FOREWORD: Some time ago, last year, it came to my attention that someone was lifting episodes of Eze Goes To School and updating them on his Facebook page, taking the credit of the writer of the story. There was a lot of furor that came when I made my knowledge public on the social media, and the culprit had to give an apology for his indiscretion. Whether he continued his plagiarism of my work or not, I do not know. But I didn’t let that dissuade me from continuing with the telling of the adventures of Eze and his friends.
Until last week, when another friend made me aware of the fact that someone else was committing the exact same crime, updating episodes of Eze Goes To School on his – where else? – Facebook Timeline. I was rattled by this repetition. And it made me wonder if there were others like these two, who haven’t been discovered, who were taking the credit for this work on other forums I do not know of. As at last week, I made up my mind to stop publishing any more episodes of the series. I’d actually vowed that last week’s episode would be the last, until I realized that I left a cliffhanger with that last episode. And then I amended my resolution to be that I would sort out that cliffhanger, and that would be it.
But then, I got an email from a reader of the series, who argued all the merits of my continuation. This person’s argument was witty, it made me laugh, and it weakened my resolve. But taking into cognizance the recent incidence, I still maintain that the end is near for the boys of the secondary school, just not as swiftly as I’d planned. In a few more episodes, I will carry us along until the end of their Junior WAEC exams, and that will be it. I will then concentrate on doing what everyone I know has been telling me to do for so long, finishing the story in a book.
I thank everyone who has remained loyal and an avid reader of this series. It is your dedication that has kept me writing for so long. This appreciation is premature, I know, and I will repeat it again when I’m done. But it just goes to show how much I value your readership.
Thanks again. And now, for today’s feature episode…
A quick moment elapsed, just a handful of seconds, before the night was shattered by a new, unfamiliar and earsplitting sound – the menacing bang of a gun.
I jumped in my bed.
Ibuka drew in a sharp, hissing breath.
And pandemonium broke loose in No Man’s Land. As all of us in our dormitory scrambled up from our beds and rushed to the windows facing Dignity House to see what this frightful new development was about, the SS3 boys were shoving at each other in their frantic bid to jump through the bar-less windows. There were other figures we could make out struggling to grab hold of some of the senior students, and those SS3s fought viciously back. Some broke loose from their captors’ holds and joined their mates to dive through the windows. Their bodies tumbled to the grassy ground of the backyard, some on top of the others. There were grunts of pain as they dropped, but no one stopped to investigate his body for possible injuries from the fall. They simply picked themselves back up and scattered in a run in different directions.
“Oh my God!” Joseph gasped. “What was that?!”
“Somebody fired a gun in our school – Chineke mie!” some other boy hollered.
“What if it’s armed robbers?”
“Don’t be silly, we are just students! What will armed robbers come to steal!”
“What should we do – what should we do…!”
“Let us run o! Before they leave Dignity House and come to Peace House…!”
“Run to where, you dey craze?!”
The alarm and confusion was fast hiking up the temperatures in the room.
Just then, our door banged open, and we jumped, some boys giving off startled shrieks. The person who stood in the doorway, illuminated by the moonlight streaming in from outside, was Senior Boma. He was panting loudly and his manner was urgent as he made a beeline for one of the windows to peer out quickly at Dignity House.
“Senior Boma, are you alright?” somebody enquired.
“Eseosa, put on your rechargeable, let’s help hi–”
“Don’t you dare put on any light!” he cut in sharply. His head had swung back around to face us, and his expression was manic. “In fact, everybody, get into your beds immediately! Now!”
That last bark propelled us into action, and we scurried back to our beds. Ibuka was about to climb in beside me, when the senior boy said, “Ibuka, is that your bed?”
“No, senior, but –”
“I said, get into your bed before I whooze you a dirty slap!”
Whimpering, Ibuka lifted himself up to the top, and the bunk creaked as he settled on his bedclothes.
