Foreword: I would like to use this medium to introduce a new series I’ll be updating on My Mind Snaps. It’s called The Housewives’ Tales, written by a good friend of mine, a housewife herself, who has decided to maintain her anonymity by using the pseudonym ‘Adaku J.’ The first episode will debut on Wednesday. It’s witty and funny, and I’m sure y’all will love it.
Now, on to today’s story. . .
Joseph sneezed violently into the palms he cupped over his face, and his body shuddered on the bed where he sat, tucked in.
“Bless you,” I said automatically.
“Chei,” he groaned with a sniffle. “They don dey call me for my village o.”
I chuckled. “Don’t worry, sicky-sicky, this is just for awhile. You will soon get well.”
He lay back on his bed, pulling the bedcovers up around his body. He looked at me with bleary eyes as he said, “See me now, ehn? See me dey sick fever, cough and catarrh, starting when? I don’t get sick at all. Which kain devil dey winch me like this nau?”
He was right. This was the first time I was seeing Joseph as an invalid since I got to know him nearly three years ago. The boy was always the picture of health and exuberance, rock solid support for Ibuka and I during the times we fell ill. It was his turn now, and he made a very terrible sick person. He complained and whined, and grimaced at his medicine, and spat the pills out if they didn’t wash down his throat properly with water, and sulked at the school clinic, and made a fuss of everything, and complained some more.
But he was our friend, and so Ibuka and I endured his tantrums and secretly beseeched God to make him get well soon.
“Are you sure it’s the devil that is winching you?” I asked with a smirk.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it has been three days since Nkeiru told you she’s your secret admirer and kissed you. And you haven’t given her any reply. And my mother used to say that the chi of females is stronger than that of men. So perhaps her chi is striking you down until you agree for her.”
“That is such nonsense.”
“I know, but isn’t it more interesting than the story of devil winching you?” I was grinning very widely now.
“Idiot,” Joseph returned with a small smile.
Just then, Ibuka bustled inside the dormitory; he’d gone on an errand for Senior Chidiogo to another dormitory. He looked in the direction of the prefect’s cubicle, and when he saw that it was padlocked – a clear sign that Senior Chidiogo wasn’t around – he walked over to us. His eyes were bright, and he had that hurried air of someone who had something salacious to tell.
“You won’t believe what I heard,” he began, darting a meaningful look my way.
“Yes, I don’t already believe it,” Joseph said around another sneeze. “Ibu is now gossiping – that is truly unbelievable.”
I started laughing as Ibuka snapped, “Shut up joor! This is not gossip I’m about to tell you. I heard it live and direct from the two people talking about it.” Again, he flicked a glance in my direction.
“Why are you now looking at me?” I said.
“Because it concerns you somehow. The boys that I overheard are Matthias and Leke, and they were talking about Anulika.”
I felt something twist inside me, and my mood soured a bit. The displeasure must have been evident on my face, because Ibuka added hurriedly, “Hold on, hold on, before you bite me, you should just know that what I overheard is good news, very good news.” He beamed.
“How is it good –” Joseph’s voice trailed off as he was suddenly forced to take a deep breath, followed a moment later by another violent sneeze.
Ibuka recoiled from him, and scowled. “For chrissakes, Joe, cover your mouth when you are sneezing nau. Do you know how many bacteria you just rendered homeless, which will now be looking for where to perch and who to pass your germs on to?”
“I hope it’s you they’ll first catch,” Joseph growled.
Ibuka opened his mouth to snap a rejoinder, and I cut in, “Ehen? So the good news…”
He blinked, refocused and said, “Ah yes, so as you know nau, I went to Dorm 5 to give Senior Ebube the trouser Senior Chidiogo said I should give to him. And through the closed door connecting Dorm 5 and Dorm 6, I could hear Matthias and Leke discussing in Dorm 6.”
“Wait, Matthias and Leke are now friends again?” Joseph asked.
