by Echezonachukwu Nduka
Although she was not as charming as she thought, Nne liked to think herself the most beautiful damsel on earth. She had graduated and finished her NYSC, and instead of settling for the job of an accounts clerk in Norwich & Co. Company in Abuja which her father had secured for her through the manager, his friend, she preferred to stay back with her family, unperturbed. Her father, the principal of Archbishop Washington Seminary was the oldest man to be made principal since the inception of the school. He had retired as a principal from a famous missionary school known as the first missionary school in the eastern region. And upon retirement, he was appointed by the proprietor of Archbishop Washington Seminary, an old boy of his, to be the principal.
Being the only young lady who lived within the school premises with her father, Nne drew attention to herself, unsolicited. She had a seductive gait that made her large buttocks wobble to the rhythm of her walk. Sometimes, some SS3 students would gather under the coconut tree beside Millington Hostel to admire her as she walked down to the school gate in the evenings to deliver a message from her father to the gateman or to purchase some items from the kiosk near the school gate. Although some of the boys had made secret advances, they liked to talk about it in very low tones when the junior students were out of sight. One evening, during the prep, Raymond, the hostel prefect of Millington Hostel sighted Nne and the senior prefect under the sycamore tree behind the chapel kissing and fondling. Night preps were scheduled to resume at exactly 7pm immediately after supper. The school bell ringer was expected to ring the warning bell at 6:50pm, and at 7pm when the main bell would be rung, all the students should have been in their various classes studying, save for few SS3 students who preferred to go much later, at their own pace. That evening, unknown to the rest of the students, the senior prefect had ordered the bell ringer, a tall fair complexioned SS2 student called Moses, to ring the warning bell at 6:30 pm when the students were still in the refectory. And before 6:45pm, he stormed the refectory with some prefects on duty and flogged the students who were eating. They ran straight to their classes for the prep with their plates of food, cursing and grumbling.
Raymond had spent twenty minutes going from class to class clutching his long brown leather belt and shouting “There should be no noise in this class!” while the students shouted “Yes senior!” in response. Afterwards, he strolled down to his hostel to make sure that no students were hiding under the bunks or staying back in any SS3 student’s cubicle before he could lock the hostel and head back to the class assigned to him for the prep. Absolute silence greeted him when he stepped into the hostel. It was as though some ghosts had gathered for a sinister meeting and adopted the use of sign language. As there was no signal of any student in the hostel, he headed for the windows to lock them as he normally did before locking the doors. From a particular window near the junior corner which faced the sycamore tree behind the chapel, he sighted the senior prefect and Nne kissing passionately and fondling themselves with reckless abandon. It was 7:15 pm and darkness had crept in. The small white bulb fixed directly under the chapel ceiling casted rays of light across the back of the hostel and had their silhouettes on the chapel wall like a fine painting done by a master painter. Raymond peeped quietly from the window and resolved to stay back and watch till they finished. After some minutes, they relocated to the back of the instrumental store near the principal’s house. As Raymond could not see them anymore, he locked the windows, picked his torch, took his Geography text book, locked the hostel and raced to the classroom block.
During the night prep which was scheduled to last for two hours, SS2 students were notorious for absconding from class and hiding in the midst of some junior students for fear of being molested by bullies in SS3. Their class was next to SS3 class, and this increased their risk. In some quarters, they jokingly called their class “the seat of danger”. Sometimes, an angry SS3 student would storm into their class and unleash his anger on an unlucky fellow. It continued and became tradition. Nobody cared to question the superiority of the SS3 students. They were reverenced and revered like gods. After the selection of the school functionaries, those of them who were not given any post became more brutal. They were more feared than the prefects. Prefects were very careful with the way they flogged students, else, they would be relieved of their post. But non prefects whom the students referred to as “General prefects” had nothing to lose. They could poor water on the floor and ask a student to lie on it. They would wet a twisted wrapper, dry it under the sun and use it on a student. Some of them liked to use the broken leg of a locker nicknamed “four by four”. After they used it on a student, the fellow’s gait was bound to change, and his friends would visit him secretly for consolations. In this case, SS2 students suffered most. Some of them didn’t complain because they would eventually be in SS3 and do same to others. Once, an SS2 student was severely beaten by a notorious SS3 student nicknamed Kigala. On the night of the school visiting day when several students feasted on the goodies brought by their families and turned down the food in the refectory, Kigala had asked the boy to pay his tithe for being visited by his father. He refused. That same night, Kigala summoned all the strength in him and beat the boy to an unconscious state. Some SS3 students were there during the beating, but they did nothing to stop him. It was Junta, a smallish but notorious SS2 student that sneaked out and ran straight to the principal’s house to report. The principal appeared almost immediately and caught Kigala in the act. On Monday morning, Kigala was suspended indefinitely. Yet, such acts didn’t stop. It grew worse by the day and more students were suspended.
