I told you some time ago that the JSS1 Johnny-Just-Come scales fell off my eyes at the blow of a prefect, right? Well, not all of them came off that day. But I assure you, the rest peeled off on the day I met Joseph. Let’s go back to JSS1 again, shall we?
I was scrubbing the pavement on a Saturday morning after breakfast. It was my morning duty. The bristles of my broom swished back and forth, vigorously dispersing the foamy water on the blemished floor. The white foam quickly turned dirt-brown, and I stopped, scooped fresh sudsy water from the bucket beside me and splashed it on the floor, then commenced sluicing. I moved back gradually, dragging the bucket with me as I scrubbed on.
I stopped for a moment, straightened up and bent backwards and sideways to ease the kinks that had started to accumulate in the muscles of my waist. A thudding sound, followed by sharp cracks snagged my attention, and I looked over to the place, a few yards away, where Ibuka was shelling the palm kernel nuts his guardian gave to him yesterday.
The guy is always eating something.
“Ibu, nawa for you oh. Shebi you said you’ll help me rinse away the part of the pavement that I’ve washed.” I gestured towards the bucket filled with clean water that stood waiting beside him. “I’ve brought the water for you, and you’re still there eating aki.”
“Sorry, Eze,” he muttered as he chewed, “I’ll soon start. Let me just finish this last one.” He wielded the fist-sized stone over a nut.
“Ibuka, please nah. When you asked me to help you cut grass yesterday afternoon, I did not waste time oh.”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming.” The stone came down. The palm kernel shell cracked.
“Hey!” a voice barked. We turned. “Hey! You this boy!” A very angry-looking boy was stomping towards us, stabbing an irate finger at me. “You – where is my bucket?!”
“What are you talking about?” I snapped back, my brow furrowing. Ibuka hurried to his feet, dusted out his hands on his shorts and ambled forward.
The boy came to a stop before me. I knew him. Joseph Amuluche, the privileged brat who was in Dorm 1, and so, was one of our House Prefect, Senior Uche’s favorites. He was also in my class, JSS1B, and our form teacher was fond of him. No be say him know book oh. Just that his parents have money… I’d figured that out when he got into a fight with Dumebi, our class captain, and kept on huffing, in between blows and shoves, “Do you know who I am?!”
“I saw you with my bucket during yesterday’s general cleanup.” His handsome features were twisted with annoyance. “I didn’t want to say anything until after cleanup, but then I forgot.” He thrust out his open palm. “So, give it to me now. I want to go to the borehole.” He looked around, registering the fact that none of the two buckets I was now using belonged to him. He roared, “Where’s my bucket?!”
“Stop shouting at me joor!” I snapped. “As you can see, I don’t have your bucket with me.”
“But you had it yesterday! Where is it? Give it to me now!”
“I dropped it in the launderette when I finished with it.”
“But it’s not there. I checked.”
“Then it’s no longer my business.”
“Give me my bucket, you this boy!”
You this boy! We were in the same class, and the idiot didn’t even know my name, I fumed.
Ibuka cut in. “But he said he’s not with –”
“Shut up, fatty bum-bum!” Joseph snarled, whipping his head around to face Ibuka. “I was not talking to you!”
“Hey!” I was now very angry. The boy’s obnoxiousness had pissed me off. “What is the matter with you sef? Don’t talk to him like that!”
His blazing eyes turned back to me. “I will talk to him anyhow I want. You can’t stop me! Now, give me my bucket!”
“Come and take it from me nah!” I spat at him. “Since craze don dey worry you for head.”
His eyes narrowed. “What did you say to me?”
“I said you’re crazy! Onye-ara, that’s what you are!”
“You dey try me, eh?” He pushed me and I staggered backward. “I go beat you oh.”
I came back at him and pushed back. “Because you get two head, abi? Try it nah!”
Within moments, we had the fronts of our shirts bunched up in our fists and we kept shoving each other back and forth, hurling expletives at each other and threatening blows that we never actually gave, with Ibuka alternating between egging me on and attempting – feebly – to break up the scuffle. Finally, a JSS2 boy and one of the dormitory supervisors – Kalu was his name – came and broke us up. When he was done listening to our heated narrations of what had just transpired between us, he nodded and said with all the wisdom of one who had been in the system much longer than us, “Your bucket must be in the senior hostel.”
“What do you mean?” Joseph asked.
“If you have searched for your bucket and couldn’t find it in this hostel, then it must be in the senior hostel. Anything that gets lost in the junior hostel is usually found in the senior hostel.”
“Which senior hostel?” I found myself asking. We had four Houses in the school.
Kalu shrugged. “I don’t know. No be me carry the bucket go there nah.”
“I’m going there to look for it,” Joseph said with the unflinching confidence I later came to realize was part of his personality.
Kalu looked horror-stricken. “Are you crazy?” he gasped. “That’s senior hostel!”
Joseph arched disdainful brows at him. “And so?”
“There are senior boys there – SS3s –”
“Eheh? Are they not human beings like us?” Joseph was not to be cowed.
“Is that what you are saying?” Kalu looked miffed by the fact that this JSS1 boy wasn’t appropriately scared. “Oya, go nah. Shebi you are superman. Go to senior hostel and see what happens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you o.” With those ominous last words, he turned and stomped off, his slippers slapping indignant exclamation marks on the pavement.
“Mscheeewww! Fear-fear boy.” Joseph waved a contemptuous hand. “What’s the worst that can happen? I’m going joor.” Without hesitation, he turned to me. “Are you coming?” Apparently, our animosity from earlier on had been dismissed.
I hesitated, just for a fraction of a second, and then nodded. “Yes, I’m coming.” I was intrigued.
“Eze!” Ibuka gasped, his eyes goggling with horror. “Didn’t you hear what Kalu said? Senior hostel is full of wicked SS3s…”
“So what? It’s not like we are going there to look for their trouble.”
“What about your duty?” He gestured to the partly-washed pavement.
“I’ll finish it when we come back.” I caught the impatient look on Joseph’s face, and said to him, “Just give me a few minutes to pack away the buckets and brooms.” He nodded acquiescingly.
Minutes later, the three of us – Ibuka, most grudgingly – set off for the stretch of property that was the senior hostel area.