“Hey! You there, come to the podium,” the principal’s repeated his statement and this too, found its way through Ayo’s discarded mind. She could hear someone talking but she didn’t know the owner of the voice was pointing directly at her, or she doesn’t want it to be her. Then, the girl behind tapped her gently. Ayo was infuriated, not because of the touch but of calling her attention to something she was trying to ignore. Now, everyone knows it’s her the principal is referring to. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the girl added, “He’s talking to you.”

“Me?” Ayo asked, as if shocked by the girl’s word.

“Are you deaf or what?” The principal adjusted his glasses to make sure he’s looking in the right direction. “You without the school uniform.”

Ayo, knowing fully well she was the only one not wearing the school uniform, realized there’s no denying this. Before she could utter any word, the principal ordered her out to stand right in front of her fellow students. She climbed up to the podium slowly with fear enveloping her thoughts. Not only was she scared, she was also ashamed. No one had told her she would be made an example of, else she wouldn’t have resumed on the first day.

Ayo, who had always been a carefree girl, without worries and had never experienced what was happening to her that morning, couldn’t imagine herself having a stage fright. She had always loved being the center of attraction and in her old school, she never failed to do just that, as per her academic excellence. But today, on her first day in a new school, she was being singled out for the direct opposite of this.

Prior to Ayo’s thought, the principal said, “Kindly tell us the meaning of Nightingale.”

“Night-in-gale!” she pronounced the word as though it were three separate words. She hadn’t expected that but here it was. It took composure for her to gather her thoughts into that single word but still, it broke into three.

The senior students burst into laughter when they heard her. The JSS 1 students didn’t know the cause of their laughter but some of them could be seen smiling. This, weakened Ayo’s enthusiasm to speak and went dumb for seconds.

“Quiet everyone!” the vice principal, who has been quiet since the beginning of the assembly that morning, commanded.

“Nightingale,” the principal corrected Ayo, ignoring the student’s laughter.

The principal, Mr. Gbadamosi is a man of discipline. He never tolerates indiscipline, especially in the part of his students. It’s been his tradition every session, since he joined the school, to ask the new intakes the meaning of Nightingale, which happens to be the name of the school. Every session has always been the same, no JSS 1 student has been able to provide the correct meaning. Then, he will always take it upon himself to tell them the meaning but he has never met one who could not even pronounce the word, let alone give the meaning. He was amazed and was already planning on the best discipline method when he heard the girl’s voice for the second time that day.

“Singing bird,” Ayo said. “It means the bird that sings melodiously. It serves as the subject in a given sentence. Example! Nightingale flew…”

Applause from the senior students rented the air and consumed the rest of Ayo’s word. The principal, on the other hand, was astonished. He couldn’t believe that the girl whom he corrected just now, on the pronunciation of Nightingale, could actually know its meaning. The whole student in the assembly hall was quiet. If a pin drops at that moment, it won’t escape the hearing of both teachers and students of Nightingale Academy. The JSS 1 students were oblivious to the happenings around them and were made to join in the unending applause, at the signal of the principal.

Right from the moment she answered the question, Ayo knew she was right. She remembered reading it somewhere in a story book. ‘Nightingale flew across the sky.’ That was the sentence she was going to state, before it was cut short. She could remember vividly. As inquisitive as she was, she’d immediately checked up the meaning of the word in her dictionary. Still, when the students applauded, Ayo let out a soft smile. Nonetheless, she wanted to leave the podium as quickly as she could but it seems the principal has other plans.

“What’s your name, young girl?” Mr. Gbadamosi, the principal, demanded interestingly.

“Ayo!” she responded immediately, as if the question would automatically take her back to her line or so she thought.

“Ayo?” He repeated. He wanted to scold her but acted otherwise. “You need to tell your name and surname, my dear. You’re not among your friends.” He bent a little to peer into her worried face.

“My name is Ayomide Cole,” she responded with a smile.

“Okay! I see you have potential. Keep it up,” he commended. “It’s good to have you in our school. Go back to your line.”

Ayo kept smiling as she descended the podium. All eyes happen to be on her and she feared she was going to miss a step if they kept on. She decided to stop at the front of the line instead of going back, only to avoid the fat talkative she had encountered previously. The girl in front of the JSS 1 line happens to be the shortest and Ayo immediately understood why she was placed in front.

“I’m Funmilayo but most people call me Funmi,” the short girl introduced and offered her hand. Ayo took it and smiled coyly. “Mind staying in front,” she offered.

Ayo looked at her and assumed they would be of the same height but she didn’t want to be the first in line so she opted to stay behind her instead. ‘’Excuse me please!” she told the girl behind Funmi but the girl seemed not to be willing. She happens to be the first, who wouldn’t want someone to be in front of her. Ayo, in the previous school she attended, wouldn’t have conceded either. She was going to move to the next girl when Funmi pleaded with the other girl to let her stay.

“Thank you,” Ayo thanked the girl and smiled. She smiled back and that happened to be the best feeling since Ayo stepped foot into the school.

‘Could it be I’m beginning to like this school,’ she thought.

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