On getting to the classroom block, Raymond headed straight to SS2 class with anger and frustration in his palms. As soon as they saw him heading to their class, they all stood up to chorus the normal “Good evening senior!” when he stormed in and interrupted the greeting.
“Where is Moses?” He asked.
“Yes senior!” The bell ringer answered from the rear of the class.
“Come here, idiot!”
Moses locked his locker, took his bell and ambled quietly towards Raymond. Tiny voices which seemed to be worried about Moses’ fate arose with a little murmur. They seemed to be asking what Moses had done to be called an idiot and summoned out of the class. Moses was a very calm student. The most quiet in his class.
“No Noise!” thundered Raymond.
“Yes Senior!” they chorused.
Raymond asked them to sit down and took Moses out of the class to a dark corner near the staircase.
“Moses, I want the truth. You have never failed in your duty as the school bell ringer. Your watch has never disappointed you. So tell me, why did you ring the bell earlier than the scheduled time?”
“Senior, it was the senior prefect that asked me to ring the bell at the time I did.”
“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.”
For nearly a minute, Raymond looked Moses in the eyes, searching, scanning, browsing for the slightest untold information he needed. Moses kept staring at him, innocently. He heaved a sigh of relief and asked him to go back to the class.
Raymond suspected that the senior prefect had ordered Moses to ring the bell at that time so as to meet up with the appointment he had with Nne, but he needed a confirmation. He felt used. He had made secret advances to Nne, but Nne wouldn’t oblige him. He had wondered what the senior prefect had that he didn’t have. “Was she dating the senior prefect because of his post?” he had thought several times and found no answers. He had made up his mind to have his own fair share of Nne’s romantic spirits. He resolved not to confront the senior prefect about what happened that evening, but to increase his efforts. He would get her at all cost, he knew. Whatever would stand in his way would be pulled down.
Inspections were conducted every Saturday and all the classes and hostels were expected to be properly cleaned up to be inspected by Mr Charles, the school labor master accompanied by prefects on duty. He was a tall lanky man in his thirties with an intensified penchant for caning. He wore very thick lenses and saw little or nothing whenever he removed it. Whether the student was at fault or not, he had a way of finding an excuse to cane any student anytime he was triggered. For this attribute, the students nicknamed him “cane master”, a name which he knew he was been called, but it didn’t matter to him. Once, he had flogged the entire students in the chapel during the morning assembly. The previous night, Nne and the refectory prefect were caught having sex behind the instrumental room by a junior student who suddenly raised an alarm. Although he was severely beaten by some senior students, before dawn, the entire students had heard what transpired between Nne and Alphonsus, the refectory prefect. And so when, the principal mounted the podium for his announcements that morning, the students started murmuring. Consequently, he asked the labor master to flog each student two strokes of the cane for what he termed “gross misconduct”, which he happily did, and satisfactorily too.
On Saturday morning, no sooner had Mr Charles arrived than the prefects were set, waiting to start the inspection. First, they started with the classroom block. They moved slowly from class to class, meticulously checking the blackness of the blackboards, the cleanness of the louvers, the neatness of the floor, and how thoroughly arranged the lockers and chairs were. They looked out for the dustbin owned by each class and awarded marks accordingly. During the inspection, the labor master dictated the scores while the deputy senior prefect wrote them down on the score sheets. When they were through with the classroom block, they moved down to continue with the hostels. They had inspected all the other hostels save for Millington Hostel which was normally inspected last. The labor master walked in with his team of prefects and the students chorused, “Good morning master!”
“Good morning students.” He replied.
“Now, where is your house prefect?” he asked, looking around in search of Raymond.
Everyone was calm. Raymond was nowhere to be found. As the hostel prefect, he was supposed to be dressed and ready for the inspection, but he boycotted. Instead, he was hiding behind the tank near the principal’s house, waiting for Nne to appear with her clothes for laundry which she normally did on Saturdays. That morning, as if she knew Raymond’s plans, she didn’t show up. Raymond waited until he became tired of waiting. He swore and cursed under his breath.
