Foreword: Today’s episode is a collaboration of sorts. I mentioned awhile back that Chioma Ejide’s My Eze Experience story was so good that even if it couldn’t make the top three cut, I was going to find a way to tell it here. Well, here it is. Read and enjoy.
It was a spate of mild fever that made it impossible for me to attend my classes on Tuesday. I lay huddled in bed, my temperature was warm, and I was determined to milk my handicap, to use it as an excuse to cut class. Senior Chidiogo felt my warm temple and gave me medication, Ibuka and Joseph brought back from the dining hall part of their breakfast of moi-moi for me, and several moments later, the hostel emptied of human traffic. And then, I was left alone to luxuriate in the solitude, lazily taking my bath, getting back in bed, and thinking about Anulika as I drifted in and out of sleep.
As the afternoon stretched and the distant sounds of school activity drifted through the atmosphere to my hearing, I finally got bored with my own company. My fever was gone, I was awake, and I was tired of lying on my back and staring up at the ceiling boards that were broken in places to give way to the musty, dark inside that served as hideaways for some juniors. It was about 1pm, and I knew the JSS3 classes would be over by now, ahead of others. With the approach of our JSSCE exams, the corps teachers had put together extramural lessons which we had every Tuesdays and Thursdays, an hour before the school period was over, and on Saturdays a couple of hours before lunch. The classes weren’t mandatory, and those who attended them paid a lesson fee.
I was stir-crazy and suddenly craved the company of people. So I rose from my bed and got dressed in my school uniform. I left the hostel and strolled toward the JSS3 classroom block. Only three JSS3 classes were used for the extramural lessons, which left the other three classes free for those students who didn’t want to attend the lessons to stay in and revel in their free time.
However, as I approached the block, I saw a cluster of students gathered in front of JSS3E, cheering at something happening in the middle of the crowd. Wanting to find out what the excitement was about, I veered off the direction to my classroom and started instead for the gathering. As I drew closer, I could make out fists flying and bodies moving, and hear the pitched squeals of females.
There was a fight going on! And the wrestlers were girls!
This I had to see. My steps quickened and I shoved through a crush of bodies in time to glimpse one girl lash out with an open palm, one that struck her opponent on the cheek. The crowd roared. The other girl, who had a more robust build than the first, had her right hand clenched around her opponent’s neck, a grip she was struggling to make tighter against the first girl’s frantic open-palm strikes to her face.
With a jolt, I suddenly realized that I knew both girls. They were my classmates – the robust one was Ezinne Nwadike, and the other one was Ola Ufomadu. Both of them were friends; at least, I thought they were, until now.
Striving to bat away Ola’s flying fists, Ezinne grabbed the top of her pinafore. There was a rip. Ola shrieked and lashed out with another well-aimed slap, one that landed squarely on Ezinne’s face. She grunted in pain and shoved Ola forward. Both girls tumbled to the ground, and rolled about in the sand, biting and clawing at each other.
“Oh my God, we have to stop them,” someone gasped beside me. “This is getting out of hand.”
I turned around and was surprised to see it was Anulika. “Ah, Anulika…hi,” I murmured, feeling a flush of pleasure when she turned to look at me.
“Hello, Eze.” She looked mildly distressed. “You didn’t come to school today, why? Are you okay?”
“No – I mean, yes – I mean, well, I was running fever in the morning.”
“Really? Is it serious? How are you feeling? Come, come, come…” She pulled me out from the crowd, her gaze sharpened with concern.
It was a beautiful thing, to feel like the center of her world, even if it was just in that moment that would soon pass away. I luxuriated in the magic of her touch as she placed the back of her hand against my forehead. I was tempted to play up the sick-boy card, just to prolong the period of her concerned attention.
“I’m much better now. Senior Chidiogo got some medicine for me from the dispensary, and I rested all day in the hostel.”
“Well, that’s good.” She smiled at me and I heard the chorus of angels. “I’m glad you are okay. I wanted to ask your friends about you, but I decided to wait until afternoon food to know if I would see you in the dining hall.”
