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    Walt Shakes

    Walter Ude (@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter. He blogs at mymindsnaps.wordpress.com.

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EZE GOES TO SCHOOL (Episode 23)

My sleep was so deep, so total and dreamless. And when I woke up, it was like a slow swim to the surface. That’s what you get when you sleep on three mattresses piled one atop the other. Three mattresses – two of them belonging to Joseph and Ibuka. It was Friday morning; my friends left school yesterday. Joseph’s family flew into the East from Lagos earlier in the week for a burial in their village. It was the funeral of Joseph’s uncle; his mother came by the school yesterday morning, in the middle of CRK’s first period, to pick him up, so he could attend the burial. Shortly after, Ibuka, who’d been complaining of headache, developed a fever. He went to see his guardian, Mrs. Kanayo, about his ailment, and she whisked him off to town to get well under the care of his aunt.

And just like that, I was on my own in school, something that had never happened to me before.

I sighed and turned about on the plum surface of my bed. It was not yet light outside, and the quietude of the early morning was yet unbroken, except for the snoring of my dorm-mates, and the creaking of bunks when someone moved in his bed. All that would change soon, however, when the bell for jogging was rung.

That Kelechi boy sef no dey sleep? I thought with sleepy resentment as I tugged my wrapper more snugly around me, wondering about the bell-ringer in SS1 who was always prompt in his duty to rouse the entire student body by 5.30 am for jogging. Like clockwork. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Such discipline. How did he do it? The only time he hadn’t gone ‘Gba-gam Gba-gam’ at dawn was when there’d been an early morning rain falling.

I sighed with some despondency as I thought about going for jogging on my own. If Joseph and Ibuka were around, we would have eschewed the exercise and snuck off to our hideout to catch some more sleep. My depression deepened when I thought about spending the entire weekend alone. Joseph’s mother had mentioned that he wouldn’t be back until Sunday. And there was no telling when Ibuka would recover and be allowed to come back from his aunt’s place.

Nawa oh! I was at once displeased and melancholic. Not even the comfort of sleeping on three mattresses could make up for the absence of my friends. And to think –

Gba-gam! Gba-gam! Gba-gam!

The school bell pealed, shattering the pre-dawn silence. Moments later, a hubbub broke out in the dormitory as boys reluctantly got up from their beds, yawning loudly, hurrying out to take a quick piss and opening their lockers to change into their jogging outfits. The only bodies that still lay on their beds belonged to the SS3 boys.

Leke was seated on is bed, on the bunk next to mine, he was tying the laces of his sneakers. “Eze, wake up, it’s time for jogging,” he rasped as he worked his fingers between the shoelaces.

Who asked you? I thought nastily. “I know,” I said with a snap.

“You know and you are still lying down, eh? Wake up oh, hmm, before Senior Orizu will come and catch you there.”

Senior Orizu was the sports prefect, and he took his job very seriously. After the bell for jogging had been rung, he usually took his time – sometimes with other prefects – to search the boys’ hostels for any student who had ignored the bell and was still enjoying the comfort of his bed, or hiding somewhere in the dormitory. This search he did with a cane, and God help you if he nabbed you in your bed or in a hiding place.

The door to the prefect’s cubicle adjoining the dormitory was jerked open, and the sleepy face of Senior Chidiogo – he was the assistant dining hall prefect – peeked out. His expression was grim as he snapped, “All of you, start going to the car park for jogging. If I open this door in the next five minutes, I don’t want to see any junior boy here.”

And he disappeared behind the shut door.

His instruction was enough to get me out of bed. Senior Chidiogo did not make empty threats. Yawning loudly, I changed from my pyjamas, walked out into the chill of the dawn, and sluggishly joined the students moving to the car park.

others 8The exercise went by the same way it always did. The prefects first checked that every student was appropriately dressed in the full jogging gear of pink top, blue shorts and canvas shoes. Those who weren’t wearing the complete uniform were flogged. Then the exercise started, with a throng of students trotting down the main road that circled the classroom blocks. Not all the prefects jogged along with us, some of them preferred to stay behind at the car park. The ones who did moved with their canes ready to lash out at anyone who stopped to catch a breath or simply to walk instead of jog. We jogged until daylight broke out, the morning brightness rising to catch us with our sweat-slick faces and gasping breaths. By this time, we had done the lap three times or so. Then we reassembled at the car park, where the prefects oversaw the writing of names, in each class, of the students who attended the exercise. Senior Orizu oftentimes made the rounds later in the day, armed with these lists. He’d walk into a classroom, call out the names on a list for their owners to stand, and if you were left sitting . . . well, let’s just say it is best not to have to face Senior Orizu’s wrath for an offence of not attending jogging.

