Like most altercations which spiral downwards into the barbaric realms of tongue tugging and throat slapping, there were several avenues of diplomacy which both ten year olds could have branched into before they found themselves bouncing energetically with fists high up in front of their faces – just like they had seen in the movies.
“Commando Bakayo revased for a tausand miles when running away from the police,” the boy said to Tomisin, before deftly delivering the first blow.
“No he didn’t, that’s impossible, he reversed for only five miles,” Tomisin countered, before graciously accepting it.
By that stage of the proceedings, all reality regarding what Commando Bakoyo – The Bandit of Bemghula, at the time, the most wanted criminal in Côte d’or noir- really did or did not do had flown out the window, and after the boys had taken the long affront-lined path leading to the sand pits of the sports ground, Tomisin found himself in a very unfamiliar position – in a fight.
Prior to the day, the two boys had never set eyes upon one another. The occasion which brought about their confrontation was a sports day meet for regional primary schools, and their respective schools had been allocated adjacent marquees. Tomisin and a dozen of his school colleagues from the relatively prestigious Our Lady of Disciples Private School arrived at the venue an hour late, and gawked in horror at the sight of their neighbours. The occupants of the adjacent marquee needed no introductions: they were students from the publically funded state school a mile away from theirs; the school where the naughty children in their school were threatened to be sent if they persisted with their naughtiness; the school whose students wore “malaria-piss yellow” coloured school uniform shirts on “poo-poo brown” shorts. They were the “street boys” their mothers warned them against fraternizing with on pain of dinner and television rationing. There were over two dozen of them: half were sprawled shamelessly in their plastics seats – completely at ease with their public languidness as though they were relaxing in their bedrooms; whilst the other half were hanging off the tent support trusses, as though swinging from monkey bars. Civility did not appear to be the order of their sports day.
The private school children immediately set about the task of moving their shelter ten feet away from their neighbours; establishing a no-man’s-land between the two marquees – an eerie wilderness which they all agreed they dare not stray into, for fear of incurring the grave wrath of the uncouthness which lay beyond.
After this brazen act of snobbery, they then sat in a large circle beneath their school’s marquee and began discussing the news event of the year which had broken the night before – news that the infamous highway robber, Commando Bakoyo, had been apprehended, but not before a lengthy car chase. The duration of the car chase, exactly how many miles it covered, how many cars were involved, and other events that led up to Commando Bakoyo’s eventual arrest were all exaggerated (and light-heartedly disputed) by the private school boys, but Tomisin took offence when the boy from the other school jostled through into the centre of their gathering and butted into their conversation with a bizarre contribution: “Bakoyo revased for a tausand miles. I was dia,” he said.
Perhaps it was because the boy’s knee brushed past Tomisin’s back as he made his way forward to declare the absurdity, but Tomisin was the only one amongst the gathered group to react, albeit ever so slightly – shaking his head and rolling his eyes as he did so.
The boy’s uniform was filthy: age-old ink and palm oil stains were dotted around the shirt, which itself had dirtied from a shade of light yellow into a murky brown, and the collar ridge was lined by a thick coat of black dirt. His long fingernails were also blackened with dirt, probably accumulated from scratching away at his legs, which were dotted with several black blemishes, open scabs, and fresh insect-bite bumps. Three deep tribal marks were horizontally carved on both sides of his face, and on the right side, an equally deep long scar ran from beneath his eye down his cheek – crossing over the three tribal marks on that side. His physique was rather slight, in stark contrast to his forearms, which were about the same thickness as Tomisin’s thighs.
“Look at him, no socks.” One of Tomisin’s schoolmates fearfully whispered to another.
“How can he be wearing socks, when he cannot afford sandals? He is wearing bathroom slippers. Is that allowed?” the other whispered back.
“I don’t know. He looks like Popeye. Did Popeye wear bathroom slippers to school?” the first one asked again.
On hearing these murmurs, Museil, Tomisin’s best friend – who had only briefly glanced at the intruder when he stepped forward earlier – now began to cautiously scrutinize him more intently, and knew there would be trouble. Museil thought the boy’s frown and the harsh tone of his voice betrayed how he probably hadn’t derived much joy from life that day, and perhaps several days before that. He also thought the boy’s sole motive for aggressively jostling through to the centre of their gathering and interrupting their conversation, was to offload – and perhaps transfer – some of the sorrow which obviously burdened him.
As the boy stood panting antagonistically above the private school children – as though hoping to hear a disparaging response to his comments from one of the silly, snot-nosed ones, so he could commence wiping snot from said child’s nose with his fist and foot – Museil concluded that he was the type to avoid fraternizing with at all costs, even if it meant changing seats to do so. From his deportment, he could tell the boy would become quite unhinged at the slightest perception of contempt, and he also knew that if Tomisin was anything, he was extremely contemptuous.
The week before, Tomisin had asked a school colleague in the year above what zoo his mother raised him in after the boy cut ahead of him in a queue. The day before that, he had told the mathematics teacher’s daughter, a class mate of his, that her father would constitute less of a nuisance working in the canteen – counting the grains of rice served to each child – because he had incorrectly tallied Tomisin’s homework. Tomisin did not suffer fools gladly. Now, Museil was not quick to condemn the boy – he did not automatically think the boy a fool just because he appeared a bit unkempt and spoke in a coarse manner – but going by the evidence so far, he did interrupt a group conversation with a rather foolish remark.
