The sharp clipping of the heels against the tiled floor echoed throughout the length of the hall as she walked towards the office of the Proprietress with an aggressive energy in her stride. The Proprietress could hear the approaching footfalls, and had already braced herself. The door swung open and she strode in.
“What exactly is the meaning of this?” She demanded to know, her voice hard and hostile.
“Good morning, Mrs. Abani,” the Proprietress saluted.
“Yes, it is morning, but there is nothing good about it!” Mrs. Abani blurted.
“You may sit,” the Proprietress urged, gesturing at a vacant chair.
Ignoring the offer to sit, Mrs. Abani went on, “I demand to know why you made such a decision without consulting us parents!”
“Mrs. Abani, there would have been objections if the parents were informed.”
“But I have a right to know. We have a right to know.”
The Proprietress sighed. “Why do I have a feeling that it is just because we didn’t tell you about it that you are getting worked up?”
For a moment, Mrs. Abani was silent, but there was so much noise in her eyes. “What do you mean by that? And even if that is what I am worked up for, don’t I have the right? I am the chairperson of Parent-Teacher Association, but I don’t get to know things. Why would you plan to take kids to a graveyard and refuse to inform the parents?”
The Proprietress made a pleading gesture. “Mrs. Abani, I am very sorry.”
“Yes, you should be,” Mrs. Abani pointed out.
“It is just an excursion, and they are not kids anymore. The average lad in that class is thirteen years old.”
“In the future, I wouldn’t like hearing news from my son. Otherwise, I would step down as PTA chairperson,” Mrs. Abani said.
“I promise, it won’t happen again,” the Proprietress said, pleadingly. “And the cemetery is not the only place we will be visiting. It would be loads of fun, and that is why we decided to keep the details from the parents. All you need to know is that we are camping.”
“But you will ask us to pay for it,” Mrs. Abani said. The Proprietress shifted in her seat, and said nothing. “When are they leaving?”
“This afternoon,” The Proprietress returned.
Johnny seemed the happiest student among the lot. He had a brilliant, expectant smile that never left his face. So great was his joy that when he was telling his mom about the camp, he had said more than was necessary. The teachers had told the students in a subtle way that on one of the three nights of camping, they would go and see the graveyard, and in his excitement, Johnny told his Mom everything. He regretted it when his mother began to insist that he wouldn’t go, but after all said and done, they were finally here, in the woods, setting up their tents, just like they do in movies.
It was an hour and thirty minutes of work, and all sixteen tents had been erected. The tents would be peopled equally between the boys and the girls. The male teachers would stay with the boys, and the female teachers would be with the girls. The sun was sinking behind the horizon, and in its descent, it glowed a dull red. Within an hour’s time, darkness would have crept up, and Miss Efuru, the English teacher, had told Johnny that there would be campfires just like in the movies. Being unable to contain his joy, Johnny had told the other students who became even more expectant to sit around the heat and listen to stories. Everyone knew Mr. Lotam, the Social Studies teacher, had such enthralling tales.
Dusk fell faster than expected. It was only a few minutes past 18.00hrs when it got really dark. Johnny thought, in his wild, excited manner of thought, that there was something spooky about this night, and he went about scaring the other students with lies about seeing something moving behind the hedges. The students gathered about the campfires in circles of twenty, each group being supervised by a teacher who told them stories and allowed them to tell theirs if they had any.
And when it was 20:00hrs, Mrs. Membolu, the head teacher, said it was time to go to the Cemetery. The students had begun whispers about seeing ghosts and for this, they were so jubilant. Mrs. Membolu said the Cemetery was within a stone’s throw of the camp, and so they walked the length, controlling the students, and taking headcounts at intervals to make sure they weren’t a person short. They got to the Cemetery at 20:30hrs. They spread out mats, and on the spaces they could find, on which the students sat, and Miss Efuru, because she was the one to address the students, sat on a grave.
“Who can tell us why we are here?” Miss Efuru asked as hands crept up. She looked through, and pointed at Amanda.
“We are here to see ghosts, ma’am,” Amanda said with a huge smile. Miss Efuru nodded. The students still had their hands in the air. She pointed at Johnny.
“Ma’am, are ghosts real?” Johnny asked.
“Ghosts are real, Johnny,” a boy shouted at Johnny.
“I didn’t ask you,” Johnny shot back.
“Ma’am, have you seen a ghost before?” Amanda asked.
“Okay, boys and girls,” Miss Efuru called.”Can you keep quiet for a moment?”
“Shh!” Miss Efuru hushed Johnny to silence, and they remained that way for some five minutes, listening. But for the distant hoots from a family of owls, there was absolute silence.
“Do you hear anything?”
“No,” the kids replied.
“Now, all these people here are dead, and can’t speak,” Miss Efuru said. “They once had voices, they once had ambitions, they once had goals, they once had things they wanted to achieve, but they are dead now. The only thing that would matter is how much they used the things they had when they were alive.”
“But, ma’am, so many of them didn’t achieve so much when they were alive because they didn’t know when they were to die,” Amanda pointed out.
“Good remark, Amanda. None of us has an idea when we will end up here like the rest of them. We don’t get to know that. We are only so certain of today, the moment, and so we have to make use of the opportunity.”
“Ma’am, but I would really appreciate it if we could find the cure for death and live forever,” Amanda said.
“Well, you are not alone in that line of thought, Amanda. Sometimes, I wish I could live forever too, but you see I am grateful that we get a chance to die. I would keep misusing today once I know that I will always have tomorrow. But the idea that we could die makes living worth it. It makes going to school, and getting a job afterwards something reasonable. And that is the point of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the school management have arranged for you students. In a few months, you will all be in senior classes, and in three year’s time, you will write your secondary school leaving exams, and then possibly get further to university education. We want all of you to stand out, by making everyday count. We don’t know what the people on whose graves we are sitting tonight used their time when they had it, but we do know someday, we won’t have time like they don’t. So, use your time to develop. Don’t postpone things until tomorrow.”
Miss Efuru paused to look through the students, and she was satisfied to see that she had their attention. “And so, these are lessons from the graveyard. Learn from it, and…” She paused when she noticed the alarm that rose on the faces of the students under the moonlit night. They seemed to be looking past her, over her, through her. Slowly, she tilted her head to the side, and there it was, a figure creeping forward, with a neck that was bent to one side, white skin, a mouth as red as blood, and arms that were stretched forward. At once, a scream tore out of Miss Efuru’s throat, and so every one of the students were thrown into frenzy, each scampering for safety from the apparent ghost.
“Wait students! Everybody be calm!” Mrs. Membolu called. “It is just Mr. Lotam. That’s not a real ghost.” Turning to the figure, she added, “I asked you not to do this.” And to the teachers, “Gather the students. Take a count, make sure nobody is missing, or else their parents will give us a lesson from the graveyard.”
Johnson Onyedikachi is a teenage Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He wrote in via email@example.com