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Every junior boy loathed being flogged, as much as the senior boys relished flogging us. And every junior boy especially hated being flogged on the one place every senior boy loved to flog us – the buttocks. I only had to endure the pain of the cane thwacking down on my behind, and the indignation of sobbing from the ordeal in front of others up until my JSS2. Then I came up with a brilliant plan of evasion. It was so brilliant I didn’t even tell my friends; I feared they’d beat me to making use of it. I went home for the JSS2 second term holidays and returned for the third term armed with an iron-clad excuse. Senior Elvis, the then prep prefect was the first senior to order me to turn around so he could trash my behind for the offense of not staying put in my class during the afternoon prep. He’d nabbed me on my way to JSS3B from 3A. We were standing outside, in front of the two classrooms, in the full glare of the curious looks of my mates.
I stared unflinchingly at the prefect and said, “Senior, you can’t flog me on my bum-bum.”
“What?!” He was outraged. “Are you mad, c’mon turn around!” The cane towered in the air, menacing, threatening to start whipping at my entire body in that way it had when the senior boy wielding it didn’t have the patience to flog the buttocks. “I said, turn around!”
That brought him up short. A junior boy with a report that testified to a medical condition was a real threat to a senior boy, as real as a land mine to a careless foot. The incidence of how, in my JSS1, an anemic JSS3 boy fainted from the beating an SS3 boy was giving him, a crisis that resulted in the SS3 boy’s expulsion, was a story that was indelibly etched in the memory of the entire student body. Beware of the junior boy with a medical condition, were the words any pissed-off senior boy had to caution himself with.
“What do you mean you have a medical report?” Senior Elvis queried. His wariness was edging out his annoyance. “What is wrong with you?”
“During the holidays,” I explained, “I was sick, very sick, with a bone sickness. So my parents took me to a doctor who gave me injections on my bum-bum that worsened the situation. I’m still recovering from the sickness, but the doctor had to write a report banning any harsh treatment on my body, especially my bum-bum, because of the risk. And that includes flogging.”
The entire explanation was delivered with all the solemnity of an altar boy. It sounded so incredible that Senior Elvis clearly looked unconvinced.
“Oya now, where is the report? I want to see it.”
“It’s not with me, it’s with my guardian, Mr. Onwubiko.” Go and get it from him, I silently added.
He heard the silent remark, and his face hardened with displeasure. He didn’t believe me, but what could he do? Walk up to Mr. Onwubiko, the Vice Principal Academics himself, who was infamous for his intolerance of the excesses of senior boys, and ask for my medical report which stated that he had no right to beat me?
Yea, I don’t think so.
“Stretch out your hand,” he commanded tightly.
I did. And instantly became the first junior boy in the history of the school to be flogged where only junior girls were flogged – on the palm. Senior Elvis gave me ten strokes of his cane that day. They hurt, but not enough to bring tears to my eyes. My classmates gaped at us through the windows. The news spread fast amongst the students. Eze was flogged on the hand. Eze has a don’t-flog-me-on-the-nyash medical condition.
What was the condition exactly? No one knew. And I wasn’t telling.
If you want the facts of the case, simply go and ask my guardian, Mr. Onwubiko, for my medical report.
And so, on that JSS3 Thursday afternoon, at the start of groundwork, saw my friends and I, and a number of other junior boys about to be flogged by the Labour Prefect, Senior Adindu, for coming late to the car park, where everyone else was already gathered.
Joseph was the fourth boy to be flogged. He had taken to wearing khaki undershorts beneath his House knickers to weather the pain of caning. It worked for him. The SS3 boys were none the wiser.
I stepped forward and stretched out my hand, palm open. Senior Adindu’s lips tightened; he didn’t like what he had to do. None of them ever did. None of them also had the guts to face off Mr. Onwubiko.
Ibuka was next. The boy hated being flogged. He hated it so much he barely had the nerves to withstand it. He was already quivering and misty-eyed by the time he came to stand before Senior Adindu.
“Turn!” the prefect barked.
“S-s-senior pl-pl-please…” he begged. His voice wobbled with the advent of tears.
“I said, turn!” And the prefect lashed out. The whiplash caught Ibuka on his back, and he broke out into sobs.
“Senior, please! Senior, please!” he shrieked as he clutched at his back.
“Turn around, my friend!” Senior Adindu snarled, while hitting out with more strokes on his body.
Ibuka sobbed frantically, flailing with his arms as though to ward off the assault of the cane. One time, he actually caught the cane and held on to it. For a second. He released it when Senior Adindu’s slap streaked across his cheek. Finally, the prefect dismissed him, and whimpering, he walked over to where we stood. My heart sagged with the empathy I felt for him, and I rubbed his shoulder comfortingly as Joseph hugged him to his chest. Ebenezer began to snicker beside us, and I shot him a fulminating glare. He saw my look and his laugh choked to a stop. Groundwork commenced shortly after that.
