Three hours. That’s how long she sat in that wooden chair. Her fingers felt like an extension of the straps of her bag. Three hours later the matron asked her to gather her things and follow her. There was just the one old leather duffel bag, so what things was the matron referring to?
It was late, but not late enough to go to bed. In high school 6pm is considered late because that’s when dinner is served and people go for night prep then it is lights out. Not today though. Everyone was settling into their allocated sleeping quarters. Because of Covid, the double decker beds had been placed much further apart than before. But maybe she was imagining it because it had been a whole year since she was last in school.
She was not ready to look anyone in the eye. The matron took her time going round every single dormitory, getting the rest of the girls in order. Straighten your bedcover, put the suitcase away, close that window, no hanging socks on the window sill. In every single dorm a thick silence hung in the air when she and matron walked in. Even matron’s yells could not take away the thoughts running through her schoolmates heads. She held onto her bag, trying to minimise herself, making herself as small as her body would allow.
For a split second she caught the matron smirk at how uncomfortable she was. The tears. She could feel them coming. She walked out of the dorm and into the corridor to wait. A few girls walked past her just staring, not talking. In her head she wanted to scream at them, “Take a picture. It lasts longer!” but she hadn’t the energy, she just wanted to know where her bed was.
Finally they got to her bed, the last decker in the last dorm, the bed no one wants because it is the one closest to the shared bathroom. Matron explained that it would be easier for her to use the bathroom at night, and far enough away to keep the rest of the girls from bothering her. Deep down she knew it was because it was probably the last bed to be allocated.
Alone at last. She finally let go of her bag and placed it on the floor beside her bed. It was a relief to sit alone and unbothered. Her dorm mates looked away when she caught them staring but no one spoke to her.
She needed to get out of her uniform and into the shower. The heat and sweat and dust and the weight of other people’s judgement weighed heavily on her. At this moment in time she was grateful to be close to the bathroom. The moment she turned away towards the bathroom she did not need to look behind to know that whispers and stares followed her there. No biggie.
Until she opened the door to the bathroom stall and took a pause. See, the bathroom at home had a seat and she would use it comfortably. Not in school. They had pit latrines and long drop toilets. The last time she used the washroom at school she had no belly obstructing her aim. Also, her skirt was super tight and fit awkwardly around her waist. Should she pull it up? Should she unzip and push it down? She opted for the former. Bracing herself with both hands supporting her on the walls she gently slid down , pulled up one edge of her hem and did her business. The warm trickle down her socks confirmed that she had missed the toilet opening. Shucks! If you thought going down was hard, getting back on her feet was an extreme sport. Trying to hold up her skirt and get up without squeezing her belly. That was tough.
Eventually she managed to get up and she washed her hands. At that moment is when she realised that shower time would pose another challenge. The showers only had partitions between the stalls but none of them had doors or shower curtains. And everyone, and that is literally everyone, showered at pretty much at the same time. She would have to get naked in front of everyone with her expanding belly and growing bossom. Everybody would be staring at her for sure. She was terrified. It could have been the fear or the realization of it all or maybe it was just hormones, but she dashed back into the toilet, this time to throw up.
Back at her bed, she unpacked all her school supplies in her locker with the exception of her books and stationery. The rest of her dorm mates were already making their way down to supper. It was a few minutes shy of 7pm. She was hungry but had had enough of being the centre of attention. Also, she needed to change into pyjamas without an audience.
Mercy shone upon her and the dorm was empty in record time. She took advantage of this time to take a very quick shower and change before everyone else came back.
Her decker mate gave her one glance when she got back from dinner but said nothing. Out of the 25 girls in the dorm, only one was kind enough to bring back a banana for her. She was grateful, because the hunger was real.
It was still quite early to sleep but it was the only form of escape she knew would get at the end of this day. She curled up on her side and faced the wall, her back to her dormmates.
Her mind was swimming with so many thoughts. The bathroom experience had her thinking about how her life in school was going to change. She was anxious about how long she would fit at her desk. Would the school get her a bigger desk/ a more comfortable seat? Would they allow her to go to the clinic or would she be limited to just seeing the school nurse? How about her dietary needs? The school had such a limited menu and it was so bland.
Then in that moment she felt it. She was not sure at first but the second time round she did not miss it. Could it be? Was that the baby moving? Did the baby just kick? She lay her hands on her belly and held her breath. Again! It happened again! That for sure was not in her head!
And like the floodgates of heaven, her tears came. She could not hold on anymore.