I answered in the affirmative as Ibuka nodded. I’d noticed the rekindling of the friendship in the past few days; they’d started going for meal times and prep together. They were both in the same class, and one time, when I went to return a textbook to someone in JSS3E, I saw them both huddled in a seat, bantering and looking very chummy. Matthias was no longer my problem; if he’d decided to get back together with that selfish jerk, Leke Idowu, then it was his business.
“So they were talking about Anulika,” Ibuka continued with his gist, “or rather, Matthias was doing most of the talking. He was complaining about how since he and Anulika started going out, she has not kissed him.”
“What?” Joseph interjected.
“I know, right?” Ibuka enthused. “Siiiiiiince” – he snapped his right thumb against the middle finger to emphasize the word – “that she has not even pecked him. Common peck. That anytime she hugs him, it is usually this kind of hug…em, er…” He snapped his fingers again as he tried to pluck the word he wanted from his mind.
“You mean, mary-amaka hug,” I suggested, my lips twitching with amusement.
“No, it’s Agape hug,” Joseph said with a grin.
“Exactly,” Ibuka said, “as though she is his sister in the Lord.” There was a momentary outburst of laughter from the three of us, before Ibuka carried on, “So, he said the whole thing is frustrating him. Leke asked him whether he thought she was cheating on him with someone else. Matthias asked who. Leke said Eze. Matthias laughed and said it can’t be possible. That you may like Anulika very much, but she doesn’t like you like that.”
“Bastard!” Joseph hissed.
I nodded in agreement, while I stood there, steeling myself against the sting of that remark.
“Anyway, they were still talking, and I was waiting for Senior Ebube. And that was when he entered the dorm and I had to go and see him to give him the trouser. And then I came back.”
“That guy is just a bloody fool,” Joseph fumed.
“I know, right?” Ibuka concurred. “The mumu boy is busy mocking Eze about how Anulika doesn’t like him very much, and in the same breath, he’s complaining about how she won’t kiss him.”
“Imagine the irony,” I said. “And he doesn’t even see it. Idiot!”
Just then, the doorway of the dormitory was darkened as someone walked in. We turned to look into the beady eyes of Callistus Onuchukwu. The SS3 boy was a tall, skinny person with a tangled patch of hair that didn’t seem to respond well to the taming of a comb, a perpetual scrawny look about him, and a vicious personality. He was one of those boys that never seemed to be organized or well-put-together, whether with his belongings and affairs in the hostel or with his studies in class. He was always either wheedling for a favour from one of his mates or begging off a debt from an irate another. And his constant penury was puzzling because rumour had it that he came from a well-to-do family. His lack of proper management of his welfare earned him the derogatory nickname ‘Planleh’ from his mates, an abbreviation of the school slang ‘planless’*. Only his mates could call him that. The day a Unity House JSS3 boy called him ‘Senior Planleh’, the slap the senior boy gave him bore enough power to unlock the boy’s urinary muscles.
“Eze,” he called as he walked in, “open your locker.”
I stiffened. The only time a senior boy gave that order to a junior boy was when he wanted something, something he knew the junior boy had and wouldn’t give out willingly, and he didn’t want to bother with fielding the boy’s excuses.
“Just open your locker,” he commanded again, gesturing to my closet. “I want something to eat, and Leke told me you just came back from your guardian’s place with provisions yesterday. So open up.”
At that, I felt a flash of anger that was so intense that I knew if I set my eyes on Leke Idowu in that moment, I could do him serious bodily harm. I glimpsed my fulminating expression duplicated on Ibuka’s and Joseph’s faces.
“Oya nau!” Senior Callistus urged.
I slouched over to my closet and unlocked it, and for the next few minutes, I endured the sight of the senior boy poring through the provisions I brought back with me from my guardian’s place yesterday. He tipped a generous amount of cornflakes in a bowl, topped it off with some milk and milo, and sprinkled granulated sugar on the pile. As he raided me, he chattered on, as though we were having a friendly encounter, and the stony look I had on wasn’t one that masked the unspoken curses I was heaping on him and his future offspring, to the fourth and fifth generations. My anger did a slow burn in my heart as I roped into my condemnation Leke and his generations as well.
