DEAR CATTY (LETTERS FROM AN INTROVERTED COLLEGE GIRL)

LETTERS FROM AN INTROVERTED COLLEGE GIRL

DEAR CATTY by AKAELU SHALOM



FIRST EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,

Dear Catty,
I'm writing to you because my diary is not brave enough to absorb what I feel. Getting into college, I had high hopes of freedom, fun and glamour. It seemed like a dream come true when I got into one of the top colleges in the city. Disillusionment is an understatement, compared to the pangs of failed expectations I had. In my letters, I will be telling you my experiences at Golden May college. Although, I've been able to get over them, the scars remain indelible. I know you're alright over there. You'd hear from me soon.
With Love,
Ifeka.



SECOND EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,
Thanks for lending me your eyes to read my letters. The entrance exam to Golden May College was one I didn't plan for. Of course, I read ahead, but the questions threw me off balance in the exam hall. I kept doubting those questions were for JSS 2 entrants.
"20 minutes remaining." The invigilator said, walking round the hall like she owned us. (Sighs). I was far from concluding the language section, not to talk of the general knowledge section which I hadn't even touched. Since it was a multi choice exam, I quickly marked A-D randomly. At that point, I didn't care anymore. I had spent the last 1:30 mins of my life on something I wasn't enjoying.
"Get ready to submit your scripts. Once I indicate that you all should stop, kindly obey for your own good." The invigilator blurted again. I was sweating profusely on my palms and my handkerchief was slowly getting soaked.
"Stop!" This sounded like a bomb explosion. Yeah right, it exploded in my heart. What will dad do if I don't gain admission into this school? I needed to stop thinking too much. I submitted my scripts and as I turned to go, I saw a familiar face. That was Faith, a girl from church. She recognised me immediately and came closer.
" Hey." Was all I could say.
"Ifeka! What are you doing here?" She asked, all smiles. Seriously? What was I doing here? Perhaps, enrolling in a film academy. What sort of question was that? She asked innocently but I interpreted You're not good enough to be here. Don't blame me Catty, low self esteem was my food at that time.
"Entrance exams.."
"Wow! Nice. So we'd be in the same school." Faith was obviously on the loud side.
"Yeah, I guess. Glad to see you here." I finally said.
"See you around Ifeka." She zoomed off, catching up with some other fellas. What! She already had friends in the school? And I was still trying to get adjusted in my own skin. Head down, heart skipping and knees jerking, I found my way out of the hall, through the stairs and soon out of the building. Mom was waiting for me at the reception.
"Good afternoon..."
"How was the exam?" She cut me midway.
"It was fine." I said, indifferently.
"Just fine?" She asked, concern written all over her face.
"Yes mum." I said, faking a smile.
We walked to the car, saying nothing.
The ride back home was weird. I kept wondering if she read my thoughts. I didn't know anymore if I was ready to go to this school, with all its sophistication. I was even more concerned about what I will tell dad, that his daughter in whom he had so much confidence, had zero confidence in herself?
Till I write you again.

With love,
Ifeka.

THIRD EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,
I can't express how grateful I am, writing to you. It has helped me in more ways than you can imagine. I feel great already! Yeay! Forgive my manners, I hope you're still kicking. I know you'd remain my cute little Catty. Keep bursting with life, that's who you are.
We got home at about 2pm. Mum got into the kitchen immediately. Sometimes I ask myself why most women take the kitchen as top priority. Somewhere in my head, I just knew I wasn't gonna be that kind of woman. I was learning how to cook at that tender age of 10, and I kept giving myself credits for even knowing where the kitchen was, as compared to my contemporaries in the big city of Port harcourt who were spoilt brats.
"Ifeka, please go back to the car and bring the brown envelop in the pigeonhole." Mum demanded from the kitchen, as I was heading straight to my room. I made a U-turn to the entrance..
The grey 2006 Toyota RAV4 model had this aura around it that made me long to identify with it anytime and anywhere. Perhaps it was as a result of how neat mum kept the car, or just my awkward attraction to cars. The apple fragranced air fresher greeted me as I opened the door. I quickly located the pigeonhole and my eyes fell on the brown envelop mum asked me to bring for her. You know how inquisitive I can get at times. I unfolded the wrapped area and dug my detective fingers into it, I was unsure of what I hoped to discover. Here it was, mum's CV, beautifully packaged. She had been job hunting for a long time after she resigned from her job at the bank. She never loved the idea and reality of working in a bank. The demands were high and even strained our family relationship to an extent. I guessed that was one of the many days she went for an interview, I may be wrong. It was all in my head. I just thought of what had happened earlier. I told her the entrance exam was just fine. Having been emotionally stressed from job hunting, she deserved more from me; a positive response that would have made the rest of the day for her. I was too daft and insensitive.
I gathered myself and the document and left the car. Getting into the house, I took the envelop to her in the kitchen.
"Mum, here it is." I said, sobbing within.
"Alright, just drop it on the dining table and take my car keys to my room."  Saying this over her shoulder, she continued with the vegetables she was slicing. I obeyed immediately.
I never got to join her in the kitchen. I was too busy sulking and feeling sorry for myself. Lunch went on dryly and soon, I was on my bed, sleeping of course.
***
"Honey, I knew that Mr. Basil was a fraudster, right from when this business deal started. I told you, but you kept talking incessantly about how much you trusted him."
"How did you expect me to know? He posed as a saint, I was probably delusional."
"You're my husband, and my responsibility is to help you, even in decision making. But you wouldn't listen to me..."
My parents were always arguing over one thing or the other. This was one of their very many arguments. I heard them from my room and moved tiptoedly to the sitting room where they were having their usual word battle. Peeping through the curtains, I saw dad sitting on the cushion still dressed up, and mum, standing in front of him, hands akimbo. I glanced at the wall clock and it was telling 6pm! Already? I obviously had a long nap.
"It's okay, please. Enough of the blame games. I just lost a contract. The least you could do is encourage me and find a way out, not cry over spilt milk." Dad said weakly.
"Really? I'm crying? Just maybe I wouldn't cry if you had listened to me. Now you want us to discuss the way forward. How sure am I that you'd even listen to what I have to say?"
"I didn't come back home to hear these things please." Dad finally said, picking up his office bag and heading to their room. He didn't even ask of me. I thought to myself. And all the while, I was concerned about what I would tell him. He didn't even care. Mum quietly followed behind him. I could still hear faint exchanges.
In despair, I found my way to my room. I didn't even show up for dinner. The whole day was destined to be gloomy. That discussion never came up, and I didn't even bother my little self.
The exam results were out after a week. Mum and I went to the school to check it; a chance to go to the prestigious Golden May College.
I would stop here now, Catty. My journey just got started. Expect my next letter soon. Before then, please take good care of yourself. You know I love you.

