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                                                                  Nzo had stuck to his word. The first term was drawing to an end...


Nzo had stuck to his word. The first term was drawing to an end after three months and he had not had the urge whatsoever, to stay away from school. Although his reading improved quite sparingly, Mrs. Amadife did not treat him any differently. She praised him for small improvements just like every other pupil. Her broad smile got even broader as the term progressed. Vestiges of his self-consciousness persevered, but he had become more out-going, and enjoyed the company of his classmates. He and Chisom Nnona had struck up good friendship. Chisom’s wiry physique belied his unflinching disposition. Nothing ever seemed to rattle him. He was adept at talking his way into and out of trouble. A few weeks into the term, Ikemefuna Uzoekwe had begun to taunt Nzo for his dismal performance while at Aunt Gorgi’s.  A friend of his had told him of Nzo’s attitude in kindergarten, and he relished making fun of Nzo.

Sensing he had struck Nzo’s Achilles’ heel, he began to bully him. One afternoon, while they were walking home, he ordered Nzo to carry his school bag for him. Nzo stared at him; he was in a quandary as to how to deal with the situation. His refusal would stir a barrage of stories about his horrid performance in kindergarten.  Acquiescence on the other hand, would reduce him to a spineless coward. As he contemplated his equally degrading options, a fight broke out nearby throwing him a lifeline, albeit momentarily. As Ikemefuna and the other children scurried to catch clearer glimpse of the fight, Chisom stood by him. “You know you can take Ikemefuna out with ease,” he said to Nzo with an air of arrogance. Ikemefuna was slightly bigger than himself.  He could not imagine himself beating him in a physical combat. He wondered if he should run while he was gone but he remembered the words of his father, “He who flees from a fight, lives to fight another day.”

“Come on, you can beat him. He is such a weakling. They live in block 24 and we in 25. Everyone around our area knows he is not strong. He is a coward. He has sensed your fear so he is cashing in on that. You think he would mess with me? Of course not. I have beaten him time and again, so he has learned to respect me.”  Chisom continued his motivational speech which fell on deaf ears until he claimed he had beaten Ikemefuna repeatedly. Chisom was the smallest pupil in their class, so if he could beat Ikemefuna, then Nzo believed he too could beat him. “You actually beat him?” Nzo asked in disbelief. “Yes! He is not strong. Jump on him the next time he asks you to carry his school bag for him.” Still not sure what to do he gazed long and hard at the lean figure urging him to take on a bigger boy.

Soon the fight was over and Ikemefuna returned, wrapped in an air of haughtiness. “Nzo! Oya buru akpa m…Nzo! Come on, carry my bag for me,” he yelled fresh orders at him, holding out his bag. Other pupils watched with keen interest, in expectation of another round of fight, should Nzo decide to resist his bully. Others had their comments prepared for a complete humiliation of Nzo, should he bow to Ikemefuna’s orders. He looked at Chisom who winked at him, urging him to attack. In a split second, he decided to go for the broke and bear the consequences. He leaped at Ikemefuna without warning, landing a blow on his nose. Ikemefuna staggered back, letting out a painful yell, “ayooo!” Nzo punched him repeatedly, sending him to the ground. He leaned over him for further damage, and then he realized that Ikemefuna was bleeding. He had cut his lips and nose. He felt a pang of pity for him and stopped throwing punches. The crowd yelled out praises at him for a heroic and completely unanticipated attack that took out his bully.

 Ikemefuna lay on the ground writhing in pain. He wanted to ask him if he was badly damaged but the circumstance warranted that he asserted his complete authority over him, so he resisted the urge. Chisom hugged him, whispering into his ears, “I told you! I told you! He is such a weakling!” Although he was relieved to have gotten rid of his bully, perhaps momentarily, he did not want to jubilate. His parents would not be proud of such arrogance and violence. He headed home with Chisom and the rest of the pack who continued to hail his valor. He had found a new friend; Chisom and both of them became almost inseparable. Besides his street wisdom, Chisom was bright in class, which challenged Nzo to work harder to make better grades. It was the last day of the term and the main hall was filled to capacity. The award presentation ceremony at the end of every term was one of the high points of the school calendar at China Town. The chanting had been going on for nearly an hour as the hall reverberated with vitality. The aura was electric.