The ordeal ended soon enough, and Senior Callistus sauntered out of the room, humming a self-satisfied tune to himself. His Saturday brunch was ready and I was the generous benefactor.
“You know what I’m always praying for?” Ibuka said as we watched him walk across the quadrangle to his dormitory on the other side. “I always pray that when SS2s attack SS3s during their Senior WAEC, that they will get Planleh and beat waka and shege out of his body.”
“Sometimes I wish we’ll still be in school when they are writing their exams,” Joseph said, the venom in his words undisguised by his pitiful sniffles. “I’ll just locate him on their final night, when he’s sleeping, wire him one dirty slap, and then run.”
For some reason, the last part of his words called up a comical image in my mind of him tearing through the hostel in a run from the crime of slapping an SS3 boy. And I chuckled. My mirth was contagious, and soon, we were sharing a laugh at the absurdity of Joseph’s yen.
The bell for the Saturday lunchtime tolled a few minutes later. After reassuring Joseph that we’d try to smuggle something out for him, Ibuka and I set off for the dining hall. Lunch went by without much hassle. There were no prefects on duty; the only senior person in charge was Raphael, the SS2 boy aspiring to take over Senior Ogbonna’s charge as the dining hall captain. And all Raphael cared about was for lunch to be an orderly affair. He didn’t unduly harass anyone or monitor the end of the mealtime for food smugglers. As such, we left the dining hall with Ibuka clasping a covered dish of garri and okra soup. The meat was stashed away inside my pocket. That was the only part of smuggled food that SS3 boys liked to greedily confiscate whenever they pounced on a smuggler and discovered that the food wasn’t meant for a fellow senior boy.
“EZE!” someone roared my name the moment we walked past our hostel gate into the compound. It wasn’t a friendly call, and my heartbeat went into overdrive as I turned to face Senior Callistus making a beeline across the courtyard for me. His face was set, his lips pursed, and his beady eyes glittered with malevolence.
“Eze, c’mere!” he growled, gesturing me toward him as he continued coming forward. “You this bastard, comon will you come here!”
“Senior, please, what did I do?” I said as I drew back with halting steps.
“I said, come here! And you’re going back! You wan make thunder faya you, abi?”
He was before me in an instant, and his open right palm struck my face. My ears buzzed, and a canopy of stars on a dark blanket exploded before my eyes as I staggered back. He yanked me forward, his left hand grasping my collar, and he slapped me again. My face burned and my eyes started smarting.
“Planleh!” a loud voice barked. “Planleh!” Senior Callistus got off another slap before someone tackled him and pulled me away from him. Through the unshed tears that were blinding me, I saw Senior Donald (remember the senior who saved me from drowning?) shoving Senior Callistus away and parrying his blows as he tried to break away from his interference.
“You wan kill am?” Senior Donald was saying. “Ah-ah, Planleh, wetin dey do you?”
“Yes!” Senior Callistus seethed. “Leave me, I wan kill the boy, make I kill am before him go first kill me!” He expelled a quick breath and relaxed from his aggression.
Senior Donald released him, but still maintained his guarded stance between him and I. “What do you mean?” he queried.
“This bastard” – Senior Callistus jabbed a finger at me – “I collected sharks* from the boy – cornflakes, milk, milo and sugar. Only say, the sugar is not even sugar. It was all this grind-grind one, and so I thought it was sugar, but it wasn’t.”
Instant realization dawned on me, and I shut my eyes briefly against the spark of amusement that threatened to light its way through the pain, anger and humiliation I felt. Oh karma, I thought, straightening my lips against a smirk.
“What do you mean it wasn’t sugar?”
“It wasn’t sugar, because it was detergent!” Senior Callistus exploded, and turned his angry gaze to me to catch me fighting to keep my face straight. “He’s laughing! Can you imagine, the bastard is even laughing!” He lunged forward. I shrank back. And Senior Donald caught hold of him again.