With love,
Ifeka.

FOURTH EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,
Forgive me for not asking all these while. How's Kandis? I learnt she travelled to Cyprus for her undergraduate studies. I have really missed her troubles. (Smiles) What about your younger brother, James? What's up with his Art school? Would love to have him paint something for me. You know, there's a difference between acquired skills and talents, and I love the fact that he has the two blended. Your family is really blessed, Catty.
Talking about families, mine didn't take it lightly with me when I failed the entrance exam to Golden May College. Mum and I got to the administrative block of the school oblivious of the fact that a failure letter was waiting for us. I had an overall average of 42%. Crazy!!! I was only to be admitted if I attended and excelled in the summer lessons organised by the school. Mum was disappointed. For heaven's sake, I had a track record of academic excellence in my former school. Just maybe it wasn't the questions that made me fail, I was struggling with myself. I simply felt I didn't fit into the school. Not that my parents couldn't afford it, but my twisted mind wouldn't allow me some breathing space.
"She would have to be enrolled in the summer class so she can catch up with the others." The principal said. Catch up? One thing I was very bad at was catching up, especially when it had to do with doing it with people.
"Okay then, no problems. What is the lesson schedule like?" Mum was still trying to play it cool, but I knew inwardly, she was disappointed.
"Mondays to Fridays, 9am-1pm." The principal said sharply. She kept staring at me, making me uncomfortable. I read on her face: Look how you've failed your entrance exam. You're not smart enough for our school. Mum was fiddling with her hand bag, soon her phone came out of it.
"Madam, can I have your phone number." Mum asked politely.
"Of course ma." They exchanged numbers and the rest of their discussion sounded like words coming from a trance. But one thing was certain, I was to begin the summer lessons.
***
"Hey there, what's your name?" The computer science teacher asked me, with a disgusted look. I've been doomed.  I thought to myself, as virtually every eye in the room turned to me. I was quietly sitting at the back, avoiding every form of communication, but I had obviously been pulled out of my shell.
"My name is Ifeka Okorie." I said, standing from my seat.
"You're a new student right?"
"Yes ma."
"So you think you can eat while my class is on?"
"I'm sorry ma."
"Put that thing away or you'd leave my class. This is just a warning." She said finally and continued with her class. With shame, I sat down. I didn't finish my biscuits before the break was over and since I was still hungry, I found a way of throwing little pieces of it into my mouth as the computer class went on. The whole class would probably know me as that girl that was eating in computer class. (Signs)
After that day's lessons, I hid my face from my colleagues and went home. For the first couple of days, I didn't socialise with my classmates, I barely even knew their names. Of course, I was already popular for the wrong thing. I secured a good seat at the back of the class so I wouldn't be seen by anyone but the teachers. Although, there were times I made up my note with a girl sitting by my side. Talking with any of the boys was a wholesome task I wasn't ready to carry out.
There came another challenge; meeting up with the fashion sense of my classmates. Since it was a summer lesson and we wore mufti to school, many of the students took it as an opportunity to showcase the latest additions to their wardrobes from Dubia, America, or wherever they went on holidays or their parents bought from. Not that I didn't have good clothes, but observing their style, I was bewildered that as young as many of us were then, some had degrees in fashion and style. While preparing for school everyday, I'd ransack my box and wardrobe for something "nice". I was too timid not to look good.
"What's the meaning of this dressing?" My mum asked me, when I picked up my bag and ran to join her in the car, so she could drive me to school. Before I could even open my mouth, let alone, allow some words escape, she snapped.
"Please go back and remove that gown. That's one of your church dresses and you want to wear it to school?"
I didn't bother saying anything, I simply moved quickly to my room, slipped into one of my casual gowns and ran to the car, as I was already running late. To be honest, Catty, that was my worst day in school. It was some sort of double jeopardy, or whatever those law people call it. I was already feeling I wasn't much of a fashionista as my mates were, and mum crushed my remaining spine.
"Ifeka, you're always quiet in this class. Why?" That was Chris, one of my classmates who I regard as bold enough to cross the sacred line. He had successfully drawn near during break and tried striking a conversation. What did a prospective JSS2 boy know about conversations by the way?
"Nothing. I'm just a quiet person, and I don't know many of you here..."
"Even at that, you can still talk and make friends." He said, cutting me short.
After that discussion, we kept talking and days ran into weeks. He became my best friend, or would I say, only friend. I started talking a little with others but he was the only one that became close. After about a month, the summer lessons were over and we had an exam. Another exam! But I swore this would be a different one for me. It wasn't up to a week when we were asked to come for our results. You won't believe what happened. I'm already feeling excited, but I'd hold it for my next letter. Take care of you, Catty.
Wth love,
Ifeka.

