Welcome to the 4th short story in my On the Ceiling series!
(Update: individual OTC stories are no longer available, but you can download them all in a single PDF collection on my OTC site.)
For a snippet of the story, continue reading below.
I had my eyes on the ceiling as if I believed it could save me from all the kwasiasɛm going on around me. Ghana’s school wars were so, so tiring.
We were on day three of what had to be the longest five-day program in the history of the world. I didn’t know why parents thought sending their high school children to a university campus to be taught “leadership skills” right at the beginning of long vac. was a good idea. We’d had like two minutes to breathe after graduation last week, before we were told to pack our suitcases and go live on a campus in the middle of nowhere for five days, learning something I wasn’t even sure could be taught.
The entire first day had been dedicated to team-building and mingling exercises, and you could tell exactly what the professors and uni student facilitators had been trying to do with and to us. However, it seemed that no force above the sky or below the ground could have prevented what was always bound to happen whenever high school students from a range of schools and backgrounds came together: division. And, as was the norm among us, the division wasn’t even over social class precisely; it was over perceived social class. The assumptions almost always stemmed from the same misconceptions and thus, were incredibly predictable.
As usual, there were two factions: the public school kids and the international school kids. People assumed that everyone else assumed the international school kids were richer than the public school kids, that we thought we were superior to them in every way, that the public school kids were generally more connected to Ghanaian culture than the international school kids, and the list could go on and on.
It was a battle I wished I could say I was finally about to dodge, given that my class had finally graduated from JSS, and after passing a competitive entrance exam, was now going to be enrolled in what was rumored to be the best high school in Ghana. Unfortunately, I would be dodging no bullets, since though the school was a boarding school – unlike the one I’d just graduated from – it was still an international school. At least I wouldn’t have to endure it all alone. My closest friends, Yaw and Keshawn (called Kess for short), had also passed the exam, and in a few months, we’d still be together, which was quite a relief for me. Unfortunately, though, it also meant that I wouldn’t be able to escape from my drama queen of a cousin, Ntiwaa, who had also been accepted. It figured. She was the smartest girl in the class in terms of academics, and so there was no way in hell she could have failed that entrance exam.
Personally, I knew for a fact that some of these public school kids’ parents could buy my parents’ businesses out if they wanted to. I mean, it wasn’t like my father worked from some prestigious international company or for the government. He was a carpenter, for goodness’ sake. Carpenters weren’t particularly known for being millionaires.
This social class war was playing out in two parallel streams. The first was verbal: slurs, jokes and thinly veiled insults were flying back and forth between both camps, most of them by the partially naturally selected, partially self-appointed “spokesmen” of both camps. For the IS camp, there was a boy, unfortunately from my school and grade, called Kennedy, whom I had never wanted anything much to do with. He was perhaps one of the only people who so perfectly fit all the assumptions people had of international school kids in the first place. He was yet another person I wouldn’t be able to get away from, since he too had passed the entrance exam we’d taken.
On the public school side was a guy whom everyone simply called PK. I didn’t yet know what those initials stood for. All I knew was, with these two boys too close to each other in a single room, a civil war was nearly guaranteed to break out.
The other stream of the war, the non-verbal one, was all in the attire. Everyone who wanted to impress seemed to be competing for the title of Best Dressed. It was a one-week leadership camp. Why were people trying to look like they were either on their way to church weddings, or modelling for an urban clothes magazine? Today was the third day, and when we’d woken up and filed into the classroom for our morning warm-up session, my eyes had been stressed out by the assault of colors, materials and range of styles. It all seemed way too disjointed, as if we all didn’t belong in the same place. People were trying to use their clothes to make statements, as if that would prove or disprove anything about their family’s money, or how connected they were to their roots.
Far ahead of me, I spotted PK wearing baggy, sagged trousers, a sports jersey and a baseball cap turned backwards. “Street” was his style, and he tried to look as extra as possible within it, every single day. His aesthetic didn’t stop at his clothes; it went all the way down to the way he talked. He spoke pidgin English at every opportunity, until he was threatened punishment if he didn’t speak English. He did it obviously and obnoxiously, as if he was trying to prove something by it, too.
It didn’t take long after seeing PK before my eyes found Kennedy, dressed in a white button-down shirt, slightly crinkly to give him that formal-while-carefree look, and I sighed, prematurely exhausted of what was going to be a long day. All of this nonsense was even threatening to make me the tiniest bit self-conscious about what I wore each day.
Out of the crowd, my best friend, Yaw, fell into step beside me. I was almost irrationally happy to see him; he made me feel at ease in this sea of strangers.
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