The next day was Friday. The three of us had put the incidence of Thursday behind us as we walked to class that morning. We stopped in front of JSS3A to round up our conversation before Ibuka would go into his class, and Joseph and I would continue on to ours.
“Eze, Joe, see – those girls are laughing at me,” Ibuka suddenly said. He didn’t point, but his eyes slid surreptitiously to the side, a gesture we followed with our faces.
Gathered at one of the windows of his class were four of his classmates. Females. They were tittering and glancing at us. Clearly, one of us was the reason for their amusement.
“Maybe, it’s not you,” Joseph said. “Maybe it’s me or Eze . . .”
“Really?” Ibuka cut in with a tone that mixed asperity with misery. “Was it the two of you that were disgraced in public by Senior Adindu yesterday –”
“C’mon, Ibu, stop thinking about that –”
“How can I not? Can’t you see that everybody is laughing at me?”
“Not everybody, it’s just those stupid girls –”
“And that is supposed to be better? God knows what they have been saying with my name in their hostels. . .” He shuddered and began to tear up.
He was right to feel horror at the notion of being talked about by girls. The only way a boy wanted girls to talk about him was with admiration, not scorn.
“Ibu, don’t cry. They are still watching – don’t cry,” I cautioned.
His tears vanished.
“Don’t mind them, you hear?” Joseph said consolingly. “They are just stupid girls, busybody girls who don’t have anything better to –”
He was cut off by an especial loud gale of laughter. His face tightened with annoyance. We turned to look. It was Nkoli Anaekwena who was laughing. A stringy-looking girl with low-cut hair and inordinately big lips that would have been seen as pouty if she was not so unattractive. Joseph despised unattractive girls. He especially despised them when they did things to irritate him. And Nkoli’s loud, mocking laugh was a real irritation.
“Joe, forget her –” I began.
But I was too late. He had already stomped off to the class. Ibuka and I hurried after him, unsure what to do. To dissuade him from causing a scene with Nkoli and her friends. Or let him give the girl the tongue-lashing – and the threat of a slap – she deserved. Nothing cooled a girl’s defiance faster than a bigger boy threatening to slap her.
“Can you please tell me why you are laughing like an idiot, eh Nkoli?” he spat the moment he walked into the classroom, on his way to the corner where the four girls were. There were a few other students already in the room, and with a jolt, I saw that Anulika and her friend, Amaka were also inside, conversing with Chibuzo, Amaka’s twin brother and class captain of JSS3A.
“Can you just tell me why this early morning, you’re already laughing as if somebody is fingering you!”
Nkoli appeared to cringe from the innuendo in Joseph’s angry delivery. The other three girls gasped in shock. And the attention of the entire class was turned to us.
“How is it your concern what I’m laughing about?” Nkoli recovered enough to retort. She placed her arms akimbo and stuck her chin out. “If it’s paining you that I’m so happy this morning, find transformer and go and hug, you hear?”
“It is you who will hug transformer! In fact, I will personally take you to the one in staff quarters and marry you to it if you don’t respect yourself!” He bunched his fists and took a threatening step forward. The scowl on his face was nasty.
Nkoli retreated one step back, her pique faltering. “See me see trouble o,” she wailed, as though addressing the class. “Will I not laugh again simply because Joseph Amuluche does not want me to laugh?”
“Not when you are laughing at my friend. For godssake, what happened yesterday during groundwork has passed. Find something else to gossip about.”
“And what makes you think,” one of the other three girls interjected as she rose to her feet, “that we are laughing at him because of what happened yesterday?” Her arms were crossed and her attitude taunting.
“What? What other lie have you been spreading about him?” I snapped, feeling my hackles rise.
“It’s not a lie when it’s confirmed that your friend is a poto-poto,” sneered Nkoli.
“I’m a what?!” Ibuka spluttered. “Look at who’s talking – skelewiwa like you!”
“Eh-eh, eh-eh!” Nkoli rounded on him, waving a hand at him. “Don’t just come here and open your mouth at me anyhow, yeye boy that doesn’t even know how to be a man!”
“What!” Ibuka, Joseph and I thundered at once.
“Yes nau! We know everything!” she crowed with malicious delight. “About how in JSS2, common kiss you could not kiss, and on top of that, you now come and pollute the air.”
The shocked silence that descended in the room in the wake of that remark was broken only by the stifled sniggers of Nkoli’s friends. The three of us stared incredulously at Nkoli, before turning to look at each other. Ibuka looked crestfallen, as though he wanted desperately for the ground on which he stood to split open and gobble him up.
“Nkoli, who told you that?”