FIFTH EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,
Today's Nedu's birthday. I called him this morning to wish him well. He was so happy and talked endlessly of how much he loves me. Being in a relationship with him has really taught me a lot. All the love and approval I used to seek from guys stopped with him. He showed me that I just had to get comfortable in my own skin and love myself, before anyone else can appreciate me. You know how we both started about a year ago. I'd love you to get to meet him one of these days. Making him proud is my top priority, and of course, making mum and dad proud of me. Speaking of making my parents proud, remember where I stopped in my previous letter, about my summer lesson result. Well, I was successful!
It was a Saturday afternoon. I was with mum in her room, while dad buried himself in the television in the sitting room. 
"Get me the comb." Mum said, unknotting my hair in preparation to plait it. I handed it over to her and sat quietly. The silence was broken shortly by the ring of my phone. I reached out to pick it up and placed it on my right ear.
"Hello." 
"Hello, Ifeka. How are you?" The caller asked. I could hear the excitement in her voice. Although, I didn't save this number on my phone, neither did I recognise the voice, I was sure there was good news coming.
"I'm fine." I said with indifference.
"It's Ema, from Golden May." She was one of the aquiantances I managed to have during the summer lessons, and we exchanged contacts, but I didn't even bother saving it. I know she must have been disappointed with the way I answered the call. Or probably, she would have taken it as how a typical Ifeka will behave. I know you might be wondering what a 10 year old would be doing with a phone. (Smiles) Don't worry, it was nothing big. I even owned a phone at age 7 (Nokia touch o). This was for communication, since mum and dad came home late and I had to be all alone at home after school. 
"Oh! Ema. I'm sorry, I didn't save..." Before I could even finish, she broke the good news to me.
"You came out tops in our class. I just went to get my result. In the staff room, I heard one of the teachers say that Ifeka Okorie really surprised them. I heard them say you had the first position. I just called to tell you." She said finally. All the while, I was dumbfounded, and mum kept asking what and who it was.
"Wow! Thanks for telling me. What about you?"
"I came fifth."
"Okay, that's good."
"Alright, byeee." She stressed it and was soon off from the call.
"What is that?" Mum asked again, for the up tenth time.
"Ema, one of my classmates, called to tell me I came first position in the summer exams." I said, smiling.
"Really? That is good. So this is an automatic admission. I'm so proud of you." Mum said. I could see the joy in her eyes as she smiled. Finally, there was something to make her happy with me.
"We continued with the hair, the day, and the rest of that week. School was to resume for the session, the next week. There was a two week break after the summer lessons. To allow the students have some free time before resuming school work. The fees were paid and I was off to school, this time, with so much convinction that my stay in Golden May college would not be as bad as I had earlier thought. 
Classes started in full swing and I blended easily, with the classes of course, not with my classmates. Soon, I realised that the most brilliant people in the class did not even attend the summer lessons. My battle then was just to make sure I did well. My major challenge was the French class. I had never been so good with languages and many of my classmates started studying the language right from JSS1. It was pretty difficult for me.
"Can someone come out and conjugate the verb "to be" on the board? Anybody?" The French teacher asked the class, one of those French periods. I just stared aimlessly. She asked again and one of those brilliant ones came forward, took the marker, and conjugated the verb effortlessly and flawlessly. 
"That's good Nene." She said, and continued the class. I later found out that Nene was the one who always came first in class. She was unbeatable, as she had held that position right from when they were in JSS1. She was a girl like me, although, older. Oh, Catty. Another challenge, which I turned to pride, was the fact that I was the youngest in my class. But I was looking older and smarter than my age. I got to become happy about it at some point, though.
There were other subjects, which I did in my former school, but everything here seemed different to me. Not necessarily difficult, but challenging. Well, at the end of that term, I came third in my class. In Golden May College, after every end of term exam, the results were called on the assembly ground. The first three and last three positions were called out for every class. 
This was the beginning of second term. On the D-day, after the school anthem and pledge, the vice-principal (academics), Mrs. Tolu Bamidele, called out the results. My heart started beating fast when it got to our class. I already knew my position, but I wasn't sure I was ready to be a "public figure". 
"Now, for JSS2 A, the third position goes to Ifeka Okorie, a new student." Did she have to tell my life history on the assembly ground? I quietly stepped forward and she continued.
"The second position is Boma Davies. The first position is Nene Kabowa, as usual." She said smiling. We were congratulated and asked to go back to our lines. 
This pattern continued throughout my JSS2. I kept the third position, until I became comfortable with it. But in JSS3, I was up for a shocker. It was the admission of Peters, a new student who swept all of us off our feet, including Nene, the brainy giant. I'd tell you more about Peters when I write you again. Be good, Catty.
With Love,
Ifeka.

