A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 9, read it Here
However, my headmaster happened to be a grumpy old man who usually took out his frustration on the innocent pupils. He loved to mete out corporal punishment for every little offense. For example, tardiness—whatever the reason—would earn a student thirty lashes of his cane. And God forbid you chose to go to the bathroom during class—that would earn you twenty lashes.
During this period, when I had started paying attention in class again and was working hard to pass my entrance exams, I came to school late one day. That morning I had felt sick and had no intention of going to school, but eventually decided to drag myself there. I had to walk a mile to get to my school, and I arrived late. I encountered the headmaster, and even though it was obvious that I was sick, he didn’t care. He took off my clothes, then rang the bell and had the entire school come out to witness the punishment he was about to give me. He combined three canes into a bunch and beat me with them. He was merciless and brutal. My cousins could not bear to watch him beat me, so they rushed to him and begged him to stop, but he didn’t. He even beat one of my cousins for trying to stop him. That was the worst beating that I had gotten from anyone other than my father. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I pushed him down and ran away. My body was sore and bruised for two weeks. I did my best to avoid offending the headmaster and focused on my studies for the rest of the term.
After my final exams, I had a while to wait for the results to come out. I spent two weeks helping my grandmother tend to her farm, and after that I left for Orji Uratta to be with my mother and siblings for the rest of the holiday. The anxiety of waiting to see if I’d made it into secondary school made the holidays less enjoyable than usual; it was only a bit more bearable having the knowledge that all over the country, other primary school graduates were in the same boat. There was nothing more we could do until the results were released. We all waited in shared agony.
The results finally came out—and I passed. However, for some reason the examinations council didn’t state the school that I had been admitted to. My uncle Francis decided to visit the Ministry of Education to look into the matter, and I was eventually posted to a school near my village. The reason my uncle chose this school was that it was built by another one of my uncles, Richard Ihetu. Uncle Richard, aka “Joystick Tiger,” was the brother of my Aunt Comfort’s husband. Uncle Joystick Tiger was the world featherweight champion from 1969 to 1971, and toward the end of his boxing career, he built a school for his hometown, Amaigbo. A few years later, he passed away due to complications from cancer, and the community named the school Joystick Tiger Memorial Secondary School.
The school had a very good academic curriculum, as well as a sports program and boarding house facilities, and all my cousins were encouraged to go there. Two of my cousins were already students there when I was enrolled, so I was not alone. The female and male dormitories were separated. The boys had three dormitories, divided into houses A, B, and C. I was put in house A, the same dormitory as Cousin Ike, who was a senior student.
Living in a boarding house was not as exciting as I had thought it would be, especially because as a junior I was burdened with responsibilities that included washing seniors’ clothes, fetching their water from the stream, receiving their food from the cafeteria, and running all kinds of errands for them. Normally, everyone ate in the cafeteria. The food was prepared by the cooks, and then the juniors would take it to the dining hall, where everyone would lay their plates on a long table. Following that, the assigned students would dish out the food, usually eba (small tapioca balls, also called garri, which are dipped into soup and swallowed without chewing) and vegetable soup with various spices, fish, and meat. It was tasteless and disgusting. The assigned students usually made sure the seniors got the best part of the meals, and what little was left would be shared among the juniors. Sometimes the juniors had to go without food, because part of their responsibility was to ensure that the seniors, who might have gone out before the meal hour, had enough food reserved for them upon their return.
I once had an unpleasant experience in the dining hall with a big bully, a senior in house B, who was known to be part of an armed robbery gang in the area. Everyone was afraid of him, including the faculty and staff. On that fateful day, I was very hungry, and by the time I was done securing my school father’s food, there was none left for me. The only remaining food belonged to the bully. So I weighed my options: I could either go hungry until the next day or eat the bully’s food. It didn’t take long for me to decide. I immediately ate the food. The whole boarding house couldn’t believe that a junior would do what I did. They all knew I was about to die, and they waited in anticipation. For me, it was simple: I was fed, happy, and could care less about the consequences.
As soon as the bully returned that evening, he was told what had happened to his food. He and his gang members tore up their shirts, exposing their huge muscles, ready to beat up the junior who had dared to do this. He had been expecting that whoever ate his food would be his match, at least, not a small, skinny junior student like me. He and his gang seemed disappointed when they learned I was responsible. Still, the bully’s reputation was very important to him, so he punched me many times, lifting me up in the air and allowing me to drop like a sack of potatoes. I passed out, and someone lifted me up and took me to my bed.
Our dormitories had double-deck beds. The seniors were assigned to the bottom bunk while the juniors slept on the top bunk, which had no protection whatsoever; the top bunk was four feet above the ground. I gradually recovered from the beating and started to regain consciousness around midnight, and as I did, I felt pain all over my body. As I was rolling around in pain, I lost my balance and fell from the top bunk to the floor, where I regained full consciousness. During my fall I had inadvertently hit the senior on the bottom bunk, who was trying to get off his bunk at the same time. We both lay on the floor in severe pain for a long time, and ended up spending the rest of the night on the floor, grunting.
