Maybe it was the thoughts of the coming examination that was affecting everything. I had always been a straight A student, until I entered the senior class and started Chemistry. I still scored A in all the other subjects, including Mathematics and Physics which most of my classmates struggled with, but I never scored higher than a C in Chemistry. As it happened, it was my first paper in this examination.
There were two blocks of eight rooms in my hostel and there were four of us in each room. We had ten bathroom cubicles, five for each block, so we took turns to have our bath. But this was not a problem. Usually, you only had to wait for one person to finish up. I took a quick glance at my bedside clock. I still had more than an hour before the assembly. Of my three roommates, one was about my age, even though she was slightly older. Her name was Grace. The other two were junior students.
They had all wished me a happy birthday that morning.
As I made my bed, Grace returned from the bathroom. She had a towel
wrapped around her chest and another one on her head like a turban. I mean when you turned 16, did you like, feel different in any way?”
“No. It was like 14 or 15. Couldn’t feel any difference, to be honest, she answered with a shrug.
Grace was not a great talker. It was as if someone was going to charge her for the number of words she used each time she spoke. Many people thought she was snobbish. But I knew she was a nice and generous person. I wouldn’t say she was my bestie, but we got along well enough, even though we were not in the same class.
“Never mind,”I added. I knew Grace liked to be left alone. In any case, I thought I should rather focus on my Chemistry. I had worked harder this term. And this was reflected in my continuous assessment results. Still, I was more than a little worried. The main problem was that time was never enough for me to answer the questions and do all the practical tests. I had tried to improve
on my speed by taking five minutes off the time allotted to each question. On one occasion, I managed to finish about 17 minutes ahead of time. But I still wondered how I would hold out in real examination conditions.
As we sang the national anthem that morning at the assembly, I was already looking forward to the birthday card from my father. But when I walked up to the principal later, he only asked me to see him in his office at break time.
“Ho-hope there- there is no problem, sir?”I stammered.
“Not at all,”the principal answered curtly.
Before I could say anything more, he was already talking to one of the teachers. He appeared upset by something. I noticed he didn’t say a happy birthday to me. That also never happened before. Usually, as he handed me the card from my dad, he would say, “Happy birthday to daddy’s angel and my superstar.” And we would both laugh. I wondered what could have happened this time. Maybe he was distracted by whatever had upset him that morning. As I walked towards the classroom, I glanced back and I could see he was gesticulating wildly.
The teacher looked thoroughly chastened.
My mind raced through all kinds of possibilities. Or, did something happen to my dad? He traveled a lot. Had he been involved in an accident? Now, I got really scared. I remembered a couple of my classmates who suddenly lost their fathers and how they had struggled to remain in the school afterwards. I even got my dad to help some of them. But my worry at that moment was not about how to remain in school if anything happened to him.
I loved my parents, no doubt about that. But I was particularly close to my dad. I could even say he was the only true friend I had. Even though he could be very strict on some things, he always made me feel I could discuss anything with him. And in most cases, I did.
I recalled what happened earlier in February, on Valentine’s Day. A boy In my class gave me a teddy bear and told me he liked me. Everyone called him Bobo, but his real name was Tokunbo. I was walking back to the hostel from the school shop where I had gone to buy some toiletries. I looked up and saw him coming towards me on the narrow concrete walkway. I held my shopping tighter. I had a pack of sanitary pads among the newly bought items in my bag. I wouldn’t want him to see that. He was also clutching a small, blue gift bag.
“Hi Bobo, What’s up? Happy Valentine’s Day, I greeted him.
“Happy Valentine’s, Aliya.”He fidgeted a bit, looking rather nervous.
“Are you okay? I see you have a Valentine’s gift already. Did someone
give that to you or are you giving someone?
“Actually.. Ir’s actually for you, “he stammered.
“Me? Oh, thank you. I took the bag from him.”

By Isan Lu

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