SIXTH EPISODE OF DEAR CATTY

Dear Catty,
I hope you're doing great. I'm sorry I couldn't write to you yesterday. I was a little bit in the dumps. Don't ask me why, cos I'm still trying to figure it out. But I hope my message to you about love sank well. I know you're smart enough to make the right decisions when it comes to matters of the heart. But hey! I’m much better today and we can go ahead with the story. (smiles)

"Good morning class." Mr Tamuno Bari, our form teacher, greeted.

"Good morning sir". We all chorused. At least, the interested ones, not Adams, Sunny and the other boys that formed a noise-making gang at the back of the class. I sat at the front, right hand corner of the class. That was the position I lobbied for as soon as we got to JSS3. 

“Here is Peters Toma..." He started, motioning to an innocent looking chap. He seemed taller than his class though. "He is a new student and a bright one at that, from the records."

This was one unnecessary protocol that is taken in Golden May college, introduction of new students. It was absurd for me. After the introduction, Peters got to a corner of the class, to the only free desk, and settled down. It was as though the desk was specially reserved for him. Mr. Bari continued with his usual admonition to the class, about being dedicated to school work. Soon, he was done and left the class.

Our first lesson period was mathematics, one of the subjects I dreaded. What annoyed me most on Mondays like that, was that mathematics took two periods. Mr. Timothy, our mathematics teacher, did his best to impact the knowledge on us, through his well explained classes, but I just wouldn't get it. My highest grade was C, which was a compensation for the various D's I had been acquiring.

"Good morning class. Where did we stop last week?" Mr. Timothy asked, hurrying into the class and into the lesson, since Mr. Bari had eaten into his period. At that point, I preferred our form teacher's talks, even if they were rantings, to this nightmare of a subject. The rest of that day went on without a bit of energy in me. 

During the second break, I went to the library to cool off with a novel I borrowed the previous day. Even at this time, Catty, you wouldn't believe I didn't have a friend. I had several people I talked to, but I was sure no one could confidently watch my back, and I wasn't a friend to anyone too. Please don't judge me yet. I felt they were all better than myself. In class, my classmates will talk endlessly of the fancy things they have and how they explore the world. 

What would I tell them? That I was just a little girl from an average home where there was neither peace nor faithfulness? Mum and dad were at the verge of separation then, but I didn't even know. All I was aware of was the fact that mum nagged endlessly and dad stayed out late. That was the major reason I persuaded dad that I wanted to go to a boarding school, but sadly, he disagreed and I had to blend school work with the noise at home. (Signs)

At the end of the mid-term exam of JSS3 first term, the unexpected happened. Our form teacher, Mr. Bari, had the routine of announcing the results in class before they would be announced on the assembly ground. He came into the class and greeted us as usual.

"I would be announcing the performance of every student in this class. Quickly, we'd start with the last position..." He continued. The positions were relatively consistent with what we had in our JSS2, except some improvements for some students, while some others did more poorly. But there was a constant trio: Nene, Boma and Ifeka. Everyone in class knew that our positions never moved, and so we all sat in anticipation of the usual. 

I kept wondering what position Peters, the new boy, would get. He had already been introduced as a brilliant boy. He sure was brilliant because at the top five, his name was yet to be mentioned. 

"Fifth position, Salami Lawal. Fourth position, Ifeka Okorie..." What? How did this happen? I asked myself. I just kept calm in order to see the end of it all. 

"Third position, Boma Davies. Second position, Nene Kabowa..." At this, the whole class exclaimed before Mr. Bari could continue. Amidst the light uproar, he was set to finish what he had started. 

"First position, Peters Toma." Every eye turned to him, including Mr. Bari's. I guess he must have been embarrassed, but he kept his cool and even had a weird smirk on his lips. This boy has got guts. I wasn't even so concerned about my trio position, which he succeeded in pushing me from, but about Nene, who never dropped to second, right from JSS1, but was now conquered by a new student! Who knows what Mrs. Tolu Bamidele, our vice principal, would say on the assembly ground the next day. That woman was just a chronic talkative. Mr. Bari just stood there, smiling, as shock clouded our faces, as if to say: "I told you, this boy is brilliant." Whatever!

I guessed right. Before the announcements, Mrs. Tolu came forward to announce the first three and last three positions in each class. When she got to JSS3A, she talked incessantly of how students shouldn't get comfortable when they think they are doing well academically. Since I had been knocked out, I didn't have to worry anymore about the "public figure" syndrome. But I must confess Catty, I was beginning to enjoy it. At least, I was known as one of the best three in my class. It added to the esteem I was still trying to build in Golden May. 

O jaré, enough of Peters. There was another era in Golden May, the era of boyfriends and girlfriends. At the tail end of our JSS3 and Junior WAEC, this became a serious concern for me, and I'd tell you all about it. I'd stop here for now Catty. Till I write you again.

With love,

Ifeka.

