A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 15, read it Here
With the school issue settled, I began to relax and spent time visiting different villages with Clement. We rode around on his motorbike, and I’d watch him practice with his soccer team every night and cheer him on at the matches on Saturdays. I felt close to him after all he had done to get me back on track.
Still waiting for the school year to begin, I returned to Aba to continue my Dymo tape machine business. I more motivated than ever—I knew I had to save money to go back to school. Aunt Comfort welcomed me to stay with her again, and I worked extremely hard for three months. By then, I had saved enough money, and I bought my uniform, books, and everything else I needed. After spending a week in Orji Uratta with my siblings, I traveled back to Mbieri for the new academic year. It was time to make a fresh start.
School started the Monday after I arrived. At first it was difficult getting there because I had to walk the five kilometers to and from school every day, but after a while, my aunt was kind enough to allow me use one of her bicycles. Iho Comprehensive was a relatively new school; my class was the second graduating set of the school. For the first time I actually took my academics seriously. I was in class all day and paid attention, too. The school was coed, but I didn’t allow any distractions. I enjoyed every subject except mathematics—I couldn’t understand it no matter how hard I tried, probably because I had previously avoided math classes and therefore didn’t even understand the basics.
For the first time, I scored one hundred percent in a subject—economics—and no one else did well in it. The economics teacher summoned me to his office, where he accused me, in front of all the other teachers, of cheating. I was outraged. I told him I hadn’t cheated, but had simply studied very hard to pass. He didn’t believe me. I felt like beating him up, but I didn’t want to get expelled again. I couldn’t afford to get into any more trouble. When he was done, I walked out of his office more determined to do well in all my subjects.
I made a few new friends—and enemies—at school. Most of my friends were city boys, and my rivals were mainly rural-bred. There was a particular group that we called Village Champions, who always tried to challenge my friends and me. They were the most well-known group in school, primarily because they included a few soccer players and student body leaders. We called them Village Champions because of their mannerisms and fashions. They were not sophisticated and knew nothing about pop culture, so they tried to copy the city boys and ended up looking awkward and ridiculous. Nevertheless, they attracted a lot of girls, most of whom were “village” themselves.
There was also a group made up of boys with wealthy parents, and they attracted the beautiful girls in school. Emeka, the leader, was a big spender and showered his female friends with gifts. Even though he had a girlfriend, all the girls at school wanted to be with him, and most guys wanted to be like him. Emeka’s uncle supposedly worked at a big oil company called Elf. Emeka would visit his uncle every weekend and return with large sums of money and more expensive stuff.
I was the leader of my group. Most of the members were from middle-class families and couldn’t compete with the rich guys. But we were city boys and everybody envied us, even though they pretended to hate us. One of my best friends from the group also came from Aba. Like me, he had his own business and supported his family with the money he made. He was called Wintermax, but I called him Winterkpus. Another friend of mine in our group was the gentle giant, Chime—aka Barbarossa. He was from a very poor family. He was tall and muscular and looked intimidating, but was the nicest and most gentle guy I had ever met. He was our principal’s nephew. The most interesting person in my group was a guy who hallucinated a lot and liked to be called Idi Amin, even though that wasn’t his real name. He always tried to speak English with a British accent and claimed he was trained by the British, but no one could understand him when he spoke. He looked very strong and no one dared mess with him, not even the teachers or the principal. Nonetheless, he listened to me and did whatever I asked him to, and as a result I got him to join my group. For the first time, I enjoyed both the academic and social aspects of school.
The first term ended well, and I passed all my subjects except mathematics. Once again, I spent the holidays in Orji Uratta and Aba, running my Dymo tape business and earning enough money for the next school term.
Back at Aunt Beatrice’s, her husband’s health was deteriorating rapidly. He became more delusional and started accusing me of being a bad influence on his family, saying he didn’t want me in his house anymore. As the days went by, he got worse. He accused me of having an affair with his wife, being an armed robber, and sleeping with my great cousin Chinma. His behavior became unbearable, and I got depressed. Even though we all knew he was mentally ill and didn’t know what he was saying, I couldn’t deal with his constant badgering.
Meanwhile, I had started receiving love letters from a girl who lived in one of the beautiful houses on my school route. At first I didn’t know who the girl was. She would write notes and deliver them via her cousin, who was in my class. I never responded, but the letters kept coming. Much later, I found out the reason she didn’t want to meet with me in person. Her father had died a year earlier, publicly executed in his hometown, Mbieri, according to military decree at the time. Her younger brother was arrested for armed robbery, but he merely served time in prison and was subsequently released. She had assumed that since the events were so public, I would know about her family’s history and judge her, and decide to have nothing to do with her. She was right.
By the time we met face-to-face, I had learned all about her, and Clement had warned me to stay away from her. I avoided meeting her at her house, so we met near my school. She seemed like a nice girl, so we struck up a friendship. She later told me that she wanted more than friendship, but I found it difficult to have a relationship with her, given her background. She refused to understand and kept writing letters and sending gifts. I kept ignoring the letters and sending the gifts back to her.
