It was mid Sunday morning. My fellow students and I were sitted in church. We were listening to the Bishop giving his sermon. I don’t really recall what it was about, but I remember vividly that the particular day was a special one. The bishop rarely visited. So even as we sat, eyes glued to him, we felt special he had paid us a visit. Later, the father-in-charge informed us he and the bishop would be headed to town to hold another mass there for the rest of the town folks. There was a grand occasion, only I don’t remember what they were celebrating.
The father-in-charge, who every girl in my school adored, invited us to accompany him there. He said it would be worth our while. We were thrilled by the idea. We were always confined in the school compound. The only time one got to leave the school premises was when one was leaving for a medical check-up at the health center, which was located in the heart of the town, about five kilometers away from the school, or when leaving for symposiums, game tournaments, drama competitions, music festivals, debates … in other schools, or just the usual trips.
The occasions were rare, so whenever the opportunity presented itself we would pounce on it unhesitatingly. When the father-in-charge invited us to attend the grand mass in town, we didn’t care to run the idea by the principal, who was also in attendance. Naturally, she was given the chance to give a vote of thanks as the mass was mainly for girls from my school. When she took to the lectern at the far end of the altar, she began her speech. “Your Lordship the Bishop, the father-in-charge…”
Basically, she told the bishop how honoured we felt that he had graced us with his presence…and in conclusion, she merely said it in passing that we were required to go back to school after mass; the church was only a stone-throw away from our school. That simple command put us in a quagmire; we wanted to go to town, had already been invited even, but the principal wouldn’t allow us.
After mass we dutifully walked back to school in a pensive mood. We had to go to town; if only we could convince the principal-a strict woman, who was zero-tolerant to crap. Instead of heading back to class for our thirty minutes preps before we went for lunch as was tradition, we assembled on the parade ground to device a way out of the conundrum we were in.
After a unanimous decision, we-a group of atleast three hundred girls-asked the headgirl and her deputy to see the principal at her quarters; ask her if she would be kind enough to let us attend the grand mass in town. The two left. We waited with baited breath, hoping she would consent to it.
About fifteen minutes later, the two came back, raw disappointment written on their faces. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to tell she had nixed them…or us for that matter.
The father-in-charge, the one person we thought was brave enough to cross the principal, had given us the green light. We banked on that. If the principal dared counter him, he would personally take up the matter with her; besides, we were too many to be punished…or so we thought. After a relatively long deliberation, we made our decision. We were going to town. And since we didn’t have the principal’s blessings, we would walk all the way to town. It was a long walk, but for the sake of leaving the school compound even if only for a short while, we would trek.
The road was dusty, very dusty actually, because it hadn’t rained for a while and it was cold too. The clouds were grey; I thought it would rain, but as the minutes ticked away, the grey clouds scudded away, unveiling the azure sky. The sun came out in all its glory. When finally we got to town, the townsfolk had already gathered at the makeshift stadium. Beautiful gospel music was playing in the background, amplified by the speakers, which were placed at strategic locations.
Given the risk we had taken to leave the school compound against our principal’s orders, the mass wasn’t all that. Most of us had only taken it as an opportunity to indulge our cravings for junk food, touring the small town… it wasn’t really about the mass; we were only yearning to breathe some fresh air away from the school.
The function ended a few minutes to four. We started our long walk back to school under the scorching sun. When we got back, the few girls who had opted not to follow the multitude were still in class for the afternoon preps.
Sitted on my desk later that afternoon, the magnitude of what trouble I had gotten myself into hit me. I had willfully, against my better judgement, followed the multitude. Now that the party was over, I had to face whatever dire repercussions ensued.
I hated myself for my poor judgement.
I had always known following the masses rarely had happy endings, and I always avoided doing something because everyone else was doing it. This day however, I had let the thrill of getting out of the school compound derail me. In the heat of the moment, we had defied our principal, thinking we were too many to be punished. We had ruled out the idea of being punished because we had figured she wouldn’t have the guts or the energy to punish an entire school.
The next day, during our usual Monday morning assembly, the principal, wearing a stern face, instructed all the class prefects to forward the names of all the girls who had left the school premises the previous day. In our defence, we argued the father-in-charge had given us his consent; “But is he your principal?” She had countered vehemently. Blazing eyes darting across the assembly ground, she promised us a torturous week; one that would be ingrained in our memories for years to come.
True to her word, the ensuing week was everything she had promised it would be. Some months before, all the trees which outlined the school compound had been felled to pave way for the wire mesh fence, which was being erected. We spent the whole of that week moving enormous, moss covered logs from far corners of the school I didn’t even know existed, to some field adjacent to the school’s kitchen.
By the end of that week, my arms and legs were covered in bruises, where the logs had scraped against my bare skin. And the sight of the termites, which had started eating away at the logs just made me feel itchy.
Apparently she was right; my mind always goes back to that day. It’s been a few years since I left high school, but somehow, whenever I’m in a situation where I have to make my own independent decision or follow the multitude, I always opt for the former. I would rather be accountable for my own choices than get into trouble for getting swayed by other people’s opinion. That day always serves as a reminder.
I always think it was sod’s law, that the one day I chose to throw caution to the wind; the one day I went against my better judgement, to follow the multitude, was precisely the day I landed myself in unmitigated trouble.