“Speaking of friends, what is going on between Ezinne and Ola?” I gestured toward the crowd. The two girls were also in Anulika’s House, and I suspected she would know what the bone of contention was.
She did. And she told me. Quickly, there and then. But it wasn’t a story I expected to hear.
“Anuli, it’s school over…time for lesson.” That was Amaka’s call, and it was followed immediately after by a shake of her shoulders, a gesture that roused Anulika from the nap she’d unwittingly fallen into after the Physical and Health Education teacher, Mrs. Ndukaku left the classroom about thirty minutes ago. Upon the teacher’s exit, Anulika had started reading a romance novel she’d borrowed from Ine in 3A, and had somehow ended up nodding off sometime after the feisty russet-haired Melissa Locklear arrived at her uncle’s ranch and set her eyes for the first time on the rugged handsomeness of the ranch foreman, Jake Burton.
“Oya o, oya o,” Amaka singsonged as she piled her books into her bag. “Our first lesson is in JSS3E with that fine corper that just came with this latest batch – what’s that his name again?”
“Which corper?” Anulika asked as she put her things together as well.
“That one that teaches Maths, that looks like a Hausa guy –”
“You mean, that is a Hausa guy?” Anulika quirked a brow at her friend.
“That looks like a Hausa guy,” Amaka maintained. “Me, I can’t like Hausa people o. So, don’t just spoil my romance with this corper o.”
“The romance that is in your head, with the corper whose name you can’t even remember,” Anulika taunted.
“Jelosy jeloma opigwe!” Amaka sang out with a clap of her hands. And Anulika laughed boisterously.
The two girls had started out of the classroom at this time. Anulika looked around to see if she could spot their other two friends and hostel-mates, Ezinne and Ola. Amaka and Nkeiru from 3C were her best friends, but often they hung out and gossiped with Ezinne and Ola. All five of them were in the same House and dormitory, and had an easy camaraderie. But recently, Ezinne and Ola had had a falling out because of a boy they both assumed was interested in them. A boy who any girl, in Anulika’s opinion, would be foolish to fall for – Joseph Amuluche. Anulika and Amaka had refused to take sides in the dispute and had found themselves frequently at odds with the other two girls. Anulika often felt a pang of guilt whenever she thought of the two girls not speaking to each other. It was her fault, really. She had written two love letters and had dropped them in the girls’ bags. She had no way of knowing it would cause a row between her friends over Joseph because she had signed it with the words ‘From Your Secret Admirer.’
“See Ola o. See how she is running like crayfish so she will see space and sit with Joseph,” Amaka pointed as she spoke. Anulika followed her finger to the slight figure of their friend as she darted toward the venue of their first extramural class. “I don’t even know what she sees in that boy sef.” Amaka frowned and executed a resounding ‘Mscheewww.’
“Probably the same thing almost all the girls in our set are seeing in him.” Anulika shared her friend’s distaste for Joseph’s popularity amongst her fellow females. However, in spite of her feelings, she always enjoyed watching her friends make a fool of themselves over who would get to sit beside Joseph during their lessons. It would be mortifying for them if they were not so consumed by their determination to outwit each other.
“Look at Ezinne too, see how she sef is running,” Amaka scoffed. “See o, see Joseph and Ibuka, see how they are smiling and coming. They will just be abusing them in their mind.”
“Let’s enter the class na and see what will happen,” Anulika suggested with a twinkle in her eye.
They walked into the class in time to see Ezinne stalk furiously to the backseat to face an already-seated Ola. That seat was where everyone knew Joseph liked to be during their extramural classes. If Eze had been in class today, he would be Joseph’s seat partner, and the fuss the girls were about to kick up wouldn’t be an issue.
“Eh eh, shey you did not see my bag on the chair, eh?” Ezinne snapped. “I first you to come here o. Stand up from my seat biko!”
“Which seat is your own?” Ola fired back at her. “Did they write your name on top it? Come and carry me nau.” Ola had a smug expression on her face. She knew she had the upper hand; she was already seated, and all she had to do was remain seated.
