It was one of those typical Sundays. The year was 1992.
There were no afternoon preps on Sundays; we only had night preps, so there was plenty of time to fool around with.
Sunday lunch had been over a long time ago and the bell had just been rung for the protestant evening service. I was still lying on my double-bunk bed, deliberating on whether or not to jump down. In my school, if you were a Christian, you were either a catholic or a protestant. I was born Anglican, so that made me a protestant. The mode of service was very Pentecostal so it was a bit strange to me.
Chinyere came to my bunk from her bunk across my bed. She was tying her blue scarf and talking to me at the same time. “ Uloma won't you go for evening service? It’s time already”. I was never on time for any thing so it was good she reminded me. Chinyere and I had been classmates and best friends in primary school but she had left for secondary school after primary 5 while I stayed back to finish primary 6. That’s how come she was in Form 2 and I was in Form 1. By some stroke of fate we had wound up in the same dormitory and in the same apartment.
Clumsily I jumped down from my bed and picked up my blue beret from under my pillow. In my school we all slept in double bunks. The junior girls occupied the top bunks while the seniors occupied the lower bunks. Anyone you shared a bunk with was your ‘neighbour’ and if you were the junior one, you had to wash her clothes, fetch her water, make her bed, iron her clothes and clean the corner as well. In turn, if she was a kind senior, she would protect you from other seniors and watch your back. My neighbour, Senior Uche was a Form 5 girl who wore glasses. She was a
girl and was very sociable. She knew lots of popular seniors. She didn’t bother me much except when I made her angry (which was rare by the way). I was a scruffy clumsy scrawny smallish junior girl and there were pleeenty of things to be angry with me about. Still she managed to put up with me somehow and she didn’t flog or beat me like other seniors did to their junior neighbors. Lagos
Anyway, other Protestants in our apartment were also getting ready for the evening service. I zipped my a-line cut day dress, and picked up my bible from my locker in front of my bunk., then we headed to Newest Dinning, where the protestant services were conducted. It was one of our dinning halls, but on Sundays, it served as a chapel for the Christian Protestants.
The praise/ worship session had already begun when we got to Newest Dining. One Senior Titilayo was leading the praise/ worship session. She was dark, slim and tall and wore dark rimmed glasses. Her day-dress was neatly ironed. There were sharp iron- lines at the edges of her gown. Her blue belt was also properly ironed and neatly tied in place. Somewhere behind her, was a big white banner with these inscriptions written in blue:
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness”.
She sang a popular chorus“ Clap your hands and praise the Lord, Hosanna, Hosanna to the Lord”.
Her voice was pleasant. She also had a way of rhyming her clapping with the rhythm of the song, in a manner that I found interesting. I loved the songs she sang and I enjoyed the praise worship session.
Soon it was over and it was time for the gospel. The preacher was Mr. Njoku, one of our teachers who taught Introductory Technology (Intro-Tech). He preached about hell and damnation and how we must repent from our sins or perish. He told us about rapture and the fact that one day, a trumpet would sound and good people would all disappear from the face of the earth at once. The bad ones would be left behind and the devil would torment them for many years, urging them to denounce Christ or be killed. There would be famine and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I was terrified to my bone marrows. I had never heard of rapture and the thought terrified me. From what he said, it would happen soon because the end times were here already. Before now, I had heard lots of scary stories about how the world would end by the year 2000 and I didn't want to remember any of them.
“What if rapture occurs now?’ he continued, “Will you be called? Will you be raptured?”
I became scared again. I did not think I was qualified to be raptured because I knew I was a sinner. I still told lies. The other day, one of the Seniors in my apartment, Senior Akunna had asked me to fetch water for her and I had told her that I was sick with malaria. Because of that, I had gone to the clinic and made them give me drugs, so that she could see me take them the next morning, before I went to the dinning for breakfast. That was a terrible, terrible sin. Silently, I prayed to God to forgive me. I wondered if rapture would occur while I was in school or while I was at home on holidays. It would be better for rapture to occur while I was at home with my family. My last brother, Chinwike was still 3 years old and the last time I came home on holidays, he didn’t even recognize me, and that was painful. I still missed home terribly and I could not imagine what would happen if rapture occurred while I was away from home.