EPISODE SEVEN OF DEAR CATTY,

Dear Catty,
There's something I've always wanted to ask you for some time now. I never got to ask you physically, but I can do it here. Have you ever had sexual relations with anyone? I'm asking cos you know, born again sisters like you are always seen as saints. But you're my friend and we've never really talked about it. Please don't get offended. I know it's not my business and it's your choice to tell me or not. I would love you to write me back with your answers. I hope you have been faring well. Last night, I couldn't bring myself to have a good sleep. I was kind of restless, just thinking and planning for my future. I found solace in a book, Sex and Dating. Shh! Don't tell anyone. Lol.

Yesterday, I wrote to you about how a new era evolved in the school during our last days in JSS3. The new language was "Who is your boyfriend/girlfriend?" At first, I found it difficult placing the whole idea of dating. For crying out loud, we were still very tender for that. Or maybe it was just me, cos I was really young. One of those free lesson periods we usually wasted chatting, playing games and idling away instead of studying, our form teacher came into the class and asked for our details, including our ages. Perhaps, for the JSCE registration.

"Good day JSS3A!" He said, smiling broadly. I was somewhat confused as to the reason behind the smile. He also called the name of our class, which was not his custom. He must have had something cooking up in his sleeve.

"How have you been?" Hmm. That was too kind of a question for the Mr. Bari I know to ask. It's not as though he never showed he was interested in our well being. In fact, I can equate his long sermons to those boring lecturers we used to have in the university. But this time, he asked with so much grace and concern.

"We are fine sir." Some of my classmates managed to answer. Someone like me was buried in the "Club House" series I had been reading, in negligence of my school books. I had become so addicted to that book series. It was Cassandra, my seat mate, that drew my attention back to reality by hitting my desk. Somehow, I heard what Mr. Bari said, but I was too engrossed to participate.

"You have few weeks to your JSCE and you all should and must be busy with your books, not whiling away your time. I hope you are preparing well?" He asked, but no one was interested in the question. He just continued with his talks. He also said something about Mrs. Tolu, mandating the form teachers of JSS3A and JSS3B to do their best to make sure their classes had the best JSCE result. It was more like a competition for Mr. Bari and the other form teacher.  Perhaps, the reason for the prolonged sermon on that particular day and his broad smile. Who cared, anyways?

"I would be calling out your names from this register and you will have to say your states of origin and your ages." He said this, flipping through the pages of our class register. I wasn't comfortable with this arrangement. So the whole class will get to know the secret I've been keeping for a long time. I was ashamed, not that it was necessarily a bad thing to be the youngest in the class, but the fact that, I wouldn't be taken seriously. This was an opportunity to get hooked with a boy in the class, since it was the reigning thing. Telling my age will only make me look small. Mr. Bari started calling the names in alphabetical order, and when he got to names starting with "O", my heart was pounding as though it was preparing to escape from my body.

"Okorie, Ifeka..." Mr. Bari called out and looked up to me in anticipation of my reply.

"Imo state, 11 years." I felt all heads in the class turn to my direction and their eyes piercing into me. Of all the names called so far, 13years was the least. And now Ifeka Okorie was 11years! I just bowed my head and held the novel I was reading tightly, as though my survival at that point depended solely on it.

Mr. Bari went on with the rest of the names and when he was done, I was officially the youngest in the class, apart from Toyosi, who said she was 12years.

Everyone created their own niche in the classroom, after our form teacher was gone, and continued with their chit chats. This time, it was more like a couple's hang out. There was virtually every girl paired with a boy. I sat, resting my back against the wall and observing the class. I was really left behind. Honestly, Catty, at that point, I felt that the world had moved on and left me behind. Adams, Buchi, Sunny and Segun, who were regarded as the "big" boys in class, had their own corner with Karen, the most beautiful girl in the class and other pretty girls, whom I knew I couldn't match up with. What I saw was a play of affluence and beauty, and sadly, I had neither of them. So I thought though. Even Nene and Peters had dates! How come?

That Friday was crazy. We were done with our classes, but were asked to still come to school, to read. But we did nothing but waste time. It was better for me to even be at the comfort of my house, to read or do whatever I wanted to do, rather than being exposed to this train I had no hope of joining. Precious, the jester of the class was probably the only one I could relate with, since he didn't have any girl he was talking to. Instead, he kept gallivanting the whole class and disturbing the "couples". As if that wasn't enough, he walked to the front of the class and announced that he wanted us to play a game, where the two people involved would hold their arms up against a desk and each person will struggle to bring the other person's hand down. You might know that game too. If there was something I knew I could do to surpass the girls in my class, it was to show them how strong I was. This distraction Precious brought worked, as couples disengaged to play the game with different people.

Of the "big" boys in class, I dreaded Sunny the most. He wasn't the most handsome amongst them, but there was this aura he had around him which I secretly admired. He was talking with Karen and in the bid to show myself small, I went to where they were sitting. Karen just kept laughing and showing her rabbit teeth. (Signs) She was very beautiful, but you know, when you are determined to find a fault in a perfect person, you'd surely find something, even if it exists only in your head.

"Karen, do you want to play?" I asked her, disrupting their conversation and avoiding eye contacts with Sunny.

"Yea, sure. But I'm not so strong o." She chuckled, and Sunny smiled approvingly. We started off with the power game and at first, I made her take my arm down, but before it reached the desk, I turned it round and hit hers lightly on the desk. Smiling like one that had finally made it in life, I looked up to Karen and she didn't even show a sign of defeat. She just smiled with the corner of her lips.