“Eze, shift.” I looked up, surprised, at Senior Boma, who had come up to my side and was already getting in the bed beside me. I moved to make some room for him. As he stretched out on the bed, my breathing was drenched with the tangy smell of his sweat and fear. “Look,” he began again in a loud voice as he addressed the room, “if anybody comes inside here and wakes any of you to ask you if any SS3 boy entered this dorm, better say no. I’m not here. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, senior.” The chorused answer came out in a mumble.
“Good. Now, all of you, go to sleep.”
Fat chance of that happening, I thought, resenting the intrusion of the sweat-slick, muscly body. But aloud, I said in a whisper, “Senior Boma…”
I waited, and just when I thought he wasn’t going to answer me, he muttered, “Eze, what is it?”
“Senior, I just wanted to know – I was just wondering if you can tell me what happened in No Man–erm, that Dignity House dormitory. Who are the people that fired that gun?”
For another quick moment, he said nothing in response, merely kept breathing deeply, his chest lifting and falling behind me with each respiration. I could feel Joseph straining to listen in from his bunk. My bunk juddered again as Ibuka moved on his bed.
Senior Boma said then in a low, snarling tone, “Ibuka, if you shake this bunk again, I will come up there and slap sleep into your body.”
“Sorry, senior,” Ibuka murmured with faint insolence.
Then the senior boy began talking to me. “It all happened very fast, I did not recognize them. But there were about six of them. They were big guys, cultists, I think, from the university.” There was a state university situated on the other side of the town’s suburbia, away from our school. “Yesterday, we heard from a reliable source that one of the SS2 day students in whose house most of his mates were staying had connections with a cult group in the university, and that he was making contact with them to come and retaliate against us. But that yesterday, we had not caught Skinner yet, and we were determined to catch him before stopping what we were doing.”
“And so, these guys could be the cultists nau,” I asked.
“And they have guns, which means they can kill if possible.” My heart was pounding at the notion of death in the school.
Senior Boma seemed to sense my mounting agitation, because he lifted one of his brawny hands to pat me reassuringly on my arm. “Relax, Eze, I don’t think they want to kill anybody. Otherwise, they would have shot at and killed most of us back in Dignity House. I think they just want to capture us, take us back to their side and do to us what we’ve been doing to the SS2s.”
You mean, beat the hell out of you wicked SS3s, I thought acidly. Tit for tat, it would serve you people right.
We lay there in tense silence, as I wracked my head for something else to ask. Outside, the night stretched on, strangely without any more noise. There were no sounds or disturbance coming from Dignity House. It was as though nothing had happened, as though we hadn’t heard the banging report of a gunshot. Where once there had been the din of loud, unrestrained anger and commotion, there was now stillness, as though the night was waiting, with bated breath, for whatever tumultuous ripples that was yet to come. The atmosphere had become so noiseless that I could even hear the faint hoot of an owl from the darkness outside.
“Maybe, they have gone,” I ventured in a whisper.
Senior Boma did not respond. His chest continued to rise and fall in deep breathing behind me. Then he stiffened, arched his head up from the pillow and hissed, “No, they’re still here.”
I saw Joseph lift his head up from the pillow to see what had caught the senior boy’s attention. From where I lay, I could see what he’d seen – the bobbing of several beams of fluorescent lights outside in the Peace House quadrangle. The rays splintered and spilled into our dormitory through the sides of the door and windows facing the pavement. I could also hear the slight thud of footfalls – a chorus of them. It wasn’t a person who had just entered the hostel; it was a group of people.
Senior Boma had tensed, and his next utterance to the room came out in a snarl. “Like I said before, no SS3 boy entered this dorm, you hear? Anybody wey koba me for here go regret the day when them born am.” Perhaps, that threat would have wielded a lot more ominousness if his voice hadn’t quavered so much as he said the words.
He promptly stretched out by my side, trying to shrink his reasonably larger form by curling up against my back. Moments after this, the door of our dormitory was kicked open. My heart jumped at the forceful sound, and fear spasmed in the pit of my belly as footsteps thudded into the room. My eyes were tightly shut, but I could still sense the lights from the torches playing about in the room and over our still bodies.
“Na just junior boys dey hia!” a very male, low-timbred voice growled.
