“Oh when they say, go marching in, oh when they say go marching in…!”
“What are you even singing sef?” I interrupted Joseph’s yodeling with an exasperated huff.
“A victory song na,” he replied, and continued, “Oh Lord I want to be –”
“Okay, first of all,” I interrupted again, “it’s not ‘Oh when they say.’ It is ‘Oh when the saints.’”
“In your pocket abeg,” he retorted and went on singing, “Oh when they say –”
“And that’s not a victory song!” someone called out from the other end of the classroom. Joseph stopped and the two of us, including Ibuka, who was behind a desk with his nose buried in a notebook, turned to face the boy who had spoken. It was Tochukwu Ikwuazom, my classmate – a fleshy-faced Unity House boy with heavy-lidded eyes that gave him a certain sardonic intelligence that made it sometimes difficult for other boys to be friends with him. He was also the resident pastor of our set, often found poring through his Christian booklets every now and then in class, and engaged in most chapel activities from being a member of the choir to always been in the front row seat every Sunday during service. Joseph had said awhile ago that he was sure Tochukwu would be the Protestant prefect of our time, and I agreed.
“It’s a Christian song,” he continued. “And Eze is right, the lyrics are ‘Oh when the saints,’ because it’s a song where you are asking God to help you be among those who will make heaven –”
“Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard, MOG,” Joseph cut in, referring to Tochukwu with the portmanteau that had been coined out of the nickname he’d been given last session. First in JSS2, he’d been called Man of God; but the moniker proved to be too bulky, and so by the time we entered JSS3, it had been shortened to MOG. In spite of his protestations, the portmanteau had stuck, and these days, only some of the boys in JSS3B and perhaps some of his hostel mates knew his actual name. “You win, okay?” Joseph continued, shrugging. “I have agreed. So” – and he started the singsong again – “Oh when the saints –”
Ibuka interrupted this time. “Wait first o –”
“Oh for chrissakes,” Joseph groaned irritably. “Won’t you people allow me sing my song?”
“Comon shettup!” Ibuka shot back. “Let me say my own.” He sat up on his seat. “Let us just say it’s a victory song, and you are singing it, what victory are you celebrating?” He planted a beady stare on Joseph, one that was so reminiscent of our Computer teacher, Mr. Isa’s expression that I found my mouth twitching with amusement.
“The victory of Junior WAEC of course,” Joseph sniffed, aware that Ibuka was baiting him, yet unable to stop himself from rising to it.
“Oh, that’s right,” Ibuka said, nodding ever-so solemnly. “But that would be the celebration over the fact that your name is on the list of those writing the exam, you know, seeing as we haven’t even started writing it. Your name on the list – that must be such a huge deal to be victorious about.”
I started chuckling. Joseph glowered at Ibuka for a moment, but Ibuka’s answering grin was so infectious he found himself smiling back. The three of us broke out into a chatter that Tochukwu interrupted to speak. “Please, you people, can you not make noise this night like you usually do? I want to meditate this night, and I don’t want your usual noisemaking to distract me.”
“Ha, meditate? Nawa o…”
“We can’t promise anything, MOG…”
“If you want a quiet place, go outside and meditate nau…”
The boy stared back at the three of us, an expression of irritation on his face. And then he bit out, “Just for you to do me this one favour, you won’t agree. Eze, even you who is class captain, you can’t even do your job to –”
“To what? What job?” Joseph snapped back. “In case you haven’t noticed, we no longer have classes, so Eze’s tenure as JSS3 class captain has ended. Perhaps, when we enter SS1 and he is appointed class captain again, you can continue with this sermon.”
Joseph’s voice was very scathing, and for a moment, the two boys glared at each other. Then muttering something unintelligible, Tochukwu grabbed at some items from his desk, padlocked it and stomped out of the classroom into the evening.
“Great, now you have pursued our pastor,” Ibuka said teasingly, “the one who can protect us from any ndiii that may come for us in the night.”
“Why do you say that?” I said sharply to him. My tone was so sharp that he and Joseph turned raised brows at me. I looked back at them, suddenly feeling my heart palpitate a little bit faster and my extremities getting cold. Superimposed over them, in my mind’s eye, I could see those haunting, catlike eyes I’d seen two nights ago. And echoing to my hearing alone was the whispery snarl: “Not far enough from me, Eze… Not far enough from me…”
“Eze, are you alright?” Joseph’s voice roused me from my brief reverie.
I blinked and attempted a smile, not saying anything for a moment.
“It’s that cat dream, isn’t it?” Ibuka intuited.
“Guy, pull yourself together,” Joseph bolstered. “It was just a nightmare, nothing more.”
