We crouch in the grass, hoping somehow that the wild green blades will camouflage our gleaming white t-shirts. Location: School farm. Punishment points to a row of yams.
‘I planted those’
‘Shut up!’ I grunt, eyes intently scanning the road that runs between the hostel and the classroom buildings.
There is no sign of our pursuers. A big soldier ant makes an irregular dash across my toes. In panic, I kick off my palm slippers and stamp my feet trying to get him off before he strikes. Punishment laughs, I scowl. Somewhere to the left, just off the road, there’s a rustling sound. I just manage to pick up my slippers. The chase is on again.
Mr. Akin is the vice-principal and the most dreaded member of staff. He is our main pursuer and tormentor-in-chief this fine Saturday morning. Punishment is my friend and a total idiot. Twice suspended, never remorseful. He has a rap sheet as long as Fela’s discography (oh, and he’s been caught smoking and selling Fela’s favourite herb on more than one occasion). The reason for his nickname is a no-brainer.
Now, before you start thinking that us two gentlemen are being chased because we were spliffing, I’ll have you know that Porter did nothing of the sort. Thing is, we are being chased because we want to go and write our first JAMB exam. Honest.
We run. Out of the farm, back onto the side of the road, I look back. Mr. Akin and a security man are jogging about 50 yards back. Up ahead, the classroom buildings are drawing nearer. Punishment is keeping up. He has a silly grin on his stupid face. We hear the sound of a car. We look back to see Mr. Akin and his foot soldier jumping into one of the school’s pick-up trucks. This is so unfair. We run faster.
We dive under the stands around the tennis courts to catch our breaths and re-strategize. JAMB starts in less than an hour. I tell Punishment that the bag which holds our exam slips, materials, and contraband mufti clothes are hidden in the upper floor of the school chapel.
‘Take your things and leave mine in the bag’ I tell him in between my panting and peeping to see if Mr. Akin is already creeping up on us.
‘I’ll circle the primary school block and go for the bag’
He nods. ‘See you after the exam’
Our exam centers are different. The whole point of this cat and mouse game is to avoid going to our exam centers in the school bus, wearing the school uniform. More than a few of us have decided that we’ll go on our own to our exam centers, in our own clothes, and then find our way back to the fortress that is our school, after the exam. Mr. Akin got wind of the plan, no doubt through one of his many spies. Many of the boys have been rounded up and have been dispatched in the school bus. Punishment and I are just part of a handful of us still on the lamb, and now Mr. Akin is after us. We face serious er…punishment, especially now that we’ve made him chase us so hard.
We split up. I head towards the kiosks, and then up the stairs of the nursery section. I stay close to the walls, and listen for footsteps. After about ten minutes, I cautiously plot my way towards the chapel, saying a silent prayer of forgiveness to God for using His house to facilitate my disobedience. I enter the heavy oak doors in a hurry. The chapel of course is empty, I jog between the pews and then up the stairs to the empty room where the bag is hidden. Punishment should have taken his things by now. I stand on an empty paint bucket, reach up and push a loose ceiling board aside then but my hand into the dark space. The bag should be right…NOTHING!
A cold sweat breaks out all over my body suddenly. I search frantically within that dark foreboding space that now seems as bleak and unfortunate as my future is beginning to seem. Nothing. Still nothing.
I crumple on the floor, and try to think. My t-shirt dims. Punishment, you stupid bastard. How could you take the bag? My exam slip, my materials, my clothes. I try to remember his exam centre. I can’t. Outside I hear the sound of the pick-up truck patrolling, looking for me. I get up and head back downstairs.
The fence is not far. I scale it with more ease than I ever have. On the other side is a filling station. One of the securitymen approaches me but then thinks better of it when he sees my face. I get on the road and flag down an okada. I start my futile journey. Heading from one school to another, looking for Punishment, I do not know his centre or even his exam number. After visiting about eight centres in the large city that probably has hundreds of centres, I decided to go to my own. The exam is already underway. I have no form of identification, no idea of my exam number, nothing. They won’t let me write in spite of the very touching story I concoct. It’s hopeless.
I hang around for a while, begging. They can’t help me. I think about all the repercussions that are bound to come. Regret is that gloating enemy who wants to be in your face all the time.
I head back to school, and enter the same way I left. I'm probably the only S.S. 3 student in school at that particular moment. I fall on my bed and intothat deep, peaceful sleep that is God's gift to the troubled and helpless.
When I wake up hours later, the first thing I see is Punishment's face. He's grinning, the smug bastard. He looks like regret. I ask him very calmly why he did what he did. His grin disappears. He didn't know until just then that my exam slip was in the bag. He had wanted to play a prank so I'd have to go and write the exam wearing a t-shirt and my school trousers. He is truly sorry. I tell him it's okay. It's JAMB, I'll write it next year. I fall back on my bed and sleep. This time, my slumber is not so peaceful.