“I pity some boys sha, for when we will graduate from secondary school,” Joseph said from the class window, through which he was staring out at the area that separated our block from the JSS3 block.
“What are you talking about?” I said as I glanced up briefly from the notes on my desk.
“Is it not these boys,” he said, turning his lips down as a rictus of disgust spasmed through his face.
“Which boys?” I craned my neck to look beyond the window’s burglary proofing to the outside.
“He’s talking about Argentina Nnorom,” Ibuka said from behind me, where he’d taken a seat after he brought his Chemistry note to me at the ring of the break time bell.
Mrs. Ewelike hadn’t dictated any notes during her class earlier this morning, but as she spoke, rattling off salient points about alkaline and hydrochloric acids, Ibuka had managed to jot down everything she’d said into a comprehensive note. Most of the class hadn’t gotten down Mrs. Ewelike’s lecture, and so, Ibuka’s Chemistry note was currently the hottest thing in the joint SS1A/SS1B Chemistry class. Right after me, Mimi Adebayo and then Ernest Alashe from his class had their turns to copy his notes.
“Argentina!” Joseph scoffed. “What kind of name is Argentina sef? Is that not the capital of Brazil?”
“No, it’s a state in America,” Ibuka deadpanned as I began giggling. “Olodo like you! You won’t leave the boy alone and brush up on your geography.”
“Why is he even vexing for Argentina?” I’d caught a glimpse of the SS1F boy. He was standing in a corner, in the midst of some friends, average-height and lanky, with striking fair skin and limp-wristed hands, one of which he’d just then brought up to his chest as he threw his head back in delicate laughter. A couple of the other boys flanking him had also struck effeminate poses and were just as delighted in their conversation as Argentina was. I suspected what Joseph’s rancour was about as I reiterated, “Why are you vexing for Argentina?”
“Because he likes doing like woman,” he said, turning his lips down again in revulsion. “He’s a boy for chrissakes! He should act like a boy.”
“Is the way he’s acting like a girl affecting you in anyway?” I queried with a smirk.
“Help me and ask him o!” Ibuka said.
“Yes,” Joseph replied grimly.
“He’s disgracing us boys.”
Ibuka groaned so dramatically, I knew he’d just rolled his eyes.
I was still amused as I asked, “How is he disgracing boys?”
“Don’t you know? By doing like a woman the way he’s doing, he’ll –”
“He’ll what?” Ibuka interjected. “Make all the girls believe that you too can be a woman?”
I collapsed backward on my seat with laughter. The glower that Joseph shot Ibuka was an impressive contortion of his features.
“Don’t be silly,” he spat at Ibuka.
“You’re the one being silly,” Ibuka retorted with a chuckle, and then said in a mimicry of Joseph’s deeper voice, “He’s disgracing us boys. Just imagine. My friend, go and read your books.”
“You people don’t know anything!” Joseph burst out then.
The strength of his outburst startled Ibuka and I from our mirth.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing to himself now!” Sudden anger burned in his eyes and his breath hissed out between his teeth. “Just wait! Until we graduate and then go to the outside world, then what?!”
“Joe,” I began in a tentative tone, “I don’t think it’s that serious.”
“Of course you don’t. You just laugh at everything,” he shot at me.
“That’s not fair,” I said, smarting from the barb.
“You guys don’t know anything,” he said heatedly.
“Is this still about Argentina?” Ibuka said.
A beat passed before Joseph’s shoulders dropped as he expelled a sigh. He waved a hand weakly and said, “Don’t worry. Forget about it.”
“Oh come on, Joe…” Ibuka and I began to say at once.
But he stepped over my legs, which I’d stretched out to the floor beyond my desk, and walked out of our classroom. Ibuka and I exchanged a look, both expressions questioning and getting no answers.
“What’s going on with him?” I asked.
Ibuka shrugged. “I noticed his bad attitude this morning when I asked him for water to brush my teeth–”
“And he said you should go and fetch your own,” I finished for him. “Yes, that was unlike him.”
“It can’t be because of his JSS3 resit. The results haven’t come out yet.”
