As you already know, I have two best friends – Joseph Ubazuo and Ibuka Onyekwere. All three of us are in the same house, Peace House, and in the same dormitory. Joseph is in my class, JSS3B, and the handsome one in our group. In fact, sometimes, he is credited with being the most handsome boy in JSS3. He didn’t have the promise of a hulking figure like Benson in 3F, or an already deepening voice like Obinna’s in 3C. but there was something about his coffee-coloured, well-hewn features, thin lips that curved in a way when he smiled that made you think he was thinking something dirty, and dark eyes – all of them coming together to form a visage that most girls found irresistible. His good looks were the reason he had school-mothers from SS1 to SS3; most senior girls just loved to fuss over such an adorable little boy.
Ibuka is in JSS3A, and he is the intelligent one in our group. He is not one to fool around with his assignments, study periods and class projects. One time, he had gotten a 9/10 in a test, and had sobbed so hard that it took the combined promise of Joseph and I giving him part of our evening jollof rice to stop his tears. He was that student that always came in first position in his class, and the one who frequently interrupted a discussion of football and girls to remind Joseph and I that we hadn’t done our homework yet, assignments he eventually polished off for us. After much cajoling and deals contracted over shares of our food, of course. If it were any other person, Joseph and I would have disliked him thoroughly; but Ibuka was our friend first and an annoying brat second.
And me – well, I’m just…me. Eze. Just Eze. I don’t wow the girls; I’m still struggling to get a-hold of Anulika’s affections. And I’m no brainiac; I always seem to see-saw around the twenty-something-th position in class. But I’m the one my friends can’t do without, the thread that holds our little group together. It is important to remember this as you catch up on all our escapades.
JSS3A and 3B always have the Integrated Science class at the same period and together. So Monday and Wednesday mornings always saw us jam-packed inside the science lab, trying to grasp the intricate knowledge of the human anatomy and plant epidemiology, as imparted by Mrs. Ezuruonye, with her owlish glasses, nasal voice and nasty temper. Because if the collective dislike generations of JSS3s have had for her, and because she has this hawk-faced emaciated appearance, she’d been nicknamed The Mummy. And this has nothing to do with her nonexistent motherliness; check the second definition of ‘mummy’ and you’ll understand the depth of our affection for her.
Shockingly though, there was one student who didn’t think she was so bad. If you’re thinking who I’m thinking, then I think your thinking is in the right direction. Yes, Ibuka was The Mummy’s one-man fan club.
“It is your fault jaré! Stop calling the poor woman names!” he fired at Joseph one morning as we walked back to our classroom block amidst a throng of other JSS3A and 3B students. Another one of Mrs. Ezuruonye’s dreaded classes had just ended.
“Poor woman – are you crazy!” Joseph spluttered, outraged. “That woman is a witch!” His eyes were stormy and his hands went behind to surreptitiously rub his buttocks that were no doubt still stinging from the caning the teacher gave him in class. The backs of his legs also had angry red welts on them. The Mummy did not cane with restraint.
“Don’t call her that!” Ibuka’s temper turned self-righteous. “She wouldn’t have had to flog you if you were paying attention to what she was teaching, instead of exchanging love letters with Cynthia Ibeto. Exchanging love letters in class!” Ibuka’s lip curled with derisive incredulity. “She only did what any teacher would do, which is to teach you two a lesson.”
Ahead of us, I could see Cynthia Ibeto sobbing under the cover of her friends. The backs of her legs were swollen too. The Mummy operated with the creed: What is good for the gander is good for the goose.
“Stop defending that woman, Ibu,” Joseph said with feeling. “You’re supposed to be my friend – stop defending her!”
“I am being your friend, that’s why I’m telling you the truth,” Ibuka snapped.
I cringed inwardly. That’s another thing with Ibuka; he doesn’t know how and when to mince his words.
Joseph stopped walking then, bringing our party to a halt. He settled a weighty glare on Ibuka. His mouth opened. And shut. I could almost see him making the effort to calm himself. Finally, he hissed, “So that’s what you’re saying, eh?”
“Yes,” Ibuka replied emphatically.
“Ibu, don’t say that –” I cut in hurriedly, at once adopting my role as a peacemaker.
“Don’t worry, you’ll regret this,” Joseph declared ominously and whirled around.
“Joe, come on –” I grabbed at his arm, but he shrugged off my grasp and stomped away.
“Let him go joor. What is his own sef?”
“How can you say that, Ibu? He’s our friend.” I started to give him an earful of my displeasure, but he wouldn’t hear any of it. He told me not to talk to him about the incident, or I could forget about the Intro. Tech. assignment he said he’d help me with. I promptly shut my mouth on the subject.
It took days of me running ragged as the middle man to reconcile my friends. I wheedled, I schemed, I yelled, and I endured several sulky tantrums, until I finally got all three of us back together again. Besides, Ibuka had just found himself in uncharted territory, one where he could use Joseph’s help to steer him through.
We were seated in another Integrated Science class. The Mummy was late, so that meant the lab was alive with chatter and carefree laughter as the two classes commingled. Joseph was lost somewhere in the midst of a bevy of girls. Ibuka was seated in his usual front-row seat, thumbing through his textbook, and I sat behind him, engaged in a particularly nasty bout of Gameboy.
“Hello, Ibu, how are you?” someone cooed sultrily beside us.
We both looked up and settled our stares on Amina Nwaogwugwu. In my class set, there were beautiful girls and there were beautiful girls. And Amina Nwaogwugwu was the fairest of them all. She was Igbo and had a maternal claim to some exotic tribe in the North, and she was blessed with the best of both worlds. She was light-skinned, with sharp, aquiline features, liquid-dark eyes and a figure that was sprouting a bosom and hips faster than all the other girls. I was yet to see a boy in our set who hadn’t been ensnared by the power in her thickly-lashed gaze; if I hadn’t already pledged my heart to Anulika, I’d probably be in that bracket too.
“Ibu, are you okay?” she said again. Her voice was a dulcet falsetto, and Ibuka must have lost his senses to the melody of it, because he wasn’t saying anything in response.
I looked at him. The boy was quite literally mesmerized.
“Ibu…” she urged again.
I stretched my leg out before me and hidden by his seat, I kicked his calf hard. He jolted himself out of his trance with a slight jump. He cleared his throat and began a most embarrassing stutter. “Well…er…it’s just…I…that is…you are–”
Amina’s laugh tinkled and her eyes danced merrily. “Relax, Ibu,” she said, shyly placing a hand on his. “I just wanted to know if I could sit with you for today’s class.”
She what! I thought, startled.
“You what!” Ibuka blurted out, startled.
Amina Nwaogwugwu never sat with boys like Ibuka Onyekwere. She was also in JSS3A and for three years, she’d never once paid any attention to Ibuka; which was okay, because my friend wasn’t one to notice girls either. He had an ongoing relationship with his books.
So this request came as a real surprise. The fact that she was even talking to Ibuka was a surprise in itself.
Amina shrugged. It looked like she’d made a dance move. In fact, all her motions seemed as though she was pirouetting on the dance floor. “My friend, Esther and I are not talking to each other right now.” Her lips turned down briefly into a woebegone yet attractive moue. “And I just want to sit with someone nice. And special. You look like you are nice and special, right?”
“I…” – he swallowed hard – “of course…” – he cleared his throat again – “yes, I am a nice and special boy. And you can sit with me.”
And just like that, I was displaced out of my seat beside him. Amina beamed a grateful smile at him, fluttered a hand over his head and floated over to the seat beside him. I was aiming another kick at Ibuka’s leg when The Mummy entered the room, bringing to an instant end all tomfoolery.