I look up from my business of piling my books into my school bag, a bit startled by the loud call which rises over the mild commotion of students preparing to meet the ringing of the school over bell. It is my form teacher, Mr. Akinyele, a, bespectacled, stoutly-built man whose pear-shaped, balding head is topped with hair that has parted away from the centre like the Red Sea sweeping apart and making way for dry land.
“Sir?” I answer.
“Your mother called me,” he hollers from the doorway where he stands, not bothering to call for quiet from his students. “She said she won’t make it to school to pick you and your siblings. She instructed that the four of you should take the school bus home. I’ve already been to Chisom’s and Kelechi’s classrooms to inform them. Kelechi says he’ll communicate with Tobenna. So, better coordinate your younger ones and do as your mother has asked.”
“Yes, sir,” I answer, feeling a hot flush of mortification suffuse my face at the man’s unsubdued and loud reiteration of my mother’s instructions in front of the entire class, even though not everyone is paying attention to him.
“Better do as your mummy says,” someone teases from behind me, and a small chorus of laughter breaks out as I turn to face my three friends. The one who just spoke is Jide, same height as me, with a broad frame that hints at bulging pecs and biceps with the event of maturity and workout. His flat nose looks as though it has been made flatter by having been broken: a testament to his propensity for belligerent tussles.
“Which one is your own now?” I rejoin.
“Ah-ah, I’m just reminding you to be a good little boy,” he taunts, causing the other two boys, Benson and Nosa, to guffaw again.
I keep up my smile with some effort, seeing as I am beginning to seethe inside. “It’s enough for you, Jide,” I say coolly.
“Haba, no vex,” he says with a grin.
“Yea, Emmy, don’t mind him,” Benson interjects. “Look though, remember how we were talking during break-time about going to that new game centre to play video games after school, and you said you couldn’t go with us because your mother will come and pick you guys up?”
“Yes, yes, yes, Emmy, see?” Jide cuts in, grabbing at my shoulder with one of his hands. “This is a sign that you should go with us. Your mother is not coming to pick you up, which means she has an appointment, which may not bring her home until we finish with our…with our…” He begins to snap his fingers as he struggles to mentally locate the word he wants.
“Extracurricular activity?” Benson supplies with a smile.
“Exactly! Until we have finished with our extracurricular activity! See? So you have to come with us!”
I hedge. “I don’t know…”
“Unless of course you want to be a good, little boy and do what mummy says,” Jide adds tauntingly.
“You are a very rubbish boy, you know that,” I retort with a laugh, making my decision to join them at the same time that the school bell rings.
However, Chisom would have none of it. Her royal highness stamps her feet on the macadam of the school parking lot, when I told her and my brothers to go on home in the school bus. Righteous rectitude is etched on her face as she declares, “Brother Emeka, you have to come home with us. Mummy said we should all go home together!”
“Mummy said we should all go home together,” Jide repeats in a cruel mimicry.
“I am not talking to you, Jide Aduragbemi!” Chisom fires at him, her features pinched with her vexation.
“Hey!” Jide bristles. “How come you call Emeka ‘Brother’ and yet call me my name. Better show me some respect, you this small girl.”
Chisom angles her face defiantly. “I will show you respect when you stop acting like the kind of boy who will become a cultist when he enters university, and then go to prison after that.”
Jide draws a hissing inhalation at the affront, at the same time that our other friends break out in sniggers. “Well, I’ll stop acting like that when you stop behaving like the kind of girl who will never get married and grow old alone,” he fires back.
There is an outburst of more laughter as Chisom turns her ire to me. “Shebi you are here, and your friend is insulting me, eh? Don’t worry, I’ll tell daddy.”
“Well, tell him!” I rejoin, fed up of her insufferableness. She blinks, taken aback by my defiance. “Tell him,” I continue. “And I’ll tell him that I saw you kneeling down in front of your class before break-time!”
Horror washes over her face as she protests, “I was not…”
“Yes, you were! And I asked your classmate later why you were kneeling down, and she told me it’s because you were making noise. So you’re a noisemaker, eh, Chisom? And you know how daddy does not like us misbehaving in class. So report me to him, and I’ll report you to him too.”
For a moment, we face each other off, with Chisom’s moue betraying her reluctance to buckle to my blackmail. Then she blows out a breath and whirls around to join the throng of students milling toward the school buses, shooting at me over her shoulder, “I hope you don’t make it back home before mummy comes back, so that you will use your own hand to put yourself in real trouble.”
I have won this round. That is all I care about as I join my friends in a trek toward the school gate, where we intend to charter a Keke-Napep to our destination.
“Hey, where is this game centre located at by the way?” I pipe up as we walk past the gateway, asking no one in particular.
“It’s inside the Intercontinental Hotel,” Nosa replies. “Shey you have your money, they charge like hundred naira per game.”
“Sure,” I reply, reaching my hand around to pat the wallet in my back-pocket.
Soon, the four of us pile into a Keke-Napep, and the driver zooms off at a trundling speed. We sit in the cramped space of the passenger seat behind, with Jide riding shotgun, next to the driver. And we continue with our boisterous chatter. I am on one end of the seat, feeling the wind whip across my face as the driver navigates the main roads and the light afternoon traffic. Several minutes later, I can spot the gleaming marble upsides of the hotel as we draw close to it. A motorcycle growls past us. The rider is hunched over his handlebars. The young woman sits snugly behind him, her hands on his waist, sheaves of her long hairdo whipping backward in the air.
“Hmmm, fine girls,” Jide crows, eyeing the curve of her backside swelling atop her seat.
“For your mind,” Nosa pokes. “You think say she go look you, that one wey resemble Unilag babe…”
“Ehen? And so?” Jide thrusts out an affronted chin, his chest puffing out like that of an angry turkey-cock. “What is it that university boys have that I don’t have?”
“Plenty chiddas in their bank accounts, for starters,” Nosa retorts. “What do you have in your account?”
“Does he even have a bank account?” I taunt, smugly getting back at Jide for teasing in class.
And the three of us burst out into raucous laughter, ducking as Jide turns in his seat and lets fly with a theatrical fist. After we calm, he says, still ogling the girl, even though the motorcycle has moved a considerable distance ahead of us, “But seriously though, I need a chick.”
“And you are aiming for university girls?” Benson says in a mock-shocked tone. “Guy, calm down.”
“Well, not all of us have wyned and toasted almost all the girls in our set!” snaps Jide. It irks him to no end that Benson has most of the SS3 girls eating out of his hand. But then, you need only to look at Benson to understand his success with the ladies. He is like the Nigerian adaptation of Romeo from that Shakespearean crap Mr. Iro has us reading in his Literature class. Slimly-built, tall, with a light-skinned mulatto complexion, and fine features, with an almost European nose, both coloring and nose a blessing from his British mother.
“Oh yeah? Are you trying to call me a playboy?” Benson bridles in response to Jide’s barb. “I’m in a serious relationship with Chinwe o.”
“Yes, and with Barbara and Scholastica,” Ebuka riposted. “And Ijeoma and Janet and…”
Just then, the Keke-Napep driver pulls up at the bus stop closest to the Intercontinental Hotel, affording Benson the chance to lunge at Jide as we tumble out of the vehicle. Watching the two boys play out a mock imitation of a brawl, I slip down from my seat. And the driver, after getting paid by Nosa, revs his engine and drives off, with my wallet, still warm from the compressed contact with my buttocks, now lying forgotten on the seat I’d just vacated.
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