Monday, August 18, 2008

Novella: Choices (Chapter 1)

The whole school was replete with young girls and ladies. It was Royal College’s home coming. Alumni usually called ‘Old girls’, all over the globe, came around for the annual event. The College was 15 years in existence and this was her 10th homecoming. Scheduled for the second weekend in April, every year, it was always a beautiful and colorful event.
As an only girls’ secondary school, Royal College had become quite popular for her moral discipline and academic excellence. The population of the school, located in Lagos Island, had grown from 35 students at inception in 1992 to 932 at present. Old girls earnestly looked forward to the event, not to talk of the current students. The students planned, rehearsed songs, dramas, and more importantly, looked forward to seeing their former seniors. Students that missed their former ‘school mothers’ itched to see them again. It was an event characterized with a lot of laughter, and tears at the end.
This year, over 250 alumni turned out; the largest number recorded so far. Most of them were girls that had graduated in the last four years. A few older ‘girls’, now women came. Some came with husbands and kids. During the program, some were called upon to make speeches. Many were impressive, working as bank managers, attorneys, doctors and more. A particular alumni, just 25 years said she already had her PhD from Cambridge University and was working with the UN in South Africa. She reminded the girls that her life had been moulded while she was in school, and that being Assistant Head Girl in her SS3 days had built her confidence and shaped her outlook to life.
However, the girl that stole the show was Shola Bankole. She wasn’t asked to make a speech, the only official mention of her name was when the principal acknowledged her presence at the closing ceremony, announcing her as the Library Prefect of the 2004 set; she finished three years back. She really did not need the introduction. Everyone had started talking about her, refreshing themselves of who and what she was when she was in school. She had caused a little uproar when she came the day before, for the opening dinner.
Girls had whistled as they saw a black, tinted glass, Toyota Prado jeep, the latest model, cruise into the school premises. ‘Who is in there?’ was the unspoken question in every mind. After parking, the driver of the jeep opened to door, and put out a leg, a bare fair leg. The other leg followed as the whole figure was soon in view. A tall, slim, fine-figured and fair-complexioned girl was standing by her ride, bringing out her handbag. She wore a short pink gown with a spaghetti strap and a low neck that exposed her cleavage. She stood on 9-inch-heeled glass slippers.
Standers by were transfixed as some just gaped while others, in hush tones, started asking each other questions. She was on long braids, fixed nails and had an anklet on. As she closed her door, she put on Gucci shades. She walked graciously, unaffected by the attention, into the multipurpose hall of the school. Many eyes followed her every movement until the dinner was over. She ate as demurely as she used to when she was in school. Her dancing was however on the wild side but there was just something about the way that she danced, as well as every other thing she did, that made it seem so nice.
For the closing ceremony, she brought a Toyota Corolla, 2007 model. She dressed in a short black designer skirt suit. She had talked with a couple of alumni and students the day before, so more information about her present status had been gathered. She was nineteen years old and a 300-level law student of Obafemi Awolowo University. She actually fit the mould; her diction was flawless, her accent was polished and she had a commanding charisma.
How the drastic transformation had come about was still a mystery to everyone. Her parents were just financially comfortable and seemed morally disciplined as many parents of students in Royal College were. There was still a story people longed to know – how did Shola become like this? As Shola left the premises of Royal College that Saturday afternoon, life continued as usual for her and for many others but somewhere among the myriads of students in the college, a young girl’s life was going to take a sharp turn as a result her newly found model.
“I’m already missing those girls. I wish they would have just stayed a little longer” Pearl said.
“You could say that again” Moni said as she lay on the bunk adjacent to her best friend’s. As SS3 girls, they had been able to pull that off. Both of them were on the upper beds of their bunks, which were side to side. They were usually the first to wake and last to sleep in the room of 24; either talking or reading. They were known for two things: beauty and brains. If it was not Moni getting the overall best result, then it would be Pearl and there were no other girls who got as many guys dotting on them like the duo.
While Moni was usually gentle and pensive, Pearl was more on the outgoing and impulsive side. They had been friends since JS3, when Pearl transferred to Royal College, and they had been inseparable since then. Most girls, juniors, colleagues and even seniors had grown to admire and respect the two of them. The school had also found them reliable, as Pearl was the outgoing Senior Prefect and Moni was the outgoing Library Prefect. Their WAEC was just around the corner and they were soon going to hand over to SS2 students.
“I can’t wait to be out of here and be like our old girls. Can’t you see how happy they all seem?”
“Yeah! They look happy all right but are they really happy?”
“Why won’t they be?” Moni asked, thinking about Pearl’s absurd question.