“No think so o,” another voice, just as baleful as the first, countered. “These SS3 boys, them think say they sharp.”
“Many of them go don run go junior hostel,” a third growl rumbled. “Na dia we suppose pursue them go.”
I could feel Senior Boma’s tautened body begin to relax. The reason for his relief was apparent. If these cultists believed their quarries had fled to the junior hostels, a supposition I suspected was correct, then they would soon leave without nabbing him. Secondly, they were strangers to this school; that meant they weren’t familiar with the identities of the students they were hunting.
“No!” the second voice said insistently. “We plenty, we go just share ourselves. Some of us go dey go junior hostel. Others go search all these senior hostels well-well. Wia that boy dey sef – Badmus!”
My breath caught. Senior Boma tensed again. And I knew what I’d instantly thought at the call of that name was right. Badmus Nnorom was a day student in SS2, and he was close friends with Skinner. Wherever you saw Skinner’s shiny, barbered pate during school hours, you were bound to see Badmus’ distinctly sharp-featured face not very far behind. The two were peas in a pod, and there was already talk that Badmus intended to start boarding – in Skinner’s dormitory, of course – when the SS2s ascended into power. I suspected he was the day student Senior Boma had mentioned earlier, the person who had ties with the cultists from the university. If he was here with them, then Senior Boma was in danger of being identified.
“Where you dey since?” that second voice snarled.
By now, I’d figured the owner was some sort of gang authority. Overcome by curiosity, I pried my eyelids a little open, a mere inch really, enough to take in the figures hulking about in our room, slightly illuminated by the torchlight. I counted four of them, including Badmus, who was standing before one of the other males. But from the lights flashing about outside on the pavement, I knew there were a lot of them out there.
The cultist was still talking, “Oya, come make we look these boys wey dey sleep – abi them dey form say them dey sleep, make we know whether any of your people dey among them.”
At this time, I thought I could feel the rataplan of Senior Boma’s heartbeat, banging against my back. His body had turned slicker than it was before, as a fresh sheen of cold sweat popped up on his skin, drenching the parts of my body he was pressed up against. His fear was contagious. My heart was hammering as well, and my throat suddenly felt very dry. When I swallowed, I found a lump my saliva could barely navigate through. And I drew in breath with a startling, ragged sound, one that appeared to resonate slightly in the relative stillness of the dormitory.
They heard it.
I saw their lights swinging in my direction and I quickly snapped my eyes shut again. The sensation of the beam falling on me filled my body with a numbness. I began to say a frantic, silent prayer for Senior Boma. I didn’t like the senior boy very much; he was a bully and the most mean-spirited SS3 boy in our dormitory. But then, I didn’t care for these intruders. I didn’t like that they had a gun, and that they’d had the effrontery to barge into our school, underscoring our helplessness.
The lights came closer. I could hear the steps moving nearer to my bed. I felt the beam rest on my face. Pinpoints of light scattered all over the darkness that faced me behind my closed eyelids. I tried to relax, to make my faux slumber appear more natural, but my muscles were too bunched up and my heart triphammered unrelentingly.
This is silly, a part of me thought. I’m not even the one they are looking for.
And then, the lights passed me over, and moved on to settle on my bedmate. Instantly someone drew in a sharp breath and chuckled shortly, nastily. The amused person then spoke, it was Badmus. “Barack, na one of them be that.”
Oh no, I sighed.
I could imagine Badmus pointing. “That one wey you dey shine torch on top him face now.” Then he barked with uncharacteristic authority, the kind of tone he’d never use on any SS3 boy on a good day, “Boma Adagbor, comon stand up from there! You think say I no go know you?!”
I felt movement behind me as Senior Boma sighed and began to slowly stretch and get up from my bed. I blinked my eyes slightly open in time to see the cultist standing beside Badmus rush forward. He snatched at Senior Boma’s head, his fingers clamping down on his neck. The senior boy yelped in pain. The cultist shoved him forward, released him and his hand streaked through the air in a backhand blow that struck Senior Boma across the face with a smacking loudness. Senior Boma yelped again, and reeled backward, his hands flailing up to shield against further assault to his face.
