Ogbele

Walking into class, Ogbele mustered all her courage and went straight to Chijioke’s seat. The teachers were still having their morning meeting but she had limited time.

As Chijioke or Chiboy as he was popularly called saw her approaching, he smirked.

Ogbele’s heart beat faster. She knew that smirk, that half laugh he always gave right before the punch. She put on a false bravado and raised her head.

“Give me back my book Chijioke.”

She was the only one who refused to call him Chiboy or even acknowledge him as a prefect. He was a bully and she hated him.

” So you cannot greet eh?” he retorted. “You don’t know how to greet your seniors abi? Oya come and take book na let me see.”

He turned to his seat mate and best friend, totally ignoring her presence.

She stood for a few seconds, not knowing what to do next. She needed her literature book for the test after the break period. She tapped his shoulders.

He turned to her angrily, “See if you touch me again, I will just slap you here.” he said and went back to his discussion with Chima.

Tears filled her eyes but she refused to let them drop. She knew if it came to a fight, he would overpower her. She noticed the class became quiet. The teacher Mr. Nwankwo, had come.

 

With purposeful steps, she walked to Mr Nwankwo.

“Good morning sir.” she greeted.

“Ah yes, Ogbele, how are you?” he asked absentmindedly, fiddling with the notebooks on his table.

She drew a breath and plunged.

“I want to report Chijioke.”

The whole class paused in shock. Nobody reported Chijioke. It just wasn’t done. Ogbele. Ignored the shocked looks.

Even Mr. Nwankwo looked surprised at first, then pleased.

Smiling, he relaxed back in his chair and asked “what did he do?”

“Yesterday sir, I went to B class to collect my pen I had given to Lina. Chijioke was standing at the door. As I walked past him, he used a plastic spoon to hit my head. I told him to stop, he refused. As I passed the door again, he still used that spoon to hit my head. When I told him to stop, he seized my literature book I was holding in my hands.

Now this morning, I told him to give me my book, he has refused.”

The teacher called Chijioke. “Did you seize Ogbele’s book?” he asked.

“No”

At this, Ogbele shouted ” Sir he’s lying. My book is in his locker. That’s where he put it and locked it yesterday sir.”

“Let’s go to your desk Chijioke”

All eyes were on the trio as they made their way to the desk. The locker was already open, the padlock on top the desk. Mr Nwankwo opened the locker and lying just atop his books, lay the Literature book with her name written boldly on it.

Mr Nwankwo walked quietly back to his table after handing the book back to her and brought out his long cane.

The class watched in horrified shock as Chijioke was flogged fifteen strokes. He tried to act brave at first but by the sixth lash, he started crying.

Everyone started laughing, the brave ones laughing loudly while the others tried to hide their laugh for fear. Ogbele knew Chijioke would definitely come for her after school. He gave her a dark look as he went back to his desk, promising retribution.

She was in a state of fear throughout class that day. As the school bell rang, she put on a calm demeanour and went towards the school gate. Chijioke stood close to the gate, his angry face and tapping foot told her he had been waiting.

She tried to walk past him. He held her hand and drew her back. As she struggled, he used his left hand and started dragging her hair. Pain shot through her. She bit his hand on her arm and he screamed and released her.

A small crowd had gathered. They knew better than to interfere. No teacher was in sight.

He lunged for her hair again. She held on to his knees, trying to pin him down. As he realized what she was doing, he forcefully pulled her back. Her arms came away with his shorts.

The whole school roared with laughter. The big bully Chijioke stood there, his brown dirty pants had holes in them.

Ogbele stood in shock, his shorts still in her hands.

He grabbed the shorts and fled.

Amid the shouts of triumph they gave her, her heart felt light. She had conquered.

 

The Trouble With Going Home

 

The light drizzles disturbed her face. She angrily swiped at the droplets on her eyes, mixing the tears with the rain showers. A bus conductor stood close by, hollering ‘along along’ at the top of his lungs.

She knew if she looked straight into his mouth, she would see his lung sac swaying to and fro like the devil. The absence of passengers around did not sway him. He continued to scream eagerly at the top of his lungs for ten minutes. She could see the few passengers inside the bus, fidgeting, their tempers rising by the second. His shouting did not help matters.

 

The driver’s leg was propped on the open door, shaking his head to the afro music playing from the speakers. As she watched, the rain still mixing up her tears, two passengers alighted from the old battered bus, taking their furious steps and hardened faces a bit farther to await the slightly more expensive taxis which careened now and then in the previously busy road.

The shining sun that was currently battling with the light rain discouraged much movement. The stories surrounding this paradox were abundant: a lion and an elephant were fighting, a lion or a snake was giving birth. She couldn’t remember which in particular.

 

It took another ten minutes for the showers to stop and the victorious sun began smiling so brightly, it cast a mirrored reflection off the head of the passenger in the front seat. His extra-large brown suit with grey stripes gave off the air of an academic. His nose which was buried in a newspaper, his face cast in a concentrated frown and his tiny glasses which looked too small for his wide face, earmarked him as a teacher. She knew his gold shining head would earn him numerous nicknames from his students.

The rain-sun paradox had emptied the road of the agberos. Only one or two remained, seeking passengers for the waiting taxis.

 

She began to feel self conscious. The rain could no longer be the excuse for her wet face. She took deep breaths and willfully climbed into the bus. The look the conductor gave her made her smile. He was probably wondering why she had stood in the rain for twenty minutes only to finally get into the bus. She didn’t care at that moment. In her mind’s eye, she could already see the look of disappointment that would be on her father’s face. For a tiny second, she considered running away but she immediately dismissed the thought. She wouldn’t last five minutes on the streets.

 

Being the last to get into the bus, she sat at the edge of the door while the conductor stood right in front of her. He started off the usual warnings against big currencies and loudly proclaimed that everyone should have their change. As he stretched his arms to collect the fare from the passengers in the back seats, his arm was directly above her head. The smell oozing from his armpits was bad enough to kill a new baby. She just knew it. She held her breath and struggled not to cover her nose with her fingers. Her stomach heaved and roiled in protest of this unwelcome new smell. The bus lumbered to her junction. She lightly tapped the conductor, still holding her breath and and pointed downwards.

He immediately hit the top of the bus through the window and the bus came to a halt. She gave him fifty naira or ‘one white’ as they usually called it and alighted.

 

Walking towards her house from the junction, she felt like the world, which was already firmly lodged on her shoulders, took on massively increasing weight with each step she took. Her father’s Honda Accord was parked outside. He was back from work. She avoided the parlor and went in through the door at the back.

When she walked into the kitchen where her mother was fixing dinner for her husband, she didn’t need words to answer the apprehensive look that filled her mother’s eyes. Her mother knew that she had gone to a cyber cafe. She understood immediately and her face fell. She cast anxious eyes to the parlor, asking if she had informed her father. She shook her head again.

 

With renewed vigor, her mother dished the soup, with heaps of dried meat and stock fish, as if she was trying to placate him in advance. She put the soup next to the semovita wheat on the tray. Lately, her father had stopped taking garri. The semovita wasn’t doing much as his stomach was still vastly round.

She waited until he was halfway into his favorite dish before she walked into the parlour. Dropping the paper on the table, she simply proclaimed “I didn’t make it this year. I scored 140.”

 

She walked away, not waiting to see her father pause in mid air, the meat lodged in the semo fell back into the soup with a small thump, in recognition of the sad news.

JAMB had done it again, just as it had been doing it for the past five years. She tried not to look at the picture hung close to the door. She didn’t want to see the smiling face of her kid brother on his matriculation day.

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