rinsing pail and gingerly avoid making contact with the walls of the shower stall.

“Agbenyiagbor!” A senior yelled out my last name. I jumped, dropping my new bar of Geisha soap. Legend had it, one never leaned over to pick up things. You just got a new one. Not for the same reason as folks did in prisons, but rather for the fact that the amount of bodily fluid and filth that coated the Terazzo floors and collected in the gutters that run alongside each row of stalls. Those first few days I dropped many a bar of soap because I was generally an anxious child and most seniors chose shower time to either demand that I move their buckets or scrub their backs.

The first supper bell rang, pulling me out of that unpleasant reverie. By second term, I had gotten the bathroom protocol under wraps, but even now when I thought of those first weeks or whenever it’s was my dorm’s turn to scrub the floors, I shuddered. Second supper bell clanged. I grabbed Wynie by the elbow and ran out towards the dining hall. She was leading prayer and I was serving our section tonight. Anyone who arrived after the third bell was locked out until after Grace was said and the first round of meals had been served. I stood in my assigned place and watched Wynie go up to the front of the room. I closed one eye and winked at her with the other.

Where was Ama Serwa? Probably still putting the finishing touches on her make-up. She was forever running behind! She came careening through the door just as the last bell rang and the prefect went to lock the door. I beamed at her. Often, I wished I sat at her table. I would have loved to tell her about my latest acquisitions and share the promise of chocolate.

“Bless us O Lord for these thy gifts…” Wynie intoned. She always prayed with such a face, I had to avoid looking at her.

“Amen!” We all chimed in. We were having “Red-Red”; I prayed there’d be more beans than stones. The kitchen staff rarely had enough time to sort the beans. We were forever presenting multi-signatured grievances to the Head Cook, Mrs. Amanyaga. After receiving one of these she would appear miraculously in each of the four dining halls and give us a lecture about getting what we paid for. We were overdue for one of those lectures. I hoped tonight would not be the night. I prayed that we could eat and say closing Thanks as fast as possible so I could talk to Ama Serwa.

 

 

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