But his face wasn’t where the next blow struck. One of the other cultists standing behind him swung his hand. It held a cutlass in it, and its flat surface slapped against Senior Boma’s back. The sound of metal against skin made me cringe. Senior Boma shrieked, and his body arched forward, flinching away from the source of the pain. He staggered forward, and into the knuckled fist his first attacker had sent flying toward his face. The blow connected, the knuckles smashed against his nose. Something squished, and Senior Boma’s scream turned into a gurgle. He dropped to the floor, his hands over his face as he cried so loudly the sound of his anguish appeared to reverberate past the walls of the room and into the night.
“You dey cry, ehn?” the one Badmus had called Barack sneered. “I think say una strong, una be macho man. Don’t worry, all of una go hear am this night. Tiga, carry am, make we dey go.”
The one with the cutlass reached for Senior Boma and yanked him up by his arm. He staggered to his feet, still sobbing and trying to stanch the blood that was now dribbling from his nose. And the party walked out of our dormitory.
The silence remained in their wake. We stayed put in our beds, speechless, slowly digesting the violence we’d just witnessed.
And for the next several minutes, we listened to the intruders as they raided our hostel for the other SS3 boys they sought, who were hiding amongst their juniors. Senior Boma wasn’t the only one who fled from Dignity House to Peace House to hide. The pained cries of other senior boys Badmus fingered out to the cultists rent the air as the same vicious treatment Senior Boma received was meted out on them.
“I no follow – Abeg, I no follow nau –!”
“Badmus, you see my face for town? Why you talk say I follow…!”
“Ask Skinner…I no follow beat am –!”
Their entreaties fell on deaf ears. The cultists responded with their fists and cutlasses, lashing out at their victims with a savagery that was reminiscent of the SS3s’ earlier wrath. Eventually, the entire group, captors and captives, moved out of our hostel, and trundled on to another hostel. Their lights and the lamentations of their detainees faded slowly the further away they marched.
And that was when the excited buzz all across the eight dormitories of Peace House broke out. I could hear the chatter coming through the closed adjoining door that connected my dormitory with the next. Sleep was going to be a long way from coming to all of us.
“Serves them right,” Leke spat from his bed. “I like what they did to Senior Boma. They should also catch Senior Maduka, wherever he is, and beat him thunder and lightning.” Both SS3 boys had sent him on so many errands that he missed lunch this afternoon. And when he whined in protest, Senior Boma made him lie down under his bunk for so long, he missed dinner as well.
“Leke, will you shut up!” Chike, an SS1 boy seethed at him. “If you say another word, I’ll transfer everything you say to Senior Boma. Abi you think they won’t ever come back?”
“Don’t mind the bagger,” Joseph sniggered. “Na me go even first report am sef.”
“Amebo,” hissed Leke.
“It’s your mother that is amebo,” returned Joseph.
“That’s enough,” Chike commanded as Leke bristled. “The two of you should behave yourselves. We don’t need your nonsense this night.”
“What should we even do?” I intoned then.
“What should we do about what?” Chike asked. Some of my other dorm-mates turned to me.
“What should we do about these cultists nau?” I said impatiently.
There was a collective intake of sharp breaths in the room. Eseosa said from his bed, “Who said they are cultists?”
“Senior Boma, I asked him and that’s what he told me. It was Badmus that brought them here.”
“Well, if they are cultists, there’s nothing we can do,” Chike dismissed.
“Are you crazy?” I burst out, rising from my bed.
“Watch your tongue, Eze,” he warned.
“We have to do something…something to let the whole school know that we have dangerous intruders inside the school compound…something, something to – to –”
“Something like what?” Eseosa sneered. “You can like to talk. Oya now, what is the something you propose we should do, since you now want to become James Bond.” A few snickers from the others came after his taunt.
“We can ring the school bell,” Ibuka interjected.
All eyes swiveled to him.
“You mean, we should go out there n’abalia, this night, to go and ring the school bell?” Obieze choked out, his voice questioning Ibuka’s sanity.