“Some of you are witches and members of devilish covens’ he continued.
“eh? Witches?” I thought. That was very scary.
He went on and talked about how some of us would fly by night and attend meetings in devilish covens so that they could suck the bloods of fellow girls and initiate them into mermaid covens.
Now I was frightened. Who were these witches? How would I recognize them? I wished I could just go home and then become a day student. It was just too much for me to swallow.
I didn’t listen to any other thing he said. I started to imagine how the witches would be disguised as one of my classmates who would offer me food and snacks and then by night, I would see myself flying to attend a mermaid meeting.
God forbid!! I resolved there and then that I would not collect any food or snacks from any girl I didn’t know.
“Now its time for alter call” was the next thing I heard. “If you know you would like to give your life to Christ, stand up on your feet. All eyes closed, all heads bowed”
What was an alter call? I thought. Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind.
“Yeehh!!” I thought. This must be a call for the witches to stand up and surrender their lives to God. No wonder Mr. Njoku asked everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. Lai Lai, I wasn’t going to close any eyes or bow any head. I would see these witches for myself, one after the other. I would note their names, and if I ever came across them, I would make sure I had nothing to do with them.
“ Now if you’re standing on your feet, gently come forward so that we can pray together. All eyes still closed, heads still bowed” He continued.
This was getting more interesting. I watched with keen interest as the girls filed out one after the other. Their faces sober. There were many of them. I recognized most of the faces. Some were even Form 1 girls like me. Thankfully, I thought, none of them was in my class. I was very flabbergasted. I imagined them flying at night and sucking blood.
How could we have this many witches in our school?, I thought with fear. I made a mental note to write a letter to my mum tomorrow. I would beg her to allow me become a day student so that I could escape from all these witches.
I didn’t listen to any other thing that was said afterwords. I didn’t even understand the announcements that were made by the protestant prefect when the preacher finished. My imaginations were running wild. All I could think of were witches and mermaids and devilish covens. I had heard enough. But I would make sure I told my friends and my class girls too. They all had to be on the look out for these witches.
After the service came our sunday dinner. I had to go to New Dinning, where my table was, to eat my food. In my school, everyone was randomly shared in tables of 10. Sunday dinner was a meal of yam and fish stew. The stew was watery but it was sweet. I quietly ate my dinner , didn’t speak to anyone and once dinner was over, I ran to the tap behind the dinning hall, washed my plate and cutlery, put them in my bag and headed to my class for night prep; alone. Luckily for me, no seniors asked me to wash their plates, so I made it to my class in time for night prep.
During night prep, we all went to our classes to read our books and do our assignments. Each class had a Form 6 girl attached to their class as the prep prefect. Her job was to make sure that the girls read their books. Noise making and loitering were forbidden. I was in Form 1Y and our Prep Prefect was Senior Amarachi, a dark skinned, Form 6 girl. She was not a prefect but she was a good disciplinarian; strict when she needed to be, but generally friendly and kind hearted. We all liked her.
Unluckily for me, Senior Amarachi was already seated in front of the class by the time I arrived for night prep. That meant I could not have a few minutes of gossip with my class girls like I had intended to. I was eager to share what I had seen during evening service, but from the look of things, that was not going to happen.
I sat down quietly on my seat and tried to read my “Unoma at College”, but I couldn’t concentrate. I turned to my seat mate Chinonyerem to see if I could whisper something to her. She seemed engrossed in her Maths assignment and I couldn’t make eye contact. Chinonyerem and I had been in the same class in primary school. She had just gained admission to our school that term, having completed the first term in another school. She was still trying to adapt to the new environment and we had become close friends.
An idea occurred to me. I would write a note and tell her what I had seen. I tore a sheet from one of my ‘Zim Book” exercise books and I began to write:
“ During evening service today, the preacher asked all the witches to stand up so that he could pray for them to be saved. Many people stood up, including some seniors that I know. I can write their names for you”.