“Stand up from my seat!” Ezinne screeched. “Better stand up o! You have been looking for my trouble since last week! Today your cup will full if you don’t stand up! I’m warning you now!”
“You cannot do more than a dead rat!” Ola shot back.
The girls continued slinging heated words peppered with swearwords at each other. Anulika and Amaka found a spot for themselves and got settled. The rest of the class went about their business as though it was no strange occurrence for two girls to snipe at each other over the possession of a seat. When Joseph walked into the classroom with Ibuka, the shouting match stopped and the two girls watched him cagily. Joseph hedged, then moved forward to drop his bag in the space next to Ola, before turning around with a self-satisfied smile to walk with Ibuka out of the classroom. Ibuka’s lesson was set to hold in JSS3F. The girls resumed their quarrel the instant he walked out of the class.
“I will show you today who I am,” Ezinne threatened. “You don’t know who you are messing with!”
“Do your worst!” Ola fired back. “You cannot do more than a dead, stinking rat!”
Ezinne knew she had been defeated. She picked up her bag and, locating an empty desk, dumped her bag on the chair and stomped out of the class. The teachers were not around yet.
The extramural class dragged by in its usual form. The corps teachers came and went. Anulika was distracted, and kept sneaking back to her romance novel. Things had started to get electric between Melissa and Jake, and she was anxious to get to the part where they’d have their steamy first kiss together.
The bell for the close of lesson soon rang and the students started packing their books and bags. Ezinne was the first one out of the class. Every other person took their time to put their things together and say their goodbyes. Ola stepped out of the class with a grin on her face, an expression which froze the instant she saw Ezinne on the courtyard in front of the classroom. The girl had drawn a circle on the sand and was inside it. Everyone knew what it meant. It was the way girls signaled their intention for a fight. Ezinne had just issued a challenge.
“Shebi you have finished making mouth inside, abi? Husband snatcher! I will deal with you today!” Ezinne ranted, practically dancing in the circle. “Come inside the circle let us finish it today! Is it not me that first tell you that Joseph toast me? You cannot find boyfriend for yourself, abi?”
The JSS3 students started to stop and stare at the maniacal girl with amusement. A mortified-looking Ola tried to disappear inside the crush of bodies, and hurry away from the scene. But Ezinne would not have that. She darted forward, pounced on the other girl once she broke apart from the crowd, and dragged her toward the circle. Ola shrieked and clawed at her as she pulled her, but Ezinne was not to be deterred. When she got to the circle, she let her go, and followed her release with a slap, one that was so loud and ringing it got the instant roaring approval of the crowd. Anger overrode Ola’s desire to escape and she shoved at Ezinne. The crowd pulled together around them, egging them on.
And that was how the fight started.
I stared at Anulika, feeling all the pleasure of moments before evaporate. The emptiness in my chest was familiar and overwhelming, and I put a hand over my heart without thinking.
“But why?” I rasped.
“Why what?” Her eyes stared quizzically at me.
“Why did you start the trouble in the first place? Why did you write the letters, knowing full well that they will conclude it’s Joseph who wrote them? Why – what is your deal with Joseph?” As each word left my mouth, I felt the crushing weight of resurrected misery and doubt eclipsing my insides.
“What do you mean, what is my deal with Joseph?” she snapped, narrowing her eyes at me. “What are you insinuating?”
Dear Joseph . . . Signed, Your Secret Admirer . . . I could not get those words out of my head. But I was determined not to let them create any more friction. I swallowed hard and muttered, “Nothing. I’m not insinuating anything.”
“Good, because I have a good reason for doing what I did.”
“What is your reason?”
She hedged, and then said, “Never mind that. Just know that there’s nothing going on between me and Joseph.”
I nodded. But the question is, do you want something to go on between you and Joseph? I suddenly felt a sour taste invade my mouth, and I turned away from the fight.
“Eze…” she called. “Eze, where are you going?”
“Back to the hostel,” I murmured. I could feel my fever returning. It was time to get back to my bed, to my sleep, all the better to escape the crushing thoughts that behind the façade of antagonism toward my friend, Anulika may truly want to share with Joseph what I most longed to share with her.
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