Nekwa ife n’enu anyi ga eso ya naa n’uwa, eze amuru amu, anyi ga eso ya naa n’uwa. Sooo! Sooo! Sooo! Anyi ga eso ya naa n’uwa…Look at the stars in the sky, we will follow them to Heaven. The born king; we will follow him to heaven. Yea!, we will follow him to heaven!” It was one of the pupils’ favorite songs, and they sang it with overflowing fervor. The singing session before the award presentations provided solace for most students to shake off their nerves before the actual report presentation to every student. Poor performance was a prelude to months of reprimand by parents and guardians; and even worse, mockery by peers throughout the holidays.

Ibekwe and Onyeoma were never prone to running from school like Nzo, but their performances were far from stellar. Their dad had reprimanded them severally and encouraged them at times in an effort to wheedle better output from them. Ibekwe’s heart was pounding agonizingly even as he tried to mask his anxiety in the exhilaration of the moment. “I think I will perform better this term,” Onyeoma announced like she had done every other term. Ibekwe ignored her. He had heard her say that several times that it no longer held any meaning to him. He tried to walk down the path he had been through over the last three months. He figured his social studies tests and exams were not too bad, but he could not say the same of math and science. His English language performance looked rather hollow too. I think I will not do too badly in agriculture, current affairs and Igbo language, he thought. Perhaps, I could come up with a mid-class performance over all this term, he assured himself.

Nzo was unperturbed. He had no yardstick to make any extrapolations as to how he had fared in the past term. He was no longer living under constant fear of humiliation and torture and that was a massive improvement for him. He had relished three months of quality fun and excitement with Chisom, Uzoamaka, Patience, Ejike, Muche and Onwuchekwa, who were some of his closest friends in class. He did wish though that he could get on the podium someday as one of the top three students in his class. He feared he lacked what it took to post the performance that would earn a pupil such an accolade, so he clapped, sang and yelled, refusing to worry about what he could not control.

“It has been another thrilling term children, and we have had some brilliant performances in the last three months. As you leave for the holidays, we enjoin you to be of good behavior. Enjoy family and friends in the next seven weeks and have pleasant Easter celebrations. I would like to welcome on stage, Mrs. Obi to present the awards to the top three students in each class,” Mrs. Edeatu opened the award presentation as usual. Mrs. Obi was a very dark-skinned woman with a plump built. She was tall, and smacked of confidence. Her round face was complemented by her exceptionally long, black hair. She walked grandly to the stage with a long notebook in hand.

“As is the tradition, we will start with elementary one. First, elementary 1A. The first position for the concluding term goes to, Chisom Nnona.”   The slender, fair-skinned Chisom was ushered to the stage by a raucous applaud. It had been expected by most of his classmates. Chisom seemed to have all the answers, yet he exuded doses of humility. His classmates liked him. Nzo cheered avidly for his dear friend. “The second position goes to Josephine Emelu, and the third-placed pupil is Ngozi Udeh,” Mrs. Obi announced. Ngozi was about three years older than most of her classmates. Some had expected her to out-perform the rest of the class, but Chisom and Josephine had given her a good run for her money. She was the class prefect, which warranted that she exercise some level of authority over her classmates, especially when Mrs. Amadife was not around. She was not the most liked student in the class, and she had a tribal mark on her face, which made her appear even meaner than she was. All three stars of 1A received exercise books, pens, pencils and tea cups according to their respective positions.

By the time they had reached primary 3C, Ibekwe was on the verge of swooning. His anxiety had left his mouth and throat extremely dry. His limbs were so weak he could not move them, and the pounding of his heart had almost numbed his senses. Even though he did not have the slightest chance of getting on the podium and he was well aware of it, somehow, he wished that some form of miracle would befall him and place him in the elite group of his class. Onyeoma lived in a similar fantasy world at the expense of her badly battered lungs and heart, which pounded like an old shunting train engine. At the end of the presentation ceremony, they both looked dejected, surprisingly. “I cannot believe Kelechi finished top of my class, like he did throughout last year in primary two,” said Ibekwe who was wearing an ugly frown on his face. “You sound like you hoped to depose him at the top of your class,” Chukwuma replied with a hint of sarcasm. They were walking home having collected their termly reports from their respective teachers. “I did not think I had a chance at beating Kelechi, but I thought Ikenna had done better all term long. I think everyone expected him to beat Kelechi this time,” Ibekwe lied.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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