He answered and sprang to his feet. His heart pounded faster, as if it would burst out from his chest. It was unusual for the Principal to call his name in that manner, especially during his announcements at the morning assembly. The students believed that if the principal announced any name during the morning assembly and added the student’s surname with that sort of practiced tone; the student was in for a case. It was even worse if the student was absent at the assembly. He would have to explain his absence both verbally and in well detailed narrative essay before facing the wrath of the principal. And should the student write very poorly, his punishment would be doubled. Once, he had punished Martins Adeyemi for turning out a poorly written narrative essay stating the reason for his absence during the cross country exercise. Martins had hurriedly written his essay filled with traceable lies, misspellings and grammatical errors, and submitted to the principal without bothering to have it edited. That essay earned him double punishment.
Whenever the principal was in a bad mood, it was obvious. He had not mastered the art of making his face expressionless.
“See me in my office immediately after this assembly.”
The principal’s office was finely carpeted and air-conditioned. He had a white refrigerator which contained water and canned drinks which he offered his guests. There were book shelves that contained plenty of files and thick large registers neatly arranged in them. On his table were several files with various tags and several writing materials. He had a smaller table by his left where an old desktop computer was set. Few almanacs hung on the walls save for a large board, a roster which contained names of senior prefects of the school from its inception. There were three other executive furniture seats in the office for guests. The students knew better than not to sit on them whenever they were invited to his office. For courtesy sake, they would wait to be asked to sit down, an offer too expensive that it has never been offered, and would never be offered. On invitation to his office, A JSS1 student had once sat on one of the seats without permission and was physically thrown out by the principal. As if that was not enough, he ordered Mr Charles, the labor master, to flog him twenty- four strokes of the cane for lack of courtesy.
“Yes, come in.”
He walked in gently, slightly prepared. He didn’t need to be told that the labor master had reported him to the principal for boycotting the inspection. He knew the principal would demand to know his whereabouts, and might ask him to write a detailed narrative essay, mentioning reasons why he boycotted the previous Saturday inspection. As he left the chapel after the assembly, he had remembered his escapade on Saturday and concluded that that must be the reason for his invitation to the principal’s office. But, how would he tell the principal that he had boycotted the inspection, so he could speak with Nne, his daughter? That was a foolish thing to do. It might as well earn him a suspension or something worse. So he thought of an alternative, a lie. He lied. It saved him.
Nne liked music. She always wore her earphones, listening to music from her handset and nodding to its rhythm. Her father, the principal, owned an old Steinway Grand piano which he had inherited from his father. He had done everything possible to make Nne learn the piano, but she could only play a little. Rather, she diverted her fondness to secular music and took interest in Guitar, trumpet and drums, which she never played. She only admired the players and wished she could play like them. Her father had engaged the services of Richard, a concert pianist who played classical and jazz music at the lounge in Cherry Hotels, to tutor Nne. But he terminated Richard’s appointment the very day he entered unnoticed and caught them pants down, lost in romantic ecstasy. Afterwards, Nne’s interest died and the piano gradually gathered dust. She had once told her father, “Dad, you have to forget Handel, Mozart and Beethoven. Those fellows weren’t funky at all. There music could make you sleep for a whole day!”
On Saturday evenings, during the band rehearsals held in the instrumental room, Nne would sit at the verandah and listen to the students rehearse. Sometimes, she would walk into their rehearsal, sit quietly at a corner and watch them play the instruments. The senior prefect was a fantastic guitarist. He could play almost all the songs perfectly with a distinct touch accredited to him alone. And so when he played, it was obvious to see how Nne stared at him, lost. This made Raymond green with envy. He was a member of the band, but he had barely mastered any instrument. He hardly attended rehearsals. He was only compelled to attend the rehearsal any day he saw Nne strolling down to the instrumental room during rehearsals.
That evening, the rehearsal had started and Raymond saw Nne strolling down quietly to the instrumental room. She knew the senior prefect was there. She had heard him playing the guitar in accompaniment to one of her favorite Gospel Rock songs. Raymond rushed out to meet her before she entered the instrumental room.
“Nne!” He called out, while running slowly to catch up with her.
She stopped and turned.
“Good evening, Nne.”
“Yes, Raymond. Good evening. How are you?”
“Honestly, I’m not fine. I’ve a problem which only you can solve.”
“Hmmmn, and what’s the problem?”
“Can I see you privately? Fellow students are watching and I can’t feel free to talk about it here. Just give me an appointment and I’ll be there. Please?”
