Look at the new Lower Six formers. Do they not look nice in their new uniform?
About three thousand eyes turned on us, and I wished then that the earth would swallow me up, if not the other three too. The whole student body was at Morning Assembly in front of the Administration block, and we were at that moment the objects of their scrutiny, after the Headmaster’s comment – I didn’t like the publicity we were receiving. I could literally feel those eyes piercing into me, dividing bone and marrow, and the message wasn’t savoury.
I had passed my Ordinary level examination and gained admission into my good old school, Ghana National College in Cape Coast, Ghana; whose sixth form I looked forward to because of one main reason. Every form “one to five” student, in those days, had one motivation: to finish form five and do away with the short-sleeved shirts and shorts (for the boys) and the dress (for the girls). It was not uncommon to hear form five students remarking to the juniors that very soon they (the ‘fivers’) would not be wearing such uniforms anymore. They looked forward to wearing skirts and shirts, and trousers and blue shirts, for the girls and boys, respectively, for classes. That wish was not to be for me.
I came for my prospectus, and I didn’t like what I read as part of our uniform – shorts! Shorts, again, and the colour – green! I just couldn’t believe my eyes, which were not too good either! Interacting with my other colleagues showed my eyes were playing no tricks on me. I could still trust them.
We eventually reported for the two-year Sixth form course, and the usual welcome ponding took place. After everything, we had to move out into the school, and begin our lives as Sweet Lowers. But that was where the problem lay. We were the first batch of Sixth formers to wear shorts, and already the teasing was on, especially from the Upper Six formers. No one wanted to be the first to venture out in the green shorts.
One morning, four of us decided to be bold, and attend morning assembly. Our boldness wasn’t enough for us to be at the service early, though. We waited long enough for all the students to go, and long enough for the service to get started, then we set off.
With feigned confident strides, we made it “one step at a time” to the Assembly grounds. We stopped a few metres away at the national pledge was being recited, looking bright and new in our attire. The Headmaster, Hopeless, announced our presence.
Before he gave his announcements for the day, we had to join the rest of the students on the grounds, space having been created for us between the Fivers and the Upper Six formers. The latter group, the boys still in their trousers, laughed at us with their eyes. We were public figures that day.
Before long, we had gotten used to the whole new idea, and buried ourselves in the difficult two-year ‘A’ Level course.
Our old wounds and hurts about the new uniforms were opened in an interesting way. We were in Upper Six then.
A new set of senior secondary school (SSS) students were about to be admitted into the school. But their prospectus, for the boys, read just like ours! All hell broke loose.
“Headie paa, how can we and SSS students wear the same uniform?” was the question, albeit rhetorical, on the lips of every Sixth former, especially us. “We no go sit down” we chanted.
We lodged our protest, and were informed that it was a mistake, and that our prospectus was mistakenly printed out for them. We accepted the explanation with a pinch, nay a bag of salt; but, then, some of the new students started to report for classes – in their green shorts!
Meeting followed meeting, and the consensus was that we attended lectures in the old uniforms – trousers and long-sleeved shirts.
The D-day arrived. Most of our classmates were reluctant, but when a friend and I descended into the streets in the defunct uniform, our followers were numerous. The protest was on! The authorities were mad at us, they just couldn’t believe what they saw.
The headmaster issued an ultimatum after which time he warned he would punish anyone who still was in trousers around the classroom premises. We took the day off – a holiday! He then asked us to meet him and the authorities at 2 o’clock in the afternoon – in shorts – to discuss the issue. I was late for that meeting.
My name was written down, together with all the others who reported after two p.m., to be punished. First step to trouble.
A lot of ‘give and take’ took place that afternoon at the meeting. For most of us, the issue ended up there and then, in the Assembly hall. “You are in the wrong”, “You should have consulted the Administration”, “It was a mistake”, “You will be punished!” End of story! From the point of view of the authorities.
It was at this point that I decided to write to Headie to explain things and tell him my mind. I was angry. First, about the entire issue, and second, because my name had been noted, for punishment.
