Now that we have found each other
And had our first kiss
What are we gonna do?
Now that we have created a memory
And live in our world apart
What are we gonna do –
“Eze, what are you writing like this with all seriousness?” Chibunna said from the top bunk next to me, as he shuffled the deck of cards in his hands. A game of Jackpot was in progress.
“You’re taking this your Press Club membership seriously o,” Ibuka said snidely, from his position opposite Chibunna.
“Eze got into Press Club? Cool!” Nnadozie crowed from the same bed.
“It’s not as if they have even confirmed his membership,” Ibuka countered.
“Yes, but since it is Gregory who told him he can join,” Joseph piped up from a corner of the dormitory where he was getting some water to drink from Chibunna’s jerrycan, “he’s as good as a newscaster already.”
“Don’t be silly, Joseph,” Ibuka chided. “You can’t be a Press Club newscaster in SS1!”
“Gregory Bassey first read the news last year in his SS1,” Chibunna pointed out.
“Yes, but he was already an exceptional student, with the result of the only A1 in English Junior WAEC in his set,” Ibuka countered.
“Hian! Ibu, you almost sound jealous of Eze,” Joseph said as he began walking back to us, his cup of water in his hand.
“Me, jealous of Eze?” Ibuka sniffed. “Please, stop talking nonsense.”
I finally looked up from the paperback notebook I’d been writing on, and rested a slightly-bemused look on the other boys. “You people are just talking as if I’m not here, talking about Press Club when that is not even what’s on my mind.”
“What are you writing on your book then?” Chibunna queried.
“Something that is none of your bus –”
Just then, the notebook was jerked out of my grasp. With a sudden snarling expression, I lunged at Joseph. He feinted out of my reach, chuckling as he glanced down at the page I’d been writing on.
“Give me back my book, Joseph!” I thundered as I tumbled out of my bed.
“Now that we have found each other,” he read as he skirted away, “and had our first kiss –”
“Joseph, I am serious! Give me back my book!”
“What are we gonna do? Now that we have created a memory, and live in our world apart, what are we –”
I finally caught up to him. I pounced on him, simultaneously wrenching at the notebook and shoving him back with my other hand. He reeled backward, his hand flailing and causing the water in the cup to slosh all over him and the ground.
“Aarrgh! Jeez!” he spluttered as he staggered, and eventually regained his balance when he fell against a locker.
Ibuka, Chibunna and Nnadozie chortled.
“What is wrong with you sef!” Joseph raged as he brushed the moistness from his body.
“You interrupted his private love letter to Anulika, and you’re still asking what is wrong with him?” Ibuka said with a snicker.
“Is this Anulika thing still going on,” Chibunna said with some exasperation.
“Shut up your mouth about it!” I hissed at him, before turning to stalk out of the dormitory.
“Ask her out already!” he hollered after me.
“He has already asked her out,” Ibuka said.
“Really? What did she say?”
I blocked out the rest of their conversation as I stepped out into the afternoon. It was Thursday, and the student body was supposed to be observing the Groundwork exercise at this time. But during lunchtime, a light but persistent rain had started up, effectively discouraging any outdoors activity. Several minutes ago however, it let up, its leaden cast over the skies clearing out to make way for the sun that shone down with a watery brilliance.
I ripped out a leaf of paper from my book, spread it out on a corner of the pavement, and hunkered down on it, resting my back against the wall. Then i refocused on the poem I’d been walking on, and recommenced scribbling on the page.
Now that we have reconnected with our hearts
A wealth of emotions untold
What are we gonna do?
Now that the dream of that first kiss is over
“And… and…” I bit on my lower lip and tapped my pen on the page repeatedly. A thoughtful expression wedged itself on my brow. “And…and… the next step – no, the anticipation…Hmm…” I gazed vacantly ahead of me as I rooted about in my mental lexicon for the right words to put together for the next line.
There was a movement in my peripheral vision, and the blankness left my gaze as I turned to watch Nelson Ogazi, our House prefect, making his way from the arm of the hostel on the other side of the courtyard to my side. He moved with the lithe grace of one who’d been one of our house runners in Inter-house sporting events past. He appeared to be in a hurry, and so, didn’t take note of how mucky the quadrangle had gotten from the rain.
And then he stepped on it, a patch of exceptionally soft ground. He cussed as he lifted his foot with an audible squelching sound. He paused to glance around, observing the marshy surface of the grounds.
