FOREWORD: So I’ve got news, #MyMindSnappers. For all fans of the hilarious and entertaining series titled COMPOUND MATTERS which has long been on a hiatus, well, the series is coming back. Our dearly beloved Idara is coming back with all her romantic and compound problems. All new episodes beginning on Tuesdays 😀
And now, for today’s offering…
The bell announcing the most-hated school activity pulled me forcefully awake. I’d been dreaming about Anulika. As I lay there, slowly becoming aware of the subdued hubbub of my dorm-mates who were preparing for jogging, I tried to remember the specifics of my dream, but the details had disintegrated into small pieces and blown away, leaving behind only a few frustrating snippets.
“Eze! It’s time for jogging!” Joseph called, following his words with a whack of his hand on my shoulder.
I grunted and sank deeper into my bed, keeping my eyes closed.
“Keep it down, Amuluche!” the authoritative voice that could only belong to an SS3 boy snapped groggily from his bed. “If I hear you shouting again, the only jogging you’ll be doing will be under my bed.”
I started to smile satisfactorily at the admonishment when I felt a tug at my head. Before comprehension dawned, my pillow was yanked right out from under my head. My eyes shot open as I whirled around, half sitting up at the same time. For a moment, the gloominess of the room from the pre-dawn darkness outside impaired my vision.
I blinked, and then I was able to make out Joseph stepping backward from my bunk, my pillow in his hands.
“Give it back, Joe,” I hissed, mindful of the SS3s in our dormitory, who didn’t want to be disturbed. We weren’t even allowed to put on the light in the room this early in the morning because Senior Chisom had given an order criminalizing it.
“No,” Joseph hissed back. “Get up, it’s time for jogging. You want Alfred to come and catch you in bed, abi?”
Alfred Etok was the Sports Prefect.
I grumbled something unintelligible and turned to sink back into my bed. The bed was warm and cozy and I didn’t relish the thought of crawling out into the dark, cold world, especially on a Friday morning. Or any other morning for that matter. It was far more pleasant to linger beneath the layers of my bed-clothes, thinking about Anulika.
“Shame on you,” Joseph continued in a low tone close to my head. “Even Ibu has gotten ready for jogging.”
Ibuka is ready for jogging?! I turned again to look at his bed for confirmation. There was nobody on it. Just then, he stepped into the dormitory from the outside, wiping his face with a hand-towel. He’d obviously been out to wash his face. He was clad in the jogging uniform of green T-shirt and blue, thigh-length shorts. His feet were shod in canvas shoes.
No way is Ibuka ready for jogging and I’m still lazing about in bed! I thought grimly as I began to sit up. I noticed the smirk on Joseph’s face and scowled.
“It’s because of this Mimi girl,” I snapped at him, “and you know it.”
“Does it matter why he’s ready, as long as he’s ready,” Joseph retorted.
“Who ready for what?” Ibuka said as he drew into our corner.
“You ready to do whatever it takes to get your girl,” Joseph said with some cheer as he clapped a hand over Ibuka’s shoulders.
“Yes!” Ibuka said, his teeth flashing bright in the semi-darkness. “Joe says that exercising and watching what I eat will surely get me in shape for Mimi.”
“Yea, Joe says a lot of things,” I groused as I began retrieving my sports outfit from my locker and divesting my body of my pajamas. “And before, you were wise not to listen to everything Joe said.”
“Don’t be jealous, Eze,” Joseph gibed. “Don’t worry, you’ll get him back during the weekends, I promise.”
“I’m not about to fight with you over the custody of Ibuka. You can keep him,” I rejoined.
“Hey! That hurt,” Ibuka interjected.
We broke out into snickers.
“Eze and co!” another voice, raspy with sleep, muttered angrily from another corner of the dorm.
“We didn’t mean to disturb you…”
“We’ll be quiet, senior…”
“Get out of here before I wake up fully enough to teach you boys a lesson!”
“Yes, senior!” we chorused, and proceeded to bustle out of the room, joining the throng of other hostel mates slouching out of the dormitories and making for the gate.
The morning was dawning under tedious cloud covers that were the colour of lead. There was a bite in the air, a distinctive smell that usually served as a precursor for the advent of Harmattan. The smell was faint, lingering, and carried with it the promise of family, home-cooked meals and Christmas. I felt a sharp tug of homesickness inside me, an emotion I quickly quelled as I walked out of Peace House senior hostel with my friends.
