I guess it is only in Nigeria that teachers would tell students to bring one cane each to school that they would still use to beat the students and upon that, threaten to punish the students if they failed to do so. For the first time, I was able to come early to school to meet the ongoing assembly and I was already beginning to regret it. I and the rest of the student body had been standing for so long listening to the slim male teacher, who was standing on a platform, as he threatened to flog any student who failed to bring a cane to school tomorrow.
It's just Monday. Give us a break!
"...And information got to me from the principal that your examination is going to kick off in two weeks time. So if you're wise, better start studying for the exam. That said, I would like the ss1 student to give us a marching song."
"I am a success all the time..." A high pitched and babyish voice started and some of the male senior students jeered at the singer before the whole students joined to sing as we marched into our various classes.
Noise filled the classroom as students trooped in.
"Hey Daniella, how are you? You met the school assembly today— first time in history." Adam said as we both took off our school bags and sat down.
I smiled, "There's a first time to everything, you know? And besides, I woke up very early today. Earlier than I usually wake up."
Adam looked at me weirdly as though he was studying me. "You look so... so different, so pale. Are you sick?"
"No... Well yes I was. But I'm recovering." I replied, surprised that he could tell that I wasn't myself. Such a friend!
"That explains why you're looking so..." He grabbed my forearm suddenly which caught me off guard. "What happened to your hands?" He explained, his brows marred in a frown.
"Nothing jare!" I said dryly as though it wasn't a big deal.
"What do you mean nothing? Your hands are disfigured with marks and you're telling me nothing." He said still studying my forearms.
"Nothing really." I said indifferently, taking my arms away from his hold. "I just crashed and sustained some injuries, that's all."
He scoffed, "And you expect me to believe that, you don't even know how to lie."
"Hey lovelies!" Gbemi said the instant she got to our seat. She gasped. "My gosh! What happened to you? Who flogged you like this?" She looked so horrified as she asked. I never knew the marks were so obvious that anyone could just notice it at a glance or maybe Adam and Gbemi were just observant.
"Nobody flogged me!" I was quick to reply. "I fell down and this happened."
"Lame Daniella, lame!" Gbemi said, "You're such a terrible liar!"
"Exactly what I told her." Adam added, "Why are you even lying Daniella. I mean, we're your friends. What is there to just say you were flogged?"
"I wasn't." I lied again. I knew if I told them the truth, they'd probe further and not only was I scared of telling them about my background, I was also scared of losing two amazing friends. Who knows? Adam and Gbemi could defriend me if I told them that I was from the village. I couldn't afford for that to happen.
"Then why are your arms like this?" Adam probed.
Just then, the class teacher, Mr Nnamdi worked in with a smile etched on his face. The noise subsided and everyone stood up to greet him.
"Thank you, thank you. How are you all?" He asked. He seemed quite happy today.
"Fine sir." Most of the students, with the exception of me, responded.
"How was your weekend?"
Bad! I wanted to scream, but I kept mute instead and waited for the cliché response the students usually gave. But surprisingly, the students gave different replies this time. Some students shouted "boring", some shouted "fun", while others, like Gbemi, shouted "just there, nothing much".
"Have your seat." Mr Nnamdi said and Gbemi walked to her seat as everyone sat down. "Class captain, what subject do you have for the first period?"
"Civic education sir." Ayo replied.
"I don't always have to remind you to call the teacher, do I?" Mr Nnamdi said and Ayo hurried off to summon Mr Korede, the civic teacher.
Just then, Peter strutted into the class with an aura of pride as though he owed nobody an apology or an explanation for coming late to school. His black hair was neatly combed, uniform was thoroughly ironed to a fault, one strap of his bag was resting on one arm and his smell... I could literally smell his baby powder odor from where I was sitting. A rumbling sound erupted in the class and I heard something like "oya boss!" coming from the row his friends sat.
"Good morning sir." He mumbled as he made his way to his seat. He looked moody.
"Hey mister man, come back here." Mr Nnamdi ordered and Peter halted in his steps and faced him. "See the way he even walked into the class like his father owns the school. And even though your father owns the school, are you supposed to come late to class? Answer me!"
He nodded his head. "No sir." He answered coldly.
"Then why are you late?"
Peter threw a glance at the class and then looked at Mr Nnamdi. It was a gesture of frustration. He took a sharp breath as he answered curtly. "Something came up."
Wow! From Peter's response, one could tell that he wasn't in a good mood and he didn't even try to hide it. I couldn't help but wonder why. To be honest, I was worried. I was already beginning to develop feelings for Peter so seeing him in such an unpleasant mood made me feel some kind of way that I couldn't quite explain. But it was in between sadness and anxiety.