And then he began to look up.
Instinctively, I knew what was about to come. I scrambled to my feet and turned to hasten out of sight back into my dormitory.
“You there!” he barked, calling my flight to a halt.
My heart sank as I turned. He was shaking the mud from his slippered foot, while planting an irate stare on me.
“It’s Eze, right?”
“Yes, senior,” I said glumly.
Just then, a whoop of delight, interspersed by cries of “Jackpot!” wafted out from the room behind me.
Senior Nelson’s brow creased. “Are those SS1 boys in that dorm?”
He nodded and advanced toward me. He climbed the pavement. “Come with me,” he ordered as he walked past me into the dorm, crushing the idea I’d been nursing of quietly slinking off behind him.
I followed after him. The loud caper that was going on between Joseph, Ibuka, Chibunna and Nnadozie died down when the House prefect’s presence filled the room. He glanced around, noting that we were the only ones in the dormitory.
“Well,” he began, “I was hoping to find some JSS3s here. But since there are none, the five of you would have to do.”
No one said anything in response. We could see a most inconvenient errand coming.
“So, the rain that fell this afternoon has turned our quadrangle into poto-poto. I would have waited till tomorrow’s clean-up to take care of it, but I just stepped inside that mud. That must be a sign. So I want five of you to go to Tincan Island and fetch gravel for that quadrangle. Now! The next time I walk across that place, I don’t want to match any nonsense.”
Effectively ruining our afternoon, the prefect turned and walked out of the room. The moment he was out of earshot, the grousing began.
“I knew I should have gone to the classroom after afternoon food. Instead I stayed here with you people to play Jackpot.”
“He couldn’t even wait till tomorrow for Friday clean-up. What kind of suffer-head is this sef?”
“Didn’t you hear him? He said putting his leg inside poto-poto is a sign that gravel must be fetched today.”
“Sign ko, wonders ni. What is he now, a junior pastor at Mountain of Fire?”
That was the comic relief needed to cut through our disgruntlement, and we were laughing as we fetched our buckets and started off on our errand. The trip to Tincan Island was about a ten-minute trek, but the tedium was not felt because of our exuberant chatter on the way. Tincan Island was not an island in the real sense of it. The name came more from the fact that it was a large parcel of land located on one end of the school, serving as a demarcation that separated that end from the vast waters of the local river, Ugwu mmiri, which encircled and streaked through parts of the school premises. When inside the Tincan Island, there was no sight of the waters flanking it; the river had disappeared from view, lost behind a seemingly impenetrable screen of vegetation. The land itself was one of Nature’s mysteries, with parts of it that rose into the air as sand dunes; some other parts had the hard, sticky, brick-like surface of clay, and then there were the acres of gravel-strewn grounds.
The appeal the Tincan Island held for students, especially the junior ones, was the wide space that seemed to stretch endlessly, beckoning on a touch of recklessness from those who came to visit. The air was crisp and clean, and because the island was located on a slightly elevated plateau, the sky was a vividly-coloured blanket, whose seeming closeness begged for a touch. Finally, and most importantly, Tincan Island was a haven from the pestering presence of the SS3s. Senior boys didn’t like to venture out that far from the main school premises, and prefects came hunting for rule breakers here only during the duty week.
“Ah, Tincan Island, e don tay o!” Joseph said, as we skipped about, not at all in a hurry to begin gathering gravel into our buckets.
“If I had known,” Chibunna said, “I would have brought the whot along with me, so we can continue our jackpot here.”
“And end up wasting too much time?” I said. “Nelson said he does not want to cross the quadrangle again and see the poto-poto still there.”
“Ehn, let him ask for red carpet to be spread on the quadrangle nah – Hian, since he’s now the Queen of England.”
“The King of England, you mean?” Ibuka corrected automatically.
“Over-sabi is not good for your health o,” Chibunna sniped.
“But it’s good for your end-of-term result, no?” Ibuka retorted.
“Oya o, let us do what we came here for abeg,” Joseph interjected, as he made to squat before a pile of gravel. “I don’t want to spend the whole day here.”
“Guys, come and see!” Nnadozie hollered from a corner of the island where the grass was thick and lush, growing in dense tussocks. He had a stick in his hand, which he had reached forward to poke at structure hollowing the stem of a tree.
“What is that?” I said, as we approached him.
It was a golden-brown enclosed structure, with small, densely-packed hexagonal cavities etched on parts of the surface.
