A NIGHT OF BAPTISM
We were all out in the veranda. Some of us unclad save for shorts and signets. We were there, at about 9.30pm, each of us holding anything, anything from parker to book covers and hand fans to blow air to ourselves, for the heat was there in the room like a terrorist, posing a death threat to anyone who dared enter the room without first staying outside for the cool breeze and then bathing with the water, laid outside in bowls to get cooler, calm enough to mirror the full moon up in the sky.
The hostel had been interesting and uninteresting of late, especially because our exams had been concluded and despite the fact that we got food that was inversely proportional to the number of days we had spent in school, we were allowed to go out and source for feeding from our day student friends or from the canteen when we were lucky enough to get money, even when we ended up eating more toothpicks than pieces of meat.
“My dad will come on Wednesday”, Kunle said, while his face beamed a smile with a gesture that showed how happy he was about this development. His father had called the boarding house master earlier in the day and informed him of his imminent coming for Kunle.
“I am happy for you”, I told Kunle, envious of what it meant to get out of school earlier than others. You would have the comfort of your parents to run to and be fed like a baby at home. But Kunle was luckier; his parents usually came for him as soon as the exams were finished. We finished on Monday and his parents would come two days after. This meant he would not have to serve seniors who seemed to get their last days enjoyment from only one thing; oppressing the juniors.
“When will your dad come?” Kunle asked and I blew a measure of air to myself before answering him that my dad was not to come until the following week. The man seemed to enjoy my absence more than my presence at home.
In the time I spent thinking of another thing to say, a tall SS2 boy walked up to us and stood menacingly above us, JSS 3 students.
“I need a bucket of water”, he said with a voice that carried the determination to get what he wanted at any cost, to be paid by us.
“Senior, the hostel well is locked. It is past nine already, and the taps are not running” Kunle replied.
“I have not asked you about the well. I said I need a bucket of water. And for speaking, I need your water”
“But Senior, but…” Kunle muttered his defence against what was something he had little or no control on. The guy cut him off.
“I said I need water. Which one is your bucket there?”
By this time, all JSS3 students in the veranda had stood, unable to say anything for the fear of being punished by the angry senior.
“It is not fair senior. I have kept my water in the open so that it will be cool and here you are, wanting it by any means…”
“Do you want me to slap you? Go and put that water in SS2 bathroom for me now” the senior said and went away with an authority that could only be practised when there was no superior one.
With that Kunle made for the water, banging his legs on the ground and repeatedly dangling his head to both sides in protest to the order of the senior who had already gone into the room to get his toiletries. Kunle returned after putting the water in the bathroom. I consoled him by offering to share my bucket of water with him.
It wasn’t long before the senior ran out of the bathroom, clad only in his towel that he loosely tied around his waist. He screamed and writhed in pain like a salted earthworm. First we had thought he had been stung by a scorpion for there were many of those arachnids in the school hostel. However, the school had just be fumigated few weeks ago.
The senior was muttering, menacingly, though in pain that whatever guts Kunle had to have peppered the water would lead Kunle to trouble that night. But I trusted Kunle, he couldn’t have done such bad thing because someone forcefully used his water. Besides, he had taken the water straight to the bathroom and returned almost immediately.
But what could I say? Here was the senior squirming in pain and dashing for the buckets of water and emptying the contents on himself in the open, screaming pepper. It looked funny, though we dared not laugh, that someone who had threatened to slap my friend few minutes ago had returned, almost crying and displaying to the delight of his juniors.
“Senior, I didn’t put pepper in the water” Kunle pleaded feebly, rubbing and showing his palms to the space as if in supplication to the Almighty. By this time, the senior shot him a deadly look, one that could dry up the blood in the person at its receiving end of it was sustained more than ten seconds.
A heavy slap landed on Kunle in the same tempo with how fast the senior furiously uttered his “You did not do what?” “Ah!” We screamed as we watched Kunle gasp for air like a fish taken out of water.
“This is the last time you will ever do such thing in your life”.
“I said I didn’t do it, Senior”. Kunle said sobbing, yet we could feel the usual insolence that always accompanied the excuse of a junior who felt oppressed.
“If you say anything again…” the senior warned, and continued, “Your punishment begins tonight. Every morning and evening, you will sweep my dorm and get bath water for everyone sleeping there, including your juniors”. The senior then left, his tall, tiny frame fading to the darkness in his room.
I drew Kunle closer and wiped his face with my palm.
“Don’t worry, we will serve that punishment together” I promised.
“But I didn’t do it Ayo. I didn’t…” and his voice broke into another round of sob.
Just then, Samuel, the notorious boy in JSS 3B walked up to us and whispered to Kunle “You escaped this right?” I didn’t understand but I suspected he must have been the one who peppered the water. I could remember he had a bet with Kunle to make him cry. And if my memory served me well, he had been out earlier in the day with some other guys. This could explain how he might have come across grinded pepper. Besides, he was one of those last set of students who set their buckets out in the open.
“So you did it Samuel” Kunle asked, “you put pepper in my water just because of a bet to make me cry? I am going to tell the senior” he turned to leave before Samuel dragged him by his hand and said in a whisper how stupid Kunle sounded, a tyrannical senior just got served a piece of his own cake and Kunle was still trying to inform him the source of his reward.
“Just serve the punishment, and I even offer to help you. At least I have made you cry and that yeye senior has learnt his lessons the hard way. Sorry Kunle, sometimes the righteous get punished for the sinful.” He offered his hand for a shake; Kunle hesitantly took it and managed a smile.
I looked at the evil planning Samuel, how he had made a friend out of someone whose misfortune he had architected. I also looked at Kunle and wondered at his large heart, so how he found it easy to forgive never ceased to amaze me. He usually said that someone who never forgave could not live long. I thought about the senior, how he had used Kunle’s water and stormed back to beat him up for a crime Kunle knew nothing about. I wondered if Kunle would also forgive him after serving the punishment. But I didn’t have to worry much, for Kunle wouldn’t even have to forgive him, in two days time, his dad would be coming for him and serving the punishment with the help of Samuel and me could as well account to a last day in school fun.