One day she set a trap for me. As I was passing by her house on my way back from school, a group of boys, including her brother, came after me and pushed me off my bicycle. I got up and tried to defend myself, but her younger brother pulled a pistol on me and threatened to shoot. As people started to gather, he hid the weapon and ran off with his friends. I gathered my things, got back on my bicycle, and continued on my way. This was the last straw for me. First, Aunt Beatrice’s husband’s constant badgering, and now people threatening to shoot me…so as soon as I got to the house, I told everyone that I had to move closer to my school.
The next day I went in search of a place to live. Luckily, I found one right away and moved in. I bought a bed, pans, and cooking utensils for my new place. I also went to Owerri Nkworji and took some of my father’s chairs that weren’t being used, and fixed up my room nicely. Best of all, my school was only about five hundred meters away from my new place. I was happy to not have to deal with Aunt Beatrice’s husband and his accusations anymore, and not to worry about getting shot while going to school. At the same time that I moved, one of my best friends in school, Ike, also moved very close to school. Subsequently, all the members of my group moved close to the school, too.
Since I was solely responsible for my food, lodging, and everything else, I had to juggle school and my business. It was very difficult, but I had to keep at it. On weekends I would travel to Aba to run my business. On Sundays, on my way back to Mbieri, I would stop at Orji Uratta and prepare some food to take to school, enough to last me the whole week. On Monday morning I would return to school.
During the second term, we had a new principal, Rev. Dr. Ekemam. Dr. Ekemam was a very interesting man who had recently returned from the United States, where he had studied and lived for more than thirty years, and obtained a doctorate in theology. He was sent back to Nigeria by his ministry to become the West African archbishop for his church, and was subsequently employed by the Imo State governor to become the principal of my school. He accepted the position as a way of giving back to his community, since the school was located near his village.
Dr. Ekemam told us that right after secondary school, he had gained admission to study at a university in America, but his family was very poor and could not sponsor him. Because he was a bright young man, his entire community decided to contribute money and send him to America—and now that he was back, more than three decades later, he was doing his very best to support the community that had supported him when he was in need.
I was completely taken by his eloquence, charisma, and personality. He dressed like an American and his diction was like music to my ears. I wanted him to be my mentor. In order to get on his good side, I would take fresh fruit from my mother garden as a gift to him, and during our school’s practical agriculture period, I would volunteer to tend his garden. He grew to like me as a result, and I did my best not to disappoint him, working hard to improve my academic performance as well as my diction. Having Dr. Ekemam as my principal was a great pleasure and an honor. Unbeknownst to him, he not only motivated me to become educated, but also strengthened my desire to travel to America so I could be like him.
My friend Ike also had dreams of going to America, where his brother and sister lived. Ike was a bit taller than me and much fatter, though he didn’t like to think of himself as fat. He was his mother’s last child—she died while given birth to him—and his father remarried a few months after Ike was born. His father traveled frequently to the United States to visit his two children who lived there, and on each of these occasions he would try to get a U.S. travel visa for Ike as well, but his application was always denied. His father was a nice gentleman, and he liked me because he believed that I was a positive influence on his son. Though Ike’s siblings sent him money from America regularly, Ike was always broke and mooched off me. He wasn’t the brightest kid in school, but his knowledge of pop culture was impressive. He knew all the current songs and artists, the latest styles and fashions. Ike was my pop culture encyclopedia.
After we all went home for the holidays at the end of the second term, I kept working extra hard at my Dymo tape business. I was more determined than ever to stay in school. My ambition to travel abroad was at its highest level yet—especially as it seemed Ike would be going to the United States soon, and I wanted to try and beat him by all means. But the fact remained that I was still poor and had no one to sponsor me. I could barely make ends meet. I was not only putting myself through school, but also paying my siblings’ fees with the money I made from my business.
In the middle of the holidays, while reading a newspaper one day, I saw an advertisement for a missionary-sponsored trip to Canada. I couldn’t believe my eyes. For a small fee, selected individuals would be sponsored to go to Canada to study theology. I gathered all the money I had made up to that point, got on a bus, and went to Lagos for the first time.
A city of ten million people, Lagos was huge. I had never seen such a big city. I had taken a night bus so I could sleep on the twelve-hour drive, arrive in Lagos in the morning, finish my business, and return to Aba on another night bus. That way, I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room or show up at my relatives’ houses uninvited.
Upon arrival, I asked around, trying to locate the organization that had placed the ad. I had to take the infamous Molue bus, which is typically packed with people and stops at every bus stop. It seemed like at each bus stop, a hundred people would disembark and another two hundred would come on board. There was no breathing space; people were standing, sitting, and shoving each other. There was even a saying that went: “The total number of passengers that a Molue can carry is equal to there’s always room for one more passenger.” By the time we got to my destination, my pocket had been picked and half of my money was gone, including my wristwatch. To make matters worse, I was slapped around and insulted by a crazy Yoruba woman.
