FOREWORD: Dear readers and lovers of Eze Goes To School, I have a request to ask of you. I see that many of you connect to the series because of the memories of boarding school that it evokes. Well, I’d love to have these memories to expand further on the storyline of the series. So if you do have any memories, it doesn’t matter if you can write or not, simply pen it down however the Holy Spirit guides you and email your stories – all of them – to me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks in anticipation.
And now, for today’s episode…
It was one of those slow November afternoons marked by an opalescent sky, scant cumuli of clouds and an insufferable heat and humidity that had settled in for its annual six-month stay. As my friends and I loitered on the pavement in front of SS1A due to the nonattendance of teachers in our respective classes, I kept wishing for the speedy arrival of Harmattan.
I was excited too about the advent of the school’s singular most important night of every term – the Social Night. This night was really just a sort of mating ritual for the SS3 students, an event that gave them an excuse to doll up and then come on out into the loud music and open hall to work out the hormones they’d had to indulge in hidden corners and shadowed classrooms.
But I wasn’t excited for the sake of the SS3s. I was anticipating the Social Night because, finally, as a senior boy, even though the class was at the bottom rung of the totem pole, I would not attend the event as a mere spectator. The rules were: once you advance from the short-wearing junior class, at the Social Night, you can get on the dance floor and dance, dance, dance!
“What is this one doing?” Ibuka said, arching his brows at me as I twirled on my feet and finished with a little jig.
“I’m practising my dance steps,” I replied, as I executed another move in tandem with the beat in my head.
“For the Social Night?”
“And who are you feeling like,” Joseph sneered, “Usher or Papa Ajasco?”
Laughter erupted from Ibuka as the taunt bounced off me. I was in the zone, and not even Joseph’s barbs could dampen my mood.
“Keep talking, you hear,” I said, “while I’ll keep practising. Before you know it, I’ll be rocking that dance floor better than anyone you know.”
“You’ll be rocking the dance floor all on your own?” Joseph said.
“Because, last I checked, you still haven’t asked Anulika to be your date for the night.”
“And we all know how long something like that will take,” Ibuka added.
“Oh yes,” Joseph said. “First he’ll have to go to Mountain of Fire to find out from God where He kept the liver he’ll use to ask Anulika out.”
“And then after God has revealed to him where the liver is,” Ibuka continued, “he’ll travel over seven mountains and seven seas to get there.”
“And travel back an additional seven valleys…”
“Only to branch off in one dibia‘s shrine to verify that it’s the right liver…”
“And finally return to school to find out that we’ve all graduated…”
“And that Anulika has married one doctor from overseas –”
“And then I’ll kill the doctor from overseas and use the liver I suffered for to ask her to marry me,” I deadpanned.
The three of us were laughing so hard at this repartee that for a moment, we didn’t notice the boy who had drawn up close to us and was waiting to get a word in edgewise.
“Ibuka…” he called out hesitantly.
We turned in his direction. A dark-skinned boy, pimply-faced and buck-toothed, had his eyes on Ibuka. He was Mike Onwubiko from SS1D.
“Yes?” Ibuka said.
Mike jerked his head in the universal gesture of one asking for a private audience. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”
Joseph placed a restraining hand on Ibuka as he made to move toward the boy. “Whatever you want to say to Ibuka, you can say in front of us.” At a frown from Mike, he continued, “Because, let’s face it, when you two finish discussing in private, Ibuka will still come back and tell us.”
“Joe –” Ibuka began reprovingly.
“And who knows,” I interrupted, “we may be of help. What’s that they say about three heads being better than one?”
“I think my one head is always better than three,” Ibuka huffed, starting to get indignant.
“You are labouring under the impression that Mike wants to ask you for a one-plus-one solution,” I shot back.
Ibuka bridled. “Hey, just so you know –”
“Okay, okay,” Mike cut in, waving his hands in capitulation. “It’s not about school work” – I shot a triumphant look at Ibuka at this – “but I felt I should approach Ibuka since he’s in the same class with her.”
“Her?” Ibuka echoed.
“Her who?” I queried.
“So, a girl problem,” Joseph said, smiling and crossing his arms.