He was chuckling. “Planleh, relax.” Then he turned his face to me and said sternly, “Eze, did you know you were giving Callistus detergent instead of sugar? Don’t lie to me.”
“I swear, senior, I didn’t –”
“Liar!” the other SS3 boy barked.
“I’m not lying, I swear!” I objected. “True to God!” I touched my forefinger to my tongue and pointed it heavenward, a solemn invitation to the divine beings above to act as my witness. “I didn’t know – remember. When Senior Callistus was taking my provision, I didn’t remember that I’d forgotten to take sugar from my bag in my guardian’s house. I had mistakenly taken the detergent, and realized my mistake in the evening when I came back. But then I forgot to tell him that.”
“Your papa there!” Senior Callistus snarled. “You forgot to tell me, abi? You wan make I chop die! Na you go die first, goat!”
I stared hatefully and silently back at him.
Several moments passed as Senior Donald entreated him to calm down and let me be. Then he asked him to join him in his cubicle and share his lunch with him. Only then did Senior Callistus crack a smile; he wagged a warning finger at me, and sauntered out of the premises with Senior Donald.
“Eze, are you alright?” Ibuka’s gently uttered query brought my focus around to him. He’d been standing by the entire time, covered dish in his hands, helplessly watching my ordeal.
“I’m fine,” I muttered.
And then I heard giggles. I looked. Ibuka looked too. Five JSS3 hostel-mates were enjoying a private joke on the pavement a good distance away from us. Leke and Matthias were among them, and Leke was miming a slap on one of the other boys. They were clearly relishing my encounter with Senior Callistus.
I felt a blast of cold fury, and my fists tightened. I took a step forward.
“Don’t, Eze.” Ibuka’s quiet words stopped me in my tracks. “Don’t start a fight, please.”
“But he started all this,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, but let them be.” He rubbed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Let’s walk away. Joe is waiting for his food.”
I shot them one last venomous glare, before walking off toward our dormitory with Ibuka.
The night over the borehole was warm, humid and smelled like cut grass. The environment around the landmark was filled with boys chattering and fetching water and getting their laundry done. Joseph was back in the hostel, huddled under bedcovers and shivering out another bout of fever. And so, it was just Ibuka and I at the borehole, washing and exchanging snippets of gossip and conversation with Chibunna and his gang beside us.
“If it’s me ehn – wallai, it will be me and Leke putting leg inside one trouser,” Benson was fuming. “What kind of wickedness is that one nah? Telling an SS3 boy which junior boy has provision or not.”
“The boy is not only stingy and selfish,” interjected Echezona, “he’s also a betrayer.”
“He should keep doing o,” Chibunna said. “Shebi, it’s because Senior Olumide is around, and is using the fact that they are both Yoruba to protect him.”
“Leave am nau,” I cut in. “Is it not just this term? Next term, Senior Olumide would have graduated. My welcome-to-SS1 greeting for him will be a sound slap.”
“Tell me when you sounding him that slap,” said Benson, “so I’ll konk him one hot one on that his mango head.”
There was a smattering of laughter at that. I’d bent to lather my shirt with more soap when Chibunna said, “Speak of the devil…”
We turned and saw Leke and Matthias approaching the borehole, their buckets swinging in their hands. It wasn’t long before they noticed us, and Leke’s expression, when he looked at me, became a sneer. He started to veer away from the direction he was headed, shook away the detaining hand Matthias placed on him and came to stand before us.
“Eze, how is your face, after all the kpokpo that Planleh gave to you this afternoon?” he jeered.
I started a slow count to ten, preferring to ignore him as I dipped my shirt inside my rinsing water.
“Leke,” Ibuka began quietly, “now will be the time for you to walk away to avoid trouble.”
“Avoid which trouble?” Leke spat at him. “You people are the ones that started this trouble. You think I’ve forgotten about those soldier ants you put inside my locker? I’ve not started making trouble for you yet. This is just the beginning.”
“So you think it’s nice to go and be betraying your mates to senior boys, eh?” Echezona snapped.
“This is none of your business, Echezona,” Leke shot back dismissively.
