The morning after the visiting day
It was something that woke me up this morning. I would like to say it was the melodious chirping of a songbird, one of the many that appeared to be nesting on the orange tree growing in the backyard of my hostel, by the window beside my bunk.
I would like to say it was Joseph, the early bird that he is, shaking me awake, so we could go and pluck the mangoes growing in the small orchard that belonged to Hope House’s House-Master, Mr. Ndubuogu. The man was a wicked man, and we gave him his comeuppance by ravaging his mango trees. When he wasn’t looking, of course.
I would also like to say it was the jerky motions of my bunk as Ibuka shifted and turned about in his sleep on the bed above mine. Or the dripping tap-tap of his urine as it leaked through his bed onto my body. I was very upset the first time that happened. And the second time. And the third time. Let’s just say, I’ve been begging our House Captain, Senior Ifeanyi, to change my bed position from underneath Ibuka for some time now.
I would like to say – and this is my favorite part of this guessing game – that it was the gentle and arousing touch of Anulika’s lips against my cheek, that kind of morning kiss that I’ve seen actors give each other in American films.
It was none of these scenarios. Instead, I was nudged awake by a smell. An odd smell, a familiar smell, a richly-putrid smell, one with a malodorous strength so great it was able to reach into the deep recesses of my sleep and yank me up, awake. I blinked open my eyes and it slammed against my nose with increased ferocity, drenching my olfactory senses.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I turned my head on my pillow. Ibuka was standing by the window, staring wide-eyed out at the backyard.
“What is that smell?” I complained in a voice made hoarse by sleep. For a millisecond, I entertained the idea that the smell was coming from his body.
“It’s shit,” he answered.
“Shit! It’s shit!” he wailed. And he turned to look at me. His eyes had that distressed wildness in them that I’ve come to associate with one of his hysteric moods. “Shit everywhere – all over the backyard! Shit-shit-shit everywhere!”
“Shi–what? What are you talking about?” I rose from my bed and hurried to his side to look out the window. To behold the sight of – how did Ibuka put it again? – Shit-shit-shit everywhere.
All the senior hostels for every one of the four Houses in my school are square, U-shaped structures, and each wing (comprised of four dormitories) of each hostel shared a backyard with the next hostel. This backyard is a small expanse of land which separated this wing of Peace House (my House) from the next wing of Dignity House. At the beginning of every term, due to a lack of sanitary attention, it was usually an expanse filled with towering weeds and tangled shrubbery. We would then have to hack them off with our cutlasses and keep the whole area trimmed for the duration of the term. Looking out the window now, the entire parcel of land – the half that had been designated as the property of Peace House – had been defaced by small pockets of faeces here and there. They were littered everywhere, an ugly, smelly sight, with swarms of flies fluttering and buzzing delightedly over them.
“We are in so much trouble,” Ibuka breathed out, echoing my thoughts.
The words had barely left the vicinity before his lips before we were startled by a roar coming from the pavement outside our dormitory. “ALL PEACE HOUSE MEMBERS – RUN OUT TO THE QUADRANGLE NOW! DON’T LET ME CATCH YOU SLEEPING! OUT! OUT TO THE QUADRANGLE NOW!”
The bellowing voice of our House Captain jerked the students in my dormitory still on the beds up from their various positions of repose, most of them tumbling down from their bunks in their haste. Ibuka and I exchanged a look of abject terror before the door of our dormitory was sent flying open. The door swung in sharply and slammed against the wall behind it with such force the wood vibrated. Filling the doorway was our House Captain, Senior Ifeanyi. He was squat and powerfully-built, with a round, turret-like head mounted atop lumpy shoulders and a thick waist that attested to an affinity for heavy food. He had one of those impressive physiques that made me wonder oftentimes if he was truly in his teens. Surely, someone built like that ought to already be in the university, running around with a gang of cultists or something.
But I didn’t have much time to dwell on that thought at the moment. There was a heavy scowl on his face, and the fire in his eyes made us shrink back from him. One of his muscular hands clenched one end of a slender, wiry cane.
Yep, we are in serious shit. No pun intended there.
“You are all still standing, eh?” His voice was a low grumble and his anger was unmistakable. “Instead of running out to the quadrangle, you are still standing and looking at me, abi?” Before the words had properly left his mouth, he swung the cane at the nearest – and in my opinion, unfortunate – boy. The cane whistled through the air and cracked against the boy’s body. He screamed. But Senior Ifeanyi was already on the move away from him; with an agility that was amazing in one so bulky, he lashed out at another boy. All of us were now scurrying about in the room, like an intrusion of cockroaches suddenly disturbed by the presence of a human, trying to dart past him to the relative safety of the courtyard outside, whilst attempting to escape the flying wrath of the cane. The cane sang this way and that, eliciting cries of pain from whoever it struck; I snatched Ibuka’s hand – he was already crying – and steered him towards the doorway. I was slender and nimble, and was positive I could escape the wrath of the cane. But Ibuka, with his corpulent stature, was another story. We had almost made it to the door – my frightened eyes clashed with Senior Ifeanyi’s enraged ones for just a millisecond – and then he pounced. The cane scythed through the air; I heaved Ibuka forward and out of harm’s way; he lurched forward, and I feared he would trip and fall. But my worry was short-circuited when the cane landed on me, cutting a path across my back. The stinging sensation birthed rivulets of pain that spread out from the point of infliction to other parts of my body. I cried out and tears quickly pooled in my eyes as I clutched at my back, running out to join the throng of frightened boys who were gathering in the quadrangle. Joseph was already out there, holding a sobbing Ibuka close to him.
