(An excerpt from the novel BEHIND THE BOYS’ DORM by Abiose A. Adams… continued from last week)
His voice rode on the waves of caution and warning as he read out the riot act from the school’s book of ethical conduct. The seven prefects sitting around the conference table in his dimly lit, mildewed office, wore mixed expressions and didn’t appear as frightened as his viscous voice attempted to inspire.
Mr Uduak, the VP Acad, tries to prove he is a no-nonsense man -a disciplinarian to whom all students revere. But the students believe his bark is as empty as his bite if there was any bite at all. They believe, if you get a chance to handshake him with cash-gloved hands, you have the school’s immunity.
“I welcome you all to this august meeting,” his baritone voice, announced.
It was a Monday morning. And such mornings usually at the boys’ dorm are for rebooting, after a weekend of unwinding. Emeka- the head boy, Charles- the assistant head boy, Jude the labour prefect, Evaristus the health prefect, Chidi, the games prefect, Chris, the library prefect and Ugo, was in the room. Mr Scott -the senior boarding house master, a wiry middle-aged man with a wisp of hair trapped across his thin lips, was also seated across the table, wielding the big stick, which he struck occasionally whenever there was a dissent or murmuring.
He was wearing a red, silk shirt with a puff at the sleeves and pads at the shoulders.
“You are all aware of Loyachuckwu, the new student of SS3 ‘Innocent’, who almost killed a student on his first day of resumption. He was publicly scourged. But on the day of his release, he again beat up a prefect and even molested our prefect.”
“Ha,” yelled Chris- the library prefect, spontaneously. “Sir, I have something to say,” he interrupted the VP Acad.
Everyone turned at Chris. Mr Uduak looked, said nothing, and adjusted his brown coat. He was wearing his best colour of the coat. Brown. And it must be tight around the stomach to display his pot shaped belly. He looked like the kind of man that loved to eat a big bowl of pounded yam and nkwobi (cowleg delicacy), as breakfast.
Ignoring him, he continued; “Before we take final actions on Loyachuckwu, I want you to each make inputs and move a motion on his fate. By our school law, he should be suspended for two weeks, after which he would return. But, as you know, we have sent a letter to his parents, inviting them, and none of them has replied. That alone is irresponsibility on their part and a reflection of their lack of regard for the school’s code of ethics.”
“I now open the floor for your contributions,” he stretched his hands, palm-up in a wave, and adjusted his brown coat, again.
“Sir, there is no scientific proof that Loya beat the prefect, talkless of molesting him. This is my word against yours, which is not a piece of empirical evidence, to suspend him from the school,” Chris spat out his words with a great deal of impatience. He adjusted his trouser which was falling from his waist. He had held it with a belt whose leather had peeled off.
“What I am saying, in essence, is that…”
And before he would finish, Ugo, who knows he was referring to him, interjected.
“Are you saying I am lying,” Ugo, rose up to his feet, without observing any protocol
“You said, he beat you… You said he molested you, it does not mean it’s true, and I don’t believe you,” Chris retorted, giving Ugo a very prolonged irritable crook eye.
And then murmurs and rumblings flew across the room amongst the other prefect.
“Silence!!!” Mr Scott barked, his deep voice was definitely a contrast to his wiry frame, and everyone quietened.
“How dare you challenge me?” Ugo yelled, placing his hand across his chest as though he had just been stabbed. Ugo was quite an influential student of Imela. He was the ‘anointed’, the ‘untouchable’, ‘God’s big toe’. He was an A-student too, with impressive academic performance enough to represent the school and win Imela medals at interschool competitions. He had been nominated to be the head boy, but he said he preferred being the socialite because he was also some sort of a hedonist. He was not only academically smart, but he knows how to apply his bookish intelligence to physical situations of life.
He also had the money advantage too. His father was a grand patron of the school and had donated half the school’s science equipment, renovated half the admin blocks and classrooms, donated chairs, table and computers. Thus challenging Ugo, means fighting an institution, not just a personality.
“Tell me exactly, what your interest is in Loya’s case?”
“Tell me,” he said. He didn’t say tell us. He said ‘tell me,’ a sort of confidence that can waft from only a student like Ugo.
“Let us hear your scientific evidence,” the VP Acad, who appeared to have lost his trend of thought, finally spoke.
“Sir, what I am saying, in essence, is this… what I am saying is that…because… I was not allowed to finish….” Chris said, looking deflated, incoherent and confused… Chris shot another long, irritable glance at Ugo, swallowed his spit and continued.
“Let us temper justice for Loya. He is new, he is not familiar with our rules,” he finally said.
