I froze. I was flabbergasted, bewildered, scared and hoped to God the ground would open up and swallow me. I was quite in shock and as stood transfixed on spot and trying to recover I felt someone aggressively push me forward. I immediately regained consciousness of my surroundings and as I tried to compose myself, I heard the principal say, “Udoka! Come out here.”
It was like the red sea parted as the girls originally in front of me had moved to the side to make way for me to come forward. I slowly made my way to the stage and as I walked with my head down, I felt very ashamed, or should I say shy? I would like to say I was shy, but I mostly felt shame. I definitely didn’t feel worthy as I already knew in my heart, no one at this school would accept this. “It can’t be me,” I thought. I finally made it up to the stage without fainting and I made sure to only look at the principal as I was very sure most the teachers definitely were shooting me the disapproving death glare. My classmate Betty, the perfect teacher and classmates approved Betty, was supposed to have this job. And here I was, a thief.
I made it to the stage and as I stood next to the principal, he spoke into the microphone, “I believe Udoka is an exemplary student. I have checked all her behavior records and all her grades. She is well behaved and very smart, and she stands out. She is your new head girl (student representative/ senior prefect). It is my honor to pin this badge on her.” I felt like screaming NO and running away. But I stood still with my head hanging down as the new principal pinned the badge of the most prominent job a student could hold on me. He leaned in to hug me congratulations and I heard him whisper very sternly to me, “Will you put your head up.”
After the pining and the forced applause for me, the assembly was over, and the principal motioned for me to follow him. As we walked away, I could hear everybody muttering in disbelief. I looked back for a brief second at the teachers and most of their eyes shot daggers at me. Yup, I was right not to have looked at them before. I was pretty sure for most of them, that was the first time they had heard of me. I had always operated on the “present but invisible” principle. Now, after all these years, I wasn’t sure that was the best idea even though it had kept me out of trouble.
We got to his office, he offered me a chair to relax and some iced water. Iced water was a luxury in the school streets and I gulped it down really quickly. When I was done drinking the water, I hung my head down again and started crying. He let me cry to my fill, and when I looked up, he was writing something down. I could hear the school bell ring signifying it was time for classes to begin for the day. He looked up and staring right at me, he said, “As long as I am principal, you are the head girl and you will stand tall and proud like a ‘nwa afo Igbo’ (true Igbo daughter), and do your job with pride and integrity. These people have nothing on you and let this be the last time I see you crying. You are a leader now. You can handle the students but if any of the teachers give you trouble, you report them to me immediately. Understood?” Yes sir, I replied.
In all my years at the school, for the first time, I felt protected. He asked for my father’s phone number, then he gave me another cold bottle of water and instructed me to wash my face as I cannot show any weakness to anyone. I am incredibly light skinned, so I knew I was red all over from crying. I stayed at his office cooling down in front of the fan and happily drinking all the cold water I could get and praying for strength to face everyone. When I finally regained my natural complexion and stilled my heart, I thanked the principal and left his office.
To get to my class, I had to walk by the staff offices. It was a bungalow with transparent window, so it was quite easy to see into the rooms from the outside. Luckily for me, it was teaching period and there was barely any of them in the offices, so I hurried past. Phew…
I turned the corner to the building housing my senior classmates and I could instantly see them turn their heads to the window to stare at me as I walked past. Most of the buildings at the school were bungalows with huge open windows so it was quite easy to see everything going on outside. I held my head high and ignored the stares as I made my way into my class at the end of the hall. Unfortunately for me, there was no teacher in my class as the biology teacher was running late to class, per usual. As I walked in and I sat down, my heart was beating so fast and their chilly stares sent shivers down my spine. But, I did not hang my head even though I wanted to. I kept my head up and stared straight. Betty, the girl I “took” her job was also in my class (how amazing), and her desk was in front of mine, directly adjacent. Her stare was the deadliest. I stared her down though and when she finally shifted her gaze from me and looked straight ahead, I followed her gaze and that was when I noticed what was written on the classroom board…
We have a THIEF amongst us. The bible says, thou shalt not steal. All thieves belong in hell.
Again, I froze.