FOREWORD: This will be quite lengthy, but bear with me.
For the first time, I got to know the thrill my readers get when they read about the escapades of Eze and his cohorts, one which I’ve never known, even as the writer of the Eze Goes To School series. Well, as the creator, what I write hardly amuses me.
But with this contest, I have to say, I was wildly amused by the entries I read. I did a 14-hour bus trip from Lagos to Abuja yesterday, and at several intervals during the journey, my phone was lit up with pings as people sent in their entries (all of una can like last-minute things sha). And so, I knew I had a lot of reading ahead of me to do, which was distressing, considering I was exhausted by my journey. But all traces of my exhaustion fled, to be replaced by hilarity and loud laughter as I read entry after entry. I laughed so hard. And it made it especially hard for me to pick the best two I’d intended to do. I didn’t have any distinguished judges to help me decide; my laugh-o-meter did all the work.
There was no best two. There were just a number of awesome pieces.
And so, I decided to readjust the terms of winning. Instead of two, I picked the best three. These three I will publish today, and the writers of these three will get the free copies of my book and the N1, 500 recharge cards of any network of their choice.
There’s also a fourth winner. She is Chioma Ejide, but I won’t publish her piece. The story was so ingenious and hilarious that I decided I’d incorporate it in one of the upcoming Eze episodes. Chioma, if you’re reading this, forgive me. You still get the book and N1, 500 recharge card.
I really wish I could have published every work I got, but there’s so much elasticity to my ability to award prizes. Every entry I got was winning, y’all should know that.
I’d also like to appreciate Godfrey Orji, the guy who designed the Eze Goes To School 50th anniversary poster up there A MONTH AGO, and by so doing, inadvertently reminded of this hallmark we’ve gotten to.
Well, here’s the top three. Read and enjoy, as I have enjoyed. 🙂
SNAKES AND SCHOOL ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE – By Eketi Ette
My years in secondary school were spent trying to find out who I was and what I believed in. There were many occasions when I was convinced I was a pretender and that unlike my classmates, I had no right to be in that class. In my search for meaning, to belong and yet stand out, I became somewhat of a troublemaker without meaning to be one.
I often acted out practical jokes from the many novels I read, fought with boys, plaited my hair with threads and carried them upright like spikes on my head, in spite of my class teacher’s order that I loosen them. These acts had me frequenting the staff room or staring down the long end of a teacher’s cane or pointing finger. One of them was so grand, it got into the school’s history books.
It was the day I took a snake to school.
You see, we’d just completed our spanking new biology lab, outfitted it with all the modern apparatus and chemicals. The only things missing were specimens. Our biology teacher Mrs. Amalu then decided that we were to bring the specimens.
“I want you people to get me any relevant plant or animal you can find in your immediate environment,” she’d said.
“Madam, can we bring monkeys?” one of the mischievous boys in my class had asked.
“Don’t bring me any monkeys o!” Mrs Amalu had retorted, laughing and wagging her finger.
She needed weeds, (“I don’t mean igbo o!” she’d warned emphatically), edible plants, lizards, rats, bugs etc. The animals were to be preserved in formaldehyde; the bugs would be pinned on a display cabinet, while the plants were to be taped to the pages of several drawing-books that were flamboyantly christened Plant Albums.
Seeing our enthusiastic response, Mrs Amalu added, “I wish I could have at least one snake, but I know none of you will be able to bring one,” she’d said wistfully. A couple of the tough guys in the class jokingly offered to bring her a black mamba or an anaconda; she amiably rejected their offers and continued with the lecture. Seated in my quiet corner of the classroom, I smiled quietly, my mind made up. I was going to bring the snake.
I was no stranger to snakes; I’d even become accustomed to seeing one in my backyard almost every other day. An old fishing net rested against the back fence of our house and daily, lizards would wander in and find themselves caught in the intricately woven twine. Every so often, snakes from the nearby bushes slid along that area and espying the trapped lizards, thought them to be easy prey. They soon discovered as soon as they got into the net, that they too became victims of the net. Knowing this, I waited patiently for a snake to come along.
