Morning Assembly - Part 1.
School was a place Nwike loved to be. He loved history, social studies and Christian religious studies. For some reason, he didn't do very well in mathematics or anything that had to do with calculations. He tried paying attention in accounting class, but once, when the teacher caned him for not doing his homework, he stopped paying attention in her class. He also loved hanging out with his friends and talking about sports, books and movies. School was the one place Nwike could escape to and be whoever he wanted to be. And at school, he was a popular kid.
When he got to school that morning, there were a few students already sitting at the kiosk waiting for the teachers to arrive. The kiosk was a makeshift wooden shop where students and teachers went to buy biscuits and softdrinks during the breaks. They also sold pastries and stationery. There were a few benches in front of the kiosk where popular students, usually called 'Big Boys and Big Girls' were known to sit and slowly drink their bottles of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and/or Fanta. Students with rich parents patronised the kiosk a bit more than others and thus, it became common knowledge that the amount of times a student visited the kiosk determined if they fell into the 'Big Boy' and 'Big Girl' category or not.
Nwike sat on the bench as he shook Stanley's hand. Stanley was a boy in another arm of Nwike's class. They weren't really best friends but they got along. Stanley was one of those boys you could call a 'Geek.' He was never interested in talking sports or movies and he seemed to be obsessed with computers. He wasn't that hygienic and the only time his socks were ever known to be white was when they were new - just fresh from the store. He had a reputation for not paying too much attention to what he wore to school or how he looked and that discouraged a lot of students from making friends with him. But Stanley was a good kid and Nwike didn't mind having small talks with him even if it meant listening to him talk about computer parts or programs he knew nothing about. He had just started telling Nwike about his new email when the school bell rang. They both looked at their wristwatches and immediately started walking in the direction of the assembly ground.
The first morning bell was always a call to the assembly ground. It was a gathering of students and teachers for morning prayers followed by announcements and other events like a Bible reading or a hymn to mark a special occasion. Special occasions could range from the school winning 3rd or 4th place in a regional debate competition, an outstanding performance from a student in the state science competition to the feast day of some Catholic saint or the principal's birthday. There was also the usual hygiene check. Teachers and prefects had to check students to make sure their socks weren't dirty, school uniforms were washed, fingernails weren't long and dirty, and school sandals were made from leather. Students had to be neat and presentable at all times and school sandals had to always be leather or they didn't fit into the official school uniform. Students who failed to meet these requirements were either caned and/or sent home to their parents. They were allowed to wear slippers to school only if they had an injury on their toes and any other thing wasn't a good enough excuse.
The assembly ground was the size of a standard football pitch filled with white sand from the Otuogwu beach by the River Niger. Classes had to stand in single files with each line starting with the shortest and ending with the tallest student in each class. The prefects were usually final year students and referred to as; 'Head Boys', 'Head Girls' and the 'Time Keeper' (who was in charge of keeping the official schooltime and ringing the bell) all stood separately. The last batch of teachers were just arriving as the head boy called for some silence so everyone could hear the principal speak. Until that very moment, no one noticed he had been standing right in front of the assembly.
Mr. Theodore Kanu was a short man of about 5'2. He was in his early 50s, roughly built like a traditional wrestler and had palms rougher than a fulltime blacksmith. He spoke with a deep voice and always clenched his fist when he was nervous, especially from talking to angry and annoying parents. He was the one person students didn't like to annoy because his caning was rather painful and he was known to leave scars on caned body parts and if he caned your buttocks, it would hurt for days.
He climbed the platform that was fetched for him by one of the prefects and then cleared his throat. As silence fell on the assembly ground, Nwike knew the morning assembly was officially about to begin.
... To be continued next week.