From all the other senior hostels and the girls’ hostels and junior hostels in the distance, students were filing out, some of them moving as though still drugged by sleep, and others walking with a sprightliness that defied the inhumanity of waking the student body by 5am for jogging.
“I think I’ll join you guys and queue up in your class line,” Ibuka said as we strolled toward the school’s parking lot.
“Why?” I asked, suspecting the answer.
“Because of Mimi,” he replied. “I want to see if I can engage her in a few minutes of conversation before the prefects arrive.”
The prefects were usually the last of the students to converge on the parking lot, the place where the jogging exercise began and ended.
“Sure, you should,” I said. “You should also move to our class and officially make yourself a student of SS1B so you can get even closer to her.” My sarcasm was unmistakable.
“Yes, I think I’ll speak to my form teacher about switching classes first thing Monday morning.” His tone matched mine.
Joseph burst out into laughter, a joyous sound in the early morning.
Before long, the parking lot was crowded with students and was abuzz with several muted conversations. A few peals of laughter punctured the air as the pearly-grey light of dawn slipped through the gradually-receding cumuli drifting sleepily across the sky.
When we glimpsed the straggly number of prefects approaching the lot, the students began drifting into the formation of their classes. The sight of the lords and ladies of the school was all the prompting we needed to get ourselves in order. Mercifully, the prefects weren’t feeling very vicious this morning. They didn’t check for whom among us weren’t putting on the full jogging outfit. When it was obvious they wouldn’t conduct the search for such wrongdoers, I observed a tense Ernest Alashe from SS1A, who was wearing his pajama bottoms, release an audible sigh of relief.
“Listen up!” Senior Alfred hollered, his voice dousing the dim in the car park. He moved in front of us with the kind of swagger only a boy with well-defined pecs could have. The prefect had honed his sinewy build from years of being a football player and representing the school in inter-state and national sporting events.
“We will be running five laps this morning!” he announced.
His declaration was received with a phalanx of groans from the students.
Five laps?! I thought wrathfully. Does this guy not want us to have the energy to eat breakfast with? I glanced at Ibuka and noted with some satisfaction the slightly panicked look on his face. Good. Now you know getting a girl is not as easy as hiring Joseph to be your Women Affairs instructor.
“Sharrap, all of you!” Senior Alfred barked, silencing the mumbled dissent. “Five laps, that’s it! And if I catch anyone walking, if I dare catch you walking…” He paused to stab the deadliness in his eyes at us. He didn’t need to finish up his threat. He simply gestured in the direction the jogging procession was to go and said, “Begin!”
The car park was instantly astir again, as the students poured forth in one direction, bodies jostling bodies and feet grinding the earth as we darted forward.
“Faster! Faster!” a prefect called out in our midst.
We are supposed to be jogging, not running, I thought sourly.
Nevertheless, our collective pace picked up. With a burst of energy freshly endowed by the start of a new day, we pounded forward, spurred on by the nascent surge of adrenaline. Joseph was a few yards ahead, and Ibuka kept pace with me. That was admirable. The boy hated this exercise so much, he usually lagged behind every time we jogged.
By the second lap, the general zeal of the jogging students began to wane.
“Heu, chimoo!” I heard a girl gasp behind me.
I turned to see a face shiny with sweat atop pendulous breasts heaving on a plumpish body. The girl had to be a junior student, because I didn’t recognize her as anyone in my set or in SS2.
“Adaobi, see Senior Remi is behind you,” the slim-statured girl by her side hissed at her when she noticed that her friend’s pace was flagging.
Senior Remi was indeed behind us. The female sports prefect was prancing forward on long, lithe legs, her eyes darting over the students milling around her for any lazy offenders.
“Adaobi!” the plump girl’s friend hissed again.
“Leave me biko. Ike agwugom, I am tired,” Adaobi panted as she lessened her gait to a fast walk.
“Hey you there!” Senior Remi barked from the crowd.
Adaobi gave a startled look around. It was clear she’d thought her friend was lying. When she saw the prefect gaining on her, she gave a small shriek of fright and resumed flight. But it was too late; Remi’s long whip had begun hurtling through the air to strike the junior girl’s back with a crack that alerted everyone around to the presence of a prefect in our midst. Suddenly, everyone was jogging faster again, including Adaobi who was now crying “Chimo! Chimo!” as she hastened forward, while her hand scrabbled at the pain on her back.