I didn’t have to wait long; the very next morning while brushing my teeth, a snake happened by and voilà, I had my specimen. It was about four feet long and two inches thick; I hit it on the head just enough to stun it and put it in a medium-sized container, which I then carried off to school. Telling no one of my surprise, I couldn’t help but giggle as I imagined the looks on their faces when the time came for my big reveal. It was almost break time when two of my friends, Ruth and Andem, began to tease me about my unusually large lunch bowl. I told them it wasn’t lunch, but a snake for the lab. Titillated but doubtful, they dared me to open the bowl and prove it. As I brought the container out of the cellophane bag, the sound of the snake thumping its head on the cover had them wide-eyed.
Seeing that I had their undivided attention, I carefully peeled back the cover of the container, just enough for the snake to rear its head, before slamming it shut. Barely two seconds later, Ruth let out a bloodcurdling scream and jumped on a desk, scrabbling for the door. Andem followed suit, scattering desks in her bid to outrun Ruth. A fellow classmate grabbed Andem’s arm and asked why she was running; she screamed one word: SNAKE!
That one word was enough to ignite massive pandemonium; my class was on the fourth floor of a four-storey building. Picture students going from class to class screaming: “EKETI BROUGHT A SNAKE…SNAKE…RUN!” Students poured from each class and headed for the stairs; just then, the bell for break went off, egging them on. Sensing that I might get into trouble for not first taking the snake to the laboratory, I picked up my cargo and joined the throng, which hurriedly parted as soon as they realised I was in the crowd.
I made my way through this Red Sea to the biology lab. As soon as she saw me and the mass of noisy students behind me, Mrs Amalu asked, “Eketi, what have you done this time?”
“Madam, I didn’t do anything o,” I replied, looking at the other five teachers who were in the lab with her. “I only brought a snake for the lab.”
A blast of air almost blew me backwards; suddenly, I was alone in the lab, all the teachers gone. I burst into laughter; even one of the teachers who was a full-figured woman, had been the first to get out. About fifteen seconds later, Mrs Amalu returned and from a vantage point by the door, advised me take the snake to my mother’s lab (she too was a biology teacher in another school); that she’d collect it later. I nodded and walked out of the lab into the body of parted and excited students.
The whispers had already making the rounds; I was daredevil, a hero, a witch, a trial to God’s mercy, a weirdo. None of that bothered me, for suddenly, I knew who I was.
I was Eketi.
TO SET A TRAP – By Agatha Aduro
As we crouched beneath the window and peeped at Senior Ifeoma, we could barely contain our giggles. Four of us – me, Chioma, Uzo and Uzo (for differentiation purposes, Small Uzo and Tall Uzo) – knew what was about to happen to her and we watched with excitement. Finally, payback time.
I gave a ghostly groan as she stopped in front of my bunk. She pulled out my ten litre jerry can from under the bed. As she bent down, the contents of her bowl could be clearly seen. Saliva flooded my mouth. It was that ‘no man’s land’ period between the end of exams and vacation when our time was ours to spend as we pleased. Well, almost. We had dubbed it ‘starvation period’ because we had run out of provisions and we still had up to a week or more to go home. We wondered how senior students were able to ‘mise’ their provisions and still have a lot at end of term.
Now, from my position, I could see the contents of Senior Ifeoma’s bowl, layered like a multi-tiered cake. The not-so-white at the bottom was garri, aka garrium sulphate, aka the holy grail of boarding house students. The different ways we had devised of preparing it would only make our parents shudder. There was Ebange, which involved garri, Geisha and red oil and dried pepper (Ebansa was when you substituted the Geisha for Sardines). There was kouskous, if you couldn’t afford Geisha or Sardine.
But the ultimate testament to your suffering was when you did ‘soak and travel’. This was when you took a handful of garri said a multiplication prayer over it and dumped it in the large food flask that had been used to bring you fried rice on visiting day. You closed it tightly and hid it under the bed and went on your way to night prep. Throughout the two hour duration of night prep, you prayed that a hungrier person had not discovered your ‘soak and travel’. After night prayers, you opened the food flask and Voila! The garri had overpowered the water and had increased about tenfold or more. Add more water and sugar (if you still had) to taste. The downside was that the garri had lost its crispness and tasted like soggy Golden Morn. But no complaints, you were happy for something extra to augment the dining room fare whose quality was inversely proportional to the period of time already spent in school.