“I really don’t know. I only wonder. That’s all.” After a pause she added. “You know, people always tell me how lovely my elder sister, Patience, is but I see her when they don’t and I see her in her worst moments. I tell you, she aint an angel. You cannot assume people are happy just because they look or seem happy.”
“You have a point there,” Moni said picking at the dirt in her finger nails. “but it’s easy to get carried away. Look at Senior Shola for example, who won’t want to be like her?”
“I won’t!” Pearl grinned.
“Oh! be serious!” Moni said and flung her pillow at Pearl. “Didn’t I see you pulling strings to ensure you were the usher assigned to her table today?”
“So, you agree, don’t you?” Moni asked, but seemed rather desperate for Pearl’s affirmation.
“Yes I do. She seemed so… perfect”
“Like everything is going smooth for her, right?”
“I would want to be like her”
Pearl frowned. “I won’t be so quick to say that”
“Why? Thought you just said she tripped you.”
“She tripped me quite all right but I didn’t totally agree with her dressing. Kinda revealed too much, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. But I’m sure she’ll have reasons for it.”
“I’m shocked Moni. Are you defending her? I’ve always known your stand when it comes to dressing.”
Moni rolled her eyes. “Whatever! I still like her sha!”
“I bet you do”
They were both quiet for a while, thinking. Then Moni voiced up. “Remember she was library prefect in her days. She was also reserved and quiet like me.”
“Can’t you see the picture fits? No wonder I’m so enamored to her.”
“What are you trying to insinuate?”
“Wait, I’m not through yet” Moni said, now giggling. “She also had the best result in her set 6A1s, 2B2s and 1B3.” She paused and looked at her friend. “You see! She’s just my type of person”
Pearl smiled. “There are few times in our years of friendship that I’ve seen you this excited about something or someone. The last time was two years ago, when we were in SS1. You remember?”
“How could I ever forget.” Moni smiled as she remembered. “I was a love-struck girl.”
“You were practically lost.”
“Looking back now, I still wonder why I was so heads-over-heels for Bayo.”
Moni had met Bayo in Sea School. Royal College girls were introduced to Sea School, a leadership training school, right from their SS1 days, the moment they became ‘senior girls’. He was an SS2 student of La Ville Academy in Lekki. He was everything Moni had fantasized her boyfriend would be. He was tall, dark, well built, had broad shoulders, had even started growing a beard, and was smashingly handsome. He was the watch leader of Moni’s watch, Jaja Watch, the same day when she was the OO, Orderly Officer.
It seemed the attraction was mutual. Bayo seemed to care for only her among all the girls that were throwing themselves at him. They stole few moments to be together and after one long ‘escapade’, Bayo asked her out and they stated dating right there in Sea school. Texts, flashes and mid night calls were an everyday routine. And when in school, Moni both received and sent letters to him every week.
They went places together and did things Moni felt were normal for secondary school dating. They kissed, smooched once in a while, nothing more. Whenever she told Pearl, she reprimanded her but Moni didn’t care. She just wanted to make Bayo happy. She sensed Bayo wanted more and she didn’t really mind then because she was madly in love with him but he never asked. A year passed and the love he had for her seemed to be waning while hers seemed to be growing. Soon after, Moni began hearing that Bayo dated other girls. She had found it hard to believe until she read a letter he had written to one of her classmates. She cried her eyes out for a whole week and promised never to forgive him.
Pearl had been her savior. If not for her, Moni would have killed herself. Looking back now, with still a little pain from that past, Moni smiled again and wondered why her heart was still beating quite fast as she remembered Bayo and their intimate moments together.
“You still like him, don’t you?” Pearl asked.
“After all he did to me? No way!”
“I’m the last person you should try to fool Moni. I see the truth in your eyes – in your smile”
“Leave me alone jo! He has forgotten me. Imagine he hasn’t gotten in touch since then. It’s been over a year. He’s so callous!”
“I’m not arguing that with you. All I’m asking is; do you still like him?”
“Pearl, you’re impossible” she smiled. “I think I still do!”
“What would you do if he should come back and ask you out again?”
“That’s ridiculous dear”
“What would you do?”
“That’s not – ” Pearl raised a hand to silence her. “Okay. I would –”
“Senior Moni!” Moni’s school daughter, Tanwa shouted as she walked towards them, interrupting Moni. She stood in between their bunks and lifted an envelope to Moni. “House Mother said I should give you this letter”
“Thanks dear. Hope you’re not too tired from today’s ushering and cleaning?” She asked, collecting the envelope and reaching down to smooth her school daughter’s hair.
“No, I’m not, thanks. I have to go now. We’re doing some work for House Mother.”
“Okay then.”
“Bye Senior Pearl”
“Bye” Pearl said, wondering what was in the envelope Moni was holding.
Moni looked at the envelope in her hands and gasped. “It’s a lie!”
“What is it?” Pearl said, stretching across to grab the envelope from Moni’s hand. She looked at the envelope and her hand flew to her mouth. She looked up at Moni and saw she was trying to keep from crying. Moni managed to hold herself as she reached out to collect the letter back from Pearl. “Bayo wrote me a letter!” she said as a single tear finally made it’s way down her smiling cheek. A tear of hope.

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