The single patient room in the dispensary was a bright and airy albeit spartanly-furnished room. There were drapes on the windows and crown molding at the ceiling. The floor was bare, bereft of any carpeting, and positioned against the walls were three beds. All three beds were occupied. On one bed was a JSS3 boy clad in a singlet and his day wear shorts, who kept groaning intermittently, his frequent turning on the bed causing the metal joints to creak with each movement. The second bed was occupied by another junior boy, fully-clothed, whose furtive looks at the door of the room and exaggerated shivers every time there were footsteps on the other side of the door betrayed his malaise as contrived; he had clearly convinced the matron to admit him in the infirmary for an ailment that didn’t exist n a bid to perhaps escape the wrath of some senior. I knew the trick; I smiled to myself when I recalled the few times my friends and I had pulled it off back in our junior days.
I was the one on the third bed. I was still recuperating from my episode with the bee attack yesterday. After I lost consciousness, my friends and two dorm-mates, Chibunna and Nnadozie, had bundled me to the dispensary, where upon the relation of our plight, the matron and her belaboured nursing assistant had swung into action.
The other four boys received a simple first aid treatment of cold compresses, the application of ointments and the intake of medication. The nurse had administered these treatments to them, while the matron worked on reviving me, after which she gave me some ministrations and placed me on admission in the dispensary. The others returned to the hostel with strict instructions from her to return the next morning before classes for a check-up. I was still asleep when Ibuka and Joseph came for their check-up, and woke up to the nascent glare of the late-morning sun, the distant hubbub of ongoing classes and the presence of the patient who wouldn’t stop moaning and turning about on his bed. The second boy was admitted about an hour ago.
A quick glance at the clock, a solitary adornment on the room’s whitewashed walls, revealed that it was a few minutes past three. A short while ago, I’d observed through the window a traffic of students walking past, chattering and clearly well-fed from the just concluded lunch. It was Friday, and so I didn’t expect my friends to drop in anytime soon. The Friday cleanup this afternoon would be rigorous; tomorrow’s House Inspection was going to be the first in the term, and no House prefect would leave any stone unturned in the pursuit of the accolade as the first cleanest House of the term.
Feeling morose at the prospect of being on my own for more time than I cared for, I turned on my bed. I winced at the pain of my skin, bruised with the rash that was my allergic reaction to the bee stings, moving against the bed sheets.
Small pain for you to endure, considering that you’re getting out of hefty hostel chores, I thought as I glanced at the inflamed skin of my arms. Hopefully, the rashes would remain, and I wouldn’t have to be discharged before tomorrow’s morning work and House Inspection. Such comforting thoughts made me ignore my discomfort as I moved on the bed again.
Just then, I heard chatter in the corridor. I recognized the voices and my mood instantly lifted. The Fake Malaria junior boy immediately shrank into a fetal position and began to shiver with an intensity that an earthquake would envy.
I chuckled. “Relax,” I called out to him. “Those are just my friends.”
He shot me a surly, What-are-you-talking-about look through heavy-lidded eyes and carried on with his shivering.
A moment later, the door was pushed slightly open, and Ibuka’s head popped in. When he saw me sitting up and staring in his direction, his face was wreathed with a smile, and he began to open the door wider.
“Is he still sleeping?” I heard Joseph ask behind him.
“No, he’s awake.” Ibuka pushed the door open to admit the two of them into the room. They bounded for my bed.
“Guy, how far,” Joseph said with a smile, his eyes darting over my face as he sat on the bed.
“How are you feeling?” Ibuka said, also sitting and raising the back of his hand to my forehead.
“I don’t have fever, shey you know,” I said, chuckling, and grateful for their presence. “So, touching my head will not confirm to you how I’m feeling.”
“Shettup and let me practice being a doctor,” Ibuka shot back.
The three of us laughed.
Near Death junior boy groaned again.
Fake Malaria junior boy stood from his bed with a sprightliness that an ailing person should not have, made for the open doorway and pulled the door shut. Then he returned to his bed.
“So what are you two doing here?” I asked. “How did you get Ejike and Nelson to set you free?” Ejike Mgbemelu and Nelson Ogazi were the senior hostel Peace House prefects.
“Well, lucky for us, they are not like Pharaoh,” Ibuka said. He gestured to his face and arms, which were riddled with the crimson of sting marks. “All we had to do was show them evidence of our bee attack and tell them Matron said we should come for check-up, and they let our people go.”
“Did Matron say you people should come for checkup?” I asked with a knowing grin.
“How can you be asking questions whose answers you already know?” Joseph quipped. “I was embarrassed to look like this when going to class today, but now I’ve realized that I can even use this as a reason not to work tomorrow morning.”
“Joseph –” Ibuka began reprovingly.
“What? Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.”
“Yes, I have. But it’s wrong. We should do everything in our power to help Peace House win cleanest house during the inspection.”
“What are you then doing here? Go back to the hostel now and help, better pikin like you.”
Ibuka gave a good-natured laugh. “I’m allowed to sin today. Tomorrow, I can go back to being a good boy.”
“You’re not serious,” I said, joining in his laughter.