“Yes,” Ibuka said.
“Are you well at all? Those cultists could still be out there.”
“They are surely out there,” Joseph cut in. “But we can sneak to the school bell. They won’t see us, they won’t even know to look for anyone heading in that direction.” Looking at him, I could see the familiar daredevil glint in his eyes.
“See me o, aka m adiro,” Obieze exclaimed. “I’m not following anyone to go out this night. My life is too precious to me bikokwa.”
“You too dey fear, eh Obieze,” Joseph teased.
“Why won’t he fear?” Leke snapped. “Is it his battle to fight?”
“Why won’t you just shut up, you this idiotic Yoruba boy,” Joseph rounded on him.
“Don’t you dare insult me –”
“Enough with you two – Haba!” Chike barked. The two boys settled for glaring at each other. Chike divided a look between Ibuka and me. “So, who will go and ring the bell?”
The words were uttered, and the question hung, suspended by our silence. It didn’t last long; Ibuka jumped down from his bed, and grunted, “Me and Eze and Joseph will go.”
Of course, it had to be the three of us, I thought, shaking my head with slight amusement and wondering at my friend’s uncharacteristic valiance. Under the incredulous stare of our dorm-mates, the three of us slipped out of the dormitory. Outside, as we darted across the courtyard and let ourselves out through the gate, the night breathed around us. The night wind was soft and warm, whispering its way through the atmosphere as we walked. The school bell was situated on a slightly elevated corner of the assembly ground which faced the classrooms and administrative block of the school. It wasn’t a bell per se; just a slab of huge, misshapen, steely chamber, mounted on two stout poles; tucked away inside the hollow center of the chamber was a small, metallic truncheon which the bell-ringer struck against the chamber to produce the reverberant clanging which informed the length and breadth of the school of an imminent school activity.
But this was midnight, and there no school activities at such a late hour. We hoped that the ringing of the bell would alert the entire school, including its security positioned at different points of the premises, to the presence of something alarming in the school.
My heart was pounding as we moved stealthily away from the hostel area, keeping away from the major road as we navigated our way toward the school bell. The gust of wind that blew over me lifted horripilations of dread on my skin as we slithered past shrubbery and darted through trees. There was no one outside, even though we caught snatches of conversations coming from the windows of the dormitories we passed. Peace House, apparently, wasn’t the only House who wouldn’t be sleeping early tonight.
Ibuka was in the lead, and Joseph brought up the rear; in a matter of minutes, we had gotten to the spot where the bell was positioned. As I opened my mouth to ask who would ring the bell, Ibuka pulled out the truncheon. He’d lifted his hand to strike when Joseph whispered fiercely, “Wait…”
We turned to him.
“Are we sure we want to do this?”
“We have to warn everybody,” Ibuka replied. “This is the only way.”
Joseph nodded. I did too. And Ibuka struck the chamber with a sweeping force that produced a clang which exploded around us, filling my ears with an insistent echo. Ibuka struck the bell again and again, and the clangor ricocheted into the night, filling the atmosphere with our desperate message of alarm.
Joseph had made himself a sentry, peering around for any sign of movement, and he suddenly gasped, “Ibu, Eze! They are coming!”
Ibuka stopped ringing the bell, and the two of us followed Joseph’s pointing arm. True, the lights were bobbing in the distance that was the direction of the junior hostels. And they were drifting toward us. We could also hear shouts, angry yelling. They were coming.
“Let’s go!” I said, before whirling around to run.
Joseph was already sprinting ahead of me.
“Wait for me!” Ibuka shouted, as he smashed the rod against the bell one more time, before dropping it and fleeing.
We panted as we ran, and my heartbeat roared, fanning my fright each time I swung a quick look behind me to see the lights becoming bolder and the furious yells inching closer.
