Morning Assembly - Part 2.
The rains weren't expected for another month and while it drizzled a little bit that morning, a lot of students and teachers on the assembly grounds couldn't help but think that the rainy season was finally upon them.
Mr. Kanu had just concluded the morning prayers and was about to lead a hymn recitation when Nwike noticed Andrew sneaking into the back of the line. Andrew was a boy in his class who never took school seriously and had a reputation for always being late to everywhere. He always sneaked in when the morning assembly was in session. Most times, he got caught and other times, he got away with it. The caning or any other kind of punishment never discouraged him from being late to school the next day.
"Turn to hymn number 24 on page 248 of your hymn book", said Mr. Kanu. Everyone immediately obeyed and after a moment's pause just to make sure they all found the page, he went on to recite the first line. Hymn number 24 was Mr. Kanu's favourite hymn and while he only led the assembly session once in a blue moon, it remained the only hymn they've ever seen him recite.
"Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!"
After 3 more verses, everyone ended the hymn with "Amen." Mr. Kanu proceeded by talking about the inspectors from the state Ministry of Education who would be visiting to inspect the school's teaching methods, facilities and students. He asked the students to be on their best behaviour and pay more attention in class. He also asked the teachers to make their classes as interactive as possible and not to tolerate any kind of rudeness from students. He really wanted to show the inspectors that discipline was the order of the day and that the school cultivated only obedient and well-mannered students.
When he was done, he called out Theresa Nkume who had taken part in the Local Government Mathematics competition to congratulate her on finishing 3rd. He said a few words about how difficult it was to make it into the Top 10 and how proud he was that she finished 3rd. After a round of applause, Theresa went back to her place in line and Mr. Kanu stepped down from his platform. He exchanged a few words with the Mathematics teacher, Mr. Sylvester and a few prefects before leaving for his office.
Mr. Sylvester was one of those teachers every student loved to hate. Mean, impulsive, grumpy, intolerant, truculent, hateful, bad teaching/communication skills but still good at one thing - Mathematics. He was in his late 40s, wasn't married, had no children and rumours pointed at him being a very lonely man. Good Mathematics teachers were very hard to find and as a result, despite being widely disliked at school, he still had a job.
He raised his voice and said, "Due to the visit of the inspectors from the State Education Board, we will be carrying out an inspection of every student to make sure your uniforms are clean, fingernails are not long and dirty and there is no one wearing bathroom slippers. I also have a list of the names of students who are yet to pay their school fees. Stay in line and don't move! Someone will be coming by to inspect and tell you what to do."
As soon as he was done speaking, the Head Boy, Head Girl and the Timekeeper all joined him to start the inspection. They sent a few students who didn't meet the set standards to the front of the assembly and by the time they were done, about 18 students were standing in front. Mr. Sylvester then called out a list of 10 names and they all joined the 18 students.
There was a sense of fear in the air as the assembly ground fell quiet. The fear emanated from the 28 students standing in front. They didn't know what Mr. Sylvester was going to do and while they knew it was a punishment of some kind, they didn't really know how bad it was going to get. He stepped into the staff office which was just 2 meters from the assembly grounds to fetch something. He was gone for almost 10 minutes when Nwike noticed that one of the girls standing with the 28 students was shivering like she was cold. He knew it was the fright and not the cold (or maybe even a mixture of both) and even though he wasn't about to get caned, he could feel a cold shiver run down his spine.
As Mr. Sylvester emerged from the staff office with 10 fat canes, everyone on the assembly ground could hear a few of the 28 students let out cries of despair. He was going to cane all 28 students and then send them home to their parents.
There was another drizzle while Mr. Sylvester and the prefects carried out their inspections. By the time he emerged from the staff office with the canes, it had stopped drizzling but the sky remained cloudy and grey. Nwike knew from personal experience that there was nothing more painful than being caned on wet skin. Some students wondered why he couldn't send the 28 students home without caning them. No one understood why and some were glad they weren't among the 28 students.
If there was one thing Mr. Sylvester believed in, it was the Bible quote that said; "Spare the rod and spoil the child." He believed it with a certain zeal that scared a lot of students. He slapped students around, called them names and always reminded them that they had to know their place - which was to always respect and never talk back at their elders. He made it very clear to parents that if they didn't do a good job of teaching their children manners at home, he would help them do a better job at school. Caning students wasn't just a form of punishment to him, it was also a message to the parents - that they weren't doing a very good job of teaching their children some manners at home.
As soon as he walked into the assembly grounds, he immediately called out to the students to decide amongst themselves who was going to go first. There was hesitation for almost 5 minutes and then he bellowed; "Each and everyone of you will get 10 strokes of the cane and if one of you doesn't step forward right now, so help me God, I will randomly pick someone and when I do, it won't be 10 anymore. It will be 20 strokes of the cane each! So I give you till the count of 5!" He started counting from 1 and was about to yell the number 4 when Andrew emerged from the group of 28 students. Nwike was a little bit surprised to see him among the 28 students but then it was Andrew, he was always breaking one rule or the other. He may have gotten away with coming late to school but then he got nabbed for wearing a dirty school uniform.
As Andrew walked up to Mr. Sylvester, Nwike felt a silence like never before fall on the assembly. He noticed how scared Andrew was, because he suddenly began to stammer while trying to explain the reason he wore a dirty uniform to school. His explanations fell on deaf ears and even though he knew it won't save him, he still continued to give it a try because he felt it could make Mr. Sylvester go easy on him.
But it did work. When he noticed it was hopeless, he gave it up, stretched out his arms and closed his eyes in anticipation of the pain that was about to befall him. Mr. Sylvester hesitated for almost 3 minutes like he was thinking about something and then asked him to turn around and hold his trousers. Andrew paused for a while, while looking into the teacher's eyes as if trying to appeal to his merciful side. The teacher just looked at him and scoffed. He asked him one more time to turn around and hold his trousers or he would be forced to double the cane strokes.
Andrew turned around and held his trousers. He held them very tightly he could almost feel them tuck into his intergluteal cleft. He immediately closed his eyes and mentally got ready for the worst.
As Mr. Sylvester raised his cane, lowered it with all the force he could muster and whipped Andrew as hard as he could amidst cries of pain from the poor boy, Nwike knew a typical schoolday was just about to begin. He looked away and tried to comprehend the fact that they were being made to watch a teacher torture a student, all in the name of discipline. Andrew cried out a few more times in pain and the thought that there was more of that to come almost made Nwike sick. He dropped his head into his wet hands and tried to think of Eden.
... To be continued next week.