"You've won nah, it's okay." Sunny said, shocking me to my bones. Really? That was all he could say? I thought it would make him start seeing stars about me, at least, for that moment. They quickly dismissed me and I swore never to play that game or any one at all in order to win a boy's attention. I simply went back to my "Club House" series, dug a hole in the pages and buried myself there.

After our JSCE, and entry into SSS1, there were more frustrations waiting for me as regards the whole dating thing. Well, I got my first boyfriend. But Catty dear, it was a nightmare. My eyes are already heavy with tears. Let me write you when I am in a better mood. Please, be good.

With love,
Ifeka.

EPISODE EIGHT OF DEAR CATTY,
Dear Catty,
How are you doing? I received the letter you sent to me yesterday. Thanks for being that open with me. I'd treasure it forever. Don't worry, I won't leak your secret. (Lol) For me, I'm doing great here. I woke up pretty late today, after having a very pleasant dream. That will be the gist for another day, though. I promised to tell you about my first boyfriend in Golden May College, and I'd stick to that plan.

"Please help me with your powder." I urged Cassandra, my seat mate and friend. Yeah, I finally had a real friend. That was during break. Cassandra and other girls in my class, had the habit of bringing face powder to class. Maybe it was a thing that came with being in SSS1 or just in the bid to look pretty without oil gushing out from your face. Every girl wanted to look fresh and presentable; to guys, of course. Besides, what else could be the reason? I wasn't really a fan of having that stuff in my school bag, but Cassandra was always willing to offer hers to me.

"Here." She said, handing it over to me.

"Thank you." I applied it and soon, we were off to the canteen. We always went to the canteen, and everywhere else, together.

"Hey, Sandy!" That was Chitoo, Cassandra's friend in SSS1B. Sandy was the name her close friends called her.

"What's up?" Chitoo asked, calling out from the entrance of the sick bay, adjacent to the school canteen. I was still trying to figure out why she strained her voice, calling out to Cassandra. Sandy simply turned to her direction, wearing a smile I could swear was fake. Chitoo practically ran towards us, and Sandy beckoned on me to stop.

"I'm fine."

"I didn't get that stuff from you again. S-a-n-d-y, don't fall my hand o." Chitoo said to Sandy, completely ignoring me and smiling sheepishly.

"No vex abeg. I'd give it to you after school today. Besides, what were you doing in the sick bay?" Sandy asked, showing perks of concern.

"It's Rachel, she's sick. But I'm thinking it's something else."

"Something else like what?"

"Don't say I told you." Chitoo said, lowing her voice. "I think she's pregnant."

"What! That girl is not smart at all. After everything we discussed?" Sandy blurted. At this point, I was totally lost as to what they were talking about. Rachel was another pretty face in SSS1B.

"I'm telling you o-O. Hmm." Chitoo snapped.

"Okay, I'd come and see her later, for now. Let me get something to eat from the canteen with Ifeka." Sandy said and we started walking towards the canteen. That was the first and only time I was recognised in their discussion. I had so many questions in my heart, to ask Sandy and myself. What would cause Rachel to be pregnant? She was a boarding student and we were still in SSS1. It was later on I discovered that class didn't matter in things like that.

"Cassandra, I didn't really understand what Chitoo was saying, and what stuff were you talking about?" I asked her, as we got to the entrance of the canteen. She was quiet for some time and said:

"You don't understand, Ifeka. I will put you through when you get older."

"What? How do you mean? We are classmates and friends at that. I should know what you're up to." I pressured.

"Okay, fine. I'd tell you, after school please."

"You know my mum comes early to pick me from school, there will be no time for that." As I said this, Sandy concluded with buying our snacks. She oftentimes sponsored my break snacks and that day was one of those days.

We had about 20minutes to the end of the break and Sandy suggested we go to the school tennis court to discuss and munch into our snacks. Soon, we were seated on one of the pavements and I didn't hesitate to ask again:

"So what were you talking about with Chitoo?"

"Ife... so much has happened in our class and in this school, generally." She paused for a while. I was getting a little bit impatient, as I wanted to hear the full gist before the break period elapsed. She went on telling me that some girls in our class had started having sex, right from our JSS3, with our class boys and senoirs. I was wowed. She noticed my expression and asked:

"What do you think they were doing with boyfriends, huh? She asked, with a disappointed expression.

"I thought it was just for the fun of it, you know, just having a boyfriend and feeling fly." I said, glorying in my ignorance.

"Ife, you're funny shaa. What else is the fun if not romance and sex?"

"So what about you? Have you been having 'fun' with Dave?" Dave was our senior in SSS2. He had been hanging out with Sandy right from our JSS3, and their relationship was one to be admired.

"Please mind your business." Sandy said, laughing and slapping my arms slightly. "Of course nah. What else would we be doing?"

"So how come you haven't gotten pregnant?"

"C'mon, Ifeka, haven't you heard of condoms in your life? Don't be so daft." I knew about it but I also knew that it wasn't 100% safe. I only wondered how Sandy was so comfortable "doing it" to the point that she sees it as nothing.

"That was exactly the stuff Chitoo requested. She's dating one senior in SSS3. That girl is big o. The guy is demanding sex and she doesn't want to go ahead without protection, like that stupid girl, Rachel, did. I can't believe she could be this foolish."

"So you're the one that supplies condoms now?" I asked her jokingly with a smirk on my lips.