On top of Senior Ifeoma’s garri was the off-white colour of milk from on top of which sugar crystals caught the light and winked at me. Groundnut seeds were the ‘dried fruit’ of this cake. The whole thing, this ‘Ferrari’ of ‘garris’ in this time of poverty rubbed salt on my raw wound.
Senior Ifeoma tipped the contents of my jerry can into her bowl without thinking. She tipped it with the familiarity of one who had done it countless times before. She tipped it like it was her God given right.
Her angry shout was interrupted by our snickers which had unintentionally risen a few decibels. We had momentarily forgotten the danger of being caught and had laughed a little louder than intended. Looks do not set people ablaze or charred remains would have been all that our classmates would have found by the window.
“Agatha, come here right now!” she thundered.
I took the long route into the hostel, muttering under my breath, “She cannot kill me, she cannot kill me…” It worked like a talisman. I stood before her defiantly. She pulled my ear and twisted it like the knob of our old GoldStar television when we are searching for channels. She would have slapped me, if not that slapping a junior student was an offence punishable by a two-week suspension. Her ruined bowl of ‘rich’ garri was beside me, soap bubbles displaying rainbow colours before lazily bursting. I hid a smirk and turned to wink at my comrades-in-arms. They looked crestfallen but I tried to reassure them.
Senior Ifeoma pulled me by my handle…err…my ear to the back of the hostel and marked out a large swath of grass for me to me to clear. Of course I was thrilled, anything to get out of observing siesta. Chioma, Small Uzo and Tall Uzo waited for her to sail into the hostel on the strength of her fumes before appearing at my side with their cutlasses. We collapsed in a heap of laughter. Our plan had worked flawlessly.
Every day, we would spend almost all of our free time after night prep and before lights out, queued before our tap which knew only two speeds; slow and trickle. The going was slow and tedious because almighty seniors would come and fetch water willy-nilly, no regard for our (dis)orderly queues. We would fill our jerry cans and keep under the bed for our use. Every day, before we got back from classes, or lunch or prep, those same seniors had emptied our jerry cans. It was painful because carrying your container out to fetch water in the afternoon was a blatant invitation to the senior students to use you as a workhorse. Someone would suddenly remember that they had clothes to wash; ‘since you’re going to the tap, help me wash these clothes’. Another person needed water as a matter of life and death; ‘help me fill this jerry can quickly and bring it before you fill yours’. We had had enough and last night, we had concocted a sweet plan for revenge. This morning, Tall Uzo had switched her water jerry can with its look-alike containing kerosene. Small Uzo, Chioma and I had snuck back into the hostel after our morning function of scrubbing a different hostel to fill our jerry cans with specially brewed leftover soapy water… My jerry can had belled the cat.
TRUTH OR DARE – By Martin Ojukwu
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth.” I immediately wished I had thought some more before choosing because just then, a wide grin split Eme’s face. I didn’t have long to wonder what ‘evil’ question he had planned because he spat it out immediately.
“Shebi it is true that you and Ujunwa were playing ‘Papa na Mama’ in their house?”
Shit! ‘Papa na Mama’ was that game we all – those who would care to admit – played as toddlers, where we paired ourselves into couples, girls as mothers and boys as fathers, and lived couple lives. Usually, it involved holding couple meetings, attending ‘church’ together in our ‘cars’, returning home after the service for ‘lunch’ and so on, but ultimately, the game culminated in each couple retiring to their various ‘homes’ to consummate the day’s matrimony by touching in ways that we were told toddlers weren’t allowed to.
But the game was left behind with our primary school days. Eleven and twelve-year old ‘big’ boys didn’t play ‘Papa na Mama’; there were cooler terms for our intimate rendezvous with the opposite sex, such as pressing, smooching or even good ol’ generic kissing. Now if Eme had used any of these terms to inquire about what had transpired at Ujunwa’s house over the weekend, I would have at least looked cool. But by phrasing his question in that manner, Eme was not only hoping to expose what was yet a secret but was also looking to dent my prestige. The yeye boy!
