One of the joys of being in JSS3 was the absolute dominion of our classroom block. The JSS2 block, just like its SS3 counterpart, stood on its own, an island, separated from the other classroom blocks, which were conjoined, JSS1 to JSS2 and SS1 to SS2. The upshot of this detachment was the audacity of JSS3s for play and noisemaking when they had no classes.
That freedom of expression was no longer to be, I noted, as my friends and I climbed up onto the threshold of the SS1 classroom block. The SS1 classrooms were lined up on one side of a linear corridor, six of them facing a lawn that was held in at both ends and sundered in the centre by the three arms of the SS2 block, structures that projected outward from the other side of the SS1 corridor. Basically, the SS2s were going to be our neighbours – our very unfriendly, disapproving neighbours for the next one year.
“This is one of the reasons I’ve never liked this SS1 block,” I grumbled as we strolled down the corridor past the windows of SS1A. “All these SS2s will find it easy to just pop into our classes to find someone they will pester or send on errands.”
“Their papa no born them well to come and disturb me when I’ll be busy studying,” Joseph said.
Ibuka gave a snort of laughter. “That’s your plan? To use your books as a shield against your seniors?”
“Yes o, and it will be Chemistry textbook. Shey that’s the biggest textbook we have…”
“The bigger, the scarier,” I chortled.
“You know every-every.”
“As if anyone will believe you’ve become a serious student overnight,” Ibuka scoffed.
“Hey, show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are, right?” Joseph said, playfully slinging an arm over Ibuka’s neck.
“Leave me joor!” Ibuka shoved him off. “That saying should be modified to ‘Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are not.’”
We had gotten to the doorway of his classroom at this time. He veered off inside, while Joseph and I continued down the passageway to our class. The room was filled with a ruckus of students chattering about the WAEC results, gossiping about those who hadn’t made it to SS1, and moving their desks around into positions that suited them.
“Well, if it isn’t our esteemed class captain and his personal assistant,” Ekene Nnorom hailed from a corner of the classroom.
I preened as Joseph shot him a mock-scowl. “Keep running your mouth, Ekene, and I’ll assist your name on the duty roster as a class-sweeper, five times a week.”
Ekene shot back an unrepentant grin.
“Ehen, Eze,” Paul called form his seat, “this one that we are sharing a front yard with SS2D, better tell their class captain that we will not cut the grass on our portion of the lawn and also cut their own.”
“Eze fit? Him no get liver,” another classmate taunted.
“But his personal assistant can do it for him na,” Ekene jibed.
There was a smattering of laughter as Joseph rejoined, “Keep talking. You just became both class-sweeper and the person that will be cleaning the blackboard all through this term.”
I sensed a presence behind me, and when I turned, it was to look into Ebenezer’s surly expression.
“You are here laughing like a laughing jackass,” he said, “instead of going to get our class timetable so we can know what classes we have and when,”
I opened my mouth to speak, but Ememesi beat me to it. From his seat, he snapped, “Abeg rest, Ebenezer. Haba! You’re talking like you don’t know that it’s Mr. Okezie who will bring the timetable to us.”
“So you’ve decided not to change, eh?” I said sneeringly. “After all your ITK gra-gra all through junior year, you still weren’t one of the best graduating students from JSS3.”
“Wait, Eze,” Ememesi intoned. “Were you waiting for Junior WAEC to know that this boy is all noise and no substance? Since JSS1, when have you seen him enter the top 10 positions?”
“At least I’m better than you!” Ebenezer instantly rounded on him, his eyes sparkling with rage. “You that is always carrying twenty-something. And for your information, I carried 8th position twice” – he thrust two fingers out at Ememesi – “in JSS2.”
“Yes, right before you were knocked back into fifteenth position. Shame!” Ememesi retorted.
I struggled with my mirth at the verbal altercation. Senior year had apparently brought back to school boys who had changed from the persons I knew in junior year. Chibunna had become a political activist. And Ememesi, who used to be a wallflower, had acquired some gumption.
The row between the two boys had begun to escalate, merging with the bedlam that was raging in the classroom, when a clear, strong voice sliced through the din.
“Good morning, SS1B students!”
The collective attention of the students turned to the door, and when we saw a woman, evidently a teacher, standing just inside the doorway, the noise instantly began to abate with the rush of feet to respective desks. A quick hand slammed its palm on a desk top five times.
Kpam! Kpam! Kpa-kpam-kpam!
“Good morning, aunty!” we said in unison.
Without responding, she advanced into the room. The woman looked to be in her early thirties, average height, with an athletic build, and lustrous dark hair that hung about her minimally-made-up face in locs. The suit she was wearing was serviceable for a business meeting but completely lacking in style, and the fingers that clasped a slightly-bulging black folder to her midriff were well-manicured but unpainted.