The letter I drafted had an angry tone underlying every sentence. I still have a copy of it, and when I read it, I see how harsh it was. I showed it to a friend to read through, and he okayed it. In my anger and frustration, I wrote about peripheral issues that had no bearing on the one at stake then. I accused the authorities of disrespect towards us, and ingratitude for all the good work we had done and were doing as prefects and seniors. I also pleaded for forgiveness. In fact, the focus and intent of the letter was mixed up, warped, a confused heap of words, a jumble. Second step to trouble.
Actually, the issues raised were valid and sound, but our elders say you cannot weep and meditate at the same time. Anger and reasoning don’t mix well either.
I copied the letter out, and forwarded it to the Headmaster through his secretary. I saw nothing wrong with the letter or its contents, or even the tone that day; all I felt was that a bunch of issues had been offloaded from my chest into that envelope. I slept well that night.
The next day was a busy one for me. It also was a day the nature of which I never wish to experience again on earth, nor in heaven. Definitely not.
Apparently the Headmaster’s shock after reading my letter had shaken the whole top hierarchy of the school, and must have spilled over to the other tutors.
My first call of the day was from Mr. Winide. He was a Scripture Union patron and a friend (I was an executive member of the S.U.). I cried, for the first time in many years, in his office that morning. He really lambasted me, and explained the seriousness of the act I had committed in writing that letter, and the danger I had put myself in. He intimated how angry the Headmaster was, and said he, in particular, didn’t expect me to write such a letter. I was the more frightened when he said I could even be dismissed for such an act. I left his office in tears, but with two lessons deeply embe dded in my heart: never write a letter in anger; and respect is won or gained but not demanded.
Another patron of the S.U. spoke with me – he was more blunt: He was really disappointed in me.
Then, the Assistant Headmistress, Mrs. Fanny Kuma sent for me. This was a lady who was ‘feared’ by most of the students because she was very principled – yet she was my friend and liked me. So for her to call me into her office on the wings of such an issue was a very bad experience for me.
My eyes filled with unshed tears, rivers of tears, as she took me through the letter, word by word. She was an English Literature tutor, and she took her time to analyse every word. I got the full impact of the anger in the letter as I heard it being read by someone. She wondered whether I had allowed someone else to read it before I forwarded it to the Headmaster. My friend whose name I gave later had his share of her ‘blasting’!
As I left her office with a bowed head, in shame, I passed by the office of the Assistant Headmaster, Mr. Aidienu, who also called me in. He had always been like a father to me since form one, and was distressed, to put it mildly.
To think that I had spent seven years in the school without blemish, only to end up in such a disgrace? To think that a letter written in anger was to be the passport to my ruin.
If a letter written in anger could lead to that ruin, another letter thoughtfully written may also save my neck, I reasoned quickly, because I wasn’t sure the Headmaster would grant me audience, from what I have gathered so far about his fury towards me.
I quickly wrote a letter of apology, and since it was late when I finished, I slipped it under the door of the secretary to the Headmaster. I didn’t sleep well that night.
The next day was another busy day. I didn’t even bother to attend classes – I spent the entire day at the Administration block, trying to catch the eye and attention of Headie. I wanted to meet him and tackle the problem head-on.
Eventually, he called me into his office. The face that usually smiled at me was a different one that day. I knew immediately that before me sat a man who could cause me to re-write my future all over again. And the import of what he held in his hand, and the hurt and fury it had unleashed was not lost on me. I could see pain in the Headmaster’s face as he sat silent, the room electrified, not even the air moving, a picture of a judge and the suspect, who awaited the final verdict.
“Damoah,” he finally began “I didn’t expect this, not from you.”
“I know that, Sir. I am sorry, very sorry.”
“You know what this means? You can be dismissed for this; I can put this on your file, and future Headmasters will always refer to this when you come for any testimonial. This can ruin your entire future.”
My heart was in my mouth. My stomach was in a centrifugal mode. Another bout of silence. Finally, I thought.
“But I am going to forget this.”
“Because you have always been a well-behaved student. But never do this again, never. Whenever you are angry with someone, about something, you may speak out – most probably, nobody will record that. But never ever write a letter in your anger – words written can never be erased.”
My heart wept for joy and my eyes swarm in a lagoon of tears. He put the letter away. I went straight to the dormitory and straight into bed.
If my memory serves me right, as it has many times, I think I slept well once again that night.