It was barely afternoon and you were already involved in a fight. You checked the time, not as much for any particular reason than it was a habit. 1:05pm…Timing was essential. It happened during lunch break, with only the both of you present. It was just as the bell went off to end recess, and a few of your classmates appeared at the door that Paula your seat partner was wailing like a banshee, face contorted into that horrid ugly mixture of fear and pain as she fled the primary five classroom. Some of your classmates were at her heels asking what you deem irrelevant questions. You could only think they looked like premature rabbits, hopping that way, one behind the other.
She ran screaming, hand on cheek, avoiding the yellow made in Nigeria HB pencil still lodged halfway into her ear. Its bottom half stuck out of her ear, protruding like the handle of a manual pepper grinder. Why won’t she just pull it out and at least stop screaming, you thought as you fiddled with some pencil chaff on the table.
“Oh my dayssssss…well? What happened here?” Diane asked, an utterly shocked look masked her face. You held back a giggle, as you wiped down the chaff with one hand. Slightly cocking your head to the side, you took her in. She stood there gaping at you, with a half-finished juice box hanging from her left hand.
Dusting your palms off each other, you shrugged, a slight lift at the corners of your lips as you looked down and said: “Nothing”
Paula was an attention seeker. Asides her sterling grades (second only to yours) which earned her the spot of your only competition at school, Paula was a brat. She made fun of your stammering, even though it was only visible once you got nervous. She played silly pranks on you, hiding away your things because she knew how much you detested it. And now, she was the second candidate for your head girl position; a longstanding dream of yours since primary four. She was an itch you could not reach. A nemesis you could not get rid of her or ignore, like bedbugs.
She would probably sing like a bird, you knew. Nevertheless, it did not matter because you did not do it. You could never do that, obviously. Whatever she said was false. Paula was like that, anyway. Forever telling a distorted tale about something she did, did not do, or could actually do; what occurred or what had not. She lied about why she had not done her homework. Then, lied about what Hakim’s new set of Staedtler colored pencils were doing in her bag. She told all the fibs, her thin capsule like mouth could possibly allow. She even said one time, that robbers had attacked their home situated at the end of the estate, and you all believed her. She said she was a great swimmer with enough practice from home, which resulted in a near death experience for her in the school pool. So you see, it was obvious to everyone, even Miss Lillian your class teacher (after all, she was the one who mostly discovered the lies) that Paula told an incredulous amount lies, sufficient to make a rope long enough to string a whole continent along with. On the other hand, everyone knew you to be stellar; impeccably neat and quiet, only asking intelligent questions. Everybody, including the principal knew it. You were to be head girl next year, in primary six. It was glaring, that you certainly did not do it.
You stood in front of your principal, Mr Akogun, next to a sniffling Paula. With a slant glaze, mechanically, rhythmically, you clench and unclench your fist. Just hearing her sniffle like a whiny animal made your palm itch. Clasping your palms in front of you proved futile; they were clammy and slippery. The office was chilly; its cold air from the air conditioner trapped the heady scent of room spray merged with new books. Yet, the camisole underneath your shirt and pinafore became a wet towel on your back. Better still, a leech sucking your assertiveness away. Your insides rattled on with a ton of questions, like those blue or red tambourines people carried with their bibles to church.
Mr Akogun was one of your favorite adults at school. He always commended your efforts, and regularly singled you out as a representative in interschool competitions. He saw you. More importantly, he recognized your genius and rarity; and whenever he got the chance, he informed mummy about how lucky she was to have a ten year old with such outstanding qualities and potential. Now, he bent over some paperwork, writing furiously. Finally, lifting his head, he looks you up; cornrows to black Clarks to cornrows, and finally at your round face.
“I refused to believe this when I heard it was you. You are such a gentle girl, this is the first I am hearing of such aggression from you. Where did this come from? What happened?”
You kept mute as he recanted what Paula had told him. Throughout, your eyes stay fixed on the plaque resting on the shelf above the principal’s seat. He asks for your side of the story. You tell him how Paula had knocked your new bag off its spot on the shelf deliberately, and then refused to apologize properly. It made your skin crawl, when anyone moved your things even an inch. So, in anger you snidely remark that was why she had a tick that made her eye twitch, and her parents couldn’t even remember where they picked her from. This enraged her, and she went ahead to trample on your bag, but you did not respond immediately. Not until she was allegedly blocking your way, while using her pencil to scratch the itch in her ear; a habit she had, but today you did not see it. How could you know it would find its way into her ear when you shoved her out of your way?
As expected, Paula screamed:
“Sir, she is lying!”
She claimed she had not been blocking your path by any means, and your brutality did not occur subsequent to the squabble. Rather, it happened after, while she was back in her seat, and truly using the pencil in her ear. That was when you stepped up and pushed it into her ear. Deliberately.
One…two…tears sprang to your eyes and flowed down round caramel cheeks. It was exactly as though someone flipped the switch on the pumping machine in your glands. The tears came in torrents. Amidst your sobbing, you convinced Mr Akogun you were not lying, even if Paula was purposely trying to implicate you. In all honesty, you did not know she was cleaning her ear with a pencil, as the shelf obstructed your view of her side.
The principal squinted behind thick frames as he studied you both, and decided, you were both to be punished. It was two days suspension for you and a day detention for Paula after school hours. He asked her to report to his office by 2:50 pm. Ten minutes before the closing bell went off, in case she ran off with the others.
This was a taint on your record of good behavior. What would mummy say? You could already imagine the sting of the belt. As you walked out of the cold office, sweat broke out on your forehead. You wiped your palms repeatedly on your pinafore skirt. What would happen to being head girl? You had never been so humiliated, now your greatest fan thinks you are ruffian. This was all Paula’s fault. You were livid.
Bending round the corner into the hallway, you had a light bulb moment. Staring at you solemnly was a bottle of cleaning detergent and water solution, inadequately hidden beneath the stairs. The cleaners must have left it there. Adults could be so careless, you thought shaking your head.
The clock said 2:35 pm.
Timing was essential.
“I am on detention,” Paula whispered to another classmate on her other side. There was some cotton wool stuffed in her ear with plaster across to hold it in place. “Principal says I have to be in his office ten minutes to closing, I better go early and avoid any more trouble”
She eyed you as she turned, and you sneered in return. At exactly 2:45, you took a restroom excuse from your teacher. Paula was packing up her books and bag. The restroom was across the hall from your classroom, just past the upstairs landing.
So you went, and waited and watched from behind the toilet door, hoping nobody would come up or go down. As though on cue, Paula skips out with her backpack strapped behind her, turning into the stairs to go down, she loses her balance first, then a step. As her body begins an uninterrupted tumble down the stairs, the banisters trap an arm, and twist it in the most unnatural way. Paula lands unconscious on the last step, with a loud thwack of her head on the tiled floor. Someone below screams and people rush out.
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