“You sef that went to go and faint, nawa for you o,” Joseph said to me. “You can like to overdo.”
“Better don’t talk nonsense with Eze o,” Ibuka chided. “He could have fainted for a reason.”
“Yes, because I’m more severely allergic to bee sting than you guys,” I said.
Ibuka waved a dismissive hand. “What kind of boring reason is that? I’m talking about how you may right now be turning into a boy with super powers.”
Joseph guffawed. “It’s true o. Is it not how it happened with Spiderman?”
“You people are not serious,” I countered with a grin.
“No, of course, we are,” Ibuka said. “So tell us, have you started encountering any strange feelings? Is your body doing you one-kain one-kain? Is your sense of smell starting to get sharper?”
“Yea, did you perceive the egusi soup and garri we had for lunch all the way in the dining hall?” Joseph said, clearly enjoying himself.
“What about your eyesight?” Ibuka intoned. “Has that one increased?”
“Can you tell us if there’s an ant over there?” Joseph pointed to the ground in the far corner of the room.
“No, no, no and no, but my fingers are just about to turn into stingers that I will use and give the two of you so much pain right now,” I growled, lifting hooked claws and feinting toward Ibuka.
They recoiled from me, laughing.
Near Death junior boy groaned for some attention yet again.
Fake Malaria junior boy’s bed rattled a bit as he added some fervor to his shivering.
“What will your superhero name be sef?” Joseph wondered.
“Uuhh, Bee Man?” Ibuka supplied.
“Too common… Bee Stinger…”
“Lord of the Bees…”
“Be gone from here, you two idiots!” I cut in, laughing at their rapid-fire dialogue.
At another pained moan from the other bed, Joseph glanced at the boy on it, then the second one. His eyebrows were raised as he took them in.
“By the way,” Ibuka said to me, while looking askance at Joseph, “Nkeiru has come back o.”
Joseph returned his focus sharply to us.
“Nkeiru Ogbuagu?” I blurted.
“No, it’s Nkeiru Babangida,” Ibuka sniped. “Of course it’s Nkeiru Ogbuagu. How many Nkeirus do you know?”
“Just the one that dumped Joseph,” I said with a wicked grin.
“She did not dump me,” Joseph bristled.
“She dumped you,” Ibuka insisted.
“How do you know she dumped me? You people should stop talking nonsense.”
“We know because if you were the one who broke up with her, you would have given us the gist tay-tay, with full details. Instead, we had to hear it from Amaka.”
“Exactly!” I agreed.
“You that is talking, Mister Fake Superhero,” Joseph rounded on me, “you should just know that I told Anulika about your condition.”
“Oh my God, Joseph! What did you tell her?”
“That bees attacked us, and only you fainted,” he announced with obvious relish.
“Chai! See de-repping,” Ibuka said with a laugh. “Eze, that girl will not agree for you ever again.”
“What girl?” a soft voice cut in.
The three of us gave a start as we turned to face the door which we hadn’t heard open.
Anulika stood in the slight gap between the door and its jamb. The tentative smile on her face curled its way right down to my toes. “Hello, Eze,” she said. Her voice was warm maple syrup.
“Hi,” I choked out, my heart racing with the surprise of seeing her here.
“May we come in?”
“We?” I was suddenly conscious of the fact that I was wearing just my singlet and boxers. As I surreptitiously began pulling the bed covers up to cover my boxer-clad thighs, I tried to recall if my singlet still looked clean. I could risk looking down on it to check; that might draw Anulika’s attention to my dishabille.
“Yes, me and my friends,” she replied as she pushed the door open and stepped into the room.
I watched Amaka and Nkeiru walk in behind her. My gaze skimmed over the third girl. Her glasses were new, smaller, not as owlish as the one she wore last school year. She looked good too, even though her quiet reserve was still there. Her eyes skittered to and then away from Joseph.
“Hello, Eze,” she said shyly when she noticed my eyes were on her.
“Hi, Nkeiru. You’re back.”
“Yes. I came back with my sister yesterday evening.”
“How is she?”
Amaka gave a snort of displeasure as she gave the room a once-over. “This place smells like hospital.”
“That’s because it’s a hospital nah,” Anulika said with a soft laugh as she approached my bed.
Ibuka hastened to his feet, a clear indication that she could take his place.
“Oh what a gentleman,” Amaka said, before turning to look pointedly at Joseph.
He stared back at her.
“Well?” she said.
“Well what?” he responded.
“Aren’t you going to stand for me to sit?”
“So you can come and nyash down close to where my boy’s something is?” He gestured at my lower body which was positioned scant inches from his derriere.
I felt heat flood my face as my hand drew the bed covers higher over my groin.
Amaka gave a scoffing laugh. “Oh please, what is there to see that I have not seen before?”
“You have not seen his own,” Joseph said.
Amaka cocked jeering brows. “I’ve seen my brother’s own. You see one, you’ve seen them all.”
“Tell the person who told you that that he or she lied. They come in different shapes and sizes and with different superpowers.”
“Tufia!” Ibuka burst out, snapping his fingers. “You people have spoil finish.”
