My eyes opened during the holidays that marked the end of the JSS1 session. I’m not saying I was blind and then I could see. No. I mean I gained knowledge of something I didn’t know before; I got wiser than my years, ascending – or descending, depending on how you look at it – from my innocence to a more corrupt status. My eyes opened to an aspect of life which I knew existed but couldn’t be bothered to explore at my age. That aspect is the carnal knowledge of the opposite sex. I got this education at home. I’d just woken up from my siesta, to a house whose silent echoes told me that no one was home. That didn’t surprise me, because at this time on a weekday, my parents would still be at work, and my elder sister, Ada would usually be out at her friend’s house next door, where they spent so much time gossiping and laughing and doing all sorts of girly things. Ola is the only one who’s usually at home, and a quick glance in the girls’ room confirmed that she was contentedly tucked away in bed, softly snoring, a thumb stuck inside her mouth. I padded from my room toward the parlour; it was 4 o’clock and there was a programme on Cartoon Network that I wanted to watch. Still being a fan of Cartoon Network at my twelve years of age was something I’d never admit in public, and Ibuka, who once confessed to the habit to Joseph and I, will forever be the butt of my ridicule for that. I’m a big fake, I know. But my hypocrisy isn’t the topic here.
So I reached the doorway that connected the corridor to the living room when I heard the sounds. Grunts. Gasps. The familiar creaking of our sofa. There was someone else in our house. I froze, thinking fleetingly about charging into the room, screaming and hoping to scare away whoever the intruder was. But a sense of self-preservation – and yes, cowardice – held me back. Instead, I leaned stealthily forward and peeked into the room through the edge of the curtain hanging over the doorway.
I was not prepared for what I saw. Ada and Nonso, the boy who lived across the street, were half-sitting, half-lying on the large sofa in the room, their bodies straining against each other. Remember when I said Ada has an hour-glass figure? Well, Nonso had his hands all over that figure. Kneading her bosom, pulling her thighs, grasping her buttocks – those hands were everywhere. Their lips were locked together and Ada clung to him, her hand pulling his face closer to hers. They moved sinuously, moaning and grunting as they rolled this way and that, Ada underneath, then Ada on top, straddling Nonso.
My eyes rounded as I took in the scene. I was horrified. I was thrilled. I was disgusted. I was titillated. What were they doing? Sucking at each other’s mouths, exchanging saliva – Eww! But something about the way Nonso palmed Ada’s breasts made my body hum with echoes of their frantic desire. To my mounting horror, I felt a tug in my loins. Something was stiffening. I gasped. I looked down at my –
I slipped and tumbled into the living room, knocking over the game of ludo that was on a nearby stool. The ludo, the stool and I fell to the ground with a loud crash. Ada and Nonso sprang apart as though they’d been scalded.
Flustered, they fussed over me, guilt hovered on their faces, intermingled with the wariness and uncertainty as to whether I’d seen anything, and if I had, how much I saw. Nonso gave me twenty naira, and Ada made corn flakes for me immediately after (a big no-no, since suppertime wasn’t far off). Their combined expressions seemed to say to me: If you saw anything, please don’t tell anyone. I wasn’t planning to; I was still too busy reveling in the new chemistry that was working its hold on my body. That night, I replayed the scene in my dream. This time, I was in Nonso’s place; the girl was faceless (definitely not my sister – Double Eww), and I woke up at the end of the dream with a moist stickiness staining the front of my pajama trousers. My first wet dream.
So I carried all these brand new feelings back to school at the start of JSS2. And focused them on the new girl in my class. Anulika Egereonu. For a twelve-year-old girl, she was my definition of feminine perfection. While most girls still had their baby fat intact, she was stick-thin and flat-chested, with cheekbones that stretched high. Her eyes were luminous, her hair abundant, and her lips pouty. I had an instant fixation on those lips. So great and so uncontrollable was my desire that the first chance I got, I walked up to her and blurted out, “You are very fine, Anulika. Will you kiss me?”
She impaled me with a very haughty look – it helped that she had high cheekbones –, rolled her luminous eyes, executed a perfectly modulated ‘Mscheewww’ and walked away, not even deigning my proposition with a reply. To compensate for her rejection, I had another feverish wet dream. This time, my faceless girl had a face. Anulika’s.
When I told my friends about my crush, her rejection and my nighttime episode, Joseph laughed mockingly, instantly declaring that ‘no girl fit try that rubbish for him side.’ Ibuka preached about the impurity of nursing such lewd feelings for girls, and admonished me for having that kind of dream. “Don’t you know it is mummy-water that is calling you to initiate you if you allow yourself to have that kind of dream?” he said with a ministerial fervor. Joseph merely laughed some more.