“It’s not a problem per se –” Mike started.
“Who is the girl?” Ibuka interrupted with some impatience.
“Eva Obanya,” Mike replied shortly.
Involuntarily, I turned my head around to look through the louvered windows into SS1A, my eyes seeking out the coffee-coloured girl with the pixie-perfect face, who was holding court in one corner of the classroom while her full lips aggressively worked a mouthful of gum.
“It’s just that since Social Night is approaching,” Mike was saying, “I have been thinking more and more about this girl.” He turned his face to the window and rested a wistful expression on the girl who seemed to be racing toward the delivery of a punch line and was clapping her hands in incredulity over the conversation’s subject matter. “I’ve been dying for her small-small since JSS2 –”
“You should continue doing that,” Joseph cut in.
“Excuse me?” Mike returned his gaze to Joseph.
“You’ve been dying for her since JSS2 and you’re still alive. Doing anything about it now will result in your death.”
Mike’s gaze sharpened. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“That Eva Obanya is way out of your league, my friend.”
“Joseph!” Ibuka gasped his disapproval.
“What nonsense! Who asked you?” Mike flared.
“Nobody,” Joseph replied, unfazed by the boy’s antagonism. “It’s free advice. I suggest you take it.”
“Fuck you! And fuck your advice!” Mike flashed.
A few startled faces in SS1A belonging to those sitting close to the window turned to us.
“Calm down, Mike,” Ibuka hissed, his hands flapping forward in a soothing motion. “Joe, will you stop being insensitive.”
“Okay, maybe I was being insensitive,” Joseph conceded, “but it’s the only way to make you understand that you are about to make a mistake.”
“You haven’t even heard what I wanted to ask Ibuka,” Mike bit out, his eyes hot and resentful, his buck teeth digging into the flesh of his long-suffering bottom lip.
“Let me guess, you want him to tell you how to chyke Eva?”
“As if,” I muttered around a chuckle, earning me a glower from Ibuka.
“No – I mean, yes – that is…the thing is…” Mike flailed. “I wanted to know some specific information about the kinds of things she likes, so I can make my move.”
“Have you tried making your move,” Joseph said, “on girls like Charity Opara in SS1F and Temitope Sokoya in SS1C?”
The skin on Mike’s forehead dipped to the centre of his frown. “Those girls are not fine.”
“Exactly.” Joseph spread his hands as if to say his point was obvious. “They won’t give you any trouble when you ask them out. Eva Obanya is bad news for you, my friend.”
“I am not your friend,” Mike hissed.
“And Joe, stop making Eva seem like one kind of princess,” I intoned, getting slightly irritated by Joseph’s steadfast putdown of Mike Onwubiko. Something about the boy’s desperation stirred my insides, uncomfortably so. “She’s not special abeg. She’s not even fine like that. Any boy can –”
“Don’t you dare insult Eva Obanya!” Mike turned his glare to me. “She’s finer than all the girls in your class.”
“I beg your pardon?” I said, drawing back.
“Including Anulika Egereonu?” Joseph’s eyes gleamed with devilry as he said that.
“Who – that one that doesn’t even have breasts?” Mike scoffed.
“What did you just say?” I growled and moved a step forward, my hackles lifted.
“Guys, guys…” Ibuka leaped in again. “Behave please. Joseph, you should be ashamed of yourself. Eze, calm down. I’m sure Mike didn’t mean what he said –”
“But I meant–” Mike began in angry protest.
“And you,” Ibuka cut him off, “you need to not interrupt me if you want my help with Eva.” The sternness in his voice was so completely stentorian, that it whipped the defiance from the other boy.
He released a sigh and his shoulders dropped. “Please, just tell me what I can do to get her…” he said, a note of plaintiveness creeping into his voice.
Joseph began replying, “I still think –”
“He did not ask you, did he?” Ibuka discontinued his opinion with a voice that was still in charge.
Joseph shut his mouth and shook his head with exaggerated submission. His eyes brimmed with amused intent, and I swatted the back of his head with my hand.