"It's not that, just that some of these girls are too shy to buy it themselves, so since I always have my way to get them, they buy from me."

Shock was an understatement compared to what I felt at that point. So sex was now good business? Crazy! The world was definitely crazy. What surprised me more was that most of these students were boarding students. Was it that the restrictions were porous? I kept pondering on these things, until Sandy drew my attention.

Catty dear, trust me, I'd tell you what she drew my attention to. Expect my next letter very soon. Take care.

With love,
Ifeka.



EPISODE NINE OF DEAR CATTY,

Dear Catty,
You talked about having a party at your place yesterday. How did it go? I know you wouldn't have been able to read my letters, so I decided to forgo it then and send the rest to you today. How are you doing? I believe you weren't too stressed out.

My friend, Cassandra, drew my attention to Belema, our senior in SSS2. He was waving at us from the other side of the court, where he stood with his friends.

"Look, senior Belema is waving at you." Sandy said.

"Waving at me? The last time I checked, we were two here. He's probably waving at you, not me please." I was already sounding irritated.

"You need to give that boy a chance." 

"Sandy! What are you talking about? I don't even talk to him, and just because he even looked at our direction, doesn't mean I have anything with him." I snapped, getting angry.

"Ah ah. Easy abeg." Sandy was smiling and urging me to wave back at senior Belema. I just managed to do so after much coercion.

"Are you happy now? So what did you gain, eh?" I asked her, feigning annoyance.

"I've gained a lot. You're finally going to have someone."
I knew I had a crazy friend, and I was not ready to continue arguing with her. I just decided to let that one slide.

"Whatever you say." I thought things would end there, the next thing was a shadow few feet away from me. I looked up only to find senior Belema coming close to me.

"I told you something was coming with the way he smiled and waved at you." Sandy said, grinning satisfactorily.

"How did you know this? He might just be coming to ask us something or even punish us for no reason. You know how these seniors behave." I was still assuring myself and the uncompromising Cassandra that senior Belema was not coming towards us for anything perversive. Before I could finish thinking what I had in my head, he was already within arms range.

"Ifeka, Cassandra, how are you?" Senior Belema asked. So he knew my name? News of the century! He was one of the seniors highly sort after by many of my class girls. Handsome is not even a word good enough to qualify him. Much better than Sunny, who I had been "dying" for. He was way outta my league and I had no right whatsoever to desire him.

"We're fine." Sandy answered sharply, smiling broadly like one who just won an award. Did I tell her I was fine? I couldn't remember.

"That's good. Ifeka.." He beckoned.

"Err... Emm... I'm alright. Thanks." Wearing a dry smile, I looked into his eyes. I didn't know where that courage appeared from, but I just stared with confidence.

"Can I see you today, after school?"

"I'm sorry, I usually leave school very early. My mum comes to pick me."

"Oh... Okay. Tomorrow then. Can you come to my class during the first break?" Senior Belema asked, with hopeful eyes.

"Your class? Please, I don't like going to seniors' classes unless it's something important." I finally drew my eyes away from his. All the while, Cassandra kept mute.

"Well, it's something serious. Okay, just signal at the door and I'd come out. Is that fine?" 

"Okay, fine."

"Thank you. Till then." He said finally, nodded at Sandy and left to join his friends. I watched as his tall figure moved with so much grace. I smiled inwardly. He's so cute!

"Hmm." Sandy started, clearing her throat. "Miss lover girl..."

"Cassandra, why are you like this?" I asked cutting her short.

"Like how?" She said, half chuckling and covering her mouth.
"You know what I'm talking about. You just sat there, you didn't even say anything. How do you expect me to face senior Belema and his gang?" I asked, standing up. Just then, the bell was rung and we all had to go back to our classes. Sandy smiled and, stood up as well and drew closer to me.

"Ife...remember the day you told me that senior Belema told you he liked you, during that excursion trip?"

"Yes? How about that?"

"Well, obviously, he really likes you and I believe he wants to ask you out. You're the one who keeps talking about how virtually every girl in our class has a boyfriend and you don't. Why not give him a chance."

"Let him do the asking out first, but you know... this guy is too good for me. I just can't..."

"Shhh..." She hushed me. "Let's wait for tomorrow and let's get back to class before the principal catches us here." Sandy knew how to talk people into things easily and I wasn't an exception. On our way back to class, I kept thinking of what senior Belema would say. Just imagine me, here I was lamenting about not having a boyfriend but I just got a potential one, a perfect one at that, and I was still complaining. It is true that humans can never be satisfied.

Catty, I just have to tell you this. I met with him the next day and as expected, he asked me out. I was full of surprise mixed with anxiety. How would everyone see the shy and timid Ifeka now? Even people that didn't know my name would get to know me now, since I would be dating a popular guy. I'd still gist you on how we sealed the deal.

With Love,
Ifeka.


EPISODE TEN OF DEAR CATTY,

Dear Catty,

Thanks so much for your patience so far in reading my letters. Someone once told me that it's always good to have someone you can share your deepest secrets with. I'm lucky to have you and I wouldn't take it lightly. So my meeting with senior Belema was one that changed my story in Golden May; forever!

"Hey." Senior Belema said, coming out from his class.

"Hey." I replied drawing backwards, as I noticed he had come too close to me, too close for comfort.

"How are you?"

