“……you have been accused of getting into students’ lockers at night, eating their provisions and wreaking havoc on their other properties in addition to the constant noise you make that regularly prevents students from sleeping properly. How do you plead, guilty or guilty?”
Of course, the rat didn’t respond, so the boy holding it up by the tail poked it in the belly. It squeaked.
“Guilty it is,” pronounced the “judge”, an ssII boy, the expression on his face grim and grave, like he was about to convict a hardened criminal who had been on the lam from the law for a long time. “As the student hostel law stipulates, any rodent guilty of the above mentioned crimes against the student body is to die by the stone. Therefore, having been found guilty by your own admission, I hereby sentence you to death by the stone.”
“Court!” yelled the “orderly”, another ssII boy. “Let the execution commence forthwith.”
The boys proceeded in a single, silent file, grave and dignified in their execution of justice, to the back of the hostel where the stone lay, death bringer for many a rat before, waiting to perform its usual duty. On getting to the stone, the boys formed a circle around it with the stone at the center.
“Executioner!” the “orderly” yelled.
A rather short but quite muscular boy stepped forward and lifted the heavy stone.
“Jailer, put the convict in position for its punishment.”
The boy holding the rat up by its tail dropped it at the center of the circle, its feet having been previously tied to prevent it from attempting an escape. The rat seemed to know its oncoming fate as a small squeak escaped it. The “judge” stepped forward from the circle.
“You receive just punishment for your crimes.” He said. “May god have mercy on your soul.”
He gave a short nod, and the “executioner” dropped the stone on the condemned rat, killing it outright. The boys surrounding shook their heads mournfully, like they had just witnessed the execution of a close relation they felt was most likely innocent.
“Justice has been served.” The judge said; and having thus dispensed justice, he returned to the hostel to prepare a bowl of garri with sugar and the little milk left after a rat had torn several holes in the sachet and much of the milk had leaked out into his Ghana-must-go bag and mingled with detergent that had leaked out when another errant rodent had chewed holes into the sachet of detergent, rendering the leaked powdered milk irretrievable.
I had witnessed this “execution” several times yet each time, it never failed to amuse me. The boys took it quite seriously as most times they went after a rat, they would end up killing it before they could “try” it. Once in a while, they would strike lucky and capture a rat alive. A court session would be quickly called at which the rat would be accused and, without being able to defend itself of course, get sentenced to death by the stone. What kind of trial was that where the defendant couldn’t defend himself?
“Just imagine if one day, the” judge” asks “guilty or guilty”,” my friend, Jide had once joked, “and the rat replies in a deep, bass voice; “innocent”.
I laughed till I wept.
But these rats were bold o. I remember once rushing into my room one evening to grab a book before rushing off to evening prep class. Right there at the center of the room was a rat, grooming itself (a rat grooming itself?!). It had obviously not seen me come in or heard me so it didn’t even bat a whisker. What? I thought. This can’t be happening. I stamped my foot on the ground to inform the erring rodent that a human was in the room and that it had better scurried away. The thing turned around slowly, almost languidly to regard me. Then raised its nose and began to squeak. After a few seconds of squeaking, it turned around and stalked off, still squeaking, leaving me very amazed indeed. Of course, Jide made light of it.
“Didn’t you understand what it was saying?” he asked. “It was saying; “what arrant nonsense! See this JssI boy o! Una no get old man picture for una house? See lack of home training o. You enter room see elder, come stamp ground. Na so dem dey take greet elder for una side? Try dat rubbish again if I no go lie you down, flog you thirty. You get luck say I dey good mood…….””
I laughed till I nearly peed my pants.
For the record, I’m in ssII.
Last week, the “execution” had been for the most popular rat we knew, a rat we had nicknamed “Bruce”. Earlier in the term, it had gone rampaging in a boy’s locker. Unfortunately, the boy had opened the locker before it could finish its plundering and had cast an impressively heavy shoe at it. The shoe did strike Bruce but did not succeed in killing it so it escaped with a limp. Since then, it had been sighted several times limping around the hostel. Each time, the sighter would try to kill it and each time, it would escape unscathed, leading to the nickname “Die Hard”. Of course, Bruce Willis was the lead character in the movie, Die Hard, so the name soon metamorphosed to “Bruce Willis” before being shortened to just “Bruce”.
