Story: Gladys

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.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.

“Time up!”

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?”

Gladys nodded.

“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.”

“Um. Okay?”

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’.