Loya walked with a limp towards the assembly ground. There was no sore on his knee, ankle or foot, but he had chosen this gangsterism walk to create an impression that he was a tough boy.

At 17 going on 18, when most of his peers would be trying to gain admission into the university, he had just gained ‘freedom’ from his apprenticeship at a roadside auto-mechanic workshop in Enugu.

It was a Monday morning in September and the giant bell had just rung. Scores of boys were turning out from their dormitories, spinning to the assembly ground, but Loya’s head was spinning with the dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

His mother had died when he was 11, and he had dropped out of school, because his father, a community goldsmith, claimed he couldn’t afford textbooks, exercise books, uniform and even a new pair of shoe, for his ‘free-education’ public school. And so Loya was persuaded to go and ‘learn work.’

Meanwhile, the father had enough money to marry a teenage wife who was only five years older than Loya. He served him, served her, served her children, served as an apprenticeship, until Loya’s maternal aunt- Aunty Ngozi, fought to return him to school.

So being back to school, for him was freedom from family troubles and freedom to be himself. As a teenager coming of age, he believes an over-exaggerated sense of fashion would do it for him. So he walked the walk, dressed the dress, and swag the swag, to overcompensate for his almost damaged childhood, and those years he had lost out of school. He wore his uniform upside down- the short sleeve of his sky blue shirt, rolled up to the armpit, dark sunshades across his eyes, his trouser sagging, and his heels grazing on the back of his leather shoe. He had a good skin untarnished by the mechanic’s dirty oil, very yellowish having missed being an albino by an inch.

He swaggered to the back of ‘SS3’ row, where he listened to the welcome address of the school principal. “If you want to gain instant admission into the university, Imela Boys Comprehensive High School, Enugu, is the school,” the principal said. The students cheered, sang the national anthem, the drums rolled and all marched to their classes.

Loya continued hopping or was it hop-walking behind. And then a tall boy with an aquiline nose and a slightly bald head, wearing a lanyard that carried his identity card on which was written, ‘respect the prefect,’ stopped him.

“…hey you, what manner of dressing is this?”

Loya cowered, trying to respond, when another boy, dark and stout, holding a bamboo cane, challenged him; “…and do you know this haircut is unlawful in this school,” he chaffed the curls on his haircut, with the tip of his cane.

“And he is even perming his hair, cutting punk style,” yelled a puny-statured boy who has a soprano voice, and wore a badge, with the name Evaristus.

“..what’s your name?”

“..Lll…L…llo…oyachukwu.”

“Are you a stammerer? What’s your full name… my friend,” he huffed and struck him on the head.

“Loya…L…Loyachukwu Ikemefuna.”

When he heard his name, Evaristus, whipped him on the shoulders, as though it was a crime to bear that name.

“Come on tuck in your shirt……………………you ragamuffin!….you think you are in the motor garage?”

“Frogmarch!” He snarled.

Loya began to leap the way a toad does. At that moment, all the outward razzmatazz to boost self-esteem crumbled, and he panted and sweated, like a goat for slaughter, throwing up red dust in the process. His blue shirt turned brown. After some time, his knees began wobbling because his thigh and shin muscles had connived to go into spasms. He squatted, and couldn’t leap anymore. The three prefects were still watching.

“Stand up! Evaristus commanded. But Loya didn’t answer.

“Am I not talking to you?” he shrieked in that his feminine voice.

Loya still did not answer, rather he bowed his face to the earth.

And then, the way one whips a rebellious horse, the most senior prefect slashed his back with a three-mouthed horsewhip. Suddenly, Loya jumped up, seized the whip, twisted the prefect’s hand, backward and began to prance.

“Insubordination!!!! They all shouted at once, as though rehearsed.

Multiple slaps flew here and there across; from the three boys to Loya; pounding and blows too, accompanied. Loya parried some, wrestled some, and threw back some. Several blows fell across Evaristus’ face. He was the tiniest, and least to absorb the shock, so he fell. Collapsed.

“What arrant insolence!” the dark and stout,” yelled in between breaths. “You will be suspended.”

“Do you know who we are,” the senior prefect, panted, fuming.

“What arrant insurbodination…you are a tout, a ragamuffin, a gangster, you are not fit for school,” the senior was panting and ranting.