None of these events deterred me, though; I was still highly motivated by the time I arrived at my final destination. The receptionist welcomed me into the agency office, and soon I was ushered into the inner office to meet with Rev. Dr. Kayode. He was a tall, lanky man, very articulate and smart-looking. He was also a sweet-talker. Dr. Kayode immediately told me how his organization was affiliated with another organization in Canada, and that they had been sending people there to embark on religious studies. He told me that he liked me a lot and could guarantee my trip to Canada if I paid him a certain amount of money. Once I paid, he would ensure that I was on the next batch to Canada. I should have been smart enough to realize that it was a scam and that I couldn’t gamble with my hard-earned money. However, my desire to travel abroad clouded my better judgment, and in the end, I handed him all my money. He then promised to call me when it was time to go for the visa.
I left Lagos that same day and took the night bus back to Aba. I continued my business, but never stopped thinking about going to Canada. I hoped and prayed every day that Dr. Kayode would call me, but that call never came. Not after two weeks, as promised, and not ever.
Due to the large sum I had wasted on that scam, at the end of the holiday I hadn’t raised enough money to pay my school fees or buy my books; I had just enough to pay for my siblings’ fees. Two days before returning to school, I visited my grandmother Nwanyi Burunnu. As always, she was delighted to see me. I spent the whole day helping her cultivate her farm, and as soon as we returned to the house, there were a number of people waiting to order her special traditional cake. So we jumped right into it. I didn’t tell her that I was short of money for my school fees. As it was, she had done enough giving me money every year for school. As always, before I left the next day, she dug under her mattress and brought out a bundle of money, telling me to use for school. I was tempted to reject the money, but I desperately needed it. She had never given me such a huge amount before—I would be able to pay my school fees, buy my books, and cover my food for one month. I thanked my grandmother, saying that I would forever be indebted to her.
Third term started without any hitches, except for the new girl in my class. She had just returned from London with an overly high opinion of herself. She talked down to everyone, including the teachers. In my opinion, she was a fashion disaster because of the trashy London ghetto clothes she liked to wear. She immediately aligned herself with Emeka’s group, making her an automatic enemy of mine. It was hard for most of the students to understand her because of her English accent. One day she and I had an altercation, and she immediately went to Dr. Ekemam and whined to him. He summoned me to his office and reprimanded me. I was furious with her after that, and at the same time, very disappointed in Dr. Ekemam. He was usually impartial, but on this occasion he refused to listen to my side of the story. The girl became my number one enemy from that day on.
There were four other girls who were good friends with Emeka’s girlfriend. One of the girls, Grace, at first seemed like a very proud and pretentious person. But much later we learned she was that way because she was hiding the fact that her mother was a quadriplegic. Another girl, Ndidi, was very pretty, unpredictable, and from a rich family. Her outspokenness bordered on vulgarism at times. We found out later that Ndidi was suffering from epilepsy. She had an attack one day while we were in class, falling on the ground like a log and foaming from the mouth. After that incident, her attitude changed and she became a much nicer person because she thought the whole world now knew about her condition.
Then there was Sandra, the beauty queen. She was the most beautiful of the girls, but she had no brains. Whatever shortcomings she had were compensated for by her beauty. I had wanted her from day one, but was afraid to talk to her for fear of rejection, even though she flirted with me and seemed to like me. There was also Joyce, the combination of brains and beauty. She was the smartest girl in our school and was always number one in our class. She was a little shy and unaware of her natural endowments.
Though these girls belonged to a rival group, this term, for some reason, Joyce became my girlfriend, Sandra became Barbarossa’s girlfriend, Ndidi and Idi Amin fell in love, and Winterkpus and Grace became inseparable. Ike did not hook up with anybody; he was too timid to talk to any girl. They all called him Elephant Man because of his size.
Our relationship with the girls was beautiful. We hung out together and even studied and ate together. Joyce was always bringing freshly picked fruit to me at my place. Occasionally, when she visited me, we would play around and kiss, but we never had s*x. Joyce was a virgin and had vowed to remain so until she got married, so s*x was out of the question. But I got tired of just kissing and romancing. One day she visited with fruit for me as usual. We kissed and I was aroused, but as always, she wouldn’t go any further. I got upset and told her that enough was enough: she should either have s*x with me right then and there, or leave immediately. She still wouldn’t give in, so I ordered her to leave. I also asked her to take back all the fruit and food she had brought. She got up and left, leaving her gifts behind. As she walked out of my room, I followed her with the fruit and food, demanding that she take them with her or I would throw them away. She turned around and told me that if I threw them away, it would be over between us. Without hesitation I flung them into the bush, and she turned and walked away without saying a word.
I still regret my actions of that evening to this day. I later pleaded with Joyce to come back to me, but she kept her word and refused to have anything to do with me again. She told all her friends what I had done, and they all hated me for it.
Meanwhile, Winterkpus and Grace maintained their good relationship. She opened up to him, explaining her fear that if people at school knew that her mother was quadriplegic, they would make fun of her. Ironically, when my group learned about it, we liked Grace even more, and she became more relaxed and happy. She later invited us to her house, and we got to meet her mother, who was a sweet lady with big heart. Grace’s mother had never been married; she had been raped as a teenager, and Grace was her only child. Grace meant the whole world to her.
To Be Continued…