by Msonter Anzaa
“Bring down your bag,” one of the senior boys ordered as I entered what was going to be my room. It was October 2005 and I was resuming at Federal Science College, Ogoja, as a new student. I had been a boarding student during my junior secondary school and was not unfamiliar with bullying. It had been one of the few concerns I could not help entertaining alongside the glamour of becoming a student of a federal institution outside my state. I often comforted myself that I was going to fare better because this time, I would also be in one of the senior classes. It was certainly worse to be a junior boy in the boarding house. You had to wash clothes, plates, toilets, fetch water and run different kinds of errands for the senior boys, including delivering love letters to their girlfriends. This time around, I was going to be an SS1 student with some privileges and I was not going to let anyone take me for granted.
“For what?” I queried, trying to sound tough.
“You dey craze?” another of the boys spat with obvious fury. Almost immediately an impatient fist placed a hard knock on the side of my head that was not covered by the bag I was carrying. I had obviously committed sacrilege. How dare I, a new boy – or rather, a Jew guy – question a senior? As the impact of what I had said settled on the remainder of the group, they were too furious to let me bring the bag down by myself. In a few minutes, the poor leather thing was left lying on the ground – open, ransacked and scattered – like a tray of jollof rice on which a group of hungry pupils had just finished demonstrating Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Some made away with my toilet paper and soap; one of the two sets of my bed sheet was taken. A certain boy called Biama left with my Vita foam pillow under his arm.
“FEDSCO don wo-wo!” one of them exclaimed with obvious distaste as he left the room. I later learnt that in the vocabulary of the students, the adjective “wo-wo” was used to describe a situation that was hopelessly irredeemable. It was the English equivalent of “worse,” only that in addition, it represented a form of deterioration from which recovery was not possible.
A few boys stayed behind, lazily searching my luggage and asking occasional questions. One short, fair-complexioned boy with a head like polished bronze, had found five hundred naira in my underwear pocket and was negotiating with me how much was his share. My mother had given me that amount the morning I left home for school. In the end, he took one hundred naira. This was happening while my father who had driven me from my village to the hostel had not yet left the compound.
That evening, I slowly understood why I had fared that way in the hands of the boys. First, F.S.C. Ogoja was an all-senior students’ school. Therefore, it was the SS1 students who were at the bottom of the ladder. That removed every privilege I would have enjoyed if there were other junior students. Secondly, I had been one of the earliest to resume among the new students that academic year. The senior boys in my hostel who had – in the boarding school language – just “taken power” had not had sufficient subjects on which to showcase their seniority. Usman Balla, one of the senior boys, turned out to be my senior roommate. He consoled me that if I endured a little more until other new boys arrived, attention would shift from me and I would equally master life in the hostel. I would have paid my “dues.”
By Friday, I was coping quite well with the system. More new boys had come and there were now many of us to share in the aggression of the seniors. My hostel was called Male Hall 5. It was one of six male hostels scattered over the college. That morning, as I descended the staircase to go for the morning assembly, a senior boy standing on the stairs of Male Hall 4, which was just a few yards away from my hostel, called me. He gave me twenty naira and asked me to go and buy okpa for him from the staff quarters. When I returned, he was no longer standing outside the hostel. I climbed the staircase and peeped into the hostel, looking undecided like a thirsty fowl at midday when it cannot find the water pot in front of the chicken pen. Male Hall 4 was an all-senior boys’ hostel. I had learnt early that to enter there was to enter a den of lions.
“Come here,” two senior boys called me at once and I entered. “Who are you looking for?” they asked and I told them my problem. “Bring that money,” they shouted, and as I did, they ordered me to “disappear” from the hostel.
That afternoon, as my class prepared to go for a lesson in the laboratory, a senior student called me aside. As I looked at him, recognition slowly registered on my face. “Are you in Hall 5?” he asked and I answered in the affirmative. “Are you the person I sent this morning to buy me okpa?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, aware that I was in trouble.
“So I sent you, you kept me hungry since morning and ran away with my money,” he charged; “Am I your mate?”
I explained what had happened but he would hear none of it. In the twinkle of an eye, we were already negotiating how much compensation I was going to pay for keeping him hungry. We agreed on three hundred naira in addition to a refund of his twenty naira. I lied to him that I would have to see my local guardian, Mr. Agu, after school in order to collect the money. When school closed, I went to Mr. Agu’s house to report the senior boy, but was told he had travelled.
The following morning, as I prepared to go for breakfast at the refectory, Owingo – that was the senior boy’s name – called me to his hostel. “Why you never bring my money?” he asked.
“I did not meet my local guardian when I went to see him yesterday,” I answered.
“No be Mr. Agu I see enter your hostel this morning?” He had apparently seen my local guardian that morning as he came to my hostel. “If you like, no go bring my money after ref,” he ordered.
After breakfast that day, I hid among the boys and escaped from the hostel.
But Owingo was unrelenting. For almost one week, I found one way or another to evade giving him my money until I was running out of strategies. One afternoon, as I prepared for evening prep, he spotted me from the staircase of his hostel and called me. “You no wan give me my money abi?” he queried as he led me to Room 12 which was not being used by any student. Fed up pretending, I told him that if what he meant by his money was the original twenty naira, I would go to my hostel and bring it to him right away, but if it was anything else, I was not going to give him. Obviously infuriated, he ordered me to kneel down and began to slap and kick me. At a point, I rose to my feet and began to walk out of the hostel crying, blood coming out of my mouth. Meanwhile, Owingo followed behind, ordering me to return to him. A little bushy path meandered its way behind Hall 5 to the staff quarters. I followed it, determined to go and report him to my local guardian.
“Msonter,” he called, having caught up with me and held my hand. “So you wan go report me now ba?” He tried to pull me back but I pressed on. With my right hand fastened to a mango tree nearby, we struggled with each other until I relented, yielding to his incessant pleading. “This thing I am doing, when you enter SS3, you will also do it to your juniors,” he said. We returned to my hostel and he followed me to my room. Grass seed had stuck to our clothes while we struggled and he volunteered to give me water from his hostel for me to bath but I declined. As I returned calm from the bathroom, he made one last attempt. “So because you cried you no go give me my money ba?”
By now, the hostel was deserted, the students having left for the evening prep. I took my books and walked slowly away from Owingo and the hostel, thinking about the events of that week, and agreeing that in one way, Federal Science College, Ogoja, was indeed a wo-wo school.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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