I had seen the girl yesterday. Everybody had seen the girl yesterday.
I had seen her rushing out of the school gates, with a white blouse like every girl in the school. Like most girls, her white blouse had that wet yellow patch, just beneath the armpit, that seeped through the thin polyester fabric. Her prescribed A-Line blue skirt was more form-fitting than the diagram for the school uniform hanging up in the staff room showed. I guess this is what happens when a young woman’s body starts to blossom. Her hips were rounded and filled the extra space that was in the skirt just a few days ago. The waistband of the blue skirt ate into her waist until just a thin layer bulged over and the button holding the band together looked to be at a precarious point.
The teachers had also seen the girl yesterday.
Mrs. Bolarinwa had seen the girl yesterday. Her face looked a bit chubby. The pimples of teenage years that had appeared to be receding last term had now exploded all over her face. Her white blouse was a bit too tight in the front, especially on her bust. You could see enough of the yellowish white camisole she wore under to protect her modesty to know that she needed a new blouse. The teacher made a mental note to keep an eye out for the girl and mention it discreetly later in the week.
Mrs. Fatade had seen the girl in the morning, yesterday. The girl had come to the staff room to place the school bell back on the high window ledge where it resided. Mrs. Fatade had watched the girl carefully because her skirt was riding a bit too high in the back. As she stood slightly on her tippy toes and strained to put the bell back into place, the slit on the back of her skirt went past the back of her knees, until the black biker shorts she wore under the skirt was visible for all to see. Mrs. Fatade, cantankerously said to her, “Isn’t your skirt a bit too tight? Or is this how you girls of these days dress to seduce men on your way home?”
Mr. Oluwadurotinmi had seen the girl in class during the second period of the day. He watched her write the day’s notes from her book on the board. He stood in a corner protecting the integrity of his white shirt and black trousers from the sootiness of the wooden black chalkboard. As he tapped his wrinkly black loafers on the floor, he admonished the class, “See how we are wasting time, ehn?” He looked at the now studious faces hunched over their notebooks quickly scribbling away and asked,“ How am I supposed to explain the reproductive system if you have not yet filled your notebooks with the explanations on gametes?” With a huff, he looked one more time through the class as he walked out and said: “I will flog anyone that has not completed the notes by the next class.”
The principal had seen the girl during the lunch break. The girl stood out because she was sitting down subdued in a corner fighting off a sleep attack. It was clear there was something really wrong with her. The principal signaled to one of the prefects on duty and pointed at the girl. The prefect went to the girl and tapped her lightly on the shoulder. She pointed to the principal whose back could now be seen disappearing into the administrative block. The girl had been asked to report herself to the office. The principal watched her walk in and thought to herself, “If this child had a mother, she would see that her child is with child.” Without so much as a greeting, the principal asked the girl, “So…who is the father?”
The girl, the child who was with child, had seen the baby’s father that morning behind the tall bushes that surrounded the school. They had looked at each other wearily because each was unsure of what to say to the other now that the unpalatable had happened. They had been arguing for the past couple of weeks since the girl realized that her menstruation had failed to appear for the second time in eight weeks, that there might be something happening to her body. The usual routine of going to school and then helping her grandmother grind pepper at the market stall was killing her. She could barely keep her eyes open to finish the endless math homework by the flames of the lantern that provided just enough yellow light.
The girl’s grandmother, Alhaja, had seen the girl sneak off to sleep in a corner in the market yesterday. She wondered why the girl all of a sudden always seem to be tired. This also reminded her that it was a while since the girl came to ask her for money to buy sanitary pad. Abi the girl had started keeping a boyfriend and collecting money from men. She was unsure of what to do. It was not possible for her to keep boyfriends. After all, she went to an all-girls high school. The grandmother had structured the girl’s life so that she went to school, lesson, market, and home. There was no hour of the day for nonsense. For surely, having free time was an opportunity to make a mess of the plan to go to polytechnic.
I had first seen the girl about six months ago when I first arrived at the school for my service year. She was in her second year of senior grammar school then. One of the brightest kids in the class, the teachers liked to say every time she exited the staff room. She was a constant presence in the staff room. Her steadfastness meant that teachers knew they could trust her with errands that other students might botch. “Please call my girl for me in room SS2B,” the teachers would say to one of the corpers if they could not find a student roaming by. We all knew the girl.
“My dear, you are going to help me buy my favorite ofada rice from that woman. Make sure she gives me good amount of meat this time o!”