I wondered what subject she was about to take us in. English? Health Science?
She stopped before us and said, “You may sit.”
A slight rumble resonated through the classroom for about four seconds as we got seated.
“My name is Eketi Udodian,” she said. Her voice had the kind of modulated quality that gave every syllable she uttered a distinctive clarity.
Yup, she is going to be our English teacher.
“You may call me ‘aunty’, ‘ma’, or ‘Ms. Eketi’,” she said.
“Miss Eketi?” I mispronounced, my eyes going for a cursory glance at her fingers. There was no ring.
“No. Mizzzz,” she stressed the variant sibilance of the word. “And I’m going to be your form teacher.”
A moment of silence passed as the class collectively digested the news.
“What about Mr. Okezie, ma?” Njideka Dim asked. “He has been our form teacher since JSS1.”
“Mr. Okezie has been transferred to another school, the federal college in Port Harcourt, and the assignment of being your form teacher has been passed on to me. I will also be taking the SS2 class in Further Mathematics.”
Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be happy in my imminent Further Maths classes. Ms. Eketi had up a stoicism that made her impossible to read.
“Who used to be the class captain here?”
Used to be? “I am, ma,” I said, getting smartly to my feet.
“Not anymore,” Ms. Eketi said shortly.
Gba-gam! The new regime had struck the first blow.
“How long have you been class captain?” she continued, in the wake of the shocked silence that pervaded the room at my demotion.
“Er…since JSS3,” I croaked. “Mr. Okezie appointed me,” I added with a flash of spirit. This woman had to know that I was not just an ota akara class captain. The post had been nobly bestowed on me.
Her lips tilted upward in a barely-discernible smile at my affront. “Well, you’ll come to see that I run things a little differently from Mr. Okezie. For instance, I believe this class has now acquired the right to choose who its leader should be. The class captain for your senior year won’t be appointed. He’ll be elected.”
An instant stir rippled through the class like the rush of a light breeze through foliage. The news of a potential election was being received with mixed reactions. There was both excitement and uncertainty in the air. I could feel Joseph’s outrage as he remained seated and stiff beside me.
“So,” Ms. Eketi said, her voice instantly dousing the din, “I assume you’d like to be elected, Mister…”
“Egwim Eze, ma,” I supplied in a stiff voice. “And yes, I would like to be elected.” I hadn’t wanted to be the class captain before Mr. Okezie appointed me, but a year of wielding the power had gotten me addicted.
“Who else would like to run?” she said to the class.
“Me, aunty – me! I will like to run!”
A silent groan rose up my throat as I heard Ebenezer’s voice ring out. There was a loud scrape of wood against the floor as he shoved his chair backward in order to spring to his feet.
“And your name is?”
“Ebenezer Onome,” he said pompously.
The boy must already envision himself saying that with the audacity of a class captain.
“Anyone else?” Ms. Eketi queried.
“Me too, ma.” Gbile Badmus got up and identified himself.
“I’ll permit four candidates. So, will there be a fourth person?”
“Yes, aunty. That will be me,” Njideka said as she rose to her feet.
Three things happened in rapid succession following Njideka’s declaration. Ms. Eketi’s lips upturned again; this time, the smile was a tad more pronounced. I turned to stare at my former assistant with incredulity. And the rank of SS1B girls erupted with cheers and applause.
“Nji baby, you go girl!” one girl hailed.
“What a boy can do, a girl can do better!” another added.
“Yes o! Boys, make una fear face!”
Our new form teacher let the exultation go on for nearly a minute before she lifted a hand to quieten the class.
“SS1B, behold your electoral candidates,” she announced.
This time, the ovation was carried on by the entire class. A few hands banged on the desk tops.
“The election will be brief,” Ms. Eketi said another minute later. “It will hold in the last period just before school is over. I’ll return here at” – she glanced at her leather wristwatch – “two o’clock, and the voting will commence.” She paused to glance at the four candidates on their feet, a second expended in each look. “Good luck, boys and girl. I’ll see you then.”
As she walked out of the classroom, another outburst of elation broke out. The students got to their feet and immediately swarmed around the four of us.
“Chei!” Ekene said as he led the horde that came up to me. “This form teacher don do you strong thing o, Eze, to demote you one time, like that.” He tsk-tsked in disapproval.
“At least, she didn’t demote you and appoint another class captain,” Ememesi consoled.
“Yes, which means we have about six hours to make sure everyone will vote for Eze,” Joseph said. At the snorts of disbelief some of the other boys gave, he said, “What? What is it?”
“You think it’s everyone in this class that likes Eze?” Ememesi said.
“Let’s not forget that Gbile has his clique of Yoruba boys,” Paul pointed out. “That Association of Yoruba Boys will certainly not vote an Igbo boy as class captain.”