But I didn’t care for what my friends had to say. I didn’t ‘send’ them. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. My every moment was dominated with my mounting desire for Anulika. In class, I was lost to all but the sight of her profile. During mealtimes, the taste of yam porridge and jollof rice held no meaning if I couldn’t watch her eat in her corner. And when I was asleep, I did to her everything I saw Nonso do to Ada on that fateful evening. I planned and plotted for another opportunity to walk up to her and remind her about that kiss. And she must have realized my intent because she stopped moving about alone; everywhere she went, she moved with a bevy of her girlfriends. One time, on our way to Homec Lab for our practical class, she passed by me, in the midst of her friends, and gave me a look. As though daring me to approach her and tell her my nonsense. And I did. I finally ‘gathered my morale’ and walked up to her during break-time. As I approached her and her friends – they were really gisting loudly, complete with clapping hands and girlish laughter – I broke out in cold sweat under my armpits. They saw me coming and scowled at me, hissing and rotating their heads anticlockwise while their eyes rolled clockwise. Still I was brave and I came to stand before them, before Anulika. And then they all folded their arms and waited for me to say something stupid.
I didn’t. My ‘morale’ failed me and I turned and fled, my face burning at the sound of their scornful laughter. Joseph laughed at me too, and Ibuka sniffed his I-told-you-so look at me. I decided not to ever approach Anulika again, not ever, that is, except in my dreams. In my dreams, we did everything and anything we wanted to do. In my dreams, there were no friends, no laughter, and no shame. Just me doing to her lots of those things Nonso did to Ada.
That term in JSS2 rolled on by in the company of the September rains that crashed against the slightly hilly terrain of my school, and the winds that soughed through the leaved branches of the gmelina trees. October passed, and November groaned its way into the mid-term break. Joseph and I weren’t going home for the one-week holiday. Ibuka always did; any opportunity to pad himself up with some more provisions, pocket money and mummy’s food. Joseph never traveled; he lived in Lagos and his parents had discouraged the idea. What was the point of coming all the way to Lagos just to spend a week and go back to school, was what his father had once said, according to Joseph. As for me, this would be my first time in school during the break. I wanted to experience my school during this period when it was nearly emptied of students. Joseph always had stories to tell of how much fun he had. There was much more food to be eaten during the mealtimes. No classes. No chores. Lots of sleeping-in and playing football. And he’d even broken bounds once.
Now, that got my attention.
Breaking bounds was a serious offense in my school. Once you returned home from any holiday, once you stepped into the school compound through the gates, that was IT for you and the outside world. Your life was supposed to become centered on the four corners of the school, which were the hostel, classes, dining hall, and the occasional visit to the staff quarters, all which were fenced in by the school walls. You only got the exeat card when you entered JSS3. And for you to use the exeat card to leave the school premises, you had to get a teacher to sign a permit. And before he or she signed, you had to have a good reason why you wanted to leave the school in the first place.
“Sir, please can you sign my exeat card?”
“Why? Where do you want to go to?”
“What do you want to go and do in town?”
“Who do you want to go and see in town?”
Finding that good reason was a serious problem. Of course, the only reason any student would like to go to town was to go and have some fun. To ‘flex’. But that was not exactly what you’d go telling a teacher. So that left one option – to break bounds. But God help you if a prefect – or SS3 student, no, scratch that, SS3 boy – should catch you doing that. Life as a boarder was filled with horror stories of what those caught breaking bounds were put through in the hands of the disciplinary committee of SS3s.
So I was filled with a mixture of dread and excitement that afternoon, on the third day of the mid-term break, as Joseph and I slithered through the weedy path that led to the section of the school compound that formed an axis between the backs of both the dining hall environs and Hope House. Tangled shrubbery thrust up from the abandoned plot of earth, and the pathway was dotted with puddles with mud-stained surfaces upon which dragon flies and other insects alighted briefly, before flitting away at the disturbance of our approach. Ahead of us was the dilapidated brick fencing that cut off that part of the school from the main road on the other side; the wall was riddled with algae and smothered with weeds, and it was broken down in several places, creating an access that let students through.
As I came closer to the wall, I felt excitement rise inside me, a surge that diminished the fear I’d earlier felt. My heart was thumping hard, the thrill of visiting town for the first time lifted goose bumps on my skin. My palms turned clammy with sweat, dampening the money I had in my hand for the things I intended to buy in town. Nothing fancy really, but I needed to get something that’ll serve as proof of my adventure when I recounted the story to Ibuka. Oh, how jealous that would make him –
My thoughts were cut rudely off track when Joseph grabbed my hand and viciously pulled me sideways. I grunted, and we stumbled and tumbled down into the wet, sharply-scented embrace of grass. The leafy blades sliced through our exposed skin and the wetness drenched parts of our clothes instantly.