“Wait for me, please…” Ibuka heaved from behind, and I turned to see him clutching at his chest with one hand. I lessened my speed, just as Joseph sped back to him, grabbed his hand and pulled him forward as he turned to run again. If we could just get back into our hostel, into our dormitory, and into our beds, then the cultists wouldn’t be able to tell who had rung the bell. If only –
We turned a corner, and we collided into a body that was bulkier than us. A pair of brawny arms snatched at us. My heart plummeted as I realized that the cultists must have left one of their men behind in the senior hostel. We fought fiercely to break the hold of our assailant as he struggled to grab us close to him.
“You rascals!” the man panted angrily. “So, you’re the ones disturbing the school at this unholy hour… God don catch una…!”
I recognized the voice in that moment. “Oga Johnny, Oga Johnny…!” I gasped as I stopped struggling. “We had to do it. Listen to us.” Ibuka and Joseph stopped struggling too, and we stared urgently up at the security officer’s weathered face. He stared back with some distrust, his hands now clamped over our wrists. I continued talking in a rush, “Oga Johnny, look behind us… We have intruders in our school…”
“Cultists… they are attacking SS3s…”
“You need to see the way they beat Senior Boma…”
“They caught some seniors here and are going to junior hostel to catch others…”
“And now they are chasing us because we rang the bell to warn everybody…”
The three of us were talking at once, and our alarm was stark before the security man. Our urgency communicated itself to him, and he swept a look behind us, stiffening when he saw the lights and heard the voices in the distance.
“Cultists, you say,” he rasped as he released us.
He nodded, before lifting a whistle to his mouth. He pressed it against his lips and blew. A shrill, high-pitched sound cut into the air; he blew again for a rapid number of times, and in the near distance, other whistling sounds responded. He’d alerted his fellow security to the presence of danger. A sigh of relief trembled its way through my mouth as he turned to us.
“What are your names?”
“And my name is Joseph…”
“JSS3…” we chorused.
“Peace House,” came the chorus answer.
He nodded. “You have done your part,” he said. “Now get back quickly to your hostel, and leave the rest for the security to handle.” The man shoved us gently in the direction of our hostel before leaping forward, still blasting away at his whistle and suddenly hefting a weapon I couldn’t make out in the darkness.
I didn’t care anyway; I’d suddenly become very tired. As the rush of adrenaline through my body trickled to a stop and my heartbeat returned to a mild thrum, on our trek back to our hostel, exhaustion crept in, pervading my insides and filling me with a heaviness that begged for the release only sleep provided.
“Omo mehn, see war film that will soon happen…”
“Security men versus cultists, who do you think will win…”
My friends chattered away as we approached our dormitory, and basked under the awed attention of our dorm-mates when we got inside. I climbed into my bed without acknowledging anyone. I dropped my head on my pillow and my eyes drifted shut against the buzz of excitement in the room. Tomorrow would be here soon enough for me to worry about being a hero.
The remaining days of the week went by, with events that saw to the resolution of the turmoil in the school. None of the cultists were captured that night, because the moment they realized that the people they were up against were the able-bodied men of the school’s security, they fled. By Thursday morning, the principal had set up an inquiry into the incidences of the past three days which led to the distasteful culmination the previous night. The student body was not privy to any of the proceedings, but everyone gossiped about what was going on. Speculations were rampart, and side glances were heavy on the SS3 and SS2 boys involved.
On Friday, my friends and I were summoned from our classroom to the principal’s office. It was my first time inside the large, well-appointed office. Oga Johnny was in the office too, as well as Mrs. Ihejirika, the Vice Principal Admin. We sat stiffly in the chairs facing Mr. Iheukwumere as he leaned over his desk, his paunch straining against the edge of the table, his fingers steepled in front of him, during the monologue he gave which was a commendation to us of our heroic efforts that night.
Then Monday dawned. And moments after breakfast, the assembly ground was packed full of staff and students, everyone anxious to know the resolution the administration had come to. Suppositions were whispered back and forth as we observed the grave mien on the faces of the principal and his two lieutenants.
Finally, it was time for Mr. Iheukwumere to speak, and his words came with an indignation and anger that was liquid and righteous as he uttered them. “For years, I have governed this school, taking pride in the fact that I was helping fashion young minds into something greater for the future. And for years, this school has turned out some of the best citizens of this country, whom every one of you should aspire to. We have an alumni filled with governors, doctors, lawyers – men and women stationed in reputable positions in the society. Why, just last month, Ahamefula Umeh, who passed out from here a few years back, called me to inform me that he was the only graduating Nigerian with a first class in one of the Ivy League schools in America.”