“Exactly. The last time Joe was in a foul mood, he’d just found out that he might be repeating JSS3. But there’s no way he will fail this resit. We wrote pieces for him on that day.” I felt a small flip in my heart as the memory of the close shave from that day crossed my mind.
“Speaking of that, last night, after dinner, as you and I were organizing Seniors Ejike and Nelson’s food, I saw Joe talking to Ms. Pepple just at the entrance of the dining hall.”
The flip turned into a somersault. The woman who’d nearly nabbed my impersonation of a friend in an examination was seen talking to the friend I impersonated?!
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I croaked. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Maybe because there’s nothing to panic over?” Ibuka supplied with cocked brows.
His insouciance calmed me. Ibuka was the worrier in our group. If he wasn’t distressed over this, then there was nothing to worry about.
“Besides,” he continued, “if Ms. Pepple had found proof of the impersonation, she’d be talking to you as well.”
I nodded in agreement. “So what could be Joe’s problem?”
“Maybe it’s his period,” Ibuka quipped.
“Don’t let him hear you say that,” I said, chuckling.
Ibuka grinned. “I’m sure he’ll tell us when he’s ready. Meanwhile, did you notice that he crossed your legs before he walked out?”
At this moment, the bell began to peal, signifying that the break time was over. Even then, I could see a small tide of students thronging through the block.
“Well, when someone walks over any part of your body, it’s bad luck until he walks back over you.”
I rolled my eyes and turned back to my notes. “You and these superstitions you like to have sef.”
“It’s not just mere superstition,” Ibuka objected as he rose from the seat behind me to come plump down beside me. “It’s true. Better get Joe to re-cross your legs before something bad will happen to you.”
I snorted and continued writing without a word to Ibuka. A few moments passed as the hubbub in the block increased, with my classmates walking inside amidst a surge of banter and laughter.
“Actually, forget I said that,” Ibuka said. “It seems that something bad is about to happen to you.”
I glanced up and as though under the influence of a magnetic pull, my gaze was drawn straight to the sight of Anulika as she just then stepped into the classroom. She was looking at me too. And I was starting to feel the requisite warmth that filled my insides whenever I saw her. But the sensation was arrested when I saw that her eyes weren’t smiling back at me. Her expression was decidedly cool.
Then she looked away from me and was about to proceed to her corner of the classroom when Amaka, who was at her side, pulled at her arm and hissed something at her, waving her hand in my direction as she talked.
“Uh-oh,” I said, feeling a tightening of guilt in my chest. And I didn’t even know what I should feel guilty about.
“Do you still think I have foolish superstitions?” Ibuka said through the side of his mouth.
“Don’t be silly – Oh, okay, here they come.”
I began to rise from my seat as the two girls marched toward me. My eyes were on Anulika as they approached. She looked distant, the iciness on her face reminiscent of our junior days when she constantly acted like I didn’t exist to her. The thought of whatever trouble I was in with her caused my skin to turn clammy with cold sweat.
“Hello, Anulika…” I burst out the moment they stopped before me. “How was your break – you look lovely…” My words were a tumbling rush.
“Hollitdia biko!” It was Amaka who brought my ramble to a stop, waving her hand in my face.
My face flushed, my nervousness shortcircuiting to annoyance as I glowered at the girl. There were days when I simply didn’t like this girl. “Please don’t speak to me like that,” I said to her.
She bridled. “I will speak to you anyhow I want, since you have now decided to act like your no-good friend, Joseph and make a fool out of my friend.”
“What are you talking about?” My panic returned as I faced Anulika again.
“I’m talking about the fact that you now have a new girlfriend,” Amaka said, her voice ratcheting up a notch of outrage as she placed her hands akimbo and moved her head in the sinuous sideways movement that girls have a habit of doing when they are getting riled up.
“A new what?” I whipped a glare to Amaka. “What kind of nonsense lie is that? What are you talking about?”
“Don’t come and be forming Mister Good Boy for us. We have your story here!” She clapped her right hand down on her left palm.
“What nonsense is this –”
“Eze,” Anulika interjected then. Her tone was as cool and as unruffled as her countenance. “Please tell me the truth. What is Eva Obanya to you?”
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