Previously on EZE RETURNS TO SCHOOL…
I knew a prefect or two had to be on duty for Friday’s breakfast as I hastened up the stairwell leading to the entrance of the dining hall, because there was an absence of the sound of uproar that usually accompanied the misconduct of students – male students – rushing the breakfast of beans. It had almost become tradition for this particular meal not to be had with the decorum that other meal times demanded and got, unless there was a prefect present to enforce the orderliness. As a junior student, I fought for my pot of beans just as fiercely as the next junior boy. But with the new cut of uniform came some expectations. Joseph was right; there were simply certain things one was no longer expected to do when he’s in trousers – if he has any self respect – to avoid suffering the scorn of junior boys. Certain shenanigans now seemed like luxuries from a senior boy’s standpoint. And rushing food was one of them.
I walked into the vast room to the sight of students filing out of the kitchen section of the dining hall, hefting the heavy metallic pots from which steam bearing the aroma of well-cooked beans wafted. Under the stern supervision of the two assistant dining hall prefects, Dominic Oriahi and Adeline Nwakile, each student dropped the pot he was carrying on individual tables. Some of them were marshaled back into the kitchen by Senior Dominic to pick up more pots, while others slipped back to their tables to take their seats. Some students were already seated, gabbing amongst themselves as they waited for the announcement of breakfast by the prefects.
I moved over to my table in the east wing of the hall. There were three other boys already seated; two of them were Anthony and Ibrahim from Hope House and in SS1E and F respectively. The third, Chilaka, was in the same class with Ibrahim, but in my House, two dormitories away from mine. It seemed like it was just going to be the four of us for breakfast.
That was another thing about Friday’s morning meal.
Because of the flatulence that occurs as a common side effect of the ingestion of beans, most girls eschewed the breakfast. At the beginning of every session, the dining hall prefects would organize the entire student body in groups of ten for every table, mealtime families that’d remain so for the entire session. It was usually six boys to four girls, or seven boys to three girls; the number of boys per table always outweighed that of the girls. And so, on Friday mornings, when the girls don’t come for their food, the boys on such tables usually found themselves with more food to share amongst them.
The table next to mine had seven boys seated around it, every one of them hungrily eyeing their pot of beans. One of the boys, Zimuzo from Dignity House, turned to glower at our table with its mere four occupants. I stared at him until I caught his eye, and then I smirked.
“Yes, my food will be bigger than yours,” I mouthed at him.
His expression hardened and he lifted the middle finger of his right hand at me.”Fuck you,” he mouthed back.
“Eze, stop looking for Zimuzo’s trouble,” Chilaka spoke up beside me. He’d been obviously observing us.
“What? I didn’t do anything,” I protested laughingly. “He’s the one who told me ‘Fuck you’. Is the hunger that bad?”
“A hungry man is an angry man,” Ibrahim intoned from across the table, his eyes glinting with amusement.
“And their hunger is about to be highly carried when they see how big our own beans will be when compared to theirs,” I said with another taunting smile thrown Zimuzo’s way. “I mean, they are seven of them. Seven! When Dominic tells us to say our prayers, they will certainly not be thanking the Lord for this food.”
Chilaka and Ibrahim giggled.
Then Ibrahim looked behind us and his eyes widened, and then crinkled with fresh hilarity. He lifted a hand to hide another burst of giggles as he said, “And then, there was one more.”
Chilaka and I turned to behold a girl with a stick-straight frame, plain-faced and clad in a skirt that ended unfashionably below her knees, marching toward us. She was Doris Meshak, and she was a member of the next table. The three of us watched with growing amusement as the seven boys turned a collective glare on her as she drew up to the table and moved to take a seat on the bench.
“Come, you this mgbeke,” one of the boys leaned forward to hiss at her, “you no dey ever miss food?”