As far as academics were concerned, I did not adapt to the curriculum quickly. I found the subjects boring and didn’t pay too much attention in class. I started to skip classes, going out with friends, riding bicycles, and sometimes playing dangerous games. One day my head split open while my friends and I were playing with broken bottles. We were acting out gang fights using bottles as weapons. One of them threw a broken bottle at the back of my head and the sharp edge went three centimeters inside my head. I bled so much that I thought I was going to die.
As the days went by, life at school did not improve. It kept becoming more dangerous for me, and I continued to ignore the real reason I was in school in the first place. By the end of the third term I had only attended a month’s worth of classes, so it was no surprise that I didn’t pass my final exams that should have gotten me into the next class.
When school closed, I went back to Orji Uratta to spend the holidays. I told everyone that I didn’t pass my exams and wouldn’t be promoted to the next class. I also made it clear that I would not be attending that school again, since I wasn’t ready to repeat the class under any circumstances. Before the end of the holidays, my uncle obtained a fake result that said I passed my exams and a transfer certificate that got me into the next class at Amandugba Technical School, seventy kilometers from my village. One of my uncle’s friends was a senior there, and he entrusted the boy with my care.
As usual, I wasn’t into academics, though I took an interest in French class. Meanwhile, my uncle’s friend and I lived together in a rented room outside of the school. Once again, it became obvious that as his junior, I had to do all the work around his house, so I moved out of his room and into the dormitories the next term.
I found life in the dormitory a little more exciting than living in town with my uncle’s friend. I was fortunate that no school father was assigned to me, but as a junior, I still had to run errands for the senior boys. The food was just as insufficient and terrible as in my former school. Fortunately, there was a senior girl who liked me a lot and brought provisions for me. I was a shy twelve-year-old boy and was unable to look her in the face. I always avoided unnecessary contact with her and would run away whenever she wanted to hold my hand.
One of my best friends in class, Ngozi, helped make me feel at home. He would often take me to his house and his mother would make food for us. He had one of the best sports bicycles that I had ever seen. Ngozi knew everything that went on in the school as well in the community.
My school was not the best technical school in the area, but it sure was the best in producing armed robbers. Some of the senior students would attend school during the day and go on the prowl at night. While most students walked or rode bikes to school, these students were driving expensive cars. Andy was one of them. All the staff and students were aware that he had killed many people, but no one dared question or challenge him, not even the principal. Sometimes he wouldn’t show up to school for weeks or take exams, yet he got A’s in all subjects, and the principal himself treated him like he was someone special.
Those students not into armed robbery were involved in adolescent rebellious behavior such as smoking marijuana and listening to reggae music while classes were in session. It was a popular pastime in that era. Sometimes I would go into the bushes with this group and watch them smoke, but I never joined them. I had never smoked in my life and wasn’t about to start. Smoking and doing drugs was contrary to the way I was brought up. But I did form a habit of listening to reggae.
It was at this school that I became exposed to weapons and ammunition. Almost every single one of the male students possessed some type of weapon. I learned how to make a pistol, along with its ammunition. It was quite an exhilarating experience for me to own a gun. I felt powerful, like I could do anything. With that attitude, I went to my village for the second-term holidays. I gathered all my friends, showed them my weapon, and taught them how to make gunpowder. I also took them to the bushes to fire some rounds. We also attempted hunting, but never actually killed anything.
During the same holiday, I almost had a tragic encounter with my father’s stepbrother, Godfrey, whom we called “Sir”—the same stepbrother who had constantly fought with my father; the teacher who had thrown my father out into the streets when he went to live with him in order to attend school.
Sir liked to beat children. On this occasion, one of his children told Sir that I had beaten him, and without hearing my side of the story, Sir proceeded to beat me in spite of my protests. I ran toward my house at top speed. He followed me. He didn’t know I was running for my gun—which I found and fired at him. My shots missed him, but he was sufficiently stunned and left me alone from that day on. After that incident, the word got out, and everyone knew that I had a gun and I was dangerous. I received enormous respect from my peers, who envied and admired my courage.
Back in school for my third term, I continued to do as I pleased and still didn’t take my academics seriously. I bought my first motorcycle and music box. I moved out of the dormitory and moved in with another senior, Acho. He was the kindest guy I had ever met. I later found out he was an armed robber, not because he drove an expensive car—his brother was very rich—but because he failed to return home one day, and word came a week later that he had been arrested.
The community in which my school was located was also famous for witchcraft. Most times before an armed robbery, the criminals would visit local witchdoctors to seek special powers that would protect them from harm and prevent them from being caught. Most of the deaths that happened in the town were a result of people killing each other through witchcraft. Sometimes it made people go mad. Just before the end of third term, a guy went crazy and killed seven people on the street with his machete.
By the end of that term, I’d had all I could take of that school. I already knew I wouldn’t pass my finals, and returning to that school was completely out of the question. I went home to my family in Orji Uratta to enjoy my holidays.