“My darling, please help me clean the cooler. Make sure that you rinse it well, then take it back to Mrs. Oderinwa in Junior School staff room. Tell her that I said thank you. Also make sure you return the Coca Cola bottle to the seller at the commissary.”
“Please you will help me go and buy small kerosene from the filling station just down the road before you go home after school.”
She was constantly used in the staff room during that first term of my service year. Then we had a break. By the time we returned from the long summer vacation, a few of our senior girls were missing. Some had gone to other schools, I was told, because their parents wanted them to have good prep for WAEC. Some had been sent to schools notorious for cheating on JAMB and WAEC. Some had dropped out of school to go into the workforce because their parents could not justify one more year of school with their abysmal results from the previous year. Some of the girls were pregnant.
The girl was with child before the school year started in September. Her summer dedication to the school farm had led her beneath the heaving body of the agriculture master. He had taken to calling her, “iyawo mi” early in summer because, of all the students who came to take care of the farm, she was the only girl. The girl was really never sure how she had walked into the trap. It was not the first time she had encountered a man who projected his fantasy unto her young body. It might have been the countless mornings working beside him on the farm that made her too comfortable. It might have been the gradual way the boys from the neighboring schools slowly stopped showing up until she was left with just the agriculture master. Maybe it was the way he looked at her in a desirable manner that she was unused to from a man. Maybe it was the fact that he was really just a farm custodian, not a teacher. It might have been the fact that he was in his early twenties; not too far from her 15-year-old self. It might have been the overwhelming heat and the camaraderie that came from sharing bags of pure water while sitting under the mango tree and sucking on juicy Ogbomosho mango. One day a graze of the breast progressed too far until they were both leaning fully clothed against the tree while he fumbled and drove himself into her. Her virginity had bled down her legs and he had looked not quite remorseful by the time it was over. What was done was done.
The girl had refrained from going to the farm after the impromptu session against the mango tree. The girl simply told her grandmother that she was tired of spending time under the sun. She even made a feeble joke about becoming burnt and too black by the time school resumed. Uncharacteristically, her grandmother begged someone to let her work at their hair salon for the rest of the summer holiday. The girl found herself fetching water from the well behind the tiny shop. On days when things were slower, the amateur hairdressers practiced their skills on her hair, installing weaves in different styles and learning how to cut. On busy days, to appreciate her labor, the hairdressers gave her tips here and there as she left to go home at the end of the day.
The principal had seen the girl a few days after the new term started. The principal thought to herself that there was something off about the girl. This is a girl who had been petite since she was in junior secondary school. All of a sudden, over the course of a summer, she looked like she had filled out. Maybe it was just the hormones of puberty finally catching up with the girl. A couple of weeks after the first jarring encounter, it was clear that it was a different sort of hormones filling out the girl’s body. The principal could usually see this kind of curve coming, but this one was so sudden. Too sudden. After many years of confronting and counseling young pregnant girls, this was the first time it really hurt to know that another one had fallen prey.
The girl herself was unsure of what to do as her body changed slowly. Her first alarm came when her period had refused to show up after 28 days as was customary for her. No matter how many days she spent wearing sanitary pads in case the flow came unexpectedly, her monthly bloody visitor just did not appear. Then her breast started feeling tender and painful. She figured it was time to go speak with the agriculture master.
The young man, also known as the agriculture master, was unsure of what to say to the young girl when she told him she was with child. He could not tell her that it was another man’s child because even he had felt and seen the dissolution of her virginity. Now it appeared that he was to pay for that hot day when common sense had deserted him long enough for an afternoon tryst against the mango tree. He told her that he would take care of her and it. The young girl did not look convinced but she said nothing else as she left him that morning on the first day of the school year.
The principal saw the young girl that morning as she walked into the school compound and took a detour for the mango tree. She figured that the child with child was probably going to check on the farm as part of her duties as the head-girl. She did not imagine that the girl would be reporting to the agriculture master that she felt the first flutter of life in her belly that morning. The agriculture master looked somewhere between uncomfortable at the looming crisis and joyous at the arrival of his first child. The father-to-be thought long and hard during those first few nights after the news of the pregnancy had been broken to him. He had visited with herbalists and bought the girl brews meant to encourage the end of the gestation. Unfortunately for the entangled duo, although the girl had been extraordinarily nauseous and felled with constant stomach cramps, the pregnancy continued. It was clear that this was a strong child determined to be born regardless of the consequences to its mother and father.