The Friday breakfast of beans is about the only meal in our school that we almost never eat with orderly dignity. It is also that meal that SS3s, female students and the cool SS2s never come for, and one that prefects couldn’t be bothered to come supervise. There is something about the mealtime that seems to bring out the ferociousness in those of us who attend it. Perhaps it is the especial tastiness of the chow (despite the watery nature of the food, it really is appetizing). Or perhaps, it is the fact that we have no supervision. You know, no hawk-eyed prefect looking out for a student foolish enough to do anything in the dining hall other than eat; or a wrathful cane lashing out at the bidding of the prefect. Perhaps it is the fact that it is the only actual food we ever got to have on a weekday morning (Monday and Wednesday breakfasts comprised of a small slab of bread, a cup of coloured liquid they call tea, and boiled egg; while Tuesdays and Thursdays saw us munching moi-moi from leaves).
Whatever the case, Friday breakfasts are usually an interesting incident.
And today was Friday.
“Hurry up, Joe!” I seethed at my friend as he unhurriedly tucked the tails of the white shirt of his school uniform into his navy-blue shorts. He zipped up the shorts, buckled his belt and began to tug lightly at the back of the shirt from the tight hold of the shorts’ waistline, giving it that stylish look that most senior students aimed for. Ever since we saw the back of Senior Olumide’s impossibly well-ironed, snowy-white school shirt billowing out behind him, the fabric rippling in the gentle breeze, giving him a sense of gracefulness, as though he was floating by instead of walking – this we saw last week – ever since then, Joseph had started copying that bit of fashion sense.
“Kai! I be fine boy o.” He was now preening before the small mirror he fastened to the inside part of the door of his locker. “Guy, you too fine.” He rubbed his jaw and tilted his head.
I rolled my eyes.
Ibuka was having none of it. He burst out furiously, “Joe! I swear, if you don’t stop behaving like a nonsense boy and take your plate so we can start going to the dining hall, I’ll – I’ll” – he faltered, his face scrunching as he tried to think up an appropriate threat – “I’ll leave the two of you and go!” he finished heatedly.
“Oh come on, Ibu –”
“And I will not smuggle any beans out for you!” Ibuka wasn’t done with the threats. As though to emphasize the seriousness of his intention, he swiveled and stomped out of the dormitory.
“Ibu – wait!” I was not going to be left behind. I shot Joseph a meaningful look, but he had already snatched up his plate, and followed after me. You don’t need cutlery for Friday breakfast; in a short while, you’ll come to understand why.
So we fled after Ibuka, but no matter how fast we moved, the boy’s stumpy legs kept him firmly ahead of us.
This bobo can sha move when it comes to food.
His disgruntled mutterings however carried back to us. “Since we finished our morning duty – Since!… I actually woke up very early to clean the launderette… Thank God they didn’t ring jogging bell this morning… And yet, Joseph has made us late for food… Always! Always!” At this point, he stopped so he could stamp an indignant foot on the ground, before lumbering on again. Joseph and I giggled as we followed from a safe distance. He continued his mumbled tirade, “By now, they would have finished rushing all the bonzo…” His voice broke on a sob at the contemplation that he might not get to have breakfast. Ibuka never joked with his mealtimes.
Bonzo is our school slang for ‘beans’. Again, I do not know how that came into existence. Yet another chest stacked into the towering shelf that made up the history of my school, I suppose.
And speaking of what Ibuka meant about ‘rushing all the bonzo’, well, that answer I’ll give to you in the narration of the sight and sound that welcomed us after we climbed up the sprawling staircase that led up to the wide entrance of the dining hall, and then looked inside.
The entire vicinity of the vast room was a bedlam of activity. The students dashing about were comprised mainly of junior students and some SS1s and SS2s – all boys. And every one of them was darting here and then, viciously snatching at the pots that had been placed on the different tables, scooping up mounds of beans with their plates, after which they dumped the pots and began hurriedly wolfing the food down, stuffing their mouths with fistfuls of beans. Whereas there were students who stood singly apart with as much as two or three pots in their custody, their scowling faces daring anyone to come interfere with their find, there were yet others – two or three students – who struggled with one pot, each of them trying, at once, to dip their plates into the pot and escape with the bigger portion. Everywhere, students fought, snarled and screamed, their faces etched with deadly purpose fueled by hunger and greed; the aluminium pots clanged, clattered and crashed, as they were jerked around and discarded forcefully; and trajectories of beans sailed through the air like viscous missiles, pelting onto the ground and splattering the walls.