"See me at the teacher's staffroom during break." Mr Nnamdi said to Peter as the civic teacher walked in, with Ayo trailing behind.
"Yeah, so that's how I got the marks." I said to Adam and Gbemi as we walked back to the class from the school cafeteria where we brought gala and soft drinks. They kept pressurizing me to tell them the truth about how I got the marks on my arm and since I trusted them to some extent, I just had to, bracing myself for whatever was next.
Gbemi curved her lips downwards and shook her head pitifully while Adam looked so irritated by my story.
"Wow! Those people are so inhumane. How could they? Don't they have a heart?"
"That's not a question Adam. Of course, they don't!" Gbemi said, "And even if they do, I'm pretty sure it's made of stone." I was at a loss for what to say. I just wanted them to pour out their take on my story.
"And so Annabelle and Amanda are your cousins?" Adam asked.
"Uh-huh." I nodded in affirmation. "Please let this remain here. Don't tell anyone. Amanda could be evil. If she finds out that I told anyone this or that I'm telling my friends about her parents, she would definitely report and that would just land me into more trouble. I really don't want any more trouble with that family."
"We can't possibly tell anyone." said Adam.
"Don't worry, we won't." was what Gbemi said.
"So those twins are actually that mean." A look of disappointment crossed Adam face as he asked.
"I'm even surprised myself. And I kind of liked them o." Gbemi said.
"Amanda is the mean one. Annabelle is okay. She's the only one that likes me a little in that house."
"Why didn't you want to tell us about this anyway?" Adam inquired, narrowing his eyes as he looked at me. We were already climbing the staircase to our class.
"I just... I don't know, I was kind of scared that you guys might not want to mingle with me again because of my background." I shrugged, throwing a look at both Gbemi and Adam at my sides. I was in the middle of them both.
They burst out laughing.
I raised an eyebrow. "What? Why are you guys laughing now?"
"Girl! Wait! Wait!" Gbemi held my arm with one hand and the other clutched around her stomach as she tried to stop laughing. "Wait, you actually think we'd stop being friends with you because of your background? No! I was not friends with you because of your background in the first place, so why will I stop being friends with you because of that?"
"That's even stupid and childish." Adam added, "Really I'm disappointed Daniella. You should have known us better by now. You should have known me better by now."
"Just leave it at 'us' abeg." Gbemi cut in immediately.
"I was just speaking for myself."
"You both have started." After I said that, I bumped into Prudence as the three of us turned to the left on the first floor, heading to our class. My gala and soft drink fell from my hand in the process.
"Can't you watch where you're going?" Prudence spat out coldly as she eyed me. A slim girl was beside her.
"I'm sorry." I said as I crouched down to pick up my fallen gala and drink.
"Why are you apologizing Daniella? See me see wahala oh!" Gbemi clapped her hands dramatically. "You both bumped into each other, so why are you making it look like she's the one who bumped into you Prudence?"
"And what's your business?" Prudence asked, gesturing at Gbemi.
"It's my business. I wouldn't let some bitchy girl bitch around my friend anyhow."
"Look, let's just leave. She's not worth it." I told Gbemi who apparently looked like she was ready to trade comebacks with Prudence.
The other girl beside Prudence whispered something in Prudence ear and she immediately held me back. "You're going nowhere. So you're the classless bitch that have been chasing Peter up and down, right?" She eyed me from head to toe. "You don't even stand a chance."
I wanted to respond, but Gbemi beat me to it.
"Look who's talking? You're so shameless, you know. All the time in this school, you've been chasing Peter but he never looked your way. I'm sure you know why. Well if you don't, let me spell it out to you. You're fat, ugly and prude. I mean, your name even implies the last one." Gbemi bluntly said and I fought the urge to laugh.
"The next time you call me fat—"
"Hey zip it." Gbemi placed her hands in front of her face, hushing Prudence. "Now I see the reason why Peter is always running away from you— your mouth stinks so badly." Adam and I snickered. Gbemi was unapologetically savage and I found it amusing.
"What's funny about what she said? She's so dry." Prudence rolled her eyes as she said that. She was obviously defeated.
"But not as you dear." said Gbemi.
Adam immediately spoke up, cutting Prudence off. "Listen Prudence, what you're doing now is so petty. Just try to be civ—"
"Abeg Abeg." She hushed him. "I don't talk to people with psychological defect, so please get your homo self away from my sight."
"Ouch!" Adam whispered under his breath, but I heard him.
That was the last straw! I have had enough of Prudence. Angrily, I slapped her hard across her cheeks, causing the girl beside her to gasp.
Prudence held her cheeks and glared at me. "You slapped me Daniella?"