Meanwhile many other senior students, who were hitherto marching to their various classes, digressed, rubbernecking and yelling with their hands on their heads, ‘hheey, this yellow boy, has killed someone ooohhh. The VP Acad, rushed to the scene, his nose flared, looking at Evaristus, who was being resuscitated by some students, and then at Loya, as though he was about to issue a death decree.

“Whaaat is my offence…. that.that..tha… I Ii…cc..ccomme to learn in the schooool… wwwwhhhhat, what, wha, what is my offence. Am…amm..am I a criminal…why are they beating me like a criminal…..? Loya stammered. His forehead had ripped and blood was spurting down his nose, smearing his blue shirt.

“You still, have the nerve to talk?” the VP looked out of his glasses, at him and shook his head. He ordered some school officials to handcuff him and lead him to the detention facility, where he would be kept until he faces the school’s disciplinary committee.

And so Loya followed them, shoeless, his uniform, blood-stained and torn from the fight, and his eyes bloodshot.

The detention room was located behind the Principal’s office. Across its door post was written in bold letters, Boys Will Be Boys, But their ploys will bring them chaos.

It was a cubicle, a sunless, mosquito-infested, smelly, dusty room, not conducive for anyone with some semblance of human dignity. It was a mini-prison for student offenders, awaiting trial. On his first day at school, he was already an offender. His name was in the school’s black book.

After the porter, a short man who wore khaki and a grim look, locked him there, he sat, leg crossed, shoulder lowered, head bowed, imagining what would be next. “Expulsion?” Running from frying pan at home to meet fire in school? His step-mother would goad him, his father would gloat, and Aunty Ngozi would be so disappointed. Here is where his bad temper had brought him. But was it his fault or his father’s, who always brought out the worst in him, and often told him, he was a never do well? Life smelt awful; school, cruel; hope, far away. How can he become somebody in life?

The sun was retiring. He heard the sound of the bell for dinner and the shuffling of footsteps of students heading to the dining hall. Nobody came near him, for no one went near a plague. He prayed Evaristus doesn’t pass out, so at least he could receive forgiveness.

His stomach churned with both hunger and anger at the cruelty of the prefects. He felt they were really cruel, especially that tiny Evaristus. That one that looked like a mosquito’s exoskeleton.

He raised his head and saw someone approaching. The fact that the person made no sounds as though he walked on air, piqued his interest. He frowned and buried back his head between his thighs. He didn’t want to see anyone.

And then the boy kept approaching. He raised his head again and remembered seeing him yesterday- the Sunday he resumed at the dorm. He had offered to help him and show him around. But he had refused, not desiring to come across as vulnerable. So he hardened his face and his demeanour. Finally, he stopped some centimetres away.

“Hi,” he waved and smiled kindly.

Loya did not answer.

The guy looked neat. His shirt had smoothened cuffs, straight sleeve, and moderate pleats. His overpowering masculine perfume lingering in the air was the breath of fresh air, any incarcerated person would need. But Loya looked away.

“I’m Ugo,” the boy said, touching his chest.

Loya sighted a ring on his finger, and a silver chain across his neck, and said in his heart, he is even wearing a ring and a chain. So is this also lawful in this school, yet my hairstyle is unlawful- double standard! Mtcheww!! He hissed.

“I’m Ugochukwu….I’m only trying to be a friend.”

Loya still didn’t answer. In fact, he eyed him. He hated the school instantly, and everything and everyone in it. But how was he going to tell Aunty Ngozi, that he no longer wants to go to school? Not after the money she had spent and the fight she had fought his father. She would call him a failure.

Ugo dilly-dallied for a while, and then slipped a note through the grill of the detention room. He quickened his pace as though not to be caught and disappeared.

Loya sat back, rested his back on the wall, opened the note and read.

Dear Loya,

The first time I saw you yesterday, I was completely flabbergasted by your phenomenal pulchritude. Just like the way thunder strikes, I was struck by your handsomeness. I have been fantasizing about you because you are such a fantastic dude.

I am writing because I want you to give me a chance to be your school father. You will never regret it. You will be indoctrinated into the class of the seniors of seniors. I promise to take care of you in this school, so no one will bully or maltreat you, and you will pass all your grades.

I’m sorry about what happened to you today. Plleeeaaaseee, say yes.

Fully Faithfully for you,

Ugo.

“Dictionary,” Loya sighed and squeezed the note.

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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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