It took a moment for me to realize that the quietly-uttered question had come from Amaka. She’d moved away from Anulika and Chibuzo to stand beside Ibuka, staring at Nkoli with an expression that was icy.
Only Joseph, Ibuka and I knew about the fiasco that was Ibuka’s first kiss, I thought. The three of us and–
“China, of course,” Nkoli announced, gesturing to the classroom door as she spoke.
We turned to see the person whose figure had shadowed the doorway. Ine Johnarry aka China, the girl who shared that disastrous first kiss with Ibuka.[Read Eze Goes To School (Episodes 24 AND Episode 25) for the story of Ibuka’s first kiss]
Realizing that all eyes were on her, she gave a start, and slid a quick look at Nkoli. The other girl’s shrug communicated what had transpired to her and her face tightened with guilt and annoyance.
“So after everything we agreed on, China,” Amaka began as she moved toward Ine, “after you told me what happened between you and Ibuka, and I told you to keep it to yourself, you still went ahead and gossiped it to other people, eh?”
Ine pulled herself together and raised her chin a fraction of an inch. A defensive posture. “It’s none of your business who I say anything to, Amaka.”
“But it is my business!” Ibuka flared. Rage and mortification hummed through every line of his quivering body as he glared at the girl. “How could you do this to me, you wicked girl! How–”
“Ibuka, wait first,” Amaka interrupted, signaling him to silence. She continued coolly at Ine, “I know it’s none of my business. Just as it’s none of my business to tell anyone how you urinated on Anulika’s bed the night you spent in our dormitory.”
This time around, there were no sounds of amusement to break the silence. The stupefaction eclipsed everyone, momentarily robbing us of speech and sound.
Ine glared at Amaka, angry tears sparkling in her eyes, and then she hissed, “That was a long time ago in our JSS1, Amaka.”
“Actually, China,” Amaka rejoined, “I was talking about the one you urinated on her bed last week.”
The snort shot out from my mouth like the jerky ignition of a faulty car. This was rich! Ine Johnarry’s reputation as an upcoming big girl was finished. It was one thing to pee on your bed in JSS1. It was something most JSS1s did anyway. It was an entirely different thing to still be a bed-wetter in JSS3. Ibuka may live the rest of his life in this school as the boy who farted while kissing a girl, but this – oh, this would be talked about for ages to come.
And Ine seemed to know this, because her pretty face crumpled with misery. Beads of tears leaked from her small eyes which she stabbed hatefully at Amaka before she turned and fled from the class, her choked sobs resonating after her.
“Amaka, you’re just a wicked girl!” Nkoli began shrilly immediately Ine disappeared from sight. “Just look at what you did to your fellow girl, can you imagine what –!”
“It is enough for you!” Amaka rounded on her. “You hear me? Enough biko! What is it? Before you start running that your big mouth at me, better know that I have your story here!” She slapped her right palm on her left repeatedly. “You hear me? Right here! So if you talk pim! I’ll just finish you here, mkpishi aziza like you!”
Nkoli quailed before the girl’s wrath, looking suitably chastised.
In that moment, Amaka Nwogu became my hero. I watched her with admiration as she signaled Anulika, and the two girls walked out of the classroom.
“I thought you and Amaka don’t like each other,” I said as the three of us came together, surrounded by the reawakened hubbub of the class. Ibuka found Amaka exasperating and quarrelsome, and she was always vocal about her opinion of him as an annoying know-it-all. Whenever my friends and I got together with Anulika and her friends, the two of them hardly ever saw eye-to-eye.
“Me too,” Ibuka answered, a contemplative expression on his face. “But now, I think I like her. . .”
“Who wouldn’t?” Joseph said with a laugh. “After how she shamed these busybodies, me sef, I like her too.”
It took awhile for the dust kicked up that Friday morning to settle. In the following week, JSS3 students walked past Ine, whispered, pointed and laughed. They also whispered about and laughed at Ibuka. No one pointed though, not ever since Joseph snatched at Ebenezer’s forefinger and very nearly snapped its bone in the fight that ensued. Nkoli kept at her derision of Ibuka until he snapped at her, one afternoon, that Amaka had told him all she knew about her, and threatened her with the exposure of her secrets if she didn’t stop harassing him with her snide laughter and taunting side-talk. Nkoli’s mirth fled and her big lips tightened shut – forever. Ibuka also confided in us the probable reason for Ine’s spiteful act; earlier on, she’d approached him and bravely propositioned him to be her boyfriend. But Ibuka being the kind of boy he was – into his books and not-so into girls – turned her down. And hell then hath no fury like a female scorned.
Ibuka and Amaka however became friends. And the sneering whispers endured for a while. It all even had our attention for awhile, until something happened, something grievous which threatened to break our three-year friendship in a way no other circumstance had ever done.
TO BE CONTINUED. (And yes, I know what I just did there 😀 )
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