Doris was one girl who was known not to possess any affectations. She wasn’t a beauty and did not belong to any of the cliques of SS1 girls well on their way to becoming the big girls of tomorrow. All Doris had was a bad attitude and a sharp tongue, one which she didn’t hesitate to use whenever she felt heckled.
Presently, anger flashed across her eyes, which looked like they might pop out of their sockets, and she retorted, “No be the same school fees wey you and me dey pay? Abeg, gbenu e soun!”
Ah yes, Doris’s disposition was razor-sharp because she was Lagosian.
“Eh? Wetin she talk?” The boy swelled with outrage, the kind that comes from not knowing the kind of arsenal an opponent has launched against you. “Wetin you talk, you this witch? If na swear, back to sender! Girl wey no fit respect herself, stay for hostel. You are coming for Friday beans, you no dey shame?”
Doris squinted meanly at him. “You wey dey chop all the beans wey you dey chop since, show me wetin e don do for you. Grow you no gree grow” – she waved a hand in the air, emphasizing her impressive height over the boy – “fat you no gree fat. You just siddon there like shekeleke! Ode, koshi dannu kuro lona funmi!”
“Your mama! Na your papa be shekeleke!” the boy snarled, splaying the fingers of his right hand at her. “Waka dia!”
“Foul head!” Doris spat back at him. “See as you resemble all those chicken wey nobody dey ever buy for Christmas. You sure say you well at all?”
Titters were breaking out from the tables around as Doris’s sharp rejoinders drew blood.
“Useless girl!” the boy spluttered.
“Didinrin!” Doris clapped her hands at him.
“Back to sender! Anything wey you are swearing for me in Yoruba is back to sender!”
“As you no know anything, not even common English, you be mumu for life.” And then she made a stunning switch from the vernacular to startlingly crisp English. “You cannot even make a proper sentence in English. Mumu! Why am I not surprised? You think all the school fees your father is paying is for you to come here and eat beans. Ode!”
Chilaka and I were doubled over with helpless laughter. Ibrahim was swiping merry tears from his eyes. Sniggers rose from the other tables surrounding the spectacle.
“Say your prayers!” Senior Dominic’s boomed from the centre of the hall, instantly dousing the din in the room.
Our giggles came in fitful bursts as Chilaka and I hunched over the table, not at all saying our prayers.
“Share your food!” Dominic ordered.
And the stir of activity erupted across the hall as students rose and commenced with the ritual of every mealtime – the sharer scooping platefuls of bans into the plates of his table members, while the others clamoured and pointed out the injustices of the other person’s bigger portion.
At our table, Chilaka was the sharer. He had two plates before him, into which he scooped portions of beans.
My brow creased with the beginnings of a frown when I noticed the mound of beans on one of the plates inching sizeably higher than the share on the other plates on the table.
“Haba, Chilaka, what kind of ojoro are you doing?” Anthony complained while gesturing at the offending dish.
“Yes, Chilaka, in our very before, you are trying to pull a fast one,” I interjected, “even if you are federal government.”
Chilaka flashed me a look that was a cross between irritation and amusement. “You’re talking as if the food is for me. It’s your friend, Joseph who said I should help him smuggle his food out for him.”
My brows lifted in surprise. Joseph? The same Joseph whose whole point of weight loss regimen for Ibuka was to eat less and exercise more? Hadn’t he mocked me just this morning for daring to insist on breakfast? My brows descended as my eyes narrowed. No wonder he’d asked Chilaka instead of me to get his food out for him. The hypocrite!
“Even if it’s Joseph’s food,” Anthony was still displeased, “it’s still bigger than our own.”
“That’s because it’s for two people. Joseph said it’s for him and Ibuka.”
My mouth fell open with a little popping sound. I snapped it shut at once, grinding my teeth together. That hypocritical sonofabitch!
Chilaka was done sharing. The four of us drew our plates to us and began eating.
“You know, the two of them are in my dorm,” I said as I scooped up a spoonful of brown grub.
