SCHOOL MEMORIES: Mrs. Baryayaka's ghost

I was told that she wasn’t stealth. I was told that her footsteps were quick, loud and firm…the footsteps of any angry woman.

I was told that she wasn’t stealth. I was told that her footsteps were quick, loud and firm…the footsteps of any angry woman. And yet, when she finally came, I only confirmed her presence when someone in the neighbouring cubicle fell off her bed and screamed. I was scared. My heart beat loud and hard against my chest. I was sure she could hear it, just as I was sure that she could smell the fear that engulfed me. I started to pray. “Dear Lord,” I said, “I know that I don’t deserve your mercy but please save me from Mrs. Baryayaka’s ghost. I promise to attend morning prep from now onwards.”

Our school was founded in 1912. Needless to say, this was during a time when formal education was still a strange concept in the minds of most Africans. Stranger still was setting up a girls’ school. Teaching girls to read and write couldn’t have made sense to most Africans. Of what use were those skills in a garden or a kitchen where girls were expected to belong? Nonetheless, Mrs Baryayaka’s father took her to our school and later, she became a headmistress there. Determined to see that girls didn’t waste the unique opportunity given to them, she hunted down everyone who defaulted morning prep and subjected them to physical torture. By the time I started attending the school, she was long dead but it was said that her ghost was still roaming the school, looking for prep defaulters to punish.

I never did like morning prep. And I would have liked to meet the person who invented such a cruel idea so I could just look in his/her face and with tears streaming down my face say, “How could you do that to me?!” Regardless of the season, mornings were always bitingly cold. It was hard to get out of bed, and it was even harder to take a shower. I had had to develop a system; take a deep breath, pour a bucketful of water over my head, ignore the shock in my body and start bathing. Sometimes though, courage eluded me and I chose to enjoy the warmth of my bed much longer than was granted in the school rules. But instead of falling asleep, I spent every minute wondering what was worse; being attacked by Mrs. Baryayaka’s ghost or being punished by the school administration.

If indeed, Mrs. Baryayaka’s ghost had visited one of the students that morning, she must have asked the person to say nothing about the matter. I badly needed a detailed account of the story but I feared opening a can of worms. I decided to be thankful that it wasn’t me and to honour the promise I made to God. I set my alarm clock for 4:30a.m. But I missed morning prep again; the alarm didn’t go off and I woke up to find Mrs Baryayaka’s ghost breathing furiously in my face. I pleaded with her not to hurt me but she laughed and said, “I’m not here to hurt you, I’m here to take you with me.” Immediately, I heard church bells ringing and I started screaming. She disappeared and I woke up kicking and sweating, to the sound of my alarm clock.