Our trek back to the hostels was sprightly, fueled with thoughts of the breakfast of beans, that meal that was almost never eaten in an orderly fashion. Friday beans gave a new meaning to the saying ‘The early bird gets the worm.’

As I got close to the hostel gate, I could see junior boys, who were either already back or eluded the jogging activity, darting about naked or clad in towels, clutching buckets filled with their bathing water. There was a part of the courtyard sectioned off for morning baths, and the area was starting to fill up with boys scrubbing soap suds or splashing water on their bodies.

I suddenly remembered something, and on the heels of the thought’s intrusion in my mind, I felt a great unease. My steps quickened in the direction of my dormitory, and I burst inside the room in a rush, hurrying to my bunk and squatting to peer under my bed. My bucket – a gray, plastic container – was there. There was some moistness on the ground beside the bucket, and my heart started racing with a premonition of what I knew had happened even before I touched the bucket.

I pulled it out. It was empty. Even though I knew, the shock of seeing that my bath water was gone hit me hard. A gamut of expressions skewered through me, the shock and anger chief among them. I was angry with whoever had stolen my water. I was angry with myself for not thinking of putting my bucket away inside my locker before heading out for jogging. The boys’ hostels were infested with thieves who would steal anything, from the clothes on your back to the toothpaste you’d just squeezed out unto your toothbrush, if you so much as look the other way. Some boys just loved to take other people’s things. Some others reacted to a theft of their possessions by stealing something else back. Too many thieves everywhere. Everyone knew this. Everyone got wise to this fact his first year in school. And everyone tried not to play the fool and be ‘that boy who is always losing his things.’

I’d just played the fool, and the knowledge both enraged and saddened me. I wasn’t a very good thief, so filching someone else’s bucket of water was out of the question. Besides, it was bath time, and every junior boy was in a mad rush to get dressed. Breakfast time was looming, and upon Kelechi’s ringing of the school bell, the dining hall would be inundated with hungry boys after the proverbial worm.

I became frantic. I felt tears smart behind my eyes, and rubbed my knuckles over them belligerently. I suddenly wished Ibuka was around; the boy had a large locker he somehow always managed to keep stocked with water – his bucket, 10-liter and 5-liter jerrycans were almost never empty. Back in Junior Hostel, he quickly acquired the nickname ‘Ibuka the waterman’.

“Eze, what is wrong with you?” I looked up at Obieze, who was banging about in his locker. A bucket of water stood primly beside him.

“My water…” I croaked. “Someone has stolen my water…”

“Eiyaa…” His look of commiseration was brief before he returned to the task of cinching his towel around his waist.

I hesitated, then started, “Em, Obieze…can you…”

“Ah, Eze, I can’t oh,” he cut me off, his eyes not quite meeting mine. “Me and Chibunna are baffing together.” He finished with a shrug.

I didn’t press the matter. I understood. And I turned to Leke as he hurried inside the dormitory and made a beeline for his locker.

“Leke, abeg, can you do me small favour?”

He stopped and his eyes narrowed in suspicion at me. Leke disliked granting favours to or doing things for anyone. His stinginess was legendary. But I was desperate. I had to try.

“Don’t small your eyes for me nah. It’s not a big thing I want to ask you.”

“Ehen, what is it?”

“See eh, somebody has stolen my water – my water that I kept under my bed. Please, please, please, just give me small water, just small so I can use and baff.”

“Ooohhmm, Eze, I can’t.”

“Why nah? Please…”

“My water is too small.” He was lifting a bucket out from his locker. The water in it sloshed over the brim.

I was outraged. “See as water full your bucket, and you’re saying it’s small?!”

“Nawa oh, Leke, you are wicked oh,” interjected Benson, who had been watching us. “Give him small nah.”

“Eh-eh, eh-eh!” Leke quickly rounded on him. “Better mind your business, Benson. I don’t want to give, izzit by force? If you want to do Good Samaritan, why not give him small from your own? Onye oma cee-wai!” And he punctuated his words with a hiss of annoyance.

I looked helplessly at Benson. His eyes skittered away from mine. “Ah, Eze, the water I’m using to baff, I even begged it from Jisike in Dorm 5. It is small true-true.”

Leke gave a scornful cackle. “See am? I thought you were doing Good Samaritan. After they will be saying I’m stingy. Nonsense boy.”

Stung by his scorn, Benson lashed out a swearword at him. He fired back, and soon, they were embroiled in a shouting match. I left them to their business and went out to begin mine. To beg for water. And the responses I got soured my mood with each spoken word.