“It is very much our business,” Benson heaved, dropping the laundry in his hands and straightening to his full height. “Now get out of here, before I’ll do something you won’t like.”
Leke stared at him, as though he had never seen a more annoying gnat. Then he started to turn away, pausing just long enough to give what he intended to be a parting shot. “If only Anulika will stop being a bitch and give Matthias what he wants, then my satisfaction will be complete.”
I stiffened and shot upright from my rinsing. “What did you say?” I hissed.
Leke stopped and faced me again. “I said Anulika is a bitch.”
I looked at Ibuka. He gave me a fractional nod. Then I turned back to Leke. I made myself wait until I was certain of what I wished to do. Then, quite slowly and deliberately, I took three steps forward and slapped him hard across the face.
There was a sharp crack; a jolt ran through my arm as my wet palm met his cheek. He reeled backward, eyes shocked, mouth open. Then his shock was short-circuited to fury, and with a snarling cry, he tossed his bucket aside and lunged at me.
I was ready for him, waiting with three years worth of watching Joseph fight. I hunched my body and leaped in at him, ducking the wild swing of his hand, and sweeping an uppercut to his chin. The blow connected, and his dentition was smashed together in an audible grinding sound. He grappled at my shirt as I tried to back away. I fought back.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” The chant broke out as most of the boys in the area immediately converged around us.
We grunted as we took handfuls of each other’s clothing and attempted to wrestle the other to the ground. I lifted a hand to Leke’s face, hooking my fingers into the skin and clamping down. He shoved at my neck and attempted to gain a choke-hold. I twisted my head around to break that hold. Then he released a hand-hold and used it to start jabbing me in the ribs. I quickly released both my hands and grabbed his head, bringing his face down sharply onto my bent knee. He gave a guttural shriek as his nose smashed against my knee, breaking and squirting blood, and he staggered backwards.
“God! Eze – blood!” somebody – Ibuka, perhaps – gasped.
But I was past hearing. I went after him, my hands springing out and grabbing at the center of his shirt, and I tugged him toward me. He slapped at my hands, and swiped a clawed fist across my face. That burned. I pivoted to my left, tripping him, and causing him to fall to the ground, down on a nearby puddle, sending water everywhere. His head landed with a crack on the ground and he lay still.
“Fight! Fight . . . fight. . .” The chant faltered to a stop, the words winnowing away by an uncertain dread, one that was translated into words when someone asked haltingly, “Is he dead?”
Eyes swiveled around, countenances silently denied any involvement, and a few persons began to detach themselves from the crowd.
“Oh my God, you don kill am?” someone else asked. Somehow, the statement was a question, a declaration and an accusation all at the same time.
I felt as though an icy hand had suddenly clutched my heart and stilled its beating. Fear held me speechless and rooted at the spot, and I spared Ibuka a quick glance before I turned back to Leke’s supine body. I could only wait in breathless terror for something – anything – to happen.
And then a spluttering cough erupted from Leke moments before he began to sit up.
Relief coursed through me, and I expelled a thready sigh. Someone in the crowd hollered, “Thank God.”
Leke’s eyes snapped open, and they were still angry. The ugly expression was still in place, as though he had never lost consciousness. He looked up at me and snarled, “You!” before struggling to get to his feet. “Come here…I’ll finish – you…”
Mocking laughter broke out amongst the spectators.”Look at this one o…”
“Come, e never do for you…?”
“E be like say him don go hell come back, him wan make Eze send am go heaven…”
Matthias came for his friend, helped him to his feet and led him, amidst his angry bluster, away to the borehole. I turned back to my company, still feeling the realization of what could have been quaking through me. I was cold. I was shaking. Ibuka drew me into an embrace, and the chills lessened.
And then he murmured against my ear in a voice that bore an amused undertone, “Joseph will be very proud of you, my good friend. He has raised you well.”
And I welcomed the release that my answering laugh gave me.
Planless – derogatory school slang for those who are constantly without any means or are disorganized
Sharks – school slang for provisions you mix with milk, milo and sugar
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