“How is it just a nightmare when I had the same dream myself last night?” Ibuka queried.
“Well” – Joseph shrugged – “then, it was just a coincidence…”
“A coincidence?” I rasped. “Are we forgetting what Basil Igwilo told us a short while ago? That that cat demon will come for us, that he’s biding his time –”
“Actually, Basil didn’t say anything about a cat demon,” Joseph cut in. “He just said something about this He that he saw in a vision who –”
“And who do you think this He is, ehn?” Ibuka interjected. “It had better be the cat demon that we know of, because if it’s another evil spirit lurking somewhere else, my own will just be to pack and leave this school at once.”
“How do we even know a cat demon exists?” Joseph flashed. “It was you, Ibu, who was talking about how there are two evil spirits, simply because Frank Odiaka saw a boy turn into a cat, and then his father cast out a snake spirit from Henry Nwagbara. That doesn’t prove anything!”
“That proves everything!” Ibuka bridled. “One is a cat and the other one is a snake, simple!”
“No, not simple. It could simply be one evil spirit that can change form into different animals!” Joseph replied heatedly.
“That is not how these evil spirits act,” Ibuka spluttered.
“Oh yea? And you would know how they act from your abundance of experience in interacting with them, abi?”
“Why are you so determined to believe that there isn’t another evil spirit out there?”
“And why are you so determined to believe that there is?”
“Look!” I cut in, lifting my hands in a placating gesture, as though to cool the tempers that had so quickly gone awry. “Let’s just consider the fact that there might be another evil spirit out there.” I pinned Joseph with a glare to shut him up as he opened his mouth to protest some more. “Let’s just consider it. After all, there has to be a reason me and Ibu have seen a cat in our dreams, in my own case, twice. Fighting about it won’t solve the problem. Basil told us that He will come for us because of what we know…”
“What do we know?” Ibuka asked.
Joseph shrugged his incomprehension.
“The only thing I can come up with,” I said, “is the fact that we know He exists. I mean, the rest of the school, just like Joe, believe Frank’s father defeated the evil spirit Frank saw that night. But we don’t. We suspect that they are two different demons. And He knows we know, and wants to eliminate us before we can make it public.”
“Well, if that’s the case, shouldn’t we just keep shut about it?” Joseph said. “I mean, that’s the reason He has not attacked all this while, right? Because we haven’t bothered discussing what we are discussing now…?”
Ibuka and I turned to stare at him. He stood straighter. I saw a brief flicker of what might have been fear in his eyes. A cautious breath he took confirmed it. For the first time in the three years I’d known him, I could see that my devil-may-care, dauntless friend was afraid. It was something I never thought I’d see.
“Listen,” I continued firmly, “Basil said He will come for us. Will, Joe, he will! That means, no matter what we do, we will get attacked.”
“Yea, but –”
“It may be tonight, or tomorrow, or when we enter SS1,” I maintained. “But that cat demon will come for us. So we have to start now to figure out how to stop that from happening.”
“Should I go and find MOG and beg him to come back and sleep in the class with us?”
“Are we going to continue keeping him by our side all the time we have to spend in this school?” Ibuka snapped, obviously irritated by Joseph’s obtuseness.
“Hey, back off!” Joseph flashed at him.
Ah, anger, that’s nice, I thought before cutting in ahead of Ibuka’s retort. “Okay, we don’t need MOG for now. Let’s just try to figure out which student the cat demon may have possessed. And we can go and, I don’t know, confront him…” When Joseph shot me an ‘Are you joking’ look, I added with a chuckle, “Not alone nau, we’ll go with MOG. Or maybe even ask Frank to tell his father.”
“Speaking of Frank and this boy the cat demon may have possessed,” Ibuka said, “remember Frank said the boy he saw was a very fair boy. So fair his body seemed almost white…”
“Who is that fair?” Joseph asked.
I could see Ibuka had an answer already, so I didn’t bother venturing a guess. “Well, Ibu…” I urged.
“Well, who else but Barry White,” he announced.
“Barry White is an albino.”
He arched his brows and waited. Comprehension came like the final rush of sand squeezing through the concave center of an hourglass. So fair his body seemed almost white… Only an albino was that light-skinned.
“And another thing,” Ibuka said, “have you two noticed how we no longer see Barry White anywhere… anywhere at all?” He waited another beat for that to sink in.
“But he’s in JSS3C,” Joseph said. “We always used to see him…” His voice trailed off, before he added in a firmer tone, “I don’t know when last I saw him actually.”
“Exactly!” Ibuka declared.