“In this class that is a federal school in Igbo land?” Joseph said wrathfully. “Let them try it now. I’ll just deport all of them to Ogun State.” He shot a menacing look to the corner of the classroom where Gbile was huddled with his cohorts, already strategizing his electoral campaign.
“What are we even going to do about them?” Ekene queried.
“Them who?” I asked.
He jerked his head in the direction of the female crowd.
“That is true sef,” I said edgily, and broke away from my group.
I was making a beeline for Njideka, Joseph in tow, when Ibuka walked in. He made a quick observation of the hubbub, as he met Joseph and I. “What’s going on?”
“Can you imagine that we have a new form teacher, and her first order of business is to make us do an election for class captain,” Joseph seethed.
“Wait, what about you?” Ibuka directed at me.
“She demoted me,” I said woodenly.
“What! How did that happen?”
Joseph quickly gave him an abridged version of the morning’s occurrence, as we continued on our way to where Njideka stood, basking in the adulation of her female peers.
“Njideka, what are you playing at?” I snapped at once.
She whirled to face me. I could also feel Anulika’s stare on me, but my indignation had sharpened my focus on my former assistant cum electoral rival.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re running against me,” I stated the obvious.
Njideka gave me her best Cheshire cat smile, a look so feline that I almost expected her to purr. “Yes, I am.”
“Why? Don’t you want to be my assistant when I win?”
“When you win?” Her loud peal of laughter jangled in my head and scratched on my nerve endings. “First of all, you’re full of yourself, Eze, to think that you can win just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “And secondly, who says I cannot run? If you boys like, don’t go and fight for votes amongst your fellow boys. Be there trying to intimidate me.” Her smile remained in place as she turned and sashayed away from me.
In the wake of her departure, I turned to Anulika. She was smiling too, one that was both condolent and encouraging. Her expression said it all.
“I’m not going to get your vote, am I?” I said despairingly.
She shook her head.
“Why now?” Joseph asked.
“Because nwanyi ibem is running for election,” Amaka interjected loudly. “Inukwa? You can forget about the female votes. We’re all for Njideka. It’s called Feminity.”
“It’s Feminism, Amy,” Anulika corrected softly.
“Ehen, feminism,” Amaka reiterated.
“What does that one mean?” Joseph asked in a bored tone.
“Go and check your dictionary, nwokem,” Amaka replied tartly.
“Three seconds ago, you didn’t even know how to pronounce it,” Ibuka disdained.
“Eh? What did you just say to me?” She inflated in her seat.
“Abeg pipe down joor,” Joseph cut in sharply. “It’s not like you can do more than a mosquito.”
Amaka sprang to her feet, now properly provoked. “Mosquito can bite and suck blood. By the time we girls finish you in this election, you will hear nwii! There will be no blood left for you boys to run your mouth! Nonsense!”
Joseph had opened to issue a biting retort when I clasped his hand. “Joe, leave these girls. We have work to do.”
And work we did. Mercifully, there were no classes the entire day, so all four candidates and their campaign managers had time to work the class of SS1B for votes. We schmoozed and flattered. We stroked egos. We made promises.
It was hard work, I quickly realized. Ememesi was right. I wasn’t the beloved class captain I thought I was. A group of my classmates had had a junior year of poison smeared all over their minds by the ever-spiteful Ebenezer. None of the girls would budge from their girl-power votes. Some other classmates chose to visit their umbrage against Joseph on me.
“Come, Eze, you know I like you,” Obioma said. “But that Joseph is just… Mm-mm…” He shook his head heavily, as though unable to put in words the tragedy he could see befalling my aspiration.
Then there were those who wanted some oil to grease the process of their support.
“I want something in return, guys,” Toby, the class bully, said, his features wreathed with a malignant smile.
“What do you want?” Joseph said stonily.
“Three meat-pies and a bottle of mineral during break time,” he said.
“Okay, fine.” Joseph began rummaging in his pocket for some money.
“Each,” Toby added, “for me and my friends.” He nodded at his lackeys, Dan and Chidiebere. The boys sniggered.
Joseph paused to join me in glaring at the three despicable human specimen, before Joseph proceeded to render them the oil.
Eventually, 2pm was upon us, and a few minutes past, Ms. Eketi was walking into the classroom. The anticipation had gotten thick enough to slice through with a butter knife.
“May the candidates step out to the front of the class,” she said in that remarkably even-toned voice of hers.
The four of us filed out from our seats and came to stand beside her, facing the class.
She’d come in with a small red bowl, which she placed on the teacher’s table on her other side. Then she took out a stack of small, square-sized white pieces of paper, which she held up. “This is your ballot paper, and that” – she pointed at the bowl – “is your ballot box. I’m going to distribute the paper to all of you, and on it, you will write just the first name of your chosen candidate. Just the clarity’s sake, candidates, please say your first names to the class.”
