Literary Zone

Short Story: 7:20 in the Morning

7 February 2008 at 09:38 | 6565 views

7:20 in the Morning

(Sequel to Mud House-Thatch Roof)

By Bakar Mansaray(alias Samory), Toronto.

Bai Maro’s first thoughts about going to primary school were that once he completed his education, he will become somebody of great importance in society, and that he would be able to improve the social status of his parents and relatives. Such an inclination at the age of five wasn’t surprising as he was determined to bid farewell to the poverty-stricken environment within which he was born. He started school in 1962, a year after Sierra Leone gained political independence from England. In fact, 1961 was the year that he first saw Queen Elizabeth of England when she visited Sierra Leone in order to proclaim the country’s independence. She travelled to the colony by sea in a massive ship that Bai Maro had never seen in his life. The ship was docked at the Queen Elizabeth the Second Quay, and her motorcade drove up College Road and Ross Road leading onto to Up Gun “Turn-Table” or round-about. As school children, they lined up along Ross Road and waved and smiled to her majesty the Queen.

Moreover, it was the year that Bai Maro rode a train for the first time in his life. It was called the independence train, and using its toilet facilities was a marvel for both little children and some adults as they were wondering where the toilet waste was deposited. Whilst some of them thought that it dropped to the ground while the train was moving, others just couldn’t figure out anything. It was a to and fro railway journey that took him and his mother from Cline Town to the town of Kenema, a couple of hundred miles away. In those days, the Sierra Leone Railway went as far as Pendembu in the eastern region of the country. As it could be seen, his first thoughts about going to school in the early years of independence were full of pride and hope that he would grow up to become one of the future leaders of their new nation.

He attended the East End Municipal Primary School at Kennedy Street in Freetown. It was a public school that was run by the City Council. The excitement that went with his first day at school was crowned by the fact that it rained cats and dogs on that September morning. However, he was clad in a raincoat whilst his father who accompanied him to school was carrying an umbrella. They walked the short distance to the school being watched and envied along the way by children whose parents couldn’t afford to send their children to school. He felt wonderful to be all dressed up in a brand new uniform which was brown khaki short-sleeves jacket with a yellow ribbon on the collar, and shorts. The jacket was having a belt sown at the back of it, and he wore white socks and black shoes. Some pupils wore sandals while those who wore “Confort Half Back” or flip-flops were asked to go home and change. Oh, what a pity for those poor children and their parents! Bai Maro also carried a school bag with an exercise book, a pencil with eraser, and a sharpener. His lunch which consisted of “lof braid” or bread, butter, and an orange were also in the bag.

The school was the biggest and most modern in the community. It had eighteen large classrooms, and about six hundred pupils. Classes ranged from Class1 to Class 7. The school compound itself was vast. As such, it made this particular primary school “one in payth” or one of its kind in town. It was built in a U-shape with bricks, and painted yellow in colour. It had spacious verandas and hall ways. The toilet facilities were superb, and there was a kind of “Big Ben” bell hanging closer to one of the toilet facilities. Whenever this bell rang, pupils living a couple of miles away could hear its toll. Others who thought it was the sound of a fire truck never had the opportunity to share in the knowledge that the school had to offer because they avoided the area thinking that it was on fire.

Bai Maro’s first classroom was located downstairs in the north side of the building, and it was the first classroom one would come across just after the main hallway. This was Class 1A, the class of their teacher, Mrs. Johnson. It was separated from Class 1B by a plywood screen on wheels. On that first day, the classroom was filled with both boys and girls, about thirty pupils, who were trying to make new friends and to learn about the wonders of education and the world. The classroom was well-ventilated by six large windows, three on each side, and a standard-size steel and glass door. There were about six electric bulbs enclosed in shades, hanging from the ceiling. On that first day in the classroom, those bulbs shed light on them all as it was fairly dark outdoors due to the “Tinada” or rain storm. In retrospect, the light in the classroom seemed as if the pupils were being prepared for the darker days to come. They sat three to a wooden bench, leaning on a wooden desk that had ink wells. It seemed as if the school authorities tried to sit two boys and one girl to each bench. The girls usually sat in the middle between two boys which apparently, some girls didn’t like. There was also a large cupboard inside of which was kept cups, plates, and boxes of coloured chalks, writing slates, pencils and wooden pens with nibs, ink, blotting papers, crayons, and the likes. On the front wall of the classroom, there was a very lengthy blackboard, and the wide desk of Mrs. Johnson.