“Exactly what?” I said. “That doesn’t prove anything. Barry White is too…is too…”
“Too what – timid? Fear-fear? Nwa mummy?” Ibuka reeled off all the reasons I found it hard to believe the albino was the host of such a malevolent entity. “Don’t you see that that’s the perfect cover for an evil spirit, someone who no one can suspect at all…”
“Let’s go and find him!” Joseph suddenly interjected. The fear was gone from his countenance, he seemed almost belligerent.
“What about taking MOG along –”
“No time, let’s just go!” And he whirled and started out of the classroom. Ibuka leaped up from his seat and joined me as I rushed after Joseph. The three of us plodded over the pavement, down the block toward JSS3C.
As we approached the classroom, I felt my insides tighten with resentment. Ever since JSS3 boys relocated from the hostels to the classrooms, JSS3C had quickly acquired the reputation of being the Four Seasons of all classrooms in terms of the place to retire to at the end of the day. It had all its fluorescent lights fully functional, unlike the other classrooms whose lights were either out or wheezing their last. Secondly, it was the only classroom that had a lock for its burglary; so at the end of the night, its class captain, Justice Igbonekwu would lock up, sufficiently securing the safety of the students and property inside his domain. No other JSS3 classroom had locks, and Justice charged a fee from every boy who wasn’t a member of his class, who scurried over to spend the night in his classroom.
“How can you even live with yourself,” Ibuka had spat at him one evening we came upon him accepting money from a couple of JSS3D boys who, armed with their pillows and mattresses, wanted to get in. “I thought your parents have money, yet here you are extorting from others.”
“Hey, it’s a free world,” the boy had rejoined with a self-satisfied smile. “I’m not forcing anyone to give me money.”
Presently, we got to the classroom. It wasn’t bedtime yet, and so the room was quite noisy, with lots of boys spread out on several mattresses crowding the floor. There was a certain coziness that came from having such a crowd in one place. We looked around, but there was no sight of Barry.
“Well, well, well,” someone’s taunting voice drew our attention. We turned to face Justice. He was smirking at us. “If it isn’t the famous three… Ever since you boys rang the bell that alerted the school to the presence of those cultists, everyone now knows your name.” He swept a sneering look over the three of us. “But I’m sorry, if you’re expecting to use your fame to gain access here for the night, you’re mistaken.”
“Who even wants to sleep in your stupid class sef?” I snapped at him.
“Well then, what are you doing here?”
“We are looking for Barry,” Joseph said.
“Oh, Barry White… What about him?”
“Have you seen him?”
“What if I have, what’s in it for me?” He waggled his fingers suggestively.
“Oh jeez, you are disgusting,” Ibuka seethed.
“Then get out of my class, you that is better than the rest of us.”
“Justice, relax,” Joseph cajoled. He had been friends with the other boy in JSS1, both of them rich brats who knew each other from the same neighbourhood in Lagos. Sometimes, I felt the boy’s animosity toward us came from the fact that Joseph had dumped him for us. “We just want to know if you have seen Barry White, and how long ago that was. It is very important that we know…”
For a moment, Justice stared heatedly at us, and then apparently mollified by Joseph’s calmly-uttered words, he grunted, “No, actually, I haven’t seen him in a long time. Not since…” His eyes went up and to the right as he tried to root through his memory for the details he wanted. “Not since mid-term, when his guardian came and told me and our form teacher that he has become too sick to continue schooling here, and that his parents have withdrawn him from here.”
“In JSS3 third term?!” Ibuka blurted, incredulous. “Before Junior WAEC?! Which other secondary school will agree to take him in into SS1 without his Junior WAEC results?”
Justice shrugged, as I said, “Maybe he will repeat JSS3 in his new school.”
“But why will they pull him out of our school” – Joseph snapped his fingers – “just like that?”
There was no answer, and the three of us started out of the classroom, leaving Justice to stare with some mystification after us. Once we were outside and walking back to JSS3B, Joseph said, “Well, that settles it, we are in the clear. Clearly, there’s no other evil spirit.”
“Why, because Barry White is no longer a student of this school?” Ibuka’s tone sagged with skepticism.
“No, no…” I was shaking my head.
“What is the matter with you two?” Joseph burst out exasperatedly. “Can’t you just accept that there’s no danger lying in wait for us?”
“No, Joe! No!” I shot back in a loud voice. The shout ricocheted into the night, and my friends stared at me warily. I was trembling a bit as I continued, “I had my nightmare two nights ago. Ibu had his yesterday. That means the cat demon is still very much in this school.”
“Simple. It left Barry White and possessed someone else.”
TO BE CONTINUED.
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