The following Monday before classes began, just about everyone in Temi’s class had heard about her Friday night ordeal. As she had expected, the girls did not believe Temi when she recounted her experience with Madam. One of her classmates had even resorted to calling her “Temi Koin-Koin,” which only served to aggravate her further. Mrs. Onita, the English teacher did not appreciate the new nickname either. She heard it as soon as she entered the class. She made the liberal nick-namer, Tina, who also doubled as the chief noise-maker, kneel down in front of the whole class, as punishment. Mrs. Onita clearly did not have any sense of humor.
While reading a passage from Jane Eyre, which she wanted the class to discuss, the class got an unexpected visitor: an errand boy came to Mrs. Onita. Her attention was urgently needed at the Principal’s office. Instructing the girls to continue with their reading in her absence, she quickly left the classroom. But, who leaves a room full of 8 – 10 year olds with such instructions and expects them to obey? Mrs. Onita apparently did.
As soon as she stepped out of the class, Tina jumped to her feet and planted herself in front of the blackboard. After pulling off a few witty imitations of Mrs. Onita’s mannerisms, down to her lisp – she pronounced her R’s like her W’s, so that ‘Rat’ sounded like ‘Wat’ – with the encouragement of her classmates, she suddenly had a light bulb moment: she and any other brave hearts would uncover the identity of Madam Koin-Koin that very night! An adult would probably have advised them to desist from their foolish mission, but there was no adult to warn them. Hence, ‘Operation Expose Madam Koin-Koin’ would be executed within 24 hours. This was the plan:
- The girls would meet outside Room 5, Thatcher house at around 2:00 a.m.
- Each girl had to have a torch-light
- One girl had to have a bucket of water to pour on Madam Koin-Koin
The only thing they were missing was a mouse trap large enough to trap a life-sized creature, because they planned to trap Madam. Did I already mention that this was a foolish plan? I did. Remember no one had ever seen Madam and lived to tell the story. But, let’s give the girls a chance, shall we?
By the time Mrs. Onita came back to the classroom, 7 of the girls in the class who were not chicken-livered (except for Temi, who was chicken-livered, but had been recruited nonetheless), were on board with Tina’s plan, and they waited anxiously for 2:00 a.m. to come.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Room 5 of Thatcher House was squarely in the middle of the corridor, on the second floor. With four rooms on either side, anyone walking down the corridor from one end to the other, had to pass in front of this room. Right beside Room 5, in what was supposed to be Room 4, lived the Matron for Thatcher house.
The girls called her “Matey Thatcher” for short. A strict spinster in her early 40s, one had to wonder if the house was not named after her. Everyone avoided her. Well, the girls at least did, except for those unavoidable days when due to a shortage of water in the school, she would sell them sachets of water (‘pure water’) at exorbitant prices. The girls had reported her to the principal several times, but it seemed that even the principal was scared of her and so, she was never disciplined for her actions. She alone occupied an entire room, furnished at the school’s expense, while a room of a similar size was shared by 20 or more girls.
It was past this ‘beloved’ woman’s room, Room 4, that the girls stole past on their way to Room 5, the meeting spot. As soon as they had all made it there, Tina pointed out the obvious: anyone coming down the hall from either direction, would see them converged on that spot. Plus, one of the prefects could punish them for being outside their rooms at that hour. So, the curious party migrated to the far end of the corridor, right beside the staircase.
The new spot was perfect for two reasons: First, if they had to abort their ‘Operation’ for unforeseen reasons, they had a clear path of escape, provided of course, that Madam Koin-Koin did not choose to use the stairs at the same time. Second, there was enough space in that corner by the staircase to hide all 7 girls from view, including their 8th companion, the bucket of water. However, both the old and new plan did not make any provision for what would happen to the bucket of water, which Temi brought, if they had to flee in haste. It was assumed that the bucket could sprout legs and take off, if it had to. It was in this corner that the girls crowded in, and waited for Koin-Koin to appear. They all stood still in anticipation. There was no chattering, no gisting of any sort. Everyone was perfectly quiet.
They had been in the corner for about three minutes when they heard approaching footsteps. Tina peeped out and was disappointed to see a girl going in the opposite direction, making her way to the bathroom. Not quite 10 minutes later, they heard some more footsteps. These footsteps were leisurely, just like the ones Temi had heard the night before. It was the sound of heels hitting the pavement, not the typical sound of rubber-soled shoes.
“Koin, Koin, Koin …”
This time, Tina was not the only one peeping out of the corner. All the girls were trying to see who or what was heading in their direction, hearts racing fast. Even Temi had abandoned the bucket and was half-kneeling, half-crouching to get a good look at the approaching figure. It was dark, and unlike the other night, the moon seemed permanently hidden behind dark clouds.
“Let’s use our torch lights quickly before she gets away!” someone whispered.
The footsteps kept getting closer.
“Koin, Koin, Koin …”
Mysteriously, none of their torch lights would work, even though they had worked perfectly a few hours before. As they fiddled with the torch lights, the footsteps kept getting closer, and closer. And then suddenly, the whistling began.
By now, the girls, in pitch darkness and with no light to guide them were terrified. Why would anybody be whistling the school song at that ungodly hour?