"I'm fine, thank you." I was trying to surpress the urge to look down. I knew that would mean I was shy, and I didn't want to make it so obvious. He just kept beaming with smiles and I was getting very uneasy. The silence too was killing. Soon, he broke the silence.

"Let's go somewhere more private. Shall we?" Oh! Catty, he was too charming, even his voice was beautiful. Before I could reply, he held my hand and led me gently to the tennis court, which also served as our assembly ground. It was always cool and quiet, even with the heat of break time and everyone gallavanting the school premises. People rarely went there.

"We got seated at a comfortable wooden pavement. He stared at me as though he was searching my soul. What on earth did he want me to do? Melt? His gaze was luring and I'm sure, could devour someone.

"Has anyone ever told you that you are very beautiful?" To me, that was a dumb question. My parents, family and friends, always told me that in one way or the other. Hearing it from him or anyone else wouldn't make a difference. So I thought, though.

'Of course." I chuckled, giving him a knowing smile.

"Oh! Great. But it depends on how they quantified it." He said again, smiling broadly and showing his perfect dentition. Jeez! The guy was just too perfect to a fault. What was he even talking about, quantifying beauty? I wasn't there to solve maths with him, he just had to go straight to the point and stop tormenting my emotions.

"Senior Belema, I don't get you please."

"That's the first thing we need to address. Stop calling me senior Belema, please. Belema will do."

"Okay, Belema. What are you saying exactly?" I asked, avoiding his eyes but looking at every other part of his face."

"Baseline, I like you, Ifeka. In fact, I love you, and I want you to be my girlfriend. Please, will you?" He was getting sober and all the superiority picture was gone. All I could see was a lost puppy in need of a home.
"Oh! Really?" I tried not to sound too excited. Thanks to Sandy who gave me some "tips" (as she would call them) on how to accept or reject a proposal. But I couldn't just go through with everything she said, I had a brain of my own.

"Yes, I've been watching you since JSS3. I had eyes on your classmates then, but I could only single you out. You're everything I need in a girl, Ifeka." He said, reaching out for my hands which were placed on my laps. I shuddered at the idea of having him hold me like that, but on a second thought, I decided to play cool.

"So why me? I'm not close to the prettiest in my class."

"Beauty, they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder. Besides, you're definitely pretty in the eye of every guy that knows what pretty means." He paused for a while and continued. "Back to your question. Like I said earlier I love you because you meet my desire in a girl. You're smart, calm, coordinated, lovable, beautiful, you look like someone who really knows what she wants in life. I love that, so... I love you." He started smiling again, and with his hands still holding mine, he caressed softly. I knew I was getting drawn in already.

"Ifeka." He called me more lovingly, will you be my girlfriend?" I liked him too, and since I REALLY wanted to have a guy to call mine, I answered in the affirmative.

"Belema, I can't deny the fact that I like you too. So, I'd give it a try." I smiled back at him.

"Is that a yes?"

"Yes." In excitement, he hugged me in that sitted position.

"Thank you for accepting me. I promise to make you happy."

***
Catty, let's fast forward to the time when he did not keep to that promise, to make me happy. It was when I grew older that I got to know the meaning of defining a relationship. My relationship with Belema had no definition and no boundary. But you know, you can't blame a 12 year old girl for her decisions. I was way too young. He was 16 and I trusted him to know better. We had sex, Catty. Yes, we did. This was in my SSS2 though. I was 13 then and he was 17, in SSS3.

"You can't keep running away from me, Ifeka." Belema said, intercepting me at the corridor that led to the dining.

Of all times to go to the boarding school, it was in my SSS2. My parents decided that I should get more serious with my academics. It actually helped, because after the class was divided between Arts and Science, I became the best in my class. Of course, you know I opted for the Arts class. Peters, Nene and Boma were all in the Science class. Assuming the new position as first in my class, meant a lot to me. It was a morale and self-esteem boaster, so I swore to maintain it at all costs. Oh! dear, I'm already drifting. Back to Belema.

"What do you want from me? I've told you I'm not interested anymore." I was beginning to shout and he hushed me with his palms.

"Get your hands off me." I blurted, forcefully taking his hand away from my face and walking out on him.

"Ifeka." There was something about the way he called me that made me stop and turn around to face him. He walked closer and held my hand. We had just finished dinner and I was on my way to class for night prep, when he called me. One of my hands held my books and the other one in his.

Belema had been asking me to have sex with him since we resumed for the session. We were both boarding students now, and it was easier for him to access me. I didn't want to have that kind of "fun" with him. Cassandra had encouraged me to do it, but I had a reputation to preserve. I was the school's sanitary prefect, the best in my class, and most importantly, a Christian, which everyone, including Belema, knew. In fact, at a point in my SSS1, some people asked if I was a pastor's daughter, because of the way I carried myself morally. I knew that issue will come up, since I was so determined to have a boyfriend, but I wasn't prepared for it. Besides, Belema presented himself, at first, as someone who will never ask for such. But certainly, I was wrong.

Dear Catty, I wish I could write more. But I don't know how to say it all. Can I write of how Belema lured me to bed and had his way? Or how I became pregnant, after we indulged three times? Can I write of how he denied it totally and I had to do an abortion? Or how I had to leave Golden May in shame? I really wish I can go on, but here's where I stop.

With love,
Ifeka.




DEAR CATTY,
BY
AKAELU SHALOM
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