In Part 5 we read about the opportunity to interact with female students in a sister college at the river and the oppressive practices of senior students. The story continues.
PART 6: College Days (contd)
Students of both St John Bosco’s College and Sacred Heart College attended St. Benedict’s Catholic Church Ubiaja, right next to our school. Every Sunday, students tried to look their best to impress neither God nor the officiating Reverend Father but to ‘shine’ before these female students for obvious reasons. Students from our school and the girls sat behind pews on separate sides of the aisle but that did not stop members of either group from eyeing one another in discreet ways. These days, when I see young boys and girls busy Whatsapping, Facebooking and text messaging in church while the pastor is dishing out his spiritual menu, I simply shake my head. I’m pretty sure most of us would have done the same thing if we had similar android devices in those days. This is more so as even some elderly congregants are equally guilty of this misdemeanor today.
Those who could recite the usual prayers led by the Reverend Father shouted them at the top of their voices while those who knew or pretended to know the hymns sang at the top of their voices only for the owners of those voices to develop sudden coughs when it came to difficult parts of the hymns. No doubt, many did not know the meaning of those prayers and songs they mechanically mouthed.
The affable and kind-hearted white parish priest, Reverend Father Francis, went out of his way to take our students on ‘missionary’ rides (which to us were jolly rides) in his car to neighbouring locations like Emu, Ohordua and to the Cattle Ranch on the outskirts of Ubiaja, where we used to get free fresh milk. His humanitarian ways definitely impacted on some of our students who later took up vocations of service in the Vineyard of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Among these are Reverend Father Victor Darlington who was naturally cut out for the role with his charming ways, angelic voice and eternal smile; and Pastor Peter Amekhienan, one of the leading scholars of the time who came out with Grade One and later rose to become an Assistant General Overseer and Special Assistant on Youth Affairs to the Founder of the world-renowned Redeemed Christian Church of God, to mention just a few.
One major fall-out from the interactive opportunities and the proximity of our school to Sacred Heart College was that we were forced to look presentable. Those of us who used to be pursued around the neighbourhood by our mothers to make us have our bath now had to wake up and try to look like students from blue collar backgrounds to increase our chances of getting favourable glances from the female students. Some classmates who were naturally good looking did not need to make this extra effort such as Ernest Otaigbe with his silky Afro hair, Charles Ufuah (Charlie Bates – African Oyibo) who I daresay was also naughty in a positive way, Daniel Iluobe with his small pointed nose, shiny skin, and delicate frame, to mention just a few.
The best times to shine in the church was during Offertory and Holy Communion that required congregants to leave their seats and walk to the front of the church and back. During those times, the girls would waltz to and fro with such holy airs that belied their palpitating hearts and yearning to be admired by the boys. Some boys on their part developed such unholy habits of swaggering to the front of the church with empty closed fists and pretending to drop something in the offering basket before swaggering back to their seats. Some hardened boys boasted of actually taking some coins from the offering bags while pretending to put something there. Despite the usual announcement that Holy Communion was for only those who were baptized, some un-baptized boys, and I guess some girls too, would go and receive it just for the chance to show off.
In the brief moment after mass, when students of both schools would spill onto the field before making their way to their respective schools, boys would quickly exchange pleasantries with existing female acquaintances or try to form new ones. That was the time to exchange love letters and greeting cards with those already marked down as targets for such exchanges. Again, the senior students dictated the pace here. They would send junior students with such letters and point out their targets. It was also a good time for prefects amongst them to shout unnecessary orders at the junior students just to show that they were prefects. The content of such letters was basically the same as they were culled from popular pamphlets written by hungry authors with such titles as, ‘How to Write Love Letters’. They all contained lines such as:
My heart is pounding like a locomotive as I pick up my golden pen to write you this missive which I hope will meet you in a good condition of health. If so, doxology…..Since I set my eyes on your angelic face, I have been suffering from insomnia and sometimes I find myself in a state of soliloquy. I will be the happiest person on earth if you would please be my girlfriend. I promise you will be the only sugar in my tea, the only fish in my ocean and the golden mango in my basket of love…….”
We knew this because some junior boys would pretend to deliver such letters and actually bring them back to the hostel to read with friends in secret. There was a senior student that we secretly called Romeo because, in one of such letters, he had written to the girl he admired, “I want to be your Romeo; will you please be my Juliet?” a coinage derived from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which was very popular among students. Subsequent Sundays determined whether the letters accomplished their mission. The lucky ones got favourable responses. The unfortunate ones got acerbic responses with such lines as, “I have no basket for rotten mangoes.” Those who got no responses at all often took it out on their emissaries; accusing them rightly or wrongly of not delivering their letters. That, of course, attracted punishment including forcibly dispossessing them of their provisions.
