I hurriedly left the house. The school was the only place to distract myself. Recently I found solace and amazing peace whenever I am in the lab or in class. Luckily for me, it was a practical class, so I headed to the Biology Lab as soon I entered the school. I was about stepping in when I saw Amanda, with her friends. They were standing by a shade close to the Drama theatre chatting. I glanced at her, our eyes met, I quickly withdrew and footed inside the lab.
“Look who is here,” Hope grinned at me. “You have been terribly scarce.”
“Hope! It’s been what? One month?” I smiled.
“And three weeks,” she replied.
“You have been counting?”
“Of course. Last time you were really troubled and I was scared you’d hurt yourself. I checked your class every day but I never saw you. I am so glad you are doing alright.”
“I am fine. Thank you. I just needed a time off,” I said. “But didn’t you tell me the last time that you are a micro biology student?”
She smirked. “Your class is started,” she said, heading out.
“Wait! Aren’t you joining us?”
She made again a showcase of her perfect dentition, “See you after the class,” she added and finally disappeared
I stood, bewildered and confused, watching her go. Something about her was not settled. I saw troubled mind beyond those glaring white and perfectly placed dentition. I sensed bitterness beyond the tempting cheerfulness. I felt like going after her, talking to her and maybe getting to know what her problem was, but I had vowed never to miss class again. So I shrugged, walked into the lab with a baseless hope to see her again.
The lecture was longer that I expected, with loads of assignments and notes to copy. Once the lecturer left, I dragged one of the stools to a more secluded part of the lab, adjacent to where the lab equipments were kept and sat. I have many notes and assignment to do, so I decided to do some before going home. I casually dragged my pen left and right of my assignment paper, trying to juggle my brains to recover some knowledge I’d lost during my love escapades. Then I heard a crash; a lab tube fell down and broke.
“Damn it! These freshers!” I cursed; hand at still, head bent to my book, the clank was a huge distraction. I sighed, raised my head and Hope was there, at the lab tube shelves whimpering as she packed the shattered tubes in a dustpan. I ran my hand across my face, disbelieving what I was seeing.
“Hope?” I mellowed.
She turned briskly, saw me and gaped. Her hands shivered and pieces on the dustpan fell. Her mouth opened wider, eyes shuttled between me and the shattered tubes. I pushed my desk, scurried to her and held her firmly.
“What happened? What are you doing here?” I threw in same time.
She was devastated, shocked and frightened. A tear dropped from her widely opened eyes and fell on my hands. I looked at it, then at her face. “What are doing packing glasses? This is not your work. There is someone meant to do this,” I said, uncertain about what really was going on. “Damn it!” I cursed again. “Where the hell are these bloody cleaners? They should be doing this and not you.”
She glanced at me, sharply. I saw discord in her eyes, hate and sudden detachment. She slowly withdrew from my hold, tears zigzagging down her pretty cheeks like a flood down a mountain. It was a sad moment but the tears made her look even prettier.
“Did you injure yourself?” I asked as lust and love struggled for dominance in my eyes.
Silently, she bent down, and began packing the shattered pieces into dustbin beside the shelves.
“Common Hope,” I jerked her hands, drawing her up. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” I said, holding her firmly so she wouldn’t slip off again. “What the hell is wrong with these cleaners? Where are they?”
She scowled at me sniffling, pulled off my grip, strongly, hands on the floor again as she packed the glasses.
“What is going on with you?”
“Nothing!” she shut me up.
It was harsh but I was glad she finally spoke.
“Alright, so stand up, this is an accident okay. You only tried to help.”
“Well that is the problem. I did not try to help. I was doing my work.”
“What?” I gaped.
“Yes,” she swept the floor with much force and bitterness, venting her anger on it. “I am the bloody cleaner and everything is the hell wrong with me.”
My head grew massively bigger, yet vacuum. I felt my feet got lighter, and my body shrinking, lacking balance.
“I am the cleaner,” she continued, aggressively sweeping the floor. “I clean your mess every day, the shortbread packs and the Lacasara bottle you and your arrogant course-mates leave here every day. I set the tables and the stools, the tube and all needed for a successful practical class, making sure they are neat and free of dust. And when your class ends, I clean them up again, so why won’t there be something hell wrong with me? And I don’t blame you for seeing it too. Every one of the students does. So just go and allow me do my work.”
Guilt and remorse took me hostage. I said what I should not have said. I tried apologising but I didn’t know how. I dipped my hand in my back pocket and pulled out my handkerchief, wiped the sweats that was raging to blind me. I opened my mouth, took in as much air as I could, glanced at her, she was busy, cleaning the floor that has been well cleaned.
“Hope I am so sorry,” I said. I figured she needed to hear it even if it would not change anything. “I didn’t know that is what you do? And to be frank I was only worried about you.”
“Even if the cleaner was someone else, does it give you the right to insult and call her names? What makes you think you are better off than them? Because you are privileged to be in school and they are not?”
“Stop,” I hushed her. “I have never looked down on anybody, no matter who.”
“Yes, I used to think that too, but not anymore,” she said, picked the waste bin and left.
I sighed deeply, my breath oozing out of my mouth like a winter breath. I shouldn’t have said anything, I thought as I wobbled back to my seat, assuring myself that no matter what, I was a good person. I looked at my book and all I could see was Hope’s tears and broken heart. I closed the book, hands on my chin and began to imagine what a young and pretty girl like her was doing cleaning a lab in university. If she has no money to enrol in the university, there were other decent works she would have rooted for, and not a cleaner, in the university where almost everybody was her mate. I imagined the pain, insult and disrespect she wound be enduring every day, I know students, and the way they see these cleaners; it wasn’t good at all. Suddenly a memory flashed to my head. Months ago, two male students from final year were discussing inside the lab about how they had beaten up a young and pretty lab cleaner. I didn’t take it serious as I believed no cleaner in the whole of that school was young, let alone pretty; for I was yet to meet Hope then. But now, I knew who that pretty lab cleaner was.
I jerked up, packed my book and rushed out in search of her, glancing at every angle of the school, most especially around the lab.
….the story continues….