“What is wrong –” I began furiously, and lost the rest of my rant when Joseph clapped a hand over my mouth.
“Shhh!” he hissed.
I saw the panic in his eyes and stopped struggling against him. He released my mouth and pointed. I followed his finger and spotted the brown trousers first. Then, I looked up into the face of an SS3 boy I didn’t need introductions to know. It was Senior Chiedozie, the Head Boy. Terror slammed inside me with a force that made me momentarily breathless and I swallowed hard.
The Head Boy!
The Head Boy!
THE HEAD BOY!
The words climbed decibels inside my head, becoming so deafening that for a moment, I was afraid I was speaking them out loud.
The prefect was coming down on one side of the pathway, a corner we’d been about to take, which would have made us run straight into him. Joseph’s vigilance had saved us from that unsavoury fate. However, the prefect must have heard the sound of us crashing into our hideout in the bush, because he was standing still, his head cocked, his eyes narrowed as he contemplated what he’d heard and tried to detect where the sound had come from. Fear kept us frozen in place, and the only thing about me that moved was my heart; the organ was thumping furiously away, pumping out heady mixtures of blood and adrenaline. We were poised to run the second the prefect acted like he’d seen us.
He didn’t. He relaxed his stance, shrugged his shoulders, and continued on towards where we were hiding. Joseph and I crawled stealthily further into the chilly, moist covers of the bush. A tree trunk or two helped keep us completely hidden.
Then I heard another set of footsteps; I turned my head around and stiffened when I saw who was coming up behind us. It was Anulika and a friend of hers – Nkeiru, I think her name is, from JSS2C. The two girls obviously didn’t know that breaking bounds was serious business, because they were sharing muted giggles over some joke. For a fleeting moment, I let myself wallow in the sight of Anulika’s beauty. That spectacular smile that made me think of the storybooks about Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White. Those eyes that sat like jewels above the high planes of her cheekbones. And those lips, full and pouty, that I had asked God so many times to grant me the opportunity to kiss.
Anulika, oh, Anulika…
Then that fleeting moment passed and I realized that the two girls were facing trouble. Lots of trouble. In a matter of seconds, they would take that bend and run right smack into Senior Chiedozie. Lots of male prefects found it a tad uncomfortable punishing girls, preferring instead to hand over female rule breakers to the female prefects to deal with. Senior Chiedozie wasn’t in that bracket. He was well-known for unleashing the fury of his office on whoever he nabbed breaking the rules, be you male or female. One time, he had made two SS1 girls frog-jump from where he accosted them to the dining hall, because they’d been ‘catwalking’ their way to the hall. You know how girls are when they dial up their ajebo mode. And to frog-jump in knee-length skirts?! That was such an indignity that those of us who witnessed the punishment had laughed hard over.
And now, Anulika and her friend were about to have their share of whatever abuse Senior Chiedozie would dream up for them. I felt my heartbeat escalate with panic at the thought.
The distance between the two parties shortened.
I swallowed hard. My mouth had gone dry.
Anulika giggled again, and the music of it filled my head.
Senior Chiedozie heard the sound too, and he stopped.
I tensed beside Joseph and my heartbeat roared in my ears.
The two girls kicked aside small stones as they drew nearer to the bend.
Joseph sensed my anxiety and turned a questioning look at me.
They were coming closer; Senior Chiedozie was now waiting expectantly –
“Eze, don’t!” Joseph hissed.
But he said the words a millisecond after I leaped up from my hiding place, and made myself instantly visible to the prefect. And to the girls who were still out of his sight.
“Senior Chiedozie…I’m sorry, I’m very sorry…” I bleated out, loud enough for the girls to hear.
Out of the corners of my eyes, I saw them instantly jerk to a stop. Horror slammed in their faces. Horror and understanding, and Anulika immediately grabbed her friend by the arm, and they turned and fled back to the school. Back to safety. I was relieved.
“You there!” the senior’s voice boomed.
And my relief was quenched by a fresh onslaught of fear. Time to face the music. Alone. Because Joseph remained out of sight when I walked up to the prefect, when Senior Chiedozie delivered a ringing slap to my cheek, and when I was led back to the school by the angry senior boy who couldn’t wait to make me suffer for my foolishness.
I didn’t break bounds for the rest of the week. Joseph said ‘Sorry’ to me. And I never saw Anulika until the break ended. However, on the Monday when classes started, she walked up to me outside our classroom, smiled at me, and said in the softest, most melodious voice, “Eze, thank you very much.”
Those words made something soar inside me. The smile made it all worth it. Hope for a future between Anulika and I spread its wings and took flight. And I blurted out, “Will you kiss me?”
The smile vanished. A stony expression descended, and she snapped “No” before turning around and walking away.