Moments later, Senior Ifeanyi pranced out of my dormitory and continued on to the other rooms, making sure he had flushed every single student out to the courtyard. While this was going on, I spotted Senior Olumide, one of the few Yoruba students we had in the school. He was also our House prefect, the assistant to Senior Ifeanyi. He was this tall, sunken-chested boy, with an emaciated look, small, calculating eyes and an effeminate attitude. Right then, he was leaning against one of the metal pillars that stood on the pavement, inspecting the cuticles of his fingers and appearing uninterested with the chaos unfolding around him.
But I knew better. Senior Olumide was as mean as they come. Despite the fact that he was the antithesis of Senior Ifeanyi, the calm to Senior Ifeanyi’s storm, the earth to his fire, the reason to his bluster, Senior Olumide had a mean streak that reared its ugly head every now and then. Once, by way of punishment, he had ordered Ben, one of the SS1 boys in Dorm 5, to assume the angle 90 position – a sitting posture against the wall, hands stretched out, knees jutting out, with nothing to support your bottom but air –, and he placed an empty metal bucket on top of Ben’s outstretched arms, warning the wretched boy not to let the bucket fall. The boy had shuddered and sweated and sobbed throughout the hour he suffered the punishment. When he was finally released, his convulsing legs could barely hold him up.
Finally, when we had all been flushed out and assembled in the quadrangle – I stood huddled up against Ibuka and Joseph, in the midst of a multitude of JSS3s, SS1s and SS2s –, Senior Ifeanyi assumed a position on the pavement beside his assistant. “So, all of una,” he boomed in vernacular, “una don chop una visiting-day rice and garri finish, come carry shit mess up everywhere for back, abi?! Una hide-hide chop the rice finish, e get any of una wey say make him carry small come give your House Captain? Eh?!” he barked, stabbing us with his angry eyes. No one dared answer, either in the affirmative or negative. I suspected no one had extended that singular act of kindness to Senior Ifeanyi. Junior boys tended to be ungenerous with their visiting day goodies, especially when it came to extending that kindness to the SS3s. “Stingy boys!” he hissed. “Wicked boys! Wetin happen to toilet, eh? Una no see toilet go shit, na for outside better pass.”
But our lavatories are a joke. You see, it may be a water closet system, but in actual fact, it is just a glorified pit toilet. No, scratch that – a pit toilet is better. There is no running water and no one can be bothered with fetching water to flush, so students defecate indiscriminately until the bowls are overflowing with all sorts of discolored, smelly gunk. The SS3s had to cordon off a part of the lavatory for themselves, making it our task to clean that section and fetch the water for them to use when they had to stool. The other toilets were then left to suffer the excretory rampage of the junior students, constantly teeming with our faeces, most times spilling over to the floors and making navigation in the toilet a tiptoe chore. I could barely remember the last time I defecated in the toilet; the smell was much too offensive. My friends and I preferred going about our business in the abundance of bushy terrains that dotted our school environment.
Senior Ifeanyi was still spluttering with rage. “God don catch una today! You see all that shit wey dey back” – he jabbed an indignant finger in the general direction of the backyard – “all of una go pack am. All of you. But first” he brandished his cane – “Oya! Start coming one by one.” He advanced a few steps towards us and the body of students tided back from him in terror.
“Ifeanyi, wait, wait,” Senior Olumide intoned, finally lifting his attention from his fingers and straightening from the pillar. He fluttered his hand in a gesture to stay Senior Ifeanyi. “Don’t flog them.” His voice was soft and silky with a hint of a lisp, and his diction was perfect. “That’s not punishment enough.” My blood ran cold at the words. That mean streak had woken up. “They will still get rid of all the excrement, but they won’t be flogged. That’s too kind.” He then fixed his baleful gaze on us. “I want you all to squat and start frog-jumping. Now!”
Amidst whimpers and groans, we promptly hunkered down on our haunches and started bobbing up and down on our heels. Up-down. Up-down. Up-down. The thing with frog-jumping is, when you start doing it, it doesn’t seem like a tough enough punishment. But if you persist, the pressure that builds up on your knees and the muscles of your thighs and legs unleashes the kind of throbbing pain that is quite unimaginable. And Senior Olumide had us do it for close to an hour. We wailed. We begged for mercy. We wept. We promised to be good boys. Some of us pledged our next visiting-day rice to the prefects. One or two hapless students tearfully shouted their protestations that they were asthmatic patients. But they remained unmoved. Our piteous cries rent the early Sunday morning, sorrowful enough to touch the hearts of even the most unfeeling of angels. But Senior Olumide had gone back to inspecting his nails, and Senior Ifeanyi moved about in our midst, his cane held ready to lash out at anyone who wasn’t frog-jumping appropriately.
Finally, after a whispered conference between the two of them, Senior Olumide waved us to a stop, and at Senior Ifeanyi’s curt command, we all hobbled about, with shaky limbs and tear-streaked faces, to get rid of all the – you know it – shit-shit-shit everywhere.