(An excerpt from the novel BEHIND THE BOYS’ DORM by Abiose A. Adams… continued from last week)
At 4:30am, a stout porter in brown khaki uniform woke Loya up and handed him a cutlass. He was to level the stubborn, knee-high grass, that extended several meters from the school’s main gain to the admin block.
For a quick moment his memory failed him, he stretched and yawned, thinking he was a free man. And then he was hit by the disabling reality that he wasn’t a free man. He had fought on his first day at school and he had been detained. He picked the cutlass.
At 5:30am, the porter handed him a tiny metal pail. He was to carry it on his head, fetch the water from the borehole at the staff quarters, and carry it to the dormitories, several meters away. He was to fill sixteen huge drums and then wash all the toilets. Loya rubbed his eyes. He carried the pail.
At 6:30am, he handed him a short, broken broom. He was to sweep clean, all the classrooms.
At 7:00am, the porter brought his breakfast to him.
He had been doing this in the past four days and this was his fifth day. It was a Friday. And that morning, the porter, lingered a little longer. He didn’t tell him it was judgement day.
“You follow me to the assembly grounds after you eat finish,” the porter said, his eyes empty of expression.
At 8am, Loya followed him and stood with the teaching and non-teaching staff, at the back of all the students.
It was a rather hot and dry morning. The students said the prayers, struck their hands against their chest, reciting the bible. After they have sung the national anthem, the tall and erect principal, whom the students called Longman began: “In whatever situation you find yourself, you must maintain the correctitude of conduct. It is against the tenets of this school to fight to the point of sending someone comatose. A certain new student came into this school, and on his first day, he challenged the school’s rule and authority. The disciplinary committee brought their report, and he is hereby charged with flagrant violation of the school’s code of ethics- rudeness, insubordination, and attempted murder.
This boy will be publicly scourged as a deterrent to all you boys who like to bully and fight.”
Meanwhile, there was a sudden upheaval as the principal completed the word, ‘murder’. Many thought Evaristus had died. Murmuring and side talks, grew amongst the file of students, several turning their heads backwards in his direction.
Loya’s head dropped on his chest.
“Now let Loyachukwu Ikemefuna, come forward now. Is he on the grounds?”
Suddenly, hot pee streamed down his pants, and his legs turned to iron in his shoes.
“Loyachuckwu Ikemefuna,” the principal called again. And then, the porter, who had all the while stood behind him, shoved him forward.
With such morbid fascination of crowd itching to watch a firing squad, juniors and seniors alike craned their necks to catch a glimpse of him, Those closer to the centre of gravity climbed the backs of taller students while some perched on tree branches.
At the front of the assembly was a dais. On it was two long tables, with horsewhips and buckets of water. The committee members were at alert with their canes in their hands. The principal also called the names of one other student accused of stealing.
“Remove your trousers,” a short, stout man with eyes that looked like he had been smoking hemp for weeks, non-stop, ordered Loya. His voice gruff and his eyes glinted with an evil joy. He was wearing a white singlet whose slackness exposed his left breast.
The students went amok; giggling and murmuring ruled the air. He took off his trousers, revealing only a pair of boxers.
“Lie on this table,” he placed his brawny hand on the table, pounding it repeatedly to emphasize his point.
As he climbed the table, the noise from the students assumed a different texture, a mixture of woes and pleas for my mercy. The man who carries the impression of one who had gone through rounds of wrestling began rubbing powdered pepper on the cane.
And then the final sentence came; “Boys will be boys but their ploys will bring them chaos,” he said. He paced the length and breadth of the podium with his megaphone.
“As a result, he will be receiving 24 strokes of the cane.” I urge all of you to go and read the school rule: Fighting and bullying are against the school rule, insubordination and stealing, homosexuality and paganism,” all against the school rule.
Loya prostrated on the table. Each of the 24 whips cracked his buttocks but did not crack his will. At the end of the caning, the audience was thrown in utter silence. Everyone studying his face, some in pity, others wondering why not a single tear dropped. At the end, the principal asked him to be released and return to class because Evaristus was resuscitated.
At around 7pm, after dinner of that day, Loya laid on the grass in the open field some metres away from the dormitories.
He would have loved to cry, but he couldn’t. He would have loved to be angry, but he couldn’t either. He felt deflated and vacuumed of all emotions, vacuumed by powers higher than himself. His buttocks were swollen and painful. In fact, all his bones were out of joint for the punishment he had been serving from one week. He thought about his mother; How I missed Nne! How I wished she didn’t die of breast cancer when I was eleven. “My son would be engineer, he will build roads, he will build houses,” she used to say. And then he thought about his father; he had talked him down until he had no more self-esteem left.
While he was reflecting, the earth finally shifted from the sun’s view. And it was night. And with the night came a hand tapping his shoulder. He looked up thinking it was God’s comforting angel.
“Did you read my letter that day,” Ugo said, partly looking sorry for him and partly looking like he’s found a prey. He was attired in his purple house wear. His hair was curly, and some part of the sheen spilling on his forehead.
And unexpectedly, Loya began to laugh. He laughed at the ludicrousness of the idea of school fathers.
“Ss…so..so..so what am supposed to say?” he stammered through his laughter.
“I I..I.. don’t need another father. I don’t need you.”
“You need me in this school. I’ve got powers with the powers from above. My father is a patron…and I’ve got friends in high places. Okay, I have something that will erase your pains and sorrows,” he squatted beside him on the grass with suspicious pleading eyes.
“What?” Loya asked with interest.
“How about this?” He bent low, held Loya’s hands and rubbed it on the bulge around his zippers.
Before Loya could complete his sentence, Ugo pressed his lips against Loya’s neck, shoulders, and chest. He yanked off his uniform to expose his bare, scanty-haired chest.
“Are you, are you, are you, are you mad?…. I mean are you crazy? Is something wrong with your head?….” he pointed his index finger to his temple, as he stood up, dodging him.
“Let’s just do it, now, under the grass, it is dark, no one will see us,” his eyes went bleary as he spoke in hush tones.
By reflex action, Loya pushed him so hard. Ugo lost his balance and fell backwards. He regained his stamina and walked up to him a second time.
“Loya…Loya, I admire you greatly and I want us to be lovers.” He spoke so fast and insensibly that Loya thought he must have lost his mind from alcohol or cocaine or marijuana.
“Sssto…stop, or I will tell the whole school of this nonsense.”
“Please.” He placed his index fingers across his lips, rubbed his hands together in a plea. “It’s between me and you. Don’t tell ssshhhhhhh,” his voice was huskier this time. He went on his knees begging.
“Oh, Jesus!” Loya clasped his hands behind his head trying to recover from the rude shock and thinking of how to escape. But as he dilly-dallied, Ugo lowered his lips towards him again. He struck him on the cheek, punched his belly. Ugo fought back and both began wrestling. Loya grabbed his funny bone, wrung his neck until Ugo let out a quick yell and let go. While they struggled, the bell for prep time rang. Two senior boys saw them fighting. Loya snapped to normal position, shaking and thinking what will happen if he was reported fighting again, only a few hours after he had been released from weeklong detention. Maybe school wasn’t just meant for him.
“You again,” one of the boys said.
“Please, please, it’s this boy that is finding my trouble….he said panting and pointing at Ugo. He is one looking for my trouble,” he said again tucking in his shirt, which had been rough from the fight, and smoothening it.
“We will go and report him to the disciplinary committee,” Ugo said, joining the two other boys, as they went.
Shocked! Loya ran after them pleading and wondering who should be reporting who?
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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