"The same way you wouldn't like to be called fat since it probably dampens your self esteem, that is the same way others wouldn't like to be called homo. Treat people the same way you want to be treated. It's just a golden rule of life. Obey it and never taunt any of my friends again, unless you'd receive another slap from me. Let's go Adam and Gbemi." I said, making sure to add enough effect to my voice.
"We shall see." I heard Prudence say as we walked off to our class.
Gbemi and Adam kept praising me for slapping Prudence until we reached the class.
"Serves her right! She thinks she can just talk down on others anyhow. Who the hell does she think she is?" Gbemi was saying as I looked over at Peter. He was on seat with his head placed on the desk. What exactly was wrong with him? He looked so forlorn.
"Hey Daniella, Daniella." Gbemi's voice ripped me off my thought.
"Nawa o! What were you thinking of?"
"What's wrong with him today?" I asked, gesturing at Peter.
Both Adam and Gbemi's heads whipped to Peter's direction and Adam said, "If you're that worried, go and ask him. He's your friend."
"When did I ever tell you Peter was my friend?"
"You might not want to admit it, but you like that guy. And what is even more romantic is the fact that he likes you too." Adam said.
"Abeg! Romantic ko! Telemundo ni! Let's be serious jare. Has he ever been like that before?" I asked.
"Uh, actually yes! Sometimes Peter could be like that." Gbemi replied, "The guy is somehow weird. One minute, he's all out and cocky. The next, he's cold and all to himself."
"And have you guys ever bothered to figure out why?" I asked.
"His cuteness actually intimidates me. I can't even approach him." replied Gbemi.
"You know I didn't like him." Adam shrugged, "But Daniella since you care so much, why not ask?"
"Okay, I will." That said, I made my way to Peter's seat with my gala in my hand. When I got to him, I tapped his shoulder slightly and looked at Adam and Gbemi. They were both staring at us with a smile on their faces. I smiled at them.
Peter raised his head up.
"Hey what's wrong? You've been like this since? If there's something you're hurting from, you can share it with me."
He put on a weak smile.
"Say something please. You are making me worried." I sat down beside him, held his muscular arm and shook him "Talk to me hubby!" I said in a baby voice.
He snorted as he grinned, revealing his white set of teeth.
"You're smiling?" I smiled as I asked.
"You just called me hubby."
"That's my nickname for you."
"I like it." He said, grinning from ear to ear.
"So what's up with you?"
"Nothing really. You've actually brightened up my mood."
"Aw! I'm glad I did." I touched my chest dreamily.
"But why were you moody this morning?"
"Was I?" He cocked his brows as though he didn't know what I was saying.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Yes. It was obvious."
"Wow, I'm surprised. I didn't know that." He answered evasively. I knew he was trying to hide the reason behind his moodiness from me, but I wasn't ready to force it out of him so I changed the subject matter instead.
"I don't have your time today. Do you want gala?" I asked as I opened the gala and took a bite.
He chuckled, "No, I don't. I'm not hungry."
"You're sure you're okay?"
"Actually I'm not." He looked at me seriously. "I'm curious about something."
"How did you get the bruises on your hands?" His question took me aback.
"Oh wow! He noticed. Well, I was flogged."
He positioned himself on the seat in a way that he was now facing me well. "You were flogged? How? Who? I mean, what did you do?" He sounded anxious.
"Calm down Peter. I burnt the food in my house and this was the consequences."
"This is insane!" He looked so angry. "How could a parent do this to his or her child? Parents are fucked up!" He emphasized the cuss word.
"I'm actually staying with my aunt."
"Oh, I see. It would be safe to call her an animal for doing this to you."
I chuckled, "Actually, she didn't do this to me. Her husband did."
"Wow! I swear, if I see him, I'd beat him to death." Peter bluffed.
I smirked, "Hmm, really?"
"If you give me the go-ahead, I would." He shrugged, "So tell me, why aren't you staying with your parents?"
I explained everything to him how that my parents died when I was very little and how that I was staying with my grandparents in the village before aunty Caro brought me to the city. The surprising thing was, I did it without hesitation. I think I was letting my guards down for Peter too quickly.
"Wow! I'm sorry about that." Peter said once I was done explaining everything to him.
"I'm over it."
"Your story is one that I've heard a thousand times." Peter said, "Hope they don't maltreat you sha?"
"No they don't!" I was quick to reply. I just didn't think telling him that they maltreated me was safe.
"Daniella..." He held my hand with his warm and surprisingly soft hand and the feel was sensational.
"Huh?" I answered. He looked straight at me with his hazel eyes and for some weird reason, my heart started to pick up its rate.
"I'm really sorry for those spiteful things I did to you then. I was just so stupid."
"A good thing at least you admit you were stupid."
He smiled. "I just really... uh... I"
The bell indicating that the break was over went off before he could complete his statement.