This time, I moved out of my grandmother’s house and into a one-room apartment with my uncle Francis. It was a very difficult living arrangement because he had only one bed, which he shared with a friend of his who also lived with him. At the same time, my cousin Ike was also visiting, and so he and I would lie on a mat on the floor.
Living with Uncle Francis had its own drama, especially when it came to love. There was a young, single female customs officer who lived next door to us. She had two younger sisters living with her, and they were all beautiful. One of the sisters was a senior in a secondary school and the other was a junior, and both were flirtatious. The younger sisters were in love with me and enjoyed being around me. Ike, who had always been jealous of me, didn’t like this, so he spread a rumor about me. This caused the girls to stop spending time with me and befriend Ike instead. Even the customs officer grew to like Ike and would invite him to her house. It didn’t matter to me that the younger sisters no longer liked me. In reality, I had a big crush on their elder sister, but she was way out of my league. Every day I would see her with a different man; almost all the rich guys in town must have dated her at some point. There was always drama in her house because she could hardly coordinate her timing with all these men.
Sometimes the men would accidentally run into each other and fistfights would occur. I would usually sit by her window, eavesdropping in a hidden location. Once, she had a heated argument with a young man who threatened to kill himself if she did not stop seeing other men. She didn’t take him seriously, and he responded by swallowing some Valium, right there in front of her. The customs officer panicked and called her sisters into the room. They all thought the man was dead and didn’t know what to do. The sisters, oblivious to my presence outside their window, began discussing what to do with the body. The youngest sister started to cry, accidentally spilling her glass of water on the man’s body. Suddenly, to everyone’s great relief, he woke up.
That same holiday, I found another interesting hobby. James (Sydney’s son), Jonathan (another relative of mine), and I started to write songs and create music. James was just like his father—crafty and naturally gifted. He never formally learned carpentry, but could build anything with wood. At a young age he was building objects such as guitars—including one we used in our band—and selling them. Jonathan, on the other hand, was like a Casanova: articulate and very good with people. He was so persuasive that he could easily convince people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. In spite of his good qualities, Jonathan was a kleptomaniac. He couldn’t seem to keep himself from stealing. His biggest victim was his father. Jonathan constantly stole from his father’s business, and once, even stole his entire savings. His father threatened to kill himself if Jonathan did not give the money back, but he never did return it.
Jonathan became the vocalist in our group because of his great voice; James was the guitarist, and I wrote the lyrics. We spent most evenings practicing our music and writing songs, and one of them became popular among our peers. I still remember the lyrics:
I was caught making love with another man’s wife
I was caught making love with another man’s wife.
That was yesterday, when I came across a pretty woman at the beach side…
Then she tells me, saying, “Boy, I love you and I love your style…”
And then she took me home and we were making love when her husband broke in…
I was caught making love with another man’s wife
I was caught making love with another man’s wife….
Though my holiday was exciting and full of adventure, there was always an elephant in the room—I didn’t do well in the promotion exams and wouldn’t be going on to the next grade. I had no intention of returning to the technical school, so Uncle Francis came to my rescue once again and completed arrangements to transfer me to Imerienwe Comprehensive Secondary School, where I would start the next grade. I suspected that he forged a report card for me, and maybe purchased a transfer certificate from my previous school in order to get me to this new school. I loved him very much for his ability to get things done for me.
Imerienwe Comprehensive Secondary School did not have a dormitory, so Uncle Francis arranged for me to stay with one of the teachers. The teacher lived with his wife in a bungalow that had one bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen. After enrollment at the school, Uncle Francis dropped me off at the teacher’s house and gave him a large sum of money for my upkeep. That night, the teacher and I bought some gifts and took them to the principal’s house. I guessed the teacher needed to do this as a bribe for enrolling me into the school. At the principal’s house, I met him and his family. The principal had four beautiful girls and two boys in my age group, and we formed a connection right away.
As usual, I wasn’t focused at school. I found a new passion: country music. I bought a tape player and lots of tapes by country singers like Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams, Jim Reeves, and Skeeter Davis. I spent so much time listening to this genre of music, especially Dolly Parton—I just fell in love with her.
Fortunately for me, the principal’s children had the same passion for country music. I often skipped classes to go to their house and listen to music, sometimes staying until very late at night. I had a wonderful time with the principal’s children. I really felt at home with them. I suspected that the reason they liked me so much was that one of the older daughters had dated a relative of mine, Robert, who lived in Aba with my uncle. She must have been aware that my uncle was one of the richest men in Aba.
Meanwhile, the living arrangement with the teacher wasn’t working out so well. He turned out to be a stingy old man. He made me sleep in his kitchen, which was small and had no bed, and I would wake up every morning with aches in my body. And as if that weren’t enough, he and his wife refused to feed me, even though Uncle Francis had already paid for my room and board. I swore not to allow them to get away with treating me this way. At night, while everyone was sleeping, I would get up and help myself to some food. I would eat all the meat in the soup. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t refrigerated and would turn sour by morning, after I had run my fingers through it at night. They got smarter and started to lock the food in their bedroom.
To Be Continued…