Some seniors even pilfered provisions belonging to junior students. With time, junior students found a way to get back at mean seniors. Some seniors had a way of opening padlocks without breaking them. They would flick around a compass or divider from their mathematical sets in the keyhole until the padlock clicked open. They would then help themselves to items in the locker and lock the padlock back neatly. There was this Tokoz padlock that some students could dismantle and reassemble easily. This they usually did during night prep when students returned to the classrooms to read for a couple of hours before going to bed. One particularly stubborn junior student in my hostel, an Igbo boy, taught his secret tormentor an unforgettable lesson one day that forced the senior to blow his own cover. The junior student had noticed that his Bournvita and Peak milk kept depleting without apparent cause and, for him, to drink garri with Bournvita, milk and sugar or garri, sugar and groundnuts was a delightful experience that was being threatened by that development.
By the way, certain provisions marked out the financial status of boarding students. There was Bournvita for the richer students and Pronto (that used to float on top of cold water) for others; Tetmosol medicated soap, Lux or Imperial Leather toilet soap for some and for others, Sunlight bar soap for both laundry and bathing. Some used Jet body cream and others Stella pomade. Vaseline petroleum jelly was a popular item for its dual purpose nature as both body cream and hair cream. Some students could afford Blue Band margarine while some made do with avocado pear; some had Horlicks in addition to their Peak milk while others had Carnation milk; some had tins of Queen of the Coast sardine and others had Geisha; some used Macleans toothpaste while others used Pepsodent; some came with different fancy biscuits while others were lucky to have Cabin biscuit; some had candies and chocolates while others had chin-chin and groundnuts. The only common denominator was garri. It didn’t really matter whether it was yellow or white garri.
So, this junior student mapped out a revenge plot. He got an empty tin of Bournvita and filled it halfway with sand and then put some Bournvita on top. When his clandestine oppressor helped himself to the beverage, as usual, he found himself drinking garri with sand. After prep, when students returned to the hostel to retire for the night, the senior summoned the student to his corner and got him to kneel down and raise his hands without telling him his offence. The junior student was not one to take a punishment with his mouth shut.
“What did I do to you?!” he hollered.
“You are a devil!” the senior shouted back.
“What did I do?” the boy repeated.
Addressing some seniors who had by then gathered around the scene, the senior said, “Do you know that this wicked boy gave me sand to eat?”
“How?” they chorused with incredulity in their voices.
“He put sand in his Bournvita and when I took just a little to drink garri I found myself eating sand.”
The hostel erupted in laughter. But the juniors quickly zipped their mouths to avoid attracting the wrath of the seniors. I covered my head with my pillow and kept on chuckling silently. That was the last time that senior stole anybody’s provisions. The story went around the school and that helped to reduce the spate of pilfering as people thought some wicked students could actually lace their provisions with poison.
The meanness of senior students extended to the Dining Hall. In my first week, I confirmed the authenticity of the claim that boarding schools had food timetables but senior students would not allow many of us to enjoy the new experience to the fullest. Our food timetable was something like this…..
Check out the menu and the favourite meals of most students in Part 7…coming soon.
Excerpt: The prohibition of vernacular was meant to help students catch up with good spoken English so everyone struggled to show a mastery of the language. Now, the Vice Principal used to do routine checks for school fees defaulters. We were required to bring our tellers (deposit slips) to the class as proof of payment. One day he came into our classroom and ordered everyone to stand up. Then he ordered those who had not paid their fees to come to the front of the class while those who had paid should sit down and raise their tellers. Everyone obeyed the instruction except Abraham who kept standing. The class was in silent anticipation. Abraham was one of those who really struggled to speak ‘correct’ English.
“And you!?” the Vice Principal barked at him.
“Excuse sir, I have pay my school fees but my teller is dey domentri”
The classroom was still somehow quiet except for those who could not hold back their laughter. Mr. Ojobo stared at him for a moment, shook his head, and blurted out:
“You idiot, go and get your teller from the dormitory!”
The Vice Principal was standing close to the door with his long cane. Abraham did not know whether to go through one of the open windows or the door. Of course, going through the window would have been bigger trouble so he moved cautiously towards the door. As he got close he made a dash for the door. The VP was waiting for him and a swift stroke of the cane on his back escorted Abraham out of the classroom.
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