“It’s a beehive,” Ibuka said at about the same time that I realized what we were staring at.
“Wow…” Chibunna said breathlessly. “This is the first time I’m seeing something like this.”
“So this is where they make the honey that we eat, ehn?” Nnadozie said, as he poked at the mass.
“Stop that!” Ibuka barked.
“Don’t you know you’re disturbing them? Besides, this is not where they make the honey we eat.”
“I don’t understand…” Joseph said.
“What I mean is, the bees make honey here quite alright,” Ibuka explained, “but that’s not where the honey we eat is gotten from. This is a natural beehive. All these people that produce honey make their own artificial beehive, that they call apiary, a beehive they design so they can mass-produce honey for their business, instead of relying on nature.” He gestured at the beehive as he finished.
Nnadozie stared at him a second, and then turned to Joseph and I to say, “Is he always like this?”
We chuckled in response. As we spoke, a buzz came from the hive, a communal chorus of workers cooperating on their only mission, to feed and protect the hive and the queen.
“I wish I can see what the raw honey looks like,” Chibunna said.
“Well, we can’t,” Ibuka said.
“Of course we can,” Nnadozie said, lifting his stick.
“What are you doing?” Ibuka said.
“Trying to see if we can have a quick biology lesson here,” Nnadozie said. There was a reckless glint in his eyes.
The boy had acquired a nickname from our junior days – Conan the destroyer, because he had an aptitude for wilfully wrecking things. And now, even as Ibuka protested and tried to intercept the thrust of his stick, he moved his hand out of Ibuka’s grasp and jabbed the stick forcefully forward, into the nest.
The reaction to the invasion was instantaneous. The buzzing began to crescendo to an angry pitch as a black mass of insectan soldiers began to file out from the honeycombs in an offensive unit. The bees moved as if to unseen instructions, to unheard music, that sent their tiny feet scurrying over the hexagons of wax as they flew out. Their wings glimmered in the late afternoon light as they advanced from their hive.
We began stepping back, alarm growing on our countenances as we faced off the angry swarm.
“What is going on – what do we do?” I choked out, my heart beginning to palpitate.
“I think it’s time for us to –”
“RUN!” Joseph finished.
The bees must have decided at the same time to attack, because just as we whirled around to scatter from the menace, they surged forward in an attack.
Our shrieks ripped through the air as we fled from the assault of the bees. They descended on us, their stingers jabbing at our skins in painful pricks. They flew at my face and buzzed around my head, attacking at my face and bare hands. I flailed my arms about as I ran, an instinctual motion of self protection that only seemed to make the bees madder. They attacked even more furiously. They were everywhere, and had the advantage of numbers and the gift of flight.
We crashed out of the Tincan Island, and took to the macadam of the main road, pounding down the road with the frantic zeal of Olympic champions, screaming in terror as we went. The colony stayed with us for a short while before they began to draw back, their buzzing receding into the immediate distance and granting us the much needed reprieve. We kept running for another minute, too frantic to recognize that we were no longer under attack, before Chibunna started wheezing loudly for breath, and then the strain of our flight began to catch up with us with the recession of the adrenaline.
I stopped and hunched over my knees, breathing hard and shaking, my entire body a stinging mass of pain. I could hear Ibuka whimpering, close to tears – whether of relief or distraughtness – at the close shave.
“You bastard!” Joseph snarled loudly.
I looked up in time to see him lunge at Nnadozie. His hand streaked through the air and glanced off Nnadozie’s face once before the other boy regained his aplomb quick enough to fight back. Chibunna darted toward them, and soon the three of them began to grapple with each other.
“You want to kill us, abi? Are you mad…!”
“Joseph, let him go – you people should stop this…!”
“You dey craze – leave my shirt, if you tear my shirt…!”
A tide of pain suddenly swept through me as I struggled for equilibrium in my breathing. I winced, and instantly regretted it as I felt my head expand and then contract. Nausea welled up inside me, exacerbated by the loudness of the altercation between the three boys.
“Eze…?” I heard Ibuka call hesitantly.
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, fighting the nausea and the pain.
“Eze… what – Joe, something is happening to Eze!” Ibuka yelled.
I weaved on my feet. My head began to swim, tides driven by the waves of pain. And then, I could feel the ground coming up to meet my face. The last thing I heard before I dropped out of consciousness was Ibuka screaming, “Dispensary! We need to go to the dispensary!”