-Conflicted Destiny

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 14

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 13, read it Here

By the end of the first term, I had become very popular at Eziama High School. Everybody in school knew me as “Jah Rasta.” My popularity came because I spent a lot of money at school, and would occasionally rent a car with a chauffeur to drive me and my friend Ikojeh to school just to show off. All the senior boys and everyone who mattered in the school respected me. I also had musclemen who went out with me and were always ready to beat up anyone who crossed me. No one dared mess with Ikojeh and me. In my little group, Ikojeh’s contribution was his father’s status as police commissioner, and I provided all the money. Though my uncle John was one of the richest people in Aba, I never benefited from his wealth—all my family ever got from my uncle was misery. No one knew how I worked to get the money I spent. The truth was that I had my ways. I also had some funds from selling the soap I scammed from Aunt Comfort’s suppliers. Sometimes my grandmother Nwanyi Burunnu would send me a little savings from her business, and my mother would give me some money occasionally.

I lavished every penny I received just to be popular at school. Sometimes I felt sad about how I wasted my money, especially the savings from my grandmother, who was also trying to finish construction on a four-bedroom house in Owerri Nkworji that Uncle Francis had begun building prior to his death. The house was far enough away from the cursed land where our old house was located—the land that had brought so much death to our family—and once the new house was completed, our family could finally return to our village.

Immediately after my first term at Eziama High School ended, I went back to my Aunt Comfort’s house and continued to help her with the soap business, taking even more boxes of soap from the manufacturers. I made a lot of money this way, and bought myself a motorcycle—my ticket to freedom. Within a short time, the motorcycle started to take its toll on me. I drove around carelessly, had a few accidents, and was almost run over by a truck while I was on an adventure ride with my cousin Brigadier on the back seat. It was nothing short of a miracle that we weren’t crushed. Brigadier told Aunt Comfort and Ike about the accident, insisting that if nothing were done quickly about my motorcycle, I’d end up getting myself killed. From that day on, everyone pressured me to sell it. Ike found a buyer, and though I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell, I finally gave in when he told me what the buyer was willing to pay.

Ike arranged for the exchange to take place at a brothel that also had a casino. There in the brothel, I sold my motorcycle to the buyer, and he handed the money to Ike. I turned to leave, but Ike wanted to gamble with my money, rationalizing that we could double it at the slot machines. Like an idiot, I gave in and we gambled with my money. He even used some of it to sneak into one of the rooms for a quick encounter with a prostitute. I was dumbfounded—I had no idea that my beloved cousin patronized prostitutes. I took advantage of his absence to escape into the bosom of another willing harlot. We both came out of the girls’ rooms at the same time and were shocked when we ran into each other. We stared at each other in silence for a moment. Afterward, we never talked about it, and nothing was ever said about my money.

This awkward incident at the brothel with my cousin was not the first of its kind. On two occasions I had run into two seemingly happily married men who lived in the same building as Aunt Comfort. On both occasions, the men and I stared at each other. They never said a word to me or my aunt, and I said nothing to their wives and children.

With my motorcycle gone, there was nothing much to distract me. I still helped my aunt with the soap business, but I spent most of my time indoors, reading or daydreaming about how I would travel abroad. I did this every day.

Occasionally, my cousin Lois would interrupt my fantasies. She and her beautiful friends would pile into the bedroom that we all shared, and would spend all day talking about girl stuff. Sometimes we’d put on music and dance; other times the girls would ask me to sing country songs for them, and I would delightfully sing away. Most times it was difficult to be around these girls because they often forgot that I was a guy. They would try on my cousin’s clothes in front of me, and whenever this happened, I would struggle to contain my Attention.