Catching Bruce soon became an obsession with the ssII and ssIII students. And pretty much every other student. But for the ssII and III students, catching Bruce was akin to finding the Holy Grail. Of course, there was no reward for catching the famous rat; just the eternal honor of being the guy that finally “nailed” Bruce.
Till one fine Wednesday afternoon, after lunch and just as the afternoon siesta was about to begin, I arrived the hostel to hear cries of;
“I’ve caught Bruce, I’ve caught Bruce!”
Everyone rushed forth to find out if it was indeed true; if the legendary rat had indeed been caught. And yes, the rat with the limp of legend had indeed been caught and was now being brandished like the Champions League trophy by its proud captor. Now who was this hunter of renown that had finally managed to capture the ever elusive Bruce?
It was a JssI student!
The ssII and ssIII boys gnashed their teeth in shame as, for the first time, a JssI student was made “judge” to preside over Bruce’s trial. Of course, the boy made a botch of much of the proceedings, to the private (and public) glee of the senior students. Still he retained the honor of capturing Bruce and sentencing him to death.
Yesterday, the rat situation came to a head for me. I had been asleep on my bed, a “lower bunk” bed. As an ssII boy I was entitled to sleep on the top bunk bed but back in ss1, I had had the top bunk space. One day I slept and woke up at, say, 2:30 am with an intense ache on the entire left side of my body. The mattress had gone from soft and warm to cold and very hard. I had fallen from the top bunk and landed on my left side. Nobody told me to take the lower bunk space thereafter). Very suddenly, I woke up. Something was creeping along my leg. At first, I thought it was one of those my mischievous classmates, trying to steal the key to my locker so they could steal my provisions but this didn’t feel like a hand. It was way too furry to be hand. Then whatever it was crept onto my exposed belly. I flew from the bed like someone possessed and heard something drop heavily to the ground and scurry away.
“Rat!” I yelled. But then, everybody was asleep and nobody heard me and came brandishing sticks and brooms for the capture (and potential trial). I stood alone in the dark room wondering. How had the rat got on my bed? Since the rat menace started, the school authorities had got welders to weld a round, metal component to the foot of all the bunks to prevent rats from running up the bunk supports. So far it had been successful, and fewer students woke up at night because rats had decided to give them a free of charge massage. So how had this rat got on my bed?
Ah, I thought. Spotted it. Earlier in the day, while trying to clean up the room, I had pushed the bunk against the wall. There was a window right where I had pushed the bunk. The rat had probably got on the window sill, and then jumped to my bed. Smart rat.
I pulled the bunk back to the center of the room; not caring if the grating noise woke anyone then removed everything under the bunk and dumped them in a corner. Then I took down my mattress, flapped it and beat it to make sure that no other offending rodents were already positioned there, waiting to pounce once I lay down. Then I ran my hands over it while holding it upright, just in case any athletic rats were clinging onto the mattress with sharp claws; you never know with these things! Then I replaced the mattress, spread my blanket over it and lay down to sleep. Let’s see how the rats would get on my bed now.
I had barely lain on my bed for ten seconds when something furry landed squarely on my belly and started scurrying up to my chest. For the second time in two minutes, I flew from my bed like Jet Li, alarmed, amazed and a bit terrified. How did that rat fly? Did it pole-vault onto my chest? Or parachute down from the window? Had rats now got advanced flight technology or started attending classes in gymnastics. My goodness! Where was the silly thing, by the way?
A squeak came from my bed; the rat informing me it was still there and was feeling quite well and very at home.
I sat up in a chair till day break.
Then earlier today, the rats took it a notch higher. At the morning assembly, our Principal announced that the school’s board of governors would be visiting the school on a short inspection tour. Therefore, all students had to be on their best behavior and if he as much as heard anybody’s voice that day, that person would be getting thirty lashes.
After the assembly, he held a short meeting with the teachers. Now our school principal’s office is just across from my class so I saw him as he stalked into his office after the meeting with the teachers. Shortly after, I got a message summoning me to the principal’s office. Probably a message from my father. My father and our Principal were great friends (and that gave me great grief) so each time the Principal summoned me, I was almost sure it was a message from my father.