Museil was quite relieved when Tomisin winked at him, and then smiled at the rest of his gathered school friends. It was a sign that they were on the same page; a sign that the boy did not deserve any of their attention. Tomisin was the most popular boy in the group because he was the only Straight-A student amongst them, and led by his example, the other boys also paid the intruder no mind. The group attempted to carry on chatting about Bakoyo’s woes, but before Davis had finished his contribution – relaying how many shotgun cartridges were allegedly recovered from the arrest scene – the boy curiously did it again.
“Bakoyo revased for a tausand miles. I was dia,” he said again, still maintaining his confrontational stance at the centre of the gathering.
“Pardon?” asked Tomisin, looking up sharply at the boy and staring at him confusedly, as though he was some piece of raw meat placed on his pillow.
“I say I was dia,” the boy confirmed, turning towards Tomisin.
“You were where?”
“I was dia!” he staunchly repeated.
“You ran with them for a thousand miles? Nobody can do that.”
“I was dia!”
“You were in Bakoyo’s car?” Tomisin investigated.
“I was dia!”
“Nobody can reverse that distance.”
“I was dia!”
“Are you Bakoyo’s son?”
“I lie? Are you call me liar?”
“No, I’m asking a simple question.”
“I was dia!”
With this, Tomisin turned away and tried to carry on conversing with the group – debating where exactly Bakoyo was apprehended – when inexplicably, the boy interrupted yet again, saying exactly the same thing: “Bakoyo revased for a tausand miles. I was dia.” But this time, unlike his previous outbursts which were declared at the centre of the circular gathering to no one in particular, he focused solely on Tomisin when he shouted.
Tomisin snapped. “You were where?” he half screeched, throwing his arms up in frustration. His irritated tone and confrontational demeanour clearly revealed that the boy’s interruptions would no longer go unanswered, and he intended to see this exchange through to the bitter end.
“Dia,” the boy responded.
“Where is ‘there’?”
“Dia is where I was.”
“Do you know what a thousand is?”
“Yes, a tausand is from one to one-tausand and eferytin hinbetweens, hincludin one and one-tausand,” the boy responded confidently; nodding as he concluded and cracking into a proud smile as well.
“Do you know how long a mile is?”
“Yes, a mile is from the mechanic workshop to the farm,” the boy confirmed.
“Which workshop? Whose farm?”
“My broda workshop; my fada farm.”
“Ah! I see.”
“What you see?”
“Does your father really own his farm, or does he rent a small bush where he plants corn?”
“Are you call me liar?”
“Is your father a farmer?”
“No…yes…no… are you call me liar?”
“No, I’m asking if your father is a farmer.”
“Are you abuse my fada?”
“Do you find your father’s job insulting?”
“Are you call me liar?” The boy asked, approaching Tomisin and poking him twice in the forehead.
“No, I’m calling you a dullard” Tomisin responded angrily, rising from his seat and poking the boy in the forehead three times.
They squared up to each other now, toe to toe and eye to nose. Tomisin was slightly taller than the boy and this seemed to give him a bit of confidence, as he smiled condescendingly when their heads came together.
“J.T, if I were you, I would do something,” another boy wearing a similar malaria-piss yellow uniform suddenly appeared beside the first boy and confessed.
“Are you call me liar?” J.T. asked yet again.
“Yes, I am” Tomisin confirmed. “You were not with Commando Bakoyo, you cannot count to a thousand, and you do not know how long a mile is.”
“So I am liar; and liar is dishonest; dishonest like teef; so you are call me teef; and like fada like son; so you are call my fada teef. So you are say dat my fada is Commando Bakoyo?” J.T. calmly reasoned.
Tomisin jumped right in: “You are right. Yes, your father is Commando Bakoyo. He plants maize in a small bush during the day like a good farmer, but at night, he is a scary thief. You should be happy; your father is like Batman –a superhero. I think he is Super Farmer Man, or maybe Super Agricultural Man?”
“Ah!” J.T. exclaimed, clearly reeling from Tomisin’s words.
Tomisin look a step back. At first, Museil thought he did so because he knew he had been too hard and hasty with his reproach, and now wished to re-evaluate the situation… perhaps even apologise. However, the disgusted expression which slowly formed on Tomisin’s face put paid to those thoughts. He appeared sickened at the sight of J.T. – as though someone was forcing some foul tasting expectorant down his throat whilst he dramatically eyed him from head to toe. However, when his eyes fell upon J.T’s feet, the disgust abruptly faded, replaced by shock and horror!
“Jesus! Look at your feet!” he half screamed half laughed whilst pointing at J.T’s feet. “Look at the size of your toes! They barely fit into your slippers!” He was laughing hysterically now and was struggling to get his words out. “They are as big and ugly as the corns your father grows… You definitely inherited those toes from your father… I know what super hero your father is now… he is Super Corn Toe Man… You know what your father’s super power is? He has a corn cob for a toe… the big toe on his right foot… I‘m not sure how his corn toe helped him rob many drivers on the roads, but I’m sure you know… Since you were there, please tell us… How did your father scare people out of their cars using only a big ugly toe?” he finished, doubling over in hysterics. Before long, his school friends also joined him in laughing and pointing at J.T’s feet.
“Chei! J.T, you hear wetin dis boy just talk? Na your papa dem dey yab like dis? Ol boy, finish dis boy!” another hastily materialised comrade of J.T’s suggested.
“Yes, J.T, just tear his chest off,” yet another one of J.T’s school friends echoed upon manifestation.
“Let us go and fight” J.T. proposed.
“Alright,” Tomisin quickly responded.