Then quietly, I placed the note on her locker. She looked up at me, and then opened the note to read. I saw the look of alarm on her face and then I saw her tear out a sheet of paper from one of her exercise books.
Just then, the girl sitting beside her saw our exchange and became curious. Her name was Ezinne. She was light skinned and very pretty. I watched her write a note and send to Chinonyerem. Chinonyerem read her note and then sent her the note I had written. I watched Ezinne read the note and I saw she was shocked as well. Who wouldn’t be? Ezinne also tore out a sheet of paper from one of her exercise books and began to write. Before she did that, she passed the note to a girl sitting beside her. Her name was Olisa. By the time I knew it, the note started to move from one hand to the other until I lost track of who had it. By that time, little noises had started to build up from different corners of the classroom.
Then Chinonyerem dropped a note on my locker. It was from Ezinne and it read:
“Please oh, I’m scared. Please write the names of the witches you saw so that I’ll know who not to trust”
Of course I had to write the names. I wanted them to take precautions as well. I began to write down the names of the people I had seen.
1. Seniour Ijeoma in Blue House……
I wrote down about 10 names or so and sent it to Ezinne and Chinonyerem. By the time I knew it, the notes had started moving round the class. There were more murmurs. The classroom had begun to get noisy.
Suddenly I heard Senior Amarachi’s voice. Before that time, two of her friends had come to join her in our class and they had all been reading together.
“ Ezinne ! stand up!!”.
Wow! I thought. I didn’t bargain for this part.
“Bring all those notes u have been passing round the class. “Now!!” She shouted.
Suddenly, the noise and murmurs stopped. I wished the ground would swallow me. Ezinne stood up.
“ Senior Amarachi, Uloma wrote a note”. She said quietly. “She said some witches came for evening service”.
“What!!” Senior Amaraci shouted. Which evening service? Uloma Emenyonu!! Will you come out here!!”
Slowly I got up from my seat and sluggishly went to meet her in from of the class.
“Answer me Uloma’ she continued. “What witches came for evening service? And before I continue, if you know you have any of those notes in this class, bring them forward”
Two girls came forward and gave her the notes we had been passing round. I was scared. I wanted my friends to know who the witches were but I did not know how to explain my actions to Senior Amarachi. Besides, Mr. Njoku had asked everyone to close their eyes and I hadn’t closed mine. I was not supposed to see the witches when they came out.
I watched Senior Amarachi as she read the notes. At first she appeared shocked. And then she began to laugh. Then she passed the notes to her 2 friends.
“Chinekem eh!” shouted one of them. Her name was Senior Ugomma. “Uloma or whatever you call yourself, is this how you spread rumours??
Rumours? I was confused. Senior Amarachi looked at me. She had stopped laughing. “Common decrease your height!” she shouted. “Kneel down!”
Tears fell from my eyes. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. I was only trying to protect my friends. I tried to speak and the seniors shut me up.
“Mr Njoku asked people to stand up and give their lives to Christ and all you could do was to call them witches” Senior Amarachi shouted.
“No Senior” I spoke for the first time. “He was preaching about witches and mermaids and when he finished, he asked for all those who were witches to stand up so that he could pray for them”
“Heeeyyy!!!” The third senior screamed. I didn’t know her name. “ Common shut up!! Don’t you know what an alter call is?”
“ No senior” I replied timidly.
The whole class burst out with laughter. I could hear more murmurs and giggles from different parts of the class. I was more confused. I also felt miserable.
“Will you guys stop making noise!!” Senior Amarachi shouted.
Suddenly the noise stopped. “And look at the names you even wrote” she Continued.
“ Ijeoma, Ifeoma, Taiwo, …you’re not even afraid. I’m going to punish you and teach you a lesson. Next time, you’ll know better than to spread rumours.”
“ Senior Amarachi please I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”. I cried.
The tears flowed freely from my eyes. I knelt down in front of the class while everyone else read their books. The noise had stopped and everywhere was quiet. Occasionally Chinonyerem would look up from her books and look at me wit pity. I was sad and depressed. At times like this, I hated the boarding house, hated F.G.G.C Owerri, hated seniors. I just wanted to go home!!.