This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on February 17, 2017.
Gladys started well. She had a real go-getter for a mother, the kind with a shelf stacked with awards and occasional appearances in the newspaper. (She was always leaning helpfully over the shoulder of the bumbling minister of state, or keeping a sharp eye on some visiting diplomat). When Gladys’s mother said, “It’s a man’s world”, it sounded like a joke. Her father was a mild-mannered civil-service man, who taught Gladys that the world belonged to the devil. These two perspectives were easily reconciled: we all know that the devil is a dude.
Anyway. Gladys grew up, prodded on one side by her mother’s over-achieving elbow, and soothed on the other by her father’s church-elder voice. She always did her homework, and she never cheated. And then she got to Legon.
School builds character; in other words, it makes you stronger by trying to assassinate you. Gladys failed, oddly, because she expected this. You know how a playful punch hurts more if you try to dodge it? This works like that. Gladys walked into matriculation clothed in a veil of righteousness, so Legon began planning to kill her.
Actually Legon ignored her for like two months. Then Gladys found herself sitting next to this campus queen in a critical IA test. And what did Gladys do? Gladys casually draped herself over her paper, with her arm up as a shield. And she wasn’t even the smartest person within copying range. Legon gave Gladys a name, and put a price on her head. Gladys responded by pretending she didn’t notice that nobody wanted to sit beside her in lectures. By the end of the semester, this young lady was unpopular as a righteous invigilator. She was set to grow into one of those people who tell children that books were their best friends.
When examination time is near, lecture halls always fill to capacity. You can never tell when a lecturer is going to drop some hints or tips about the test questions. The Comms 101 lecturer complained about it all semester. He resented how his class blossomed from 65 people to 215 when exams were two weeks away. And on the final lecture day, when he said “Any questions?”, one young man rose to the bait and drawled, “Sir, any areas?” The dam broke. He made warm comments about shallow, entitled students; he shot heavy missiles at his fellow lecturers concerning their weakness for skirts and awards; he cursed the corruption in the education system that gives kids certificates without substance. Gladys sat with an aura of pious indignation. Nobody had told her — apo existed in university? Oh sinful generation!
Two other lecturers happily offered ‘areas’. One drew a flowchart and told them to take pictures of it and commit it to memory. Gladys shook with indignation. One gently told them to expect everything to show, which sounded right to Gladys. And then she added, “But you remember how we talked about — ” and went on to focus on one chapter for the next hour. Gladys was so furious she could spit.
The exams started with Comms 101. It soon became clear why Boamah said “there will be surprises.” The sub-questions had sub-questions. You could choose any five questions out of seven, but which one could you choose? And then that compulsory one up there. In the deathly silence, you could almost hear Mr Boamah’s evil laughter.
But 64 diligent students were looking at the paper with a different kind of paralysis. What was going on? Every question was lifted directly from a sheaf of case studies the lecturer had given them a month ago! It was straight-up apor kronkron. With stifled glee they began writing, and they did not stop.
Gladys sat limp in her seat. The lecturer had given her apor to reward her for not wanting apor. A free pass for persevering in the narrow way. Sweat broke out on Gladys’ forehead. What would Mama say? She would gladly take the advantage. No, she would refuse to write, and squeeze the lecturer through the SRC. What would Dada do? He would report the man. Or would he? Dada never made a fuss. Was this a fuss? Was the lecturer even wrong?
Gladys felt dizzy.
Question One. (Compulsory.) In an editorial letter in the Graphic Times of 25th December, 2004, Mr Djakoto of the Goldfields Mining Company stated— Why didn’t he change the names at least? This was cut-and-paste.
Gladys could see her fellow upright students writing like people possessed. This was the ultimate revenge of the unpopular, despised few. One or two did try to whisper answers to the clueless majority, but most of the blessed were grinning like this was the best joke they had ever heard.
Gladys drew a teddy bear on her answer booklet. Draw a 6, another 6. She carefully printed her index number on every page. The campus queen was looking at her curiously. One lady shark in front asked for extra paper. Gladys had always suspected that they’d be rivals for first position. The campus queen was staring at her with her eyes narrowed. One young man shrugged, laid his head on his beefy folded arms on the table, and went to sleep. Gladys liked that plan.
