She was tall for her age. Lanky. Bony. And Spartan. She had that don’t mess with me permanence pasted on her face, even in her early years. Odette was not easy to be with. And Odette was not popular. Not ever since she had been reported in pre-school for mauling a boy thrice her size. He had devoured her lunch secretly before lunch hours.
Odette was counseled and reded before being re-admitted. All she had understood was that if she did not fall in line with others, she would be outcast. The doors of knowledge would close on her, perhaps forever. More than anything else, she dreaded that darkness. And then one of the teachers fed her with some story about the infamous crocodile well in the old compound. The unwieldy Odette yielded to the stifling discipline of school. It could be the fear of ending up being a nescient and ignorant or the fear of being fed to crocodiles. But somehow she managed to stay out of trouble, deporting with modest reserve in school hours. Though, at home, she was wild and untamed, engaging in ruckus and rumpus with her younger brother Dariel, all the time.
Gradually, it was like wake up and smell the routine.
Until that summer afternoon.
It was her class for numerals. She had mastered 1 to 5 in an unclear hand. She stood in the queue to get her sheet appraised. There were some 5 students in front of her. The line was moving at snail-pace.
4 students to go.
3. Ah! They were almost there.
2. Soon now!
The teacher started scolding the boy, twisting his ear and shoving him out of the classroom. Perhaps taking him to the principal’s office. But they had not been excused. So, she waited in the queue.
After a few minutes, Dariel rushed in. Scared. Panicky. Looking over his shoulder again and again. There was an unmistakable red blush on his face. A handprint. He hugged her tight and sobbed into her embrace.
Who was it, Dariel?
Norman was year older than her. A confirmed browbeat. And Dariel was just a kid. Odette took a deep breath.
You stand here. My teacher is going to come anytime. You show her my classwork and tell her that I had to go out to talk to Norman, Okay? And don’t you cry. I will be back soon.
Odette handed over her notebook to Dariel who watched her disappear out of the classroom door, still sobbing and wiping his face with the cuff of his shirt.
Odette found Norman near the drinking-water facility.
Norman, she called out. Her voice stern and severe.
She could not wait to talk and reason. She had to do it fast and quick. So, she lifted her hand and slapped him on his face, loosely but forcefully. Her bony hand stinging and blushing by the impact. Her handprint distinct on Norman’s face.
She turned back almost instantly, expecting Norman to hit her from behind. But all she heard was loud shouts. Some commotion happening in the background. She did not look back. She had to reach the safety of her classroom.
Norman’s accusation was faster than her footsteps. She was detained in the corridor by his class teacher. Taken to the principal’s office. She accepted having slapped Norman. She did not volunteer the fact that he had slapped Dariel to begin with. She was suspended. For a week.
Her mother was surprised to see her home early.
Home already? Where’s Dariel?
He is getting my classwork examined … and I … I don’t have to go to school for rest of the week.
Her mother looked up from the sink, the soapy scrubber in her hands, the detergent dripping on the dishes in the sink, and water from the faucet running waste.
The water from the faucet was running waste. The detergent dripped on the dishes in the sink. She looked out of the windowsill, a soapy scrubber in her hands. Odette choked back the trees.
She had asked Dariel to help her convince dad about her boyfriend. There were too many barriers between the families and she was fighting alone. Dariel had simply shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
What can I possibly say in the matter, Odette. It’s between you and dad.
The match was never approved.
Hey, where’s your brother? Have to send him to market.
Left him in the classroom, haven’t seen him since.
Odette barged out of kitchen.