His comic revulsion caused an outburst of laughter in the room.
Thereafter, Nkeiru took a seat on Fake Malaria junior boy’s bed, and opened a page on the novel in her hand. Ibuka drifted toward Joseph and Amaka, and the three carried on a conversation.
And I was left to bask in the soft wash of nature’s luminance that was Anulika’s smile.
“I heard you fainted,” she said.
“And I was very brave about it,” I replied.
She laughed. “Of course, it would be a shame not to faint courageously.”
“You have no idea.”
“Well, I’m sorry you’re here, missing all our classes. Whenever you come back, I’ll have my notes ready for you. I know how you like to borrow my notes.”
I grinned, unabashed by what she’d implied. Then I remembered something. “Speaking of notes…” I reached under my pillow and slid out a sheet of paper and a pen. With nothing to do all morning, I’d finally finished the poem I started writing yesterday.
“What is this?” Anulika said as I handed the paper out to her.
“It’s for you. Read.”
She took the paper from me and looked down on the page. My heart began to thump. I watched her lips move as she read. A slight tension gripped my insides, holding me stiffly in position as I waited. Joseph moved on the bed, drawing my gaze to him. He looked at me and at the paper in Anulika’s hand, and nodded.
I looked a question at him.
He responded with a knowing smile.
I blinked my incomprehension at him.
Don’t worry, I’ve got this, he mouthed at me, and then began speaking as he got up, “Okay, guys, let’s go out for a moment.”
“Why?” Amaka queried.
“Because I said so.”
Amaka was about to open her mouth to defy him when Nkeiru cut in, as she too stood. “Yes, we should leave.”
“What is with all this need for us to leave?” Ibuka heaved in exasperation.
“Juo kwa ha!” Amaka sniffed. “Inukwam nonsense o.”
“Amy, Eze and Anulika need some alone time,” Nkeiru said.
“What – no! No, no, no,” Anulika protested, as she looked up from her reading. “We are not pursuing anybody o.”
“No, you’re not,” Joseph said. “We are just excusing ourselves” – he turned pointedly to Amaka – “right?”
“Right,” she groused, before making for the door.
Nkeiru was already there, holding it open. Ibuka followed after them.
“Hey! Hey – the two of you!” Joseph barked with a sharp authority that my co-occupants of the room could not ignore.
They stared up at him from their beds.
“What is sicking you?” he directed at Near Death junior boy.
“My whole body…” the boy whimpered. “It’s just paining me…”
“And you?” Joseph turned to Fake Malaria junior boy.
“Senior, I have fever and typhoid and headache and malaria…” The boy’s voice faded out with a shudder of his body.
“Okay, as of this moment, the two of you are healed in Jesus’ name!” Joseph clapped his hands once. “Oya, get up and go forth and multiply.”
“But, senior –”
The two boys hastened from their beds and scampered out of the room, with Near Death junior boy struggling to get into his day wear shirt.
When he got to the door, Joseph paused long enough to turn with a grin and say, “Now, don’t you two do what I wouldn’t do, okay?”
“But what you would do is what we shouldn’t do,” Anulika said, chuckling.
“Exactly,” Joseph said, before shutting the door behind him.
In the wake of their departure, the room was awkward and still for a moment, stuck in that lull when the music first starts and neither stranger is sure how to begin the dance.
“So…” I began hoarsely and nodded at the paper in her hand. “Do you like it?”
“I love it. I didn’t know you had become such a Shakespeare. This is what I’d expect from Ibuka.”
“Yea, well, you inspire me to do things I never think I’m capable of.”
She said nothing to that. Instead, she looked steadily at me, her stare at once frank and veiled.
I stared back at her in open appreciation. Everything about her was beautiful: her face, her hair, her elegant neck, the fullness of her bosom tapering down to slender legs that were in that moment tucked away from my sight.
And then, I said the words that should no longer come as a surprise to her: “Will you kiss me?”
Anulika’s mouth tilted upward, and she gave a fractional nod, before moving toward me.
My heart did an odd little somersault and landed back in place with a thud that left me breathless. Her head drew closer. And for an incredible moment, I only stared. I felt my heartbeat exploding against my chest.
And then I moved speedily forward –
And knocked my forehead against hers. The momentum of my haste also brought our mouths forcefully together, causing her upper teeth to sink slightly into my lower lip.
We pulled back abruptly from each other. She was rubbing her forehead, while I slipped my tongue out to be check that she hadn’t drawn blood from my lip. Then we stared awkwardly at each other for a moment before dissolving into laughter.
“Okay, that was not how I saw this happening,” I said.
“Probably not how Joseph saw it happening either,” she concurred.
“But we did it so well last term.”
“And we will get it right again.”
Like a cloud moving across the sun, disappointment dimmed the lambency of my eyes. “Just not now?”
She smiled and raised a hand to cup my chin. The warmth of the touch burned its way into my face. “Just not now,’ she said.
“And the part about being my girlfriend?”
The smile grew, ever so spectacular – the kind of smile that made me think of more poetry and spring and sunset. “We’ll see,” was all she said.
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