Tuesday morning around 9, I was sitting in bed counting the money I had remaining for the month.
I wouldn’t have believed it, but I’d spent over 100 cedis since the Thursday I’d arrived. 100 cedis! Me, who’d been given 400 cedis to spend till the end of the month. Ei. I had been doing everything possible to live the most chisel lifestyle I could imagine, but still, the money was just disappearing. Was I supposed to chew rocks and air from now on?
I was thinking about creative lies to tell my parents to get more money, when Jeff opened the door and stuck his head in.
“Chale I’m going to the faculty with Emmanuel.” Emmanuel was his childhood friend in the room down the corridor.
“To do what?” I hadn’t set foot past the front of my hall that weekend, not to speak of going to the faculty.
“Ah, you don’t know we’re supposed to go and register?”
Oh, that. I’d received some text message on my phone, that registration ended on Friday. Like any normal person, I intended to go there last minute on Thursday or Friday, and I said so to Jeff.
“Really? My friends are already there, and they said the queue there will waste your entire morning. And that’s for those of us going early. But all the best eh.”
He took off, and I went back to thinking about my finances. All that thinking made me hungry after a while, so I jumped off the bed to look for food. Someone, probably Abdul, had left rice in the rice cooker. I would’ve stolen some of it and eaten, but I was mortally tired of chewing rice and shito. Everyday, rice and shito and mackerel, why? Was I in a refugee camp?
After about half an hour of fruitless searching, I gave up. I was beginning to regret not going with Jeff and his people. At least it would’ve kept my mind off food . I decided to try an old trick I used to do in Botwe: Drink about 2 sachets of water so my stomach would think I’d eaten, then fall asleep before it realised I had swindled it.
I’d just finished drinking one sachet when someone opened the door and Emmanuel stepped in.
“Otu, do you know where Jeff would keep his wallet?”
“No o. You’re done with the registration?”
“Nah, that’s why I’m here,” he laughed. “Can you believe, after climbing up that hill all the way to the faculty, they said they need our ID cards?”
Yes. Yes, I could believe it. How else were they supposed to know you were a student? Of course I didn’t say that out loud.
“It’s probably on his bed or in his suitcase. You can check.”
He found it under the guy’s pillow after a few seconds. He turned to leave, and I decided I’d go with him. I had nothing doing, so why not.
“Yo Emma. Chale wait, let me wear a shoe and come with you wai.” I was already wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants, so I slipped on a shoe and locked the door as I left.
We discussed random things as we walked to the faculty. Emmanuel was an interesting character. He had an obscene amount of hair on his head, and the first time I saw him, I asked, “Ah. Is your mother okay with your hair left to grow like that?” and he shrugged and said, “Me, I told her the hair isn’t in her head, so she shouldn’t complain.”
I was shocked. If I so much as thought something like that in my house, my mother would sense it and slap it out of me. With a belt.
So that day, we were just mentioning random things. He’d also gone to Botwe, so of course he mentioned the time I’d gone bald.
In high school second year, I went to the school barber to cut my hair, and I don’t know if I caught him in a bad mood or he just wanted to experiment, but next thing I knew, I was feeling the breeze on my head and I touched it: there was no hair there.
What could you say to the barber? “Give me my hair back”? I just left the place with sadness in my heart.
My head shone like a beacon of hope in the school for the next 3 weeks till the hair grew. It was annoying back in school; people used to tap my head and run off. But it was two years past now, and I could laugh about it, and we did.
We were still talking when we branched unto Mecca road, and that is when my tongue failed me.
Emmanuel had just mentioned something about some football team (he supported Arsenal. Arsenal. I mean, how? Don’t you want to celebrate any victory at all in your lifetime?) and I was about to argue. I started, “Hoh don’t come and lie..” and my eyes adjusted to the sights in front of me. I couldn’t speak again.
The girls! The fine girls!
(Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Ah. Common booty shorts and crop top that girls are wearing, what’s the big deal?” But I’d been in a boys’ school for 3 years, where the seamstress and the beans seller’s daughter were the only regular female faces, so excuse me.)
I hadn’t really been out of the room since I came to school, so I’d seen just a couple of girls here and there, but not like this. Wow.
I could vaguely recall the pastor saying something on Sunday, about making a convenant with your eyes so that you wouldn’t see things that would confuse you.
Ei Pastor, I thought you meant spiritual things o! I didn’t know this was what you meant!
Brothers and sisters, I’m not asthmatic, but my breathing had changed. The air wasn’t entering my throat well. My eyes and legs were not cooperating anymore. I didn’t even remember who Emmanuel was.
I mean, how could my eyes guide my feet when someone’s daughter was walking in front of me in..in something I wasn’t sure I’d seen before. Was it shorts? Was it underwear? A hybrid of the two?
And to make matters worse, her blouse began somewhere high up her back. This was just one person o. There was a whole crowd of them!
Somewhere at the back of my mind I could faintly remember my mother saying something like,”Otu, these girls will spoil your destiny o. Many of these campus girls are not even human beings,” but like I said, it was at the back of my mind.
After a while I regained my composure (and my ability to breathe) and I realised Emmanuel had been laughing at me the entire time. This would become a staple story in the room for the next year; how I’d almost fainted from shock on seeing so many fine girls all at once on Mecca Road.
We got to the faculty area soon enough, and I left to the pharmacy faculty.
The pharmacy faculty is a very imposing set of buildings. The first time I saw the place, I could understand my father’s annoyance about Legon’s pharmacy building. This place had departments that were bigger than the whole Legon faculty. It made me feel proud for a moment to be learning in such a place, then I thought about the endless hours of lectures the place was famous for and got depressed all over again.
The registration itself was not a problem. Just some quick biometric something in the ICT room and a signature here and there. It was afterwards that things got interesting. We were just walking around, looking at the place. We’d been told the dress code for pharmacy students was formal, but we’d all assumed this would start when we actually became pharmacy students, i.e. after registration. But no.
Apparently those in upper levels had already been going to lectures for some days now, so lecturers were around. Some first year guy had come to the faculty wearing sweatpants and what was basically a singlet, and chalewote. Not thick outing slippers, no. Chalewote. Bathroom slippers. He looked like someone had woken him up and chased him out of his room to go and register without giving him time to find clothes.
I didn’t think much of it, but we were around the labs side when I saw this old guy in a suit walking very briskly toward us. My nose is well-honed for trouble, and I could smell it coming, so I stood in between two other first year boys and tried to look irrelevant.
“Young man! Hey, you! Yes you! Stand there!”
At this point my slower fellow first year friends were now trying to do skills and hide, but it was too late. The man took hold of the boy in the tank top and said, “Do you know where you are?”
The boy opened his mouth to say something. Probably, “Yes sir” or “I’m sorry” or “But why are you holding my arm?” but before he could open his mouth, the man continued. “These are formal grounds! You do not ever. I repeat, ever! Dress like this to this faculty. Do you understand?”
By this time, Brother Tank Top was sweating. All previous signs of swag were gone. The other first year girls were standing with solemn faces, but I could tell they were trying not to laugh. I didn’t know much about the social ladder, but this didn’t seem a very good way to launch yourself into the faculty, anaa?
The man strode off without another word, still looking annoyed. I wondered if every lecturer here took things as personally as this one did.
Nobody had to tell me to quickly disappear before some lecturer grabbed me. If boys’ schools teach you anything, it’s how to avoid authority figures with finesse. I was back on Mecca road before Onua Tank Top was done processing what had happened to him. I roamed around campus a while till my body was tired enough to forget about hunger, then I went to faint on my bed.