Though I mostly enjoyed living at Aunt Comfort’s house, I sometimes construed my aunt’s actions toward me as a little discriminatory. A number of times when Aunt Comfort served food, for example, I noticed that she gave Ike a larger portion than she gave me. Since I considered myself her son, too, I wanted her to divide things equally. I became manipulative. Habitually, I would find faults in her good intentions and threaten to leave her house, only for her to beg me not to leave. Sometimes she would even bribe me with money in order to encourage me to stay, which my cousins, especially Lois, saw as unfair. I knew Aunt Comfort loved me and could not bear to see me leave, and I took advantage of her. Though I threatened to leave my aunt’s house many times, in reality I never had any intention of following through.

However, this particular holiday Lois provoked me so much that I couldn’t bear to stay with them anymore. Fortunately, my relationship with Uncle John had improved substantially enough that I reckoned if he accidentally found me living in his house, his wrath wouldn’t be that great. I left my aunt’s house, despite her pleas for me to stay, and moved into my uncle’s house in the exclusive neighborhood. The house had many rooms as well as servants, making it difficult for my uncle to tell if I was in his house on a permanent basis or just visiting. Due to his busy schedule, he hardly saw me, and I tried as much as possible to avoid running into him.

Living with my uncle was perfect for me since my best friend lived next door. Ikojeh and I would get together every day and plan what we would do the next term. Some days we would listen to Ikojeh’s brother, who had studied in Brazil and would tell us stories about the country. Opposite my uncle’s house was a brand-new library, and we would sometimes go there—not to study, but to meet girls.

I met my first real girlfriend near the library. She happened to live on the same street as my uncle. Her father had two wives and was the richest man in Aba. As her father’s favorite daughter, she was overprotected and hardly ever allowed out of the house except to attend boarding school or church; she was a born-again Christian. We spent so much time talking on the phone that I eventually ran up my uncle’s phone bills. But during this period, telephone bills in Nigeria were not itemized, so it was hard for anyone to trace the high cost of the bills to me.

One evening, on one of the rare occasions that my girlfriend was able to get out of her house, she came to visit me. We talked for a long time under a tree and even kissed. She was the sweetest girl I had ever known. After a splendid evening, I walked her home, and as I walking back to my uncle’s house, I saw a man running fast toward me. Chasing him was a group of people shouting, “Thief! Thief!” Without thinking, I immediately rushed to stop the guy. I froze as he pulled out a pistol and fired two shots at me. It was a miracle I wasn’t hit. I stood still while he ran past. I was still shaking as I entered my uncle’s compound. When I recounted the experience to my uncle’s family, everyone agreed that I acted foolishly and was very lucky to be alive. Of cause, I was also admonished not to do such a thing ever again. A dead man could not be a hero, they said.

The second term of high school started, with a greater number of female teachers. Whenever a beautiful female teacher came to my class, the air was full of the wild excitement of young men with unrequited sexual desire for their teacher. It was extremely difficult for us to concentrate in this kind of environment.

The second week at school, school prefects were chosen and I was assigned dorm prefect for my dormitory. My job consisted of accounting for everyone in my dormitory, as well as making sure that lanterns were turned off at the assigned time when both seniors and juniors went to bed at “lights out.” It was also my duty to call for reveille in the mornings and ensure that everyone woke up to prepare for classes the next morning. It was indeed a very good position to hold, but I did not take my responsibilities as seriously as I should have. I rarely slept in the dormitory, since most secondary schools in Aba, as well as in other cities in the eastern region, had their inter-house sports scheduled during the second term, and I wanted to attend as many as possible.

Throughout the second term, Ikojeh and I would rent a car with a driver and travel from one school to another to attend inter-house sports. On one occasion, we ventured outside Imo State to Eziama-Obiato Secondary School. My twin cousins, Uzochi and Chinwe, were in school there, so it was imperative that I attend their inter-house sports. Back in my village, I used to spend a lot of time with the twins, and their mother was always nice to me, feeding me occasionally. Fortunately for Ikojeh and me, the inter-house sport was scheduled on a Friday, meaning we could show our faces in class during the morning hours and then head out for Eziama-Obiato.