Just a few more steps, and they would be able to reach out and touch the …
One girl finally got her torch-light to work, and nervously flashed it directly in front of her. At that very moment, the whistling stopped as the lone light fell on their night visitor. Several girls screamed in fright at what they saw:
“Yeeeeeee!!!! It is Senior Rebecca!” one of the girls screamed.
And indeed it was! Senior Rebecca, Assembly Hall prefect and Dorm Room Captain of Thatcher house, Room 5, stood there in front of the terrified group, in the dead of night. She wore a white night-gown, and on her feet were the red heels she had searched for the other day. More frightening though, was the fact that despite all the noise and commotion that the girls had made, she stood in front of them with both eyes tightly shut. Her face looked calm.
Senior Rebecca was sleep-walking.
Tina, on seeing who Koin-Koin was, seemed temporarily cured of her fright. She quickly grabbed some water from the bucket and threw it on Rebecca’s face. And she opened her eyes.
By now, some of the girls in various rooms in Thatcher house had woken up from all the noise and were coming out of their rooms one by one. Several of the other dorm captains half-angry at having their sleep interrupted, and half-frightened themselves (who knew why there was so much noise at about 3 am in the morning?) marched up to the seven girls, demanding an explanation. Tina, with the help of the other girls, excitedly explained what had just happened. Everyone was shocked.
“So you mean, Senior Rebecca is Madam Koin-Koin?” some of the girls were whispering. Some of them started crying for no rational reason. Others clapped their hands together in bewilderment. In the midst of this, Rebecca stood there surrounded by an army of girls, now wide-awake, with many un-answered questions.
“But if Senior Rebecca is Madam Koin-Koin, then how did the other students who came before us know about this?”
A hush fell upon the crowd as each girl tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for the past Koin-Koin episodes, that did not involve Rebecca.
Just then, they heard the sound of shoes hitting the pavement. Again.
“Koin, koin, koin …”
If Rebecca was Madam Koin-Koin, then who could that be?
They did not need to wonder for long. Turning around to face the other end of the corridor where the second flight of stairs was, they watched as another person with heels that made noise, walked towards the end of the hall where the crowd had gathered. This time around, no one moved. After all, what could attack a crowd of 50 or more girls at the same time?
The person walked all the way from the corridor in front of Room 1 to Room 4. As soon as the person reached Room 4 (Matey Thatcher’s room), the person took off her shoes, turned around shoes in hand and began to walk barefooted, back to the other end of the hall, away from the crowd. It seemed this person was in desperate need of exercise, because as soon as she reached the other end of the hall, she put her shoes on and started again towards the crowd.
Temi could not take it anymore. A sudden boldness seized her. Torch light in her left hand and a bowl of water in the other, she walked towards the person.
“Today na today. If there are two Koin-Koins in this school, they will both be exposed. This rubbish has to stop!”
Those were the thoughts on Temi’s mind as she walked towards this other Koin-Koin. As soon as she was just a few steps away from Room 4, Temi flashed the light in her face, and stilled herself for what she would see. The bowl of water fell from her hand as she stood glued to the spot. She could not believe it.
Some of the girls on seeing Temi’s reaction, reluctantly walked up to stand beside her, torch lights in hand too. Several of them shouted in unison:
“It is Matey Thatcher o!”
That singular announcement seemed to propel the other girls into action. Girls in Rooms 5 – 9 rushed into their rooms and dragged the buckets of water they were saving under their beds to take their bath that very morning. They surrounded Matey Thatcher, who had both eyes closed, just like Rebecca, and who seemed unaware of what was happening, and began to pour buckets of water on her. Even Rebecca and the other prefects joined in. They had all been waiting for the day when they would pay Matey back for ‘exploiting’ them, among her many offenses.
By the time they were done, she was wide awake, very confused and drenched from head to toe. When one of the prefects eventually said “Enough!” the girls relented and stepped back. That prefect explained to Matey that she had been sleepwalking and they were just helping her wake up, so she would not harm herself. Whether Matey believed it or not, no one knows. She looked around angrily at the girls, removed her wig from her head, squeezed it dry, and walked into her room without another word.
The girls cheered loudly! The two Madams Koin-Koin had been exposed and all was well with the world again.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Three days later, during afternoon prep, Temi noticed that she had forgotten her Biology notes in her dorm room. She took permission from the prefect in class, and walked all the way back to the dorm. When she got there, the corridor was deserted, and so were the rooms. Everyone was in class, studying. Walking to her closet, she retrieved her Biology notebook and headed towards the door. Just then, she heard a whistling sound. It started out faintly and then became louder. Someone was whistling the school song, chorus only. Recalling the other night’s episode, she just chuckled and decided someone was just playing tricks on her.
She stepped outside the corridor and looked left and right. There was no one there. That was when she began to panic. The whistling stopped, and then she heard approaching footsteps coming directly towards her. But, there was no one in sight.
“Koin, Koin, Koin ….”
Temi did not know what to think. Trembling like a leaf, she looked hard and long again in the direction of the approaching footsteps. Still, nobody. By now, the person was a few steps away. Still, no one was visible. Not knowing where to run, Temi stood still. The person stood right in front of her. She could feel its warm breath on her face. A hand reached out and touched her left shoulder. Then, it touched her face. Cold hands that Temi could not see, touched her face. And then, it whispered in her left ear:
“Temi Jacobs. Nice to finally meet you.”