Bai Maro’s initial impressions of Mrs. Johnson were quite varied; ranging from the fact that she wasn’t only tall and beautiful but also that she was an apparent maverick in the sense of exhibiting independence. Her little daugther, Daphne Johnson, over whom Bai Maro had a crush, was also a pupil in their class. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Johnson and Bai Maro’s father came to like each other, although Bai Maro wouldn’t know if there was any deeper relationship between them. Notwithstanding, in those days, Mrs. Johnson who was a high-class Creole by tribe would have hardly gone into any overt relationship with Bai Maro’s father who was a so-called low-class “country man” or provincial. Moreover, as if to buttress her good nature, she used to sell them delicious buns in class during recess. After Bai Maro got to know her, he thought that she was a great role model as she seemingly performed her duties well.

On the same vein, during a typical school day, the bell rang at 7:20 a.m. and they all lined up on the school compound under the bright tropical sun, if it wasn’t raining though. Then they would sing songs like:

“7:20 is the hour for school
Stand in the line that is forming
Make no noise little boys and girls
7:20 in the morning”

The devotion would continue with verses from the Holy Bible read to them, culminating to Christian songs being sang. He still remembered the verse that said “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” and the song that went: “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war...” They would then stand “at attention”, salute the green, white and blue national flag, and sing the national anthem:

“High we exalt thee, realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
We raise up our hearts and our voices on high,
The hills and the valleys re-echo our cry;
Blessing and peace be ever thine own,
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.

One with a faith that wisdom inspires,
One with a zeal that never tires;
Ever we seek to honour thy name
Ours is the labour, thine the fame.
We pray that no harm on thy children may fall,
That blessing and peace may descend on us all;
So may we serve thee ever alone,
Land that we love our Sierra Leone.

Knowledge and truth our forefathers spread,
Mighty the nations whom they led;
Mighty they made thee, so too may we
Show forth the good that is ever in thee.
We pledge our devotion, our strength and our might,
Thy cause to defend and to stand for thy right;
All that we have be ever thine own,
Land that we love our Sierra Leone.”

Furthermore, in chorus, like a grand finale, they would say “good morning teachers, good morning boys and girls”. They would then flock like sheep into their various classrooms. By this time, it would be about 7:45 a.m. Once in class, pieces of chalk and slates would be their main tool for writing; at times, pencils, wooden pens with nibs, and ink. 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 2 = 4, was their basic arithmetic, whilst reading led them to books like “John and Mary”. In which one could read:

John is a Boy
Mary is a Girl
The Teacher is a Man

Spelling classes were also a major component of the school curriculum. In extreme cases, attempts to spell longer words were not uncommon among pupils. Words like “Shokolobangosi”, and “Shagbalagba” would bring smiles to their lips.

His best friends during early school days were Daphne Johnson, the beautiful daugther of his teacher; Aruna Salaam, and Yusufu Thomas, who were both boys. Daphne was short and plump, fair in complexion, and wore an afro hair low-cut. She was good at reading and spelling, and learning to play “Akra” which was a game mainly played by girls that involved two players clapping hands and trying to guess which foot the other player was going to kick out. His other best friend Aruna was taller than Yusufu, and both of them were dark in complexion, although Yusufu was of medium height. Also, Aruna was an above-average pupil in class as compared to Yusufu. He was good at arithmetic, and writing which was a night-mare for many. He lived with his parents, brothers, and sisters at the intersection of Canton Street and Fly Street, just near the school.

Aruna’s father was a tailor by profession. Aruna, like Bai Maro, loved playing “Han Tennis” outdoors which was a game that involved batting tennis ball by hand across a court with two or more competing players. On the other hand, in the classroom, Yusufu could easily “kogg” or memorize the “times table” or multiplication table. He was also becoming a “max man” by the use of a “fak” or catapult to hunt birds. As for Bai Maro, his favourite subjects in school were reading and spelling. He enjoyed reading not only because of its story-telling nature but also as a way to improve his spelling and conversational English. Singing nursery rhymes and drawing were also his favourites.

During recess, those with a penny or two would buy buns from Mrs. Johnson, and then filed outdoors to briefly refresh their lungs with air. Recess time was also the time to share snacks with friends, chat, shout and run around a bit before going back to the classroom. At this time, they would be quite pleased to know that there still remained an hour and fifteen minutes more to lunch time. The large schoolyard became the playground for the children during lunch. It also served as sales grounds for petty traders selling food to them. For lunch, Bai Maro would have “Patch granat” or peanuts, bread and butter. Whenever he could afford it, Mammy Ehga’s appetizing “Olehleh” or spicy grounded beans in palm oil would be drenched down with ginger beer. If he did carry his lunch to school, it would be mainly bread and butter, a banana, an orange or a mango. As far as Bai Maro was concerned, his school days were apparently the best although not the happiest.

“Story go, story cam, e lef pan u”.

Bakar Mansaray, 2007