I have always known victor to be a bad boy. Mama had always told me to avoid him and said “bad association spoils useful habit”. But I came to trust Victor right from the day he saved me from the opened claws of Senior Bob Satan. Victor seemed to have a way out of every seemingly tough situation. I remember Bob Satan; he was the senior that had a black and red tattoo of a dragon on his neck down into his back. I only wondered if the principal didn’t see the conspicuous tattoo before admitting him into the school. Some people said he was a relative of the principal – his nephew – but Chukwuma never told me that Bob Satan was his cousin. He must not be anything above 16years yet he carried himself like a grown man. I never saw him smile or poke a joke; even among his fellow senior students who feared him like he was a demon. His face was always blank and expressionless like a heated plantain peal. He walked slowly like he was afraid of trampling on some venomous snails. He walked with his hands raced to the back like a fowl and never returned greetings.
I came to school late on that Monday. I was late because I trekked to school so that I could save up some money to buy a pair of Opanka sandals. Mama refused to buy me Opanka because she said I was too small to wear that kind of footwear, even when I told her that all my classmates wore Opanka. Opanka was the reigning sandals in town. It was victor that taught me that I could save up some money by trekking to and from school. He had taken me through all the apiam ways that would reduce the distance to school. When I got close to the school gate that morning, Oga John, the crooked armed gateman was in front of the gate with legs astradly pinned to the ground like capital ‘A’ and his long cane with black elastic rope woven around it was under his armpit. Some junior students knelt behind him screamed in pains. The Senior Prefect was there behind Oga John flogging the students one after the other with the leg of a broken stool.
I peeked from the walls of the patrol station right opposite the school gate where I hid. The patrol station pump attendant gave me a signal that some senior student were approaching and I ran behind the petrol station manager’s office and hemmed in between two dirty drums of oil that smeared the left shoulder of my shirt with blackened oil. From there I sneaked round through the rail way to the broken walls behind the school fence where victor took me out through, the day we played hippy to an ikeji masquerading festival at Obiohia. It was the broken wall victor called Golden gate.
The area around the broken fence was as quiet as a grave yard. The over grown elephant grasses there, were almost my height. They waved gently with the morning breeze that swayed them amid the tender morning sun. I didn’t see any train pass on the rail way. I had never seen one before but from our class, I always heard the deafening sound of the trains and the quaking jigi-jigi-kwam-kwam tremor of their wheels on the railway that shook and threatened to demolish the school walls whenever they passed through.
So I waddled through the tall elephant grasses and climbed over the debris of the broken fence into the school farm dotted with weeds on mole hills and malnourished cassava stems with leaves that had turned yellow. It was the first time I saw a squirrel munching a palm fruit. I paused to see the squirrel crack the shell of the kernel in the palm fruit like the ones they told us in the stories did. It held the palm fruit up in two fore limbs just like human and its eyes darted to all directions with flashing gleams. It saw me and dashed into a hole. I would have liked to go after it. I would have liked to catch it and put it in a cage near our kitchen and feed it everyday with palm fruits and cassava tubers. I would have liked to have it as a pet so that I could do shakara for Chuks whenever he came to the pavement with his computer games. But chasing after the squirrel might expose me to dangers, so I moved on. I walked down the narrow part that led to the school refuse dump pit. I perceived a growing stench of igbo as I drew closer to the bamboo grove near the pit. The stench of the Indian hemp grew stronger and stronger the more I got closer to the bamboos. I also heard some whispers and some crunching footsteps on the dried grasses and I paused. If I could get to the pit, I could make my palms dirty and claim I went to throw away some dirt, should any senior student see me, I thought. Then I heard a bounced sound behind me like somebody just jumped in through the fence and I ran and hid behind the bamboo grove where the stench of igbo was higher. The dried grasses behind me made some chakri-chakri sounds and I felt it might be a snake and turned swiftly. An opened rough palm slammed on my face and the entire farm darkened. I saw stars in my head and fell flat with my back on the dried bamboo grasses. I didn’t scream despite the pains that ran into my fore head and the hot liquid that ran in my nose and felt like blood. I didn’t cry because I went blank. When I opened my eyes, I was in the middle of five senior students led by Bob Satan. All my pockets were turned inside out. The transport money I was to save for the day was gone. My school bag was over turned, with my books lying beside it.
They sucked at a single wrap of igbo which passed round from mouth to mouth. Bob Satan squatted and blew some smokes of igbo into my face. I liked the smell of the smoke but it choked me and I coughed and held my throat. The other senior students laughed out loud but Bob Satan didn’t even smile. His face was expressionless. He blew the smoke on my face again and tried to stuff the burning wrap of igbo into my mouth. I raised my hand and knocked the smoke away. Bob Satan’s eyes widened and the other boys’ jaws dropped in awe. One of them picked up the igbo and dressed back. They all looked intently and expectantly at Bob Satan like a movie playing a climax tune – gbam gbam! Bob Satan stood up slowly. I was not terrified, even with the droplets of blood trickling from my nose, but I only watched him without blinking. He walked two steps back and brought out a small rusty gun from the back of his hips and pointed it at me and said:
“Say your last prayer boy”
The expression on his face did not change. Then victor emerged from the narrow walkway with a small black nylon bag on hand. One of the boys turned and screamed
“Agbo de thief!”
He smiled and raised his left hand in a fist. That was the first time I saw Bob Satan smile with only a curve in his cheek. He lowered the gun limply and victor handed him the nylon bag. Then victor saw me lying sprawled on the bare ground and dashed towards me.
“Hey my brother!” victor screamed.
Bob Satan sighed and said “sorry” carelessly to no one in particular. Victor frowned and propped me up. He didn’t talk to any of the senior boys again but took me to the school tap, where I washed up and marched straight to the school’s Guidance and Councillor and lied that I was ill and she gave me a permission to go home