‘Drop all cutleries! Stop talking and stop eating!’
The bell rings a million times to drive home the command, and the noise in the hall ebbs – first to a buzz then to a strenuous silence as spoons stained with dregs of yellow-brown sauce gently land in watery beans and soaked garri. Heads lift, turn sideways or rotate backwards – depending on point of view – to focus the eyes in them on the podium, on a fat girl whose neck strains against her collar. She’s holding the intruding bell and a cane as well.
Considerable noise lingers despite the command, but this is coming from the far right-hand section of the hall where SS2 and 3 have their tables – still on our row though. (The entire right-hand section of the hall is occupied by us, the senior students; ju students have the left.)
I wish I had brought more milk from the hostel. This beans is too salty and the garri has swelled so much that I can’t taste the milk I put in it. Dirty food.
The fat girl on the podium is Tinuke Shodipo, assistant dining hall prefect. She has dropped the bell and is addressing us now in an irritated voice.
‘– you have forgotten that there are sacred rules guiding conduct at meals. This afternoon, majority of you rushed into this ref like mad dogs. You were charging like Barbarians. What does that mean?’ She seems like she’s about to burst now; the muscles – or is fat? – in her neck have tautened and I am waiting for her collar to tear. ‘Haven’t you seen food before? I’m asking you, have you not seen food before?’
‘We have!’ the entire refectory of five hundred and two persons – minus the two most senior classes – thunder back at her.
‘Look’ – she hits a table with the cane – ‘if I get any of you rushing into the ref again, you will be in serious soup. Is that clear?’
‘I said, Is that clear?’
Tinuke heaves a visible sigh, very much like that a man who had been restrained from beating up another in a fight might emit, and says, ‘Carry on with your food.’
But that order will not be carried out. The bell rings again. One clang.
Labour and sanitation prefect, Brendan Momoh, stands in front of the hall in all his muscular width,not talking, leaving his slowly-travelling eyes to make the demand for pin-drop silence. Satisfied a while later, he begins, ‘Nobody did his or her morning duty today.’
Muffled surprised protest rises and dies just as fast. Brendan pauses and flicks his attention to the tables in the middle of the left section. ‘JS1. Are you mad? I’m talking and you are talking! Right? You are bastards! All of you run out! Go and lie down in the basketball court. Fast!’
The affected students scramble to their feet, sending some benches thudding to the floor on their sides. They trot down the aisle towards the double entrance doors to carry out the prefect’s punishment. As they run past my table I avert my face from their collective odour of stale sweat mixed with the mouldy stench of clothes that had barely dried before they were folded into airless lockers and – worse – later worn. Disgusting pigs!
This particular set of JS1 is a loathsome bunch. They know too much of their rights that they have no respect for their seniors. In first term, one of them – Ufoma Something-Silly – told the principal to suspend an SS3 girl because the SS3 girl ‘maltreated’ her by asking her to dress her bed. Then there was Moses Kilipiti – who can forget that name? Moses slapped an SS1 boy for insulting him! It’s still not clear where their guts are coming from, but what we know is that that class has been marked by the entire school and until they leave SS2 – which is still far away – they will suffer for their stupidity. God knows what this school will look like when this JS1 are in power.
Prefects will be toothless bulldogs by then I’m sure.
So every third term, new prefects are chosen ahead of the next session from SS2, SS1 and JS3 to take over the mantle of leadership from SS3 who would be busy writing WAEC then and looking very stressed.
Yesterday at assembly, prefects for the 03/04 session were appointed amid the usual tension and excitement, and for any student who has been in the system as long as I have – four years – the implication of this is clear. The new prefects are drunk on their newfound power and spoiling to unleash every terror imaginable in the name of discipline. During this time, the smallest offence becomes a felony. If you were two seconds late to evening prep, you got flogged several strokes. If a brown dot is seen on an otherwise white-washed cement corridor, all those whose duty it is to keep that place clean could cut grass for a week. The L&S prefect will not care if it was a bird that shit on the corridor after those working on it had done their duty. This is not the period to be caught in the wrong uniform or making noise after lights out. You will just die.
Brendan’s bark returns my wandering mind to the ref. I do not know what he has said but he has just stretched a foolscap sheet in front of his face. I’m pretty certain what the sheet is about and he confirms it with, ‘If you hear your name, run outside.’ Yes, those who hadn’t done their morning duties to the prefect’s satisfaction – or at all – had their names in that list and it’s going to be hot for them this afternoon. Blood of God! I didn’t do mine.
‘I pray your name should be there, Florian,’ the person beside me whispers.
If not that we have been forbidden to make any stupid sound or move and if not that I am trying to listen for my name, hoping that I do not make the dreaded list, I would have given Buchi an uppercut right now. This guy is a dwarf, he doesn’t know anything, yet that thing he knows will annoy you is exactly what he will do. If you like, warn from now till tomorrow, it won’t stop him. You would just have to get fed up and ignore him, hoping he leaves you alone soon. But would he ever? Ever since we were in JS1 I have made it clear that I do not like my English name called in full. The name is too girly; I am tired of people asking me about it; everybody should call me Flow. Nobody should call me by my native name, Ali, either because that made people think I come from the North. I don’t know what made my father give me all these stupid names. That man is confused and that is what caused problems between him and my mum. Only God knows what he’s up to these days.
As for Buchi, I’ve learnt to live with my disease. He is full of shit, so I ignore him, postponing his day of reckoning at my hands.
Brendan is right now receiving – from a ju – a bundle of freshly cut canes which he throws on the podium’s wooden floor. He begins to call the list.
I bite a corner of my lip, not because I’m so tense – am I a ju? Whatever comes out of having my name on that list, I’m going to take it like that.