18th October 2021
Now whose birthday exactly could that be? Birthdays, aside festivals like Christmas, Easter and new year are one of those days we so much look forward to. Although there are religions that don't do the conventional partying of a thing when it comes to birthdays, they still acknowledge that special day in their own way by either performing a fast or doing some rituals.
It's been a long time since she visited home after spending close to three months in boarding school. She was so happy that, despite having very little money with her, went and buy some sweets for the kids. She couldn't wait to meet them! Abbas would have put on more weight by now! Little Faiza might have started walking! The excitement was just too much for her.
Zahra had been soo tired of the term and she really needed a break. Thank God! The holiday would be given for about two months and that means she get to observe the Christmas and New year celebration at home! How more exciting could it get? School is vacating on the 19th of October! Which is, unfortunately a day after her birthday :(
God! How she wished school closed on her birthday on 18th October so mom would prepare a wonderful feast for her on her arrival. 19th isn't that bad anyway, besides there are twins born a day after the first one is born but still celebrate their birthdays on the same day. It doesn't really matter does it?! She had to have that feast! She know she needn't tell mom to host one for her. Mom always knows what to do. :)
G. G. S.S Jogana is a school located at the outskirts of Gezawa Town. In this area, you can't walk 100 steps without coming across a huge, baoba tree. In G. G. S. S JOGANA those trees are of a larger number and you see them almost everywhere : The class areas, the hostel area, staff quarter, prep area. Literally everywhere! It is believed that evil spirits Inhabit these trees and they come out at night to roam freely and if you get unlucky by crossing their path at night, they possess you and make you suffer. I have heard several times on radio about the school and how those spirits wreck havoc on students, terrorising them into submission. Exorcists from all angles of the town have been consulted but the most they could do was to stop them for a week. How liberating that week felt! Everything was going so perfectly without you worrying about anything.
A night before the holiday, the students where excited as usual. Stuff all packed up, closets all cleared out, beddings all neatly folded, one could sense the happiness there was in the atmosphere. Students took turns singing local songs about holidays, clapping hands while singing at the top of their voices. Gosh! Boarding school is not easy at all but one thing I like about it is that it makes you value home more since you don't get to see them everyday.
The chattering and singing soon ceased when it was midnight. Every girl relocated to her room to sleep. Well... Not all of them would sleep as I myself didn't sleep too. I was very excited almost like Zahra. Despite her previous excitement I think even she slept because I don't think what happened would have happened had she been awake....
Fire! Fire! I heard Ummi calling from the first compartment of our hostel. Ummi is that type of girl you will call crazy, always creating unnecessary uproar about trivial things. It sounded like one of her stupid pranks.... and so did the fire.
It started so insignificantly you wouldn't be able to notice. Ummi must have a keen sense of observation despite her craziness to have a noticed that tiny spark. Insignificant fire became significant and later conspicuous. The surprising thing about the fire is that it floated like water, crazy isn't it?
Spreading from mattress to mattress with students wailing and the scampering to safety, the whole hostel was suddenly covered in the thickest smoke I have ever seen. I, too, ran to seek refuge under a tree when I had another crazy story that another hostel is flaming up! The roofing has already been blown up! It seemed so insane.
"How can blue hostel and red hostel both be in flames when they are not close to each other?".
I didn't stop to think, teachers were already coming in to help evacuate students. Unfortunately not all students were saved. In the heat of the situation, while students were scampering to safety, some of them toppled over one another, colliding with bunks that crashed over one another, trapping students who were slow to act, or maybe, were asleep when it all happened. I will save you the gruesome aspects of my story because I too, don't want to remember them. In short Zahra was among those students who weren't so lucky. She was barely breathing when the rescuers came to her. Her skin was already cooked when they came and in their attempt to pull her out, they only succeed in pulling away her flesh..... God! I can't continue with this. I am sorry.
About seven students lost their lives in the bloody inferno. In waiting for holidays to go home to rest, God willed for them to rest eternally. Their dead bodies were covered in white clothes and lined up outside the staffs' room. Some parents who came to take their lovely children home only ended up taken dead bodies to bury. I still remember the wailing of Zahra's mom and that of her sister some times. I had nightmares about that incident for a long time before they finally stopped.
The incidents described above is based on a true life story of which I was a part, I bet my readers would have realized that by now. It happened a long time ago when I was in high school. I was a boarding student too. Zahra was my room mate although we weren't that close, she was a very nice person.
I derived the title from the fact that Zahra died on her 17th birthday, the 18th of October. Should today then be a death or birth anniversary of her?
What triggered the fire outbreak is yet to be ascertained till date. Although there are different narratives about that. The most accurate one being that the evil spirits that lived in baobab trees induced it. No matter how I would hate to believe that narrative, it seems to explain why two hostels with very great distance between them caught fire at the same time.
I have alot of stories and memories from my boarding school. Some pleasant, some unpleasant and some extremely unpleasant! I would share some other story someday God willing.
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