“Dare,” I said, electing to use my lifeline. All the pricked up ears in the crowd of JSS1 boys fell as one, as if on cue by a choirmaster. But I was most gratified by the excited twinkle that died in Eme’s eyes. My joy was however short-lived as apprehension quickly set in. Everybody knew that dares were very risky business.
The rain hammered on outside but neither its thunderous clamour nor the noises emanating from the different groups of students taking shelter in the school auditorium could outdo the pounding in my chest as I waited. Eme was rubbing his chin between his right thumb and forefinger and looking around. We both knew that the rain had limited his options for the dare, but I also knew – and I hoped he didn’t – that such confined conditions potentially made for the meanest dares.
His roving eyes lit up as they settled on a sight behind me, and I quickly turned, breath hitched in my throat.
Oh no, you don’t…
“I dare you to go and check the colour of bra L’Ara is wearing.”
Her name was actually Lara, but with a little help from our French classes, our ingenuity had come up with a modification of her name which embodied the voluptuousness of the older girl’s bosom – Le Ara, L’Ara for short.
There were two major problems with this dare: One, L’Ara was in fact Senior L’Ara; she was in SS 3 but it wasn’t so obvious because ours was one of those private contemporary schools with zero tolerance for bullying. Two, L’Ara was wearing the school cardigan, a sleeveless tube-like patch of wool work which added more colour than warmth to the wearer. Rumour said that L’Ara wore it because the high v-neck served better than the buttons of the white shirt uniform to defend her cleavage from male eyes. Three – sorry, there were three problems – I had used up the lifeline. So I could either execute the dare or die trying, or I could surrender and lose N500 along with my hard-earned JSS 1 prestige. The latter was not even an option; there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to take a stand…and blah.
I thought hard for a while. Then I grabbed my copy of New General Mathematics and amidst muted hailing and subdued excitement from my friends, I stood up and headed for L’Ara. She was seated with her back to me, bent over a book which she looked up from as I stepped into her space.
“Senior, guu morning…” Heck, I knew it was afternoon, even nearly evening, but my tot-in-distress routine worked best if I played dumb to the latter. She just looked at me. I hung my head a little lower, started to draw asterisk on the concrete floor with the toe of my canvas shoes and added a tad more whine to my voice.
“Do you know how to do HCM and LCM?”
See, I knew two things about L’Ara; she was one of those Mother Theresa senior girls who would never play party to the occasional miscreant senior student pushing a junior student around. And she was the senior class math guru.
She asked me to draw a seat closer but I elected to stand – I still had a job to do, remember? As L’Ara droned on about common factors and denominators, I agonized over the blasted school cardigan which completely hid the entirety of her bosom from sight. I twisted my neck and turned my eyes in every direction short of up her skirt, but the woolly guard of honour was awake and on the prowl. As she finished with HCF and started in on LCM, I knew I had to upgrade my plan.
Fingers crossed, I positioned myself well and executed a subtle sneeze, subtle because it had to be light enough to irritate her but not too heavy that she would bolt out of her seat. I apologized immediately, profusely, letting my eyes tear up in the process. Slowly but surely, the vexed look in her eyes disappeared. And like a guardian angel taking my prayers up to God, her right hand reached up to the neck of her cardigan, lowered and snuck under it to retrieve a white handkerchief from the pocket of the uniform shirt she wore underneath.
See, it has not been explained to date but all the senior girls in our school wore white handkerchiefs, neatly pressed into slim sharp-edged squares, in the pockets of their uniform shirts. So my gamble had really been more of an educated guess. And it had paid off because the colour was orange; there was also a glimpse of tantalizingly jiggly mammary flesh but the prize at the time was the narrow strap of an orange bra.
After she had wiped her hands and face with the handkerchief, L’Ara continued her lecture but at that time, no amount of HCF or LCM in the world could have toppled my excitement. I could already see the look of heightened respect in the eyes of my buddies and the shame in Eme’s – I go show the boy ehn. All I had to do was suffer through the reiteration of a basic math concept I had taught a number of my classmates and return to the crew, without getting caught.
L’Ara finished and I turned to leave immediately, every bit the accomplished war-hero en route home. If I hadn’t been so excited, I might have been more careful.
As I walked back in the direction of my crew, super-swagger in my step, near-sinister smirk on my face…
“Hey! Stop there!!”
And I froze.