When we arrived at Eziama-Obiato, the event was just getting started. Uzochi and Chinwe showed us around. Their school had no dormitory, so they lived in a rented one-bedroom apartment in town. We dropped off our things at their place and went back for the sports competition. By this time, the field was buzzing with spectators and the competition was in full motion—but Ikojeh and I were more interested in hooking up with girls. At the end of the event, we both met some beautiful girls and we all went back to Uzochi’s place, where we partied all night. We ended up spending the weekend there. Our rented car had left us and returned to Aba because we couldn’t afford to pay for it throughout the weekend.

On Monday we were supposed to head back to Aba, but by then we were broke and couldn’t afford our transportation home. We wound up spending the whole week at Eziama-Obiato, having many adventures and misadventures. One fateful day, one of our new acquaintances lent me some money to buy food from a store. I paid for the food, unaware that the money was counterfeit, and when the store owner realized it, he called the police. Fortunately, the officer seemed nice, and when my friend and I pleaded with him and the owner, they were reasonable enough not to rush to judgment and mete out the proverbial jungle justice usually reserved for such occasions. Incredibly, a stranger intervened on my behalf, paid my bill, and convinced the store owner and the policeman to let me go.

During that same week, I had my first fight with a girl. I was going to the river with the boys to fetch some water. It had become a routine to go to the river every day to swim and jump off the bridge into the river. There were other side attractions: beautiful girls from other villages who did laundry at the bank of the river. As we walked to the river that day, we ran into a group of girls returning from the river. There was something that seemed out of place about one of the girls. Like the others, she was carrying a calabash filled with water on her head and had her laundry tied around her waist. But while the others wore regular clothes and no shoes, she wore what looked like church clothes and very high heels. I found this ridiculous and told her so. Before I knew it, she dropped her calabash and rushed toward me like a wounded lion. She pounced on me and I jumped back, trying to practice on her what I had learned from watching karate movies. As I did my moves, she pulled back, grabbed her shoe, and struck me on the forehead. She walked away, leaving me with blood gushing from my head. From that day on, I swore never to fight with a girl.

The next weekend Ikojeh and I were able to raise some money and travel back to Aba. Before we left, I promised my female companion, whom I had met during the inter-house sports, that I would come back to visit her from time to time. We later arrived at Aba late at night, exhausted. Ikojeh went to spend the weekend at his parents’ house, but I decided I would rather stay at the dormitory.

When I arrived in my dormitory, the students were at sleep, except for the few who were up studying with kerosene lanterns; the school had no electricity and students had to use these lanterns at night. I went into my corner and found my mattress gone. I searched for it and was later told that a junior student took it. I got really upset. I went to the junior and woke him, shouting. As I scolded him, his school father, Christian Chukwu, showed up and, without knowing the details, ignored me, telling the junior to return to his bed and pay me no attention. By this time, the rest of the dormitory was awake and a crowd had gathered. Christian was one of the prize athletes at our school. He was also sports prefect and was very arrogant. Neither of us was willing to back down, as both our reputations were at stake. Suddenly, he slapped me and I responded with a punch. We continued to hit each other while no one made any attempt to separate us. The fight continued for about half an hour, until we were both exhausted. I had never been in a fight for that length of time before. We finally stumbled out of the dormitory, still throwing insults at each other. He tried to get me to leave the hostel, but I reminded him that, as dormitory prefect, if anyone had the right to kick somebody out of the dormitory, it was me.