“Eze!” I called out, looking straight ahead and standing even straighter.
“Ebenezer!” the loathsome voice said beside me.
The girls began to ululate at Njideka’s call, but were instantly silenced by a glower from Ms. Eketi. The teacher began to walk about the room, handing out small pieces of paper to the seated multitude.
“There,” she said when she was done. “Now, students, you may cast your votes.”
I watched as heads bent and pens began to scratch away on the papers. The scene was very reminiscent of an examination in progress. It was over in five seconds, and everyone was looking back up at us.
Ms. Eketi began again, this time, her voice held an edge of steel. “Now, I must warn you, I don’t want to catch anyone coming here to drop into the bowl more than one piece of paper. Anyone I catch perpetuating such deceit will instantly lose ten marks in his or her Further Mathematics total assessment score for the term.”
She paused to let the message sink in. it did. No one looked like they wanted to risk the teacher’s wrath.
She nodded. “Good. Now, one after another” – she held up her right forefinger to emphasize her instruction – “you get up from your seats and come and drop your vote into the ballot box. Starting with you there…” She gestured at Boska on the far front right of the class.
Boska got up, walked to the bowl and dropped the paper in his hand into it. Before he turned back to his seat, he gave Ebenezer a conspiratorial wink.
Yep! His choice was apparent. I mentally began to plot his comeuppance in the eventuality of my win. The friend of my enemy is my enemy!
The next few minutes passed along with the procession of students coming and going. Paper after white paper was dropped inside the bowl, until it seemed filled with white confetti.
When the students were once again seated, Ms. Eketi positioned herself behind the teacher’s table and said, “You, what’s your name?”
“Tochukwu Ikwuazom, aunty,” the boy she’d pointed at said, standing.
“Come over here. Your job will be to look at the name on each paper I raise out of the bowl and say the name you see to the hearing of the class. Okay?”
More time dragged on by as the two began the process of identifying the votes. Ms. Eketi would pick out a piece of paper, glance at it, push it out before Tochukwu’s face and wait until the boy had squinted at it and called out the name on it, before placing it on the table. Soon, there were four places of white paper whose growth was barely discernible.
As Tochukwu hollered the names, I silently counted the votes. Mathematics raged in my head as I added frantically, while my heart maintained a steady fast beat.
By the time Ms. Eketi and Tochukwu were done, I already knew my vote count, but wasn’t so sure of the others. The teacher waved Tochukwu back to his seat, before proceeding to count the papers I each pile, calling out the numbers as she counted.
“So, Eze Egwim has eleven votes,” she finally said. “Ebenezer Onome has eleven votes. Gbile Badmus has eight votes. And Njideka Dim has eleven votes.”
A three-way tie! JeezuzKraistofNazareth!
“Well, it seems we have a tie in three places,” Ms. Eketi said wryly. “I suspected this might happen. So here’s what will happen –”
“Excuse me, ma,” Gbile piped up.
All eyes turned to him.
“Since there’s a tie and I lost, am I allowed to do with my votes what I wish?”
The teacher cocked her head and stared speculatively at him. “Um, yes, I suppose,” she said carefully, betraying how unsure she was about what she was permitting.
“Well, in that case,” Gbile said, “I will like to hand over all my votes to Njideka Dim.”
There was just a microsecond that elapsed as the import of Gbile’s words sank into the minds of everyone in the class. Then there was an eruption of glee from the female rank as the girls surged to their feet and darted to the front of the class to embrace Njideka and Gbile.
The Yoruba boy had just guaranteed himself a girlfriend or two, I thought dourly. My heart began a heavy drop to the bottom of my stomach as my eyes sought through the melee and found Joseph. He was staring back at me. The resounding defeat we’d just suffered communicated itself between us.
“Well, I suppose that with a total number of nineteen votes,” Ms. Eketi said, chuckling, “Njideka Dim is now SS1B’s new class captain.”
The cheering crescendoed at her pronouncement.
“At least you’re no longer the oga,” Ebenezer sidled close to me to hiss. “Ntoo!” he added, placing his forefingers beneath his eyes and tugging downward.
“I don’t need class captainship to teach you a lesson whenever you bring your stupidity to my side,” I sniped back. “Remember Joseph?”
I glared back.
He turned and melted away from me.
I sensed another presence and turned to stare at Njideka’s beaming countenance.
Oh great! She has come to gloat!
“Congratulations, Njideka,” I said stiffly.
Very cheerfully, my former assistant cum present class captain replied, “Thank you very much, Eze. So, now that I’ve won, don’t abandon me please.”
“What do you mean?” I furrowed my brows at her in incomprehension.
“Well, what I’m asking you is… will you be my assistant class captain?” She stared hopefully at me.
I found myself laughing then, a full, rich sound that filled the air around the two of us. I was still laughing when I said yes to her.
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