He paused to sweep an icy look over the assembly before saying, “Men, women, who years ago were like you lot, studying hard and being the best they could be, simply because they understood the importance of their existence to the society. And the fact that they graduated from here make me proud of this school. Proud. Pleased. Boastful even. But never once have I felt shame for this school, until this past week. Never!” The word came as a whiplash, and I flinched. The man’s ire was gathering steam.
“I feel very ashamed of the group of students we call seniors. Except they are seniors, and they most certainly aren’t students. They are hooligans, ruffians, troublemakers” – he stabbed a stubby forefinger furiously into the air, an accompaniment of each word – “touts, not worthy to be called students” – his voice teetered up a few decibels of outrage – “and their fates have been decided as such!”
My breath hitched. Here it comes – the verdict.
“Since they have decided not to buckle down over their books and study for their upcoming external exams, the school has decided to help them on their way to their chosen career, as an aberration to the society.” Mr. Iheukwumere salted his words with big English whenever he was angry, and he was spitting mad now.
“And for the persons who took it upon themselves to invade this institution with a vagrant authority that has no business being in here at all, an equally dire fate has been decided for them as well.” He turned his flinty stare to the ranks of the SS2s, and I could imagine Badmus quailing wherever he stood.
The principal was done generalizing. He barked, “Badmus Nnorom!” A few moments passed, during which the SS2s made way for the doomed boy to step out into the mortifying glare of the school. Mr. Iheukwumere continued waspishly, “This student has forthwith been placed on an indefinite suspension from the school. He will discontinue with his studies, pending a time when the administration deems it fit for him to return. If” – he dropped a heavy stress on the word – “we deem it fit for him to return.”
Badmus’ head sank miserably into his chest.
“And for the rest of these names,” the principal said as he consulted the piece of paper in his hand for the first time, “all of them belonging to SS3 students, they have been summarily expelled from this school.”
A shocked gasp rippled across the student body. Expulsion?! And just weeks away from their Senior WAEC exams… I felt a wave of empathy for whichever name was on that paper.
The principal began, “Edozie Onyema…”
“Who is that?” Joseph queried beside me.
“So you don’t even know Negrito’s name,” Ibuka said sneeringly to him.
The three of us chuckled.
“Let me guess,” I said, “that’s Alaska’s name, shey?”
Ibuka nodded. “I wonder why boys like answering ridiculous names, when they can just stick to their baptismal, God-given names.”
“So you won’t take on a nickname?” Joseph said, staring with mock-horror at Ibuka. “You with a name like Chukwuibuka, are you absolutely sure you don’t want to replace that with a nickname?”
My body shook with the beginnings of a seizure of giggles.
“Well, not all of us have the luxury of having English names we can answer to,” retorted Ibuka, “to replace such Igbotic names we have like Nkemakolam.” He enunciated every syllable on Joseph’s native name, in such a heavily mocking manner that I clapped a hand over my mouth to stifle the wave of my mirth.
“Gerraway joor,” Joseph said with a good-natured smile. “Even with my English name sef, I’ll still answer a nickname, one I’ll choose by the time we enter SS1.”
“Of course you will,” Ibuka said.
“What nickname is that?” I asked.
He thought for a short moment.
“Mustapha Alli…” the principal’s voice boomed.
Then Joseph said, “My own nickname will be Tiggaman.” His eyes were bright with the prospects of his future with the moniker.
“Tiggaman,” Ibuka repeated. “Yes, how original, such an intelligent name.”
His sarcasm bounced off Joseph as he smirked, “Of course, I’m a very intelligent boy nah.”
“What are we using to measure your intelligence abeg,” Ibuka went for the kill, “your report card or your ability to pick out nicknames…”
And we dissolved into smothered laughter as Joseph swung an equable fist at Ibuka.
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