Gladys shuffled out in a daze. The sky was above, the ground was below. The sun was shining innocently.
Somebody nudged her shoulder. It was the campus queen, Etornam.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you sure?”
Gladys burst into tears.
Etornam took two steps back. Then she grabbed Gladys by the arm and marched her forward. Gladys didn’t make it easy; she kept bawling “I’m fine! I’m fine!” and pulling away. Etornam just rolled her eyes and dragged her to the nearest empty room. She pulled Gladys in, closed the door and leaned against it.
“Boamah gave you guys areas, right?”
Gladys nodded glumly.
“So what is your problem?”
It didn’t quite seem like a friendly ear, but it was an ear. Gladys began to pour out her soul. After five minutes, Etornam gently laid a hand on her shoulder.
“You have serious issues”, she said, nodding her head sympathetically. “Serious issues.” Then she left.
Gladys sat stunned. Then she dozed off again. She woke when somebody patted her cheek. It was Etornam and a friend. They gave Gladys a pair of sunglasses. “Come on.”
They took her to their room. Etornam handed her a plastic cup and told her to drink it. She gasped as the cold sandpaper scrambled down her throat. “Water!” she croaked. And then she puked. The two girls looked at each other and sighed.
“You don’t drink, do you?”
Gladys pursed her lips nervously.
“Well, today you need it.” Etornam produced a large bottle of Coke, and one filled with bright-orange syrup. “We’ll just start slow.”
Gladys had never had a Coke. She had been raised on small spoonfuls of honey and the gospel fact that sugar kills the brain. As for the orange thing, it looked more illegal than the Beefeater. But she licked her lips as she watched them dumping and stirring syrup and gin in a bowl, and she drank when they did.
“Which school?” Etornam said.
“Where did you go?”
“Holy Child. You?”
Etornam refilled the cups. “So you probably got like aggregate 8 or something eh?”
Gladys flushed, then defiantly bit her lip. “Aggregate 11.”
Etornam gazed at her with half-closed eyes, then she leaned forward and mouthed the words, “Me too!”
After another cup, Gladys asked about the Coke. So they tried that with the gin too. She felt very sick in her stomach, but her ribs throbbed with a pleasant heat. Filled with this liquid courage, she dared to request a new mixture: Coke plus the syrup. It exceeded her expectations. The other girls laughed, but she didn’t care. She tried Coke raw. She liked it. She tried the syrup raw, even though they warned her not to. It made her head ache, but it was worth it. She laughed along with them. She danced a little.
They — there were five of them now — they went out on the balcony and commandeered the stairwell. They talked about life and National Geographic and Boko Haram, and Etornam showed them her fashion designs. “Beautiful!” Gladys whispered. Etornam gave out scarves. “My next collection”, she whispered. They communicated entirely in whispers and giggles.
“So what should we try next?” Etornam asked.
They tried khebabs from the street. They tried chop bar banku. They tried many forbidden things. Gladys had assumed there would be boys involved by this point, but she was frankly relieved to learn that it was a ‘girls’ night’. She decided to order Irish Cream — but luckily she asked first, and was assured by the laughing girls that it didn’t taste like ice cream. So they had FanIce. They sat sucking noisily and swatting at flies.
Suddenly Gladys laughed. The girls were all gracious enough not to notice when she’d broken down and sobbed, or when her back heaved with dammed hysteria. But this laugh freaked them out.
“Gladys?” Etornam squinted in the darkness and spoke carefully. “Take your time.”
“Oh, I’m fine”, Gladys giggled. “It’s just — my mother just flashed me.”
There was an uncomfortable silence among the other girls, punctuated at intervals by soft chuckles from Gladys.
“Erm. Gladys”, one finally ventured, leaning forward to search her face. “It’s getting late — ”
She was interrupted by a gentle snore.
‘Apor’ is a straight tip on an examination. Good students solve past questions; clever students solve future questions. ‘Apor kronkron’ is an exam tip that simply cannot bounce. Sometimes it does bounce; that’s called a ‘swerve’.