“A man can only be certain of where it started raining on him,
but not where he would get dried”
“Get up and bathe! You are late for school already,” Grandma said.
I was languid, the morning sleep in me as sweet as fresh palm wine. I staggered up, a sleepy-eyed-child with drooping eyelids, wishing Grandma would allow me to return to bed.
She registered a hard slap on my back with her palm that was as hard as a sun-baked mud. I ran amok into the back yard, mumbling instinctive utterances with a contorted facial expression.
I hated morning bath with everything in me because the weather was often cold. I hated bathing as a must-do routine. It made me so unhappy and Grandma knew I was pretending to be sleepy and unaware that it was time I prepared for school.
“If you don’t go to school today, you’ll not sleep nor eat in this house. I will ask teacher Nanje if you were in class.”
She knew most times I stayed away from class and instead wandered in the palm plantation with my friend Pappy, picking ripe palm nuts, because my school uniform was usually dappled with palm oil like the leopard’s duplicated stripes, and particles of palm kernel chaffs often hung between my teeth.
I hurriedly washed my face and legs, cleaned up, and rubbed palm kernel oil, which is called manyanga in the local parlance.
My face glistened in the early morning sun. My shin-bones glittered too, like piercing osiers.
I left bare-footed as usual to school.
“I knew I’d meet you here,” I said to Pappy.
“Yes, when I couldn’t find you here, I knew you were on your way. So I decided to wait for you like you did for me.”
There was a hidden cove in the cocoa farm behind the school that was our rendezvous. We would always hide there until after Assembly for morning devotion, and the lengthy National Anthem that was routinely sung.
Then we’d try to sneak into the class, but if the teachers on duty were walking around the school compound, looking for truants like us, especially Miss Ngole, then we’d be done for the day. So we’d change directions, and instead head into the palm plantation on the other side of the school.
We hated the Assembly because our legs were riddled with wounds that reeked and secreted unpleasant-smelling moisture. During the singing of the National Anthem, when everyone would stand at attention, if any pupil mistakenly shook his body, he would default and be severely flogged.
There was no way my friend and I were not going to default because the malodorous smell from our wounds invited colonies of flies for a mammoth feast on our legs, and sometimes their proboscis drilled so deep into our bones that we twitched in paroxysm.
We were always the victims of this default, and we were never pardoned because of our wounds. To escape from these inescapable punishments by flies and our teachers, we stopped going to the Assembly.
“Let us please go to the other side. We might find more palm fruits than these few we’ve gotten here,” Pappy implored.
We had rambled on the usual areas we normally picked the palm fruits that served as our morning food. Sometimes we cracked out the nuts and sold to other pupils for pencils and pens.
We ventured deep into the other side of the plantation, picking more fruits and eating like hungry animals.
“Let us play hide and seek,” I suggested.
“OK! I’ll go first while you will come searching for me,” my accomplice said with excitement.
After a count, I went after him, searched for him everywhere I possibly could, but I couldn’t find him. The sun was ripe in the sky. It put forth its bold face with streamers of flames on the palm trees that fought hard to shade it off amidst dry winds and the solemn and mournful music of the birds.
Then I heard his bemoaning voice from afar, calling out on me like one in grief and fear. I ran to the direction, calling out on him: “Papppeee . . .”
Then I heard his pitiful voice, still distant from me, underground.
I was scared. I went further and saw him in an old water-soaked grave that sank with him and there was a termites-infested cross on his chest.
“Give me your hand, Pappy. Climb up!”
We struggled and cried. No one was there to help us until he inexplicably climbed out of the grave. He was so dirty, but before I could say a word, he bolted off.
“Wait for meee!” I cried, while I pursued hard after him.
I didn’t see him for two days because he didn’t come to school after that experience. I was so unhappy and scared he might have told his parents, and they might show up in school any day soon. That would mean big trouble. It kept me so restless and alarmed.
On the third day, all the pupils were brought out just after morning devotion. The headmaster instructed that prayers be made for Pappy because he was seriously sick. I became even more afraid. I was at my wit’s end.
On the fourth day, the pupils were brought out in the afternoon. There were freshly plucked blushing roses here and there. I couldn’t understand what was going on. The pupils were arranged in lines according to their classes. Primary five pupils were given more flowers. I was called to stand at the front, and a reddened rose was given to me. The headmaster addressed us.
“We’re going for a condolence visit to the family of one of your friends and colleagues, Orok
Pappy, who was sick but died this morning.”
Most of the pupils began to weep. I was more scared. I felt I was going to die too. Thoughts about that day’s experience filled my mind.
We marched to the family compound of my friend, singing: “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin . . .”
When we reached the house, we were instructed to walk in a single file, and according to our classes, into the sitting room where his remains were laid.
When it was the turn of primary five, I began to shiver. Immediately his mother saw me, and she sprawled on the ground.
“Echem, look at your friend. He’s gone. Won’t you call him so that you two will go out to play football? Won’t you call him so that you two will go to school as usual?” She continued to cry and recounted many more of our adventures.
I impulsively stopped walking, stared at his body, and saw fresh blood trickling from his nose.
The headmaster ordered me to continue moving, for other classes to have their turn. We all left in a single file.