“No.” She said, without giving it a thought. “If you can’t talk about it right now, then, don’t bother.”
“Urhmmm, Okay. Nne, please, I really feel something for you. Can we be friends?” he muttered.
Nne folded her arms and stared at Raymond as one would stare at a supposed sane man who appeared at their kinsmen meeting wearing his t-shirt inside out, a slipper on one foot, and vehemently questioning the authenticity of his paternity. Raymond opened his mouth and closed it. He wished he knew what else to say, at least to make her understand what he felt for her. But the right words evaded him. Nne pouted her lips, turned and walked slowly to the instrumental room; her pattern of walking became more seductive than ever. Raymond stood there, lost. He felt defeated. His feet became too heavy to carry him. He knew some of his classmates were watching from a distance, but he didn’t care. He turned and gradually went back to his cubicle, sulking.
It amazed Nne that Raymond could muster courage to walk up to her and ask to see her privately. His request was quite suggestive. She knew. But inasmuch as she had romps with some of the students whenever she felt the need, she wouldn’t imagine giving herself to Raymond who does not only suit her spec, but was rumored to be gay. The thought of it made her cringe. Gabby, the senior prefect, had told her twice in confidence that Raymond was an incurable homosexual. He liked to use the word ‘incurable’, as if Raymond was sick with a certain strange illness whose cure was yet to be ascertained. He had listed names of other gay boys he had caught personally, but decided to keep secret so they wouldn’t be expelled. She had told him not to be too sure that those boys were entirely homosexuals. “Gabby, you can’t be too sure. Some of those boys may also be attracted to girls. After all, you are all guys here, so they have no option than to fuck themselves,” she had once said to him after a steamy session inside the instrumental room on a cold Friday night. That same night, Gabby had argued that bisexuals were not common, and that those boys would never have anything to do with the opposite sex. “Poor boys, they don’t know what they are missing,” he said as he played with Nne’s nipples. The argument continued, but ended abruptly in a deep kiss. Afterwards, Gabby had also told her how one night, he heard some students shouting “Homo! Homo! Break his head there!” He had rushed to the hostel where the noise came from and found a junior student being bullied by some SS3 boys.
“Nne, if not for my intervention, they would have killed that boy. And after I thought we had settled the matter, one of the students wrote an anonymous letter to your Dad, narrating what happened that night. Consequently, the boy was expelled immediately,” he explained.
“I’ve always told you that you students don’t like yourselves,” Nne muttered, seemingly fed up with the whole gay story.
On a Sunday afternoon, during siesta, Raymond called Buchi, one of the junior students who frequented the Principal’s house as a result of familiarity, gave him a sealed brown envelop and sent him to the principal’s house.
“When you get there, make sure you give this to Nne. Do you understand?” he asked, pulling his right ear.
Buchi nodded and left.
He had finished climbing the staircase and stretched out his right hand to press the bell when the Principal opened the door. Buchi stood there, shocked.
“You, what are you doing here by this time? Shouldn’t you be having your siesta?” The principal asked.
“Sir, I’ve a message for Nne.”
“Who sent you?”
“Senior Raymond Nweke”
“Good. Let me have it immediately.”
Buchi helplessly handed the letter over him.
“Now, run back to your hostel and observe your siesta!”
Buchi took off, grateful for not being punished.
Assemblies on Monday mornings were conducted by the principal assisted by a student which he often chose at random to read a passage from the Bible. That Monday, his countenance had betrayed him. He arrived the chapel earlier than normal, asked some late comers to kneel down and requested Mr. Charles to flog them twelve strokes, each. He conducted the assembly, unassisted. Afterwards, he opened his announcement book and silence fell, like drizzle.
Raymond stood up quietly from the rear of the chapel.
The senior prefect stood up with confusion written on his face like Arabic notes.
The refectory prefect stood up, adjusting his belt and staring at the principal.
As soon as the library prefect, a tall lanky boy stood up from the rear, the students started shouting “DD!”
“Silence!” The principal ordered. Again, the quietness became absolute.
“Now, four of you must see me in my office immediately after this announcement to collect your expulsion letter. You are required to leave the school premises immediately. I repeat, you are required to leave the school premises immediately!”
Echezonachukwu is a musicologist, creative writer and freelance journalist. He was listed by The Kalahari Review as the most read poet in 2013 for his poem, ‘My Homeland’. He currently lectures at the Department of Music in Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo, Nigeria and can be found on twitter at @nduka_echenduka.
Photo from NaijaCrackers.com