I turned to walk back into the dormitory and he hit me at the back of my neck. At that point, I lost my mind. I walked straight into my corner, searching for something to hit him back with, and found a six-inch kitchen knife that I used to cut bread. I had never used a knife in a fight before and had no idea how to stab a human being without causing severe damage, but that didn’t matter to me at that point. I rushed at Christian with the knife. Not realizing that I had a weapon, he came toward me arrogantly and I stabbed him repeatedly. He tried to run away from me, stumbling to the ground, but I kept stabbing. I was too blinded with rage to realize how much blood he was losing, and didn’t even realize I was attacking everyone else who tried to stop me. The entire dormitory thought that I had gone crazy, and everyone started running away as I continued waving my knife at anyone in sight. Some of the students ran to the principal’s house and I followed them, hiding behind a small bush. I overheard the students telling the principal what had happened. He immediately ordered some of the students to go with him in his car to transport Christian to the hospital. He also ordered the school security to shoot me on sight if they found me anywhere around the school.

As soon as I heard that, my senses came flooding back and I realized what I had done. I snuck out of the bush and ran as fast as I could to my uncle’s house.

Everyone was asleep when I arrived, so I climbed over the fence of the compound, still clutching my knife. I tapped on a guest room window, hoping that whoever was sleeping there would hear me and let me in. Unbeknownst to me, it was one of those weekends that my mother spent at my uncle’s house. She opened the door to the guest room and was stunned to see me there, panting, bloodstains on my clothes. I told her what had happened, and showed her the knife with its bloody blade. As soon as my mother saw it, she fell to the floor and was motionless for several minutes. In the morning, everyone in the house, including my uncle, learned what had happened. At daybreak, I snuck out of the house and returned to school to evaluate the situation.

I truly regretted what had happened. Even though I didn’t think it was completely my fault, I didn’t want to be a murderer, and hoped Christian wouldn’t die. I hadn’t slept the night before, and my mother had prayed and fasted all through the night, asking God to spare Christian’s life.

By the time I arrived at school, word had gotten out about the fight. Ironically, I become more popular for what I had done. Everyone saw me as a hero. The students felt it was about time someone taught Christian a lesson.

I learned that Christian’s condition was serious, but he would survive. The matter had been reported to the police and I had become a wanted man. I returned to my uncle’s house to lie low.

My mother pleaded with my uncle to go and work things out with the police and the school. The next day, my uncle told my mother that everything was fine, but I had to report to the school and see the principal. He asked his manager to accompany me. We went directly into the principal’s office and I apologized sincerely, expressing my remorse and promising never to do something like that again. My uncle’s manager also pleaded on my behalf, but after listening to his pleadings and accepting our apologies, the principal said he would have to expel me anyway to demonstrate that he would not condone similar actions from other students.

After that, the principal called for an impromptu assembly. The whole school, including the staff, was in attendance. I was paraded in front of everyone–the object of shame—but as soon as the crowd saw me, they started shouting, “Jah Rasta!” and yelling their praise. The principal was confused and getting angrier with every chant. How could he make an example of me when the students were hailing me as a hero? It took more than ten minutes for him to get the students to be quiet. My head swelled with pride; I didn’t care that I was about to be thrown out of school. All I could think of was how I needed to enjoy this moment of fame while it lasted. I raised my fists high in the air and shook them in victory. The crowd got wilder the more I shook them. It was the most fantastic moment of my life. Eventually the crowd kept quiet enough for the principal to announce that I was no longer a student of the school and had been suspended indefinitely. It didn’t matter—the crowd continued to scream. The police arrived to take me off to the station. I could hear the crowd shouting as we drove off the premises.

I didn’t realize I would be detained at the police station. I had thought my uncle had smoothed things over, but that was not the case. My uncle’s manager went in to speak with the district police commander. When he came out, he explained that the commander had insisted I be detained because Christian’s family wanted to take the case to court.

I was stripped Unclad and thrown into a 9-by-9-foot cell with twenty hard-core criminals. The police station had about nine of these cells, with twenty to forty men packed into each one. By Nigerian law, the police are allowed to detain people for no more than twenty-four hours before they are charged to court, but the law is often ignored. Ninety percent of the people in jail had been there for more than a year awaiting trial—some longer, forgotten by the system. Many hardened criminals were in these jails.

To Be Continued…

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