Chris’ interest in Loya’s case is clear- it was a game of emotional one-upmanship between him and Ugo. While Chris always tries to win every new student to Christ, Ugo also wants to win them over into his own way of life –a way of life which Chris condemns as hedonism. And so they are almost always at each other’s throat. Left or right, where would the pendulum swing? Who will win Loya’s loyalty?
“Is that also why, his parents have refused to answer us,” Mr Uduak said, finally finding his trend of thoughts.
“Have we not tempered enough justice with mercy. We have resolved to invite his parents, but they have refused us,” he stretched his hands palm up again, appearing furious and feeling insulted. He looked at everyone on the table again. “Is that not a convenient marriage between justice and mercy.”
“Sir, I have more things to say,” Ugo raised his hands, still nursing the wounds from Chris’ challenge.
Ugo rose, smoothened his shirt and wore a contemptuous look. He was known to be one of the neatest students in the school, suave and charismatic. He often wore an air power, but one word you wouldn’t use in describing Ugo is, ‘wicked’. But he knows how to use his qualities to his own advantage.
“Yes, social prefect,” Mr Uduak looked, at Ugo, the hitherto hardened expressions on his face suddenly, melting and softening in obvious pleasure and acceptance.
“I personally consider the statement of the social prefect, a personal affront to my integrity as a prefect, and I demand an apology. Is he saying I am lying or deliberately inflicting punishment on an innocent student?”
“Calm down Ugo. Calm down,” Mr Uduak, said almost begging this demi-god of a student.
Anyone Ugo tried to befriend must feel privileged, and all students in the school wanted to be his friend, not only because of his academic shininess but because of his charm and money too.
“My son,” Mr Uduak, said in a syrupy voice and cheesy gesture, as though he was going to kneel to appease him.
The other prefect saw his cheesiness, but dare not say a word. Who dares contradict Ugo?
“Just go ahead to make your recommendation on Loya.” We will accept it.”
“Ugo paused, as he tried to suppress the fumes of anger rising within him.”
“Since he and his parents have totally disregarded us, I recommend his indefinite suspension from the school,” Ugo said and sat.
There was a “huh…huh,” of regret across the room that accompanied his verdict.
“Senior prefect, what do you have to say,” Mr Scott suggested, as if he just remembered the head boy was in the room, an afterthought perhaps. It was just a pretentious show of respect to the office of the head boy. They all knew Ugo’s verdict is the verdict.
Emeka said, “Sir, with due respect, in the view of the forthcoming promotional exams, and tests, I suggest, the school applies discretion and not follow sentiments. Therefore, I recommend that he should be suspended for two weeks after which we should ensure his parents come to see us.”
“We? Who are the ‘we’? Mr Uduak asked.
“We, the prefects,” Emeka clarified, with a hand on his chest. He was the senior boy who had first punished Loya for immodest dressing on his first day at school, and now he was beginning to feel sorry for him. He had been in detention since the first four weeks of his resumption.
Although in the spirit of fairness, every other prefect supported Emeka’s motion, except Evaristus, who seconded Ugo’s motion, Mr Uduak followed Ugo’s verdict. Loya was suspended! After all the boy Ugo pays the piper and the school is left with no choice but to dance.
To be continued
Abiose A. Adams is a novelist, investigative journalist and programme officer at TheCable Newspaper Journalism Foundation. She can be reached on [email protected], @abioseadams, 08174217144(WhatsApp only); or on www.itiswrittensite.wordpress.com for more exciting reads.
Synopsis (Behind the boys’ dorm)
On the day Loya resumes at a boys’ boarding school in Enugu, he meets Ugo a rich, slightly rebellious sixteen-year-old classmate, who was at once arrested by his crude, but good looks.
Ugo begins throwing advances at him. Loya steadily rebuffs his overtures which he considers weird, warped, obsessive, anti-cultural, anti-nature and against his personal puritanical principles. He tries to ignore Ugo and concentrate on his studies, but he cannot because of several schooling distractions, of which poverty, is chief. At the end of the first academic term, Loya returns home for Christmas, during which his father, DOMINIC, catches him in a compromising posture with his twenty-two-year-old wife -Loya’s stepmother. Without waiting for an explanation he kicks him out of his house.
Following this drama, fleeing from Ugo suddenly turned into fleeing right into his arms, as poverty and the pain of false accusation stings him. Now he needs shelter. Ugo gives him much more- a roof over his head, a shoulder to cry on and a bullion van to meet his needs. Will he throw away his puritanical principles to join the boys club? Will he achieve his life’s ambition? BEHIND THE BOYS DORM is a story of teenage struggles- identity crisis, puberty, pursuit, and triumph.
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