“These prefects are just wicked,” Ibuka panted beside me. “It’s not even as if all of them are leading by example.” He jerked his head to the left ahead of us.
I followed the motion with my eyes to the spot where Senior Zebedee Anumene, the Assistant Head Boy, was standing. His mouth was moving rhythmically over what I assumed was chewing gum as he watched the students whizzing past him. This was common; not all the prefects who come out for jogging duty joined us in the exercise. Some of them simply stand around at different locations along our route, their presence a reminder that they are everywhere, watching us, waiting to pounce.
“Relax, shebi it’s till next year,” I condoled. “Once they hand over to our set, whether I become a prefect or not, my relationship with jogging will be over.”
Ibuka chuckled his mirth, a wordless agreement with me.
It was a few minutes past 6am when we were finally done with the morning exercise. With every muscle in my limbs aching and quivering, I headed for the hostel with my friends.
“Joe, so what’s next?” Ibuka queried as he lifted the front end of his shirt to wipe at the perspiration on his face.
“We go for food, that’s what,” I answered before Joseph could. I could already perceive the aroma of the beans we usually had for Friday’s breakfast, even if it was my olfactory senses playing tricks on me. “Mmm,” I murmured as I closed my eyes, “I can’t wait to get to that dining hall. I’m famished.”
“Actually, Ibu, you may not want to go for morning food,” Joseph said.
My eyes snapped open. “Why wouldn’t he?”
Ibuka answered, “Joe said that in order to lose weight, I have to both exercise and eat less.”
“This is ridiculous,” I fumed, shooting a glower at Joseph.
“Hey, it’s basic Physical and Health Education,” Joseph said with a chortle. “You’re taking Health science class now, you should know that.”
“I also happen to know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Tell that to the SS3s who no longer go for food in the morning because they are big boys and girls.”
“They are not big anything. They are just stupid.”
“So when we get into SS3, you’ll still be going for Friday beans?” Joseph’s eyebrows peaked halfway up to his forehead as he registered shock.
“Yes,” I affirmed.
“Tufia!” He shuddered. “You’ll now come and be the hungry SS3 boy to junior students. Imagine the de-repping. It’s good you’re telling me now so I can reject you as my friend when we enter SS3.”
Ibuka and I laughed at that.
The next several minutes were characterized by our chores and various preparations for the day. The breakfast bell tolled midway through our bath time. There was suddenly a frenzied activity in the hostels as students hastened through their toilette.
We were pottering about in our corner, slipping into our whites and blues when I noticed Ibuka pouring juice from a Five Alive pack into his cup.
“That’s all you’re having this morning?” I arched my brows at him as I ran a shoe-brush over my sandal.
“And you’re sure you don’t want beans?”
“Eze, please stop talking to me about food, ah-ah!” He swallowed and then turned to Joseph, who was preening before a small mirror hanging on the inside of his locker’s door. “In fact, Joe, I’m starting to feel lighter already. Just now, as I was tying my belt, I had to put the buckle inside the hole below the hole I normally put it inside.” There was triumph in his tone.
“That is good,” Joseph cheered. “Let’s just stick to our schedule and you will soon become the man a big girl like Mimi will die for.”
“What is this schedule by the way?” I asked.
“Jogging all the time,” Ibuka answered, “less eating, and soon we’ll start doing press-up. I want to get akpa obi too.” He slapped a hand over his chest.
“This is crazy,” I heaved, exasperated.
“Is it?” Ibuka snarked. “Perhaps if you’d listen to Joe, by now, you would have gotten Anulika to agree for you.”
A beat passed as the barb sank in through my pores, reached for my nerve endings and squeezed them shut. Then Joseph exploded into laughter.
“Ibu! Give me five! That was a good one!” He raised his hand to Ibuka, who slapped the palm with his. “See, Eze? Ibuka is a go-getter. He is doing what he can to get his girl. He listens to Joseph. Be like Ibuka.”
“The two of you are on your own,” I growled as I reached for my breakfast things.
Their relentless laughter followed me out of the dormitory.
TO BE CONTINUED
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