“I hereby invite Adekanmi Abiodun to the podium to give his presentation” The co-ordinator said as I made my way to the stage. The sound of my name made a thunderous beat on my heart and I knew something trouble was lurking around. How can my own name scare me so much? I thought.
“Ablad, Ablad, Ablad.” Everybody started chorusing as I mounted the raised pavement that served as the podium of the school hall. The noise was so loud that it drowned everything I had in mind to say, including my intended catch-words. My confidence immediately evaporated.
I was in SS2 then and the school social prefect, Pele Banji, had organised a gathering that featured juniors to present on various topics. Mine was “Indiscipline”.
I looked around and saw my friends wave hands at me and repeating my nickname, Ablad. Actually, they had expected me to talk as though I was a parrot, just the way I did in class. Until then, I wasn’t going to disappoint them.
Samwagba College, Ore, Ondo state was a popular mixed school in the area. You can be sure that once you are embarrassed in the presence of the students there, your news is sure to break into the public faster than the speed of light.
I took the opportunity of the hailing to remind myself of my intro lines. “Good day everybody, my name is…” I rehearsed under my breath until suddenly the noise died down.
Then everybody looked at me. Their eyes bored into every part of me, eating me to the bones. My stomach churned and I became uncomfortable. I looked at the audience, numbering over a hundred. “Mogbe”, I cursed as I began. I needed a magic that would turn the whole thing into a dream, or nightmare, (that didn’t matter since I would wake up).
“Good day every…” I blurted. I soon realised I wasn’t ready to face the crowd. After I struggled to introduce myself, I defined “Indiscipline” and moved on.
And there she was. Queen was my favourite enemy in class. We hated each other with passion. In the school hall, she occupied one of the front seats. As soon as I caught sight of her, the remaining bit of my confidence disappeared to nowhere.
“The yeye girl”, I thought. “Today is your day right?”
“You’re in for it today”, I could hear her say in her mind. She already had a topic to discuss in the girls’ hostel. “This girl will finish me” I even thought of going to her after my presentation to settle scores with her. That though would diminish my dignity. The stupid girl was not even as brilliant as I was. Our hatred for each other started during an Economics test. She had whispered to me for what arithmetic sign to use, plus or minus. I innocently told her the wrong one. I actually didn’t know the answer. I was only to realise that she had begrudged me by the second term.
“I will put you to shame today” I promised without saying a word. In other times, I would have scolded her that the bleaching cream she used would soon tear her into pieces. Today however was not the day for scolding.
I continued my speech. “Indiscipline will lead you nowhere…blah, blah, blah” Before I knew it, the saliva in my mouth had also dried up. What was left of my mouth was some sticky white liquid that made my speech much more difficult.
I looked at Queen again and cursed her. “The witch has sent super glue to my mouth”.
“Stop being paranoid” A voice warned me. That must be Queen’s voice. She must be using telepathy.
I felt the whole world was against me when I saw a girl waving at me. It was Angel. That was the christening I gave her. She had been my crush since JSS3. I had taken the courage to write her a love letter which I later learnt, because of her carelessness, became a topic in the girls’ hostel. I was in danger. I could only hope Queen hadn’t heard about it all, she would just open the can of worms at the least opportunity. I could see boys and girls already making jest of me the next time I meet them, some pointing at me form corners and saying “that’s the boy who cannot even face his fellow students”. I could see Queen saying in her Yoruba accent, “you are not even mashure”.
As Angel waved at me, I felt the need to satisfy, compulsorily, two people; Queen and Angel. Pele Banji, the social prefect boy was there behind the high table expecting me to be blowing grammar the way I did during preparation. I was really disappointing him. Why did he even choose me? I was stammering.
Oh God. My legs were shaking. My heart beat at fast irregular intervals. My voice broke into pieces. I prepared well for this. I even did a three-day fasting and prayer and went as far as anonymously asking my fellowship members to pray for confidence for a member. Now, the prayers didn’t even count for anything.
I didn’t memorise which would’ve made it much worse. So I did it the free style. It was apparent I wasn’t confident but I managed to make my points which earned me claps, claps that killed my intentions, no matter how good.
After my long speech with a final bow and a “thank you” that planted relief into me, I hoped I had defeated Queen. I made out of the hall and its intimidating occupants. The ovation however made me wonder if the people understood that it wasn’t easy and that I had done my best. They all (I like to believe that) chorused my nick name. ABLAD! ABLAD!! ABLAD!!!
Outside the hall, I felt a hand over my shoulder offering me a sachet of water. “Thank you”, I said taking the water and turning only to discover who it was, Queen!