For a few seconds, we stood, staring wordlessly at the scene playing out before us; then Ibuka let out a banshee-like scream, before running forward to join the melee. I followed immediately after; Joseph came in a reluctant third. You see, when you’re wearing your school uniform of ‘white’ shirt and blue shorts or trousers, especially if you’re planning on going straight to class from the dining hall, the last place you want to be is inside a war arena where your angry adversaries are using beans for bullets. Oftentimes, we would wear for Friday breakfast that dirty uniform from Thursday, and after the meal, change clothes back to the clean one we’d intended for Friday. But Joseph was clad in his Friday best, no doubt, hoping he could get Ibuka or me to go into the battlefield and get him a piece of the bounty.
But you heard Ibuka; he wasn’t in the mood to be indulgent. And neither was I. All three of us were going to be partakers of this battle. As it was, it had already started. Ibuka charged at a smaller boy who was skulking in a corner with a pot. The boy saw him advancing and shrank back, trying to steer the pot behind him.
“Give it to me!” Ibuka roared.
“No!” His protest was feeble. And insulting, considering he had junior hostel written all over him. Ibuka was in JSS3, for heavenssakes! Seniority thinz. The hungry Ibuka lashed out with a meaty hand, striking the boy on the face and causing him to stagger sideways, leaving the pot of beans unprotected. With a maniacally gleeful look on his face, Ibuka snatched the pot away and began scurrying for cover, amidst the junior boy’s outraged cries, his plate already scooping away at the food.
I wasn’t having much luck. Within the space of two minutes, I had tussled with a fellow JSS3 boy, scraped the dregs inside a pot that two junior boys tossed aside seconds before I got to them, and had a stray punch delivered to my face. I was becoming very pissed off, especially when I spotted Ibuka dashing past, his plate teeming with a mound of steaming beans. My tummy grumbled furiously. I was frantic, darting madly here and there, colliding with running bodies, looking desperately for food. Dear God in heaven, I began the frantic prayer in my head. I need beans. Please let there be beans for me…!
And just like that – there was beans! I saw the pot sitting stealthily in a crevice made by two tables joined together. Nice and quietly tucked away. In that manner that makes you aware that it belonged to someone who had hidden it away. But I wasn’t in the mood to be considerate of someone else’s ownership. So I lunged forward and yanked the pot from its hideout. The beans eddied inside it, hot and steamy, tendrils of its well-cooked aroma rising and tickling my nasal senses. I smiled. Thank you, Jesus. I lifted my plate to –
“Hey!” Startled, I looked up to stare at an advancing boy. The first thing I noticed was his angry face; if he were a cartoon character, steam would be jetting from his ears. The second thing I noticed was his trousers. Shit! An SS1 boy! I noticed next the pot he was carrying in his left hand.
“Hey – that’s my food!” he yelled.
Eheh?! And so? I thought, fuming. Ignoring him, and fueled by a hungry desperation, I dipped my plate inside the pot. The heat scalded my fingers, but I didn’t mind. I gave my finger a quick lick.
“Hey! Drop that pot! That’s my food!” He was now running toward me.
“But you have another pot of food!” I yelled back, gesturing distractedly at his left hand. I wasn’t done looting the pot in my possession.
He got to me, dropped the pot with him with a loud thump on the table beside him and snatched the first pot viciously away from me. But I had already scooped away more than half of its content. He was livid.
“Give me that food!”
“Over my dead bo–”
His punch slammed against my cheek, knocking the rest of my words away. I lurched backward. I saw red. Still wielding my bonzo-laden plate, I came back at him with a retaliatory punch. He ducked. My fist flew over his head. He slammed one into my tummy. I gasped. Feet scurried in our direction, and a hand grabbed the second pot. He turned on the new intruder with another angry ‘Hey!’ I hit him on his head. He staggered. The newcomer escaped. Spitting mad, he shoved me. I tripped and began to fall. My plate sailed out of my hand. In slow motion, both me and the plate hung for a moment in the air. I fell first, hard, on my bottom. The plate fell next, upturned, with a splat, all the beans I’d worked hard to get splattered on the dirty floor. A tide of helpless rage swept through me, especially when the SS1 boy turned and began to run away, no doubt to locate that other thief who stole his second pot. Furious, with tears stinging my eyes, I scrambled to my feet, grabbed a fistful of beans and sent it flying after the boy. Unknowingly, he moved out of the line of trajectory just in time.
Another boy walked into that line. I gasped when I saw who it was. Joseph. The beans slapped the front of his shirt, leaving angry brown bruises all over the white uniform. For a moment, we both froze. He stared at me. I stared back. I mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’ He let out an anguished scream, shot me a murderous look and turned away. And that was when I noticed his plate was also full of beans.
In the end, I had very little breakfast, a small dollop that I wheedled from Ibuka. Both my friends ate well. And Joseph refused to talk to me until the first period of class was over.