“Ah, Eze, I have already given Nnadozie small oh…”

“No, I don’t like baffing half bucket of water…”

“Oya, take small, but it’s only small I can give oh…” And a trail of water dribbled into my bucket.

“I can’t, Chidi has already begged me…”

“Ask Ibuka nah…oh, he’s not around…”

“Let me do mercy for you and give you small. Small oh…” And a little more quantity was tipped inside my bucket.

“That Anulika in your class is fine sha. Can you tell her for me that I like her?” I clenched my fists and the boy who said that became my mortal enemy.

“I’m not giving. That last time that I begged you for cabin, did you give me? No. Ntoo! Go and do rub and shine.”

Rub and shine. There it was, my last resort. I looked at the meager amount of water in my bucket, barely enough to wash my legs with, and I knew I had no choice.

Rub and shine. I cringed at the thought of the option, which was to wet a small piece of cloth and wipe my body down in a poor attempt at cleaning it. In the three years I’d spent in this school, I’d never done this, and I regarded my dorm-mates who did with no small amount of contempt. Cleaning yourself with wet cloth, who are you deceiving? I thought when I saw Barry doing it last week. You will still smell in class, whether you like it or not.

And now, here I was, thinking about doing exactly that which I despised. Tears stung my eyes again, and my lips trembled in my struggle to stem the tide of emotion surging inside me. I felt myself sink inside my self-pity. Oh, Ibuka, where are you? How will I rub and shine, and go to class when Anulika is there? Why, God, why me nah? What did I do to deserve –

Gba-gam! Gba-gam! Gba-gam! The sound of the school bell startled me out of my misery and caused an uproar of raised voices and hurried activity as junior boys acknowledged that it was time for food. My eyes dried up instantly and my resolve strengthened. Someone may have stolen my water, but no one – nothing – was going to stop me from getting my share of Friday beans. So I hefted my bucket and fled back into the dormitory. I picked out a small towel from my things, moistened it and began to rub and shine away.

***

“Look! He’s here!”

I looked up under the lengthening skies of Sunday late afternoon, and followed Chibunna’s pointing hand to the school gate, in time to see Joseph walking in. Even from this distance, it was apparent how much he radiated homemade freshness. His mother, a tall, light-skinned, elegant woman with the feminine version of her son’s good looks, walked beside him. And he was laughing and chattering with –

“Ibuka is also back,” Chibunna interjected.

Yes, he was, and he also looked well-rested and healthy, what with the beaming smile he wore on his face as he sallied something back at Joseph. They laughed at whatever he said. I started toward the school gate.

“Eze, where are you going?” Chibunna barked. “Come, shey you know Senior Boma sent us on an errand, and he said we should be fast.”

I continued walking. Ibuka spotted me and waved exuberantly. I waved back.

“Eze! Come back! You will put us in trouble!” I could picture Chibunna stamping his foot in petulant frustration.

But I didn’t care. My boys were back, that was all that mattered. And I trotted forward to meet them so we could trade stories of the weekend spent apart from each other.

I am @Walt_Shakes on Twitter

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21 Comments

  1. MztaPaul

     /  September 28, 2013

    On the last episode, you made mention of a tap that doesn’t lack water no matter the season…

    Eze no remember the tap that morning?

    Reply
  2. nik

     /  September 28, 2013

    We called it tapping of water, ‘nkechi please help me lift the spring let me tap small water, see how this geh chained her gallon its not bending sef, leave it jor let’s look for another place’

    Reply
  3. Awww. What happened to that senior romance dey were gossiping about?

    Reply
  4. excellency

     /  September 28, 2013

    Nice read…

    Reply
  5. Sallie

     /  September 28, 2013

    Awwww!! ✓ to be back!!! I feel Eze’s relief and joy!!

    Reply
  6. chika

     /  September 28, 2013

    I felt for Eze…aww

    Reply
  7. Grace oruitemeka

     /  September 28, 2013

    I sure lav dis $eries..bt Eze sabi cry sha…

    Reply
  8. okechukwu elosiuba

     /  September 28, 2013

    Splendid…I like

    Reply
  9. Poor Eze…rub and shine!

    Reply
  10. Adeline Kasper

     /  September 29, 2013

    Haha! Poor Eze!

    Reply
  11. Ammy

     /  November 28, 2013

    Ours was tapping is a game but wn u r cut it is a crime. I tap so tey SMH

    Reply
  12. Ammy

     /  November 28, 2013

    Sorry it’s wn u r caught. Typo error

    Reply

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