“Don’t even!” I said with a chuckle. “Now come, let’s do what we should have done since, which is to give these two boys privacy to talk about how to take down Her Royal Highness in there.”
Do not say I did not warn you, Joseph mouthed at the SS1D boy as he let me pull him away.
“So what wisdom did you give Mike Onwubiko?” Joseph enquired as we strolled from the section of the school occupied by shops and canteens, headed for the classroom block.
The bell signaling the end of break time was tolling, and a sea of whites and blues were milling around as other students either began the exodus back to their classrooms or darted toward the shops for last minute purchases.
“What did you tell him that will make him the love of Eva Obanya’s life?”
“Nothing that is any of your business,” Ibuka retorted as he drained the content from the sachet of pure water in his hand. He made low sucking noises and his Adam’s apple bobbed as water sluiced down his throat.
“Come on, Ibu –”
“Why do you want to know?” He was done with the sachet and squeezed it into his palm. Ibuka didn’t litter; he’d hold on to that piece of detritus until he could dispose of it properly inside one of the large plastic bins placed at strategic points on the premises. “You want me to tell you so you two can go and make fun of him to his face, abi?”
“No!” I responded. “Haba! I’m not like that. I’m actually rooting for the guy.”
“I’m not,” Joseph said tersely.
“You see?” Ibuka pounced.
“But that doesn’t mean I want to go and mock him with what you tell us. I don’t have that time abeg.”
We were walking past a bin. It was open, with its lid hanging all the way down by its side. A swarm of buzzing flies lifted from inside the bin, hovered in the air and dipped inside, their flight a disordered formation. Ibuka walked to the bin and dropped the sachet into it, his intrusion discarding the flies. Then he hefted up the lid and slammed it shut over the bin.
“So?” I urged as he joined us.
“Well, there was really nothing much to tell him,” he admitted with a shrug. “I know Eva likes to feel special. I always overhear her boasting to some of the other girls about the boys who live in her street back home sending her sweets like chocolate and ice cream. She likes stuff like that, being surprised.”
“It’s longer throat that will kill her,” Joseph said good-naturedly.
“Stop joor,” Ibuka chided. “She’s a girl. It’s to be expected.”
“And how is Mike supposed to get chocolate he’ll use to impress her?” I asked.
“Plus I’m sure the kind of ice cream she likes being surprised with is not this 50-naira yoghurt Abdul sells from his bicycle,” Joseph rejoined.
“I know all that.” Ibuka nodded. “I suggested he turn an ordinary gesture into a special one. The plan was for him to buy like two of Mama Friday’s cupcakes, mineral – Fanta, Eva likes Fanta – and maybe one chicken pie. Then he’ll have Mama Friday wrap it all up for him, and he’ll attach a short note about liking her, which he will then sign ‘Your secret admirer’. Then he’ll send a junior girl to Eva with the package.”
When he finished, he turned an earnest look first to Joseph, then to me, and back to Joseph, seeking commendation.
“Not bad,” Joseph said with a fractional nod of his head. “Not bad at all.”
“I know, right?” I enthused.
“Really? You think so?” Ibuka’s eyes were shining, as though the approval he was getting translated to the success of his mission with Mike.
“Yes,” I replied. “I mean, the plan is nice. Eva might just agree for him.”
“No, she won’t,” Joseph demurred.
“You just said it’s not a bad plan.”
“And it’s not. But seriously, Ibu, have you seen Mike Onwubiko?”
Ibuka frowned. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with him?”
“Joe, don’t say it,” I interjected, giggling over my knowledge of what Joseph was talking about.
“What?” he protested to me, and then refocused on Ibuka. “Do you not see his front teeth? They make him look like a rabbit.”
I doubled over and howled with laughter. Ibuka’s expression turned flinty as the humour bounced off him.
“How does he even expect to kiss her with his teeth standing in the way like that?” Joseph continued.
“That’s a very unkind thing to say,” Ibuka admonished.
“But it’s the truth.”
“And you’re a snob.”