“Huh?” The word slipped out from Chilaka through jowls moving with mastication.
“Joe and Ibuka,” I said. “I can take their food out to them.”
“Really?” He swallowed and his words became clearer as he continued, “Thank you. Ah! I hate smuggling food eh. I was even wondering why he didn’t ask you to do it for him.”
“Because he didn’t know I was coming for food,” I supplied.
“Ah, okay.” Chilaka nodded with understanding.
Breakfast was over in fifteen minutes. Senior Dominic dismissed us with one final command, and a horde of satisfied students poured out of the dining hall, dispersing at once in different directions. In the short distance, the bell for the start of classes was pealing. The plate containing Joseph’s request was safely nestled inside a school bag that Chilaka had had the wisdom to bring along with him. Unless the food coming out of the dining hall belongs to a senior boy, no SS3 boy would let it get to its destination. As we approached the senior hostel, I could see a gaggle of them hassling some of the junior boys bearing their assignments.
“Senior please, this food is for Senior Ebuka, please…”
“Let me just take one spoon, just one spoon. He won’t notice…”
Chilaka shook his head as we slipped through the ravenous cordon. “They are hungry o, yet they won’t go for food.”
“It’s what being a senior boy can cause na,” I said. “You have your rep to maintain. You can’t be seen as a hungry senior boy.”
“So that is us in two years time, abi?” Chilaka looked sad as he said this, as though he was just coming to terms with an impending unfortunate fate.
“Na so we see am o,” I said.
When we got into our hostel, we parted ways.
“Please bring my bag tome once you offload the food,” he instructed.”I’m not going to class yet.”
Joseph emerged from our dormitory as Chilaka hurried down the pavement to his.
“Chilaka, wait!” he called, and started after him.
“Your food is with Eze!” Chilaka called back and promptly vanished into his dorm.
Joseph stiffened to a stop at Chilaka’s words. Then he slowly turned to face me. I was smiling at him with an expression that showed lots of teeth and very little genuineness.
“Yes, Joe,” I said with slow deliberateness. “Your food is with me.”
He heaved a sigh, and his eyes slid away from mine. “Okay, look –”
“No, wait. I’m not done. I’m with your food and Ibuka’s food, which is funny because I seem to remember Ibuka saying he didn’t want to eat. Or maybe he changed his mind. Let me ask him.” I was moving toward the dormitory. “Where is he –”
“Wait, wait! Wait!” Joseph moved swiftly to stand in front of me.
I drew back from him and folded my hands across my chest. “I could just shout his name, you know.”
“He’s not here. Chisom sent him on an errand to Unity House.”
“Then I’ll wait for him to come back.”
Joseph forced a laugh. “Come on, Eze –”
“Come on, what? After all your gra-gra this morning about eating less, making fun of me, you turned out to be a fraud. Plus you wanted to scheme your way into having both your food and Ibuka’s. Ha! The pope – and Ibuka – must hear this o.”
“Guy, chill na –”
“Don’t tell me to chill. This morning, the two of you were treating me like a nonsense person, in spite of the fact that what I was saying was right.”
“Okay, okay, you’re right.” He admitted this like a criminal in court pleading guilty. His head was down, his voice low.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”
“I said you’re right,” he snapped.
My triumph beamed through a smug smile. “That’s what I thought.”
“Are you going to tell Ibu?”
I lifted a hand to my chin in pretended thought. Then I said, “No.”
“So can I have my food now?” He gestured at the school bag.
“What is your own na?” His voice sagged under the weight of exasperation.
My smile widened notch. “My own is that I’m eating Ibuka’s share.” Joseph’s eyes immediately dropped into slits, and he’d opened his mouth, no doubt to offer a blistering objection when I interjected, “Or would you like to report me to Ibuka?”
He snapped his mouth shut.
“I didn’t think so.” My grin was of the Cheshire cat kind as I sauntered past him into the dormitory.
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