(Inspired by E.C Osondu’s Boarding School)

Some of the punishments were painfully creative.

When a senior said, Squat and fly, the junior would crouch and spread her arms, and Lord have mercy if your arms ever faltered. If she said, Pick pin, you would pick an imaginary pin with one leg suspended in the air. She could say, Lie down under my bed, and leave you forgotten until your whimpers caught the boarding house mistress’s attention. Sometimes it was, Wash the pit toilet. Cut a large portion of field with blunt cutlass. Kneeling down became mundane over time and to spice it up, she could say, Kneel down raise up your hands and close your eyes.

Some punishments were as short as 10 minutes. Some punishments lasted for hours.

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Teachers were often helpless and could not stop the cycle. But in SS3 we were suspended for massacring SS2 girls. Massacres were the most ruthless. They were meted out if the seniors felt they had been collectively insulted. Maybe a prefect spoke tabo in the dining hall (“I came here and you did not stood up.”) If news got to the seniors that the junior girls had made fun of the prefect, we assembled the offending girls, maybe during night prep, maybe during siesta. Hangers would break. Thin branches of mango trees would snap. Some junior girls would feign asthma attacks afterwards; some asthma attacks were real. So when the Principal ordered the SS3 girls to go home, we shouted in glee. The suspension made us feel somewhat superior. It was the coolest form of punishment.
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We could report cases of bullying to no-nonsense teachers like The Senior Boarding House Mistress or to Miss Obi, a huge dark woman whose voice boomeranged and sent shivers down the spine of any wicked senior.

Who took this junior girl’s mattress? she would ask, coming in toll with the whimpering girl. The culprit would appear mustering courage mingled with shame: shame at being caught and at being about to be humiliated in the presence of her object of bullying. And you had the gall to give her this flat one in exchange? Miss Obi would glower. In no time the junior girl would take back her fuller mattress and senior, her flat one.
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But mostly we endured. We endured because we could take revenge in many, many forms. If the senior had a younger sister who was your junior, why report her to any teacher? Chill. She will soon write WAEC and graduate. Our people say, hot food will soon cool down. All you needed to do was whet the edge of your imagination. If her elder sister made you miss your lunch every day because you had to sacrifice yours to her, make the younger one dread even the thought of eating. If she always took kerosene for your hurricane lantern to pour in her stove, depriving you of reading at night, make her sister squat and fly during night prep for a whole term. If she always sent you to bakkasi at odd hours of the night to buy contrabands like Indomie and sardines, find a way to rid her sister of fitful sleep as long as you can. If she had no younger sister, she could have a doting school daughter. If she had none, you could wait for her to come for her clearance after her graduation. Then she becomes a bloody civilian stripped off her school uniform, no longer a student, no longer a senior. You can taunt her as she passes by your class, call her unprintable names. Or throw things at her. Or even shove her. She is harmless then. She is ashamed then. The mighty had fallen. Samson had become bald.
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Mothers took revenge too. During visiting days, if a child is totally unrecognizable because a senior had eaten up all her provisions or taken all her uniforms in exchange for raggedy ones, a mother would find the senior; give her a dressing down in public. She would call the senior, you little rat, you little tart that cannot even wash your buttocks properly. How dare you make my child’s life miserable? She would swear to take the matter up and have the senior expelled. She would threaten to find the senior’s parents and have them pay for damages. This was the quickest way to stop bullying. Other seniors would learn and say to themselves, Don’t send that girl on errands before she calls her crazy mother for you.
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There were girls it was so hard to bully. Some had the advantage of size; their big frames warned off predators. This is not to say that all big girls were not bullied. Most big girls were bullied because of their size. But some looked menacing enough to humble any senior. Some girls could not be bullied because they had crazy mothers who displayed their craze every visiting day. Some could not be bullied because they were the daughters of teachers. Some just had unfettered boldness, a glint in the eye that could mellow the fiercest of seniors. Their mothers were not crazy. They were not the daughters of teachers. But you just could not bully them. Ironically, the girls who could not be bullied became the worst bullies.
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Some girls were easy target for bullying. Girls from the villages who have never been to the city; who do not drink cornflakes and who call spaghetti, worms. The only exotic place they have been to was the boarding school. Their docility and bad manners made them easy sport for teasing. Small girls were also bullied. Their frames made them appear defenseless. Girls who wet their beds were bullied without mercy. Girls who refuse to have school mothers and wimpy girls who cried easily at the mere sound of a senior’s voice were bullied. Some were bullied because of their possession: they always had water in time of SAP or water scarcity. Some of the bullied girls became bullies out of vengeance. Some became prefects and protected the rights of junior girls.
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There were several ways to protect oneself from getting bullied or being sent on stupid errands. Feign sickness, especially asthma so that when a senior says, Sweep my corner, or Squat and fly or Pick pin or Cut the grasses on the lawn, a ready reply would be, Senior please I am asthmatic. Or one could just lie that she was running errands for a teacher. Or just escape. But escaping, if not properly executed could bring even more punishments.
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You cannot really say whether you were a good senior or not till you come for clearance. If they called you names as you walked by or even shoved you, then you must have been very wicked. But if they ran out of their classes and hugged you and asked you for money for tuckshop, then you must have been a good senior. Some seniors went as far as writing apology letters as olive branches before they came back for clearance. Some seniors never came back for clearance.
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But how old were we in SS3 when we terrorized the entire school population? 15, 16? Little women sprouting tender breast and still seeking the meaning of life. Our lives, so myopic that if one had known that most of the junior girls one made miserable would become senior colleagues at places of work, would graduate before us in university after one had stayed at home for five long years because JAMB fucked you up again and again, would become our in-laws after we fell in love and wedded their handsome brothers, one would have treaded more cautiously. But how can you know, drunk on your own tiny importance, sauntering into a class and declaring with all the power your can muster, “All the girls in this class should squat and fly before the count of zero…” and enjoying the scamper that comes in the wake of your command.

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