“You’re handsome, Joe, and you sometimes forget that your looks have leveled the ground for you, and that not all of us are so lucky. It’s very shameful, and if I didn’t know you better, I’d be ashamed to call you my friend.” His voice cracked whip-sharp, lashing the humour from Joseph and I. My laughter was hiccupping to a stop when he turned to me. “And you, you’re here laughing like a laughing jackass when you forget that once upon a time, you were also desperate for the attention of some other fine girl.”
My face turned hot with an instant flush of guilt, and when I opened my mouth to offer an utterance of protest, my vocal chords produced nothing.
“Let’s just go please,” Ibuka said with a sigh, and turned to proceed to our block, leaving us to trudge after him.
It was first the shrieks, and then the sight of some SS1 students gathering around SS1A that alerted us to the trouble brewing inside Ibuka’s classroom.
“What’s going on?” Joseph asked, moments before the three of us hastened down the pavement, stopping at the window to peer into the crowded classroom.
“Oh no…” Ibuka groaned.
“What do you mean you are my secret admirer!” Eva Obanya was screeching, her eyes narrowed into a mean squint that was aimed at –
“Mike Onwubiko!” I rasped. “Was this part of your plan, Ibu?”
“No. He was supposed to wait until School Over to approach her.” Ibuka sounded miserable.
“It doesn’t matter when he approaches her,” Joseph said, and then pointed. “This would still be her reaction.”
“Eva…please…” Mike was stammering. “Please, I love you -“
I winced as I sensed the volley of fury that would meet that premature declaration.
The pixie-faced girl drew her head back in a laugh – a long, cruel laugh, punctured by the clapping of her hands. Her eyes had widened, the sparkle of electricity evident in them, and her manner betrayed her awareness of her audience and her intent to decimate this fool who had dared to embarrass her like this.
“You love me?” She spat the words out as though they had a bad taste. “You” – she jabbed a finger in the air before Mike – “love me! Did you even look at yourself in the mirror before you stepped out this morning? Did you give yourself a long look before you decided it is Evangeline Obanya you will disgrace today? Did you? What witch – what ogbanje put it in your head that you can approach me, talk less of speaking to me? Eh? Tell me! Do I look like I am your capacity?”
Sniggers broke out around us.
“Eva, don’t say this please…” Mike’s lips trembled around the buck teeth that suddenly looked like they could shrink out of sight.
“Eh-eh, eh-eh!” The girl gestured him into silence by splaying the fingers of her right hand in his face. “Don’t even say my name! Don’t even! My name and your mouth are not of the same capacity!”
More students began to guffaw at the cruelly-delivered verbal blows.
“But I bought the Fanta…and cakes…and –”
“And you think I’m that cheap, eh? How much was it? Tell me, how much?”
“Two-fifty,” Mike blurted out.
Laughter swelled as Eva clapped her hands again. “And you see me finish, I’m now worth two-fifty naira, eh? In fact!” She snatched a small, black purse up from the desk behind her, snapped it open and fished out some naira notes. “Here! Take your money!”
She threw the notes at him. Mike made no move to catch them, and they fluttered down to the ground, around his feet.
“Let this be the first and last you will try this nonsense with me, you hear?” Eva wagged a finger at him. “For your information, you are under my capacity. If you didn’t know, know it now. You are under my capacity! Nonsense!” With that resounding finish, she whirled around and flounced the short distance to her desk, settling down on her seat with a flourish that announced to the spectators that the show was over.
The crowd began to disperse, murmurs, snickers and a few exuberant mimicries of ‘You are under my capacity’ following after them. Mike turned to leave as well, his head so sunken, he didn’t see the three of us standing there, watching from the window.
“The poor boy,” Ibuka commiserated.
“I knew this sort of thing would happen,” Joseph said without relish.
“Joe, now is not the time to say ‘I told you so’,” Ibuka snapped.
“I wasn’t saying that,” Joseph shot back.
They continued bickering, but their contention stayed removed from my consciousness as I stood and stared coldly at Eva Obanya. Pressure was building from the back of my head to the front, a relentless vise of anger directed at the girl.
I felt a touch on my shoulder, and a shake. I turned to face my friends. They encountered the lividity on my face.
Joseph lifted his brows. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What about her?” Ibuka asked.
“She needs to be taught a lesson.”
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