by Unoma Azuah
(From her forthcoming memoir, EMBRACING MY SHADOW).
I was hungry but came alive as soon as other students started gathering their notebooks, getting ready to dash out of the class. The bread and tea we had for breakfast didn’t seem to serve any purpose. I had hoped that whatever we were having for lunch would be rice and stew. In the refectory, food was divided according to tables, so five to six students per table and each table had a pot or two of garri and soup. Sometimes, the soup was too watery, and then the rice and beans had small pebbles in them. I had the responsibility of dividing up the food. Nobody appointed me but I volunteered as often as I wanted. Occasionally some accused me of not doing a good job. At one point one of the girls at the table, Amaka, who had a large head yelled at me, “Unoma, the fish in your plate is bigger than others.
“Bigger how? I shared the fish equally.”
“No, yours is bigger!” she yelled.
I shoved my plate to her and snatched hers, but she pulled it back, spilling some of the Ogbono soup. I clenched my fist and glared at her. I didn’t want to get into trouble by fighting. Otherwise, I would have punched her big head. The rest of the girls at the table told me to calm down and to ignore her.
As I walked towards my dormitory, House Five, with my school mother’s food, the sight of water containers that lined up in front of our water tank annoyed me. My containers have been in the line for hours. I was tired, sleepy and ready for the siesta. There were about fifteen containers ahead of me. As I was scowling and muttering to myself in frustration, Nkechi snuck up to the water tank, looked around, to make sure nobody was watching her. I didn’t want her to know I was watching her, so I looked down. Then she pushed her blue container next to the second one in line. As she stood near her container, I shrieked at her.
“What do you think you’re doing, Nkechi!”
“What am I doing? Unoma Azuah, mind your business!” she said and rolled her eyes at me.
“Look, I don’t intend to stand here all day! Take that container all the way back to the end of the line,” I said pointing at the trail of containers. She hissed and walked away, but I kicked her container out of the queue. She picked it up and left. A few minutes later, the lined moved. I pushed my container ahead, glad that the long line of containers was beginning to shrink. The next thing I heard was my name ringing out in the air.
“Unoma Azuah! Unoma Azuah, your name is in the list!”
I didn’t recognize who it was that was calling out my name. She must be one of the new prefects. My heart started pounding. A couple of weeks ago two girls fought in House four. When they were asked why they fought, my name was mentioned. Even when I didn’t ask them to fight over me, I was still asked to cut the overgrown grass near the staff quarters. I whispered a prayer and asked, “What list? Why is my name in the list?”
“You have a lover and you people have sex. Others are kneeling down in front of the principal’s office. Go and join them.”
There were about a dozen of us kneeling in front of the Principal’s office. The jagged stones I knelt on pierced through my nerves. The sun came down with heavy hands. It was not long before the Principal’s whip came down upon my back. I squealed in pain and begged for forgiveness. My plea was ignored. Instead every lash was punctuated by, “Remember this pain when you commit your sinful act!”
After the uncountable lashes of her wheezing whips, she strutted into her office in a puff. We were to kneel under the intense heat for another hour. When we were finally dismissed, I could still feel the pain breathing through the slashed surfaces of my back. I didn’t want to feel the judgmental eyes of my bunk mates. I didn’t want them to cast glances of “you deserve what you got.” So, I climbed the stairs to my classroom and cried. I was about to wipe my tears when one of the born again girls in school strolled into the classroom with a Bible.
“Unoma, God loves the sinner but not the sin. I just came to pray for you.”
“I don’t need your prayers.”
“So you’re not ready to renounce your sin.”
“Leave me alone!”
“See, the spirit of lesbianism is a stubborn demonic spirit. And I can start prayers and deliverance for you now, if you believe.”
I looked at Ngozi as she ranted on in prayer. Our eyes met, and a cold chill ran down my neck. There was fire in her eyes, but it sparked of madness. I moved away from her and gazed through the open window. A couple of yellow birds chirruped and darted around the hibiscus flowers littered close to our class room building. Their chirps drowned out the echoes of her prayers. Repeatedly she stomped the bible on her lap casting out demons. The convent next to our school towered about the tall shrubs of flowers that surrounded it and the hums from the hymns of the reverend sisters settled like a blanket of melancholy over my shoulders. The song was soothing but mournful at the same time. That could be my place of refuge: the convent.
Unoma Azuah is a College Professor. She teaches writing and literature at Lane College in Jackson, TN. USA. Her novels, Sky-high Flamesand Edible Bones have won multiple awards including the Urban Spectrum award and the Aidoo-Snyder book award. Additionally, Unoma has been honored by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education as well as listed as one of the Top Professors at affordable private small colleges in the US. She’s currently working on a collection of poems entitled, Home Is Where The Heart Hurts.