I am not a fighter. This is not because I’m cowardly or scared of confrontations. I just think fighting is a waste of time and energy. Why fight when I can easily embrace peace. Even when people pour sand in my garri, I tend to simply shrug off the offence and move on. So growing up, I didn’t trade blows with people very much. But then, there were times I simply had to resort to violence as a response to those who didn’t share my philosophy for peace.
The first time this happened was in the year I was in JSS3. Our proprietor had wedded on a Saturday and the reception had taken place in the school’s playground. Most of the seats used belonged to the classrooms, the three-in-one seats provided by the school for the students. When I came to school the following Monday, it was to discover that my seat was among those that had been removed from the classroom for the reception. I set out to look for it in the playground but I couldn’t find it. I went from class to class also, junior to senior classrooms. Still I couldn’t locate my seat. I retired to my class with the thought that when my other two seatmates arrive, we’d go look again.
However, while waiting in the class, I saw a classmate trying to maneuver a seat through the narrow classroom doorway. As I watched him, I realized with a start that the seat he was trying to get into the classroom was mine – the one I had spent nearly the whole time before morning assembly looking for. I jumped up from where I was sitting and made for the door.
“Hey, how far?” I said. “That seat is mine. I’ve been looking for it.” As I spoke, I helped him get the seat through the door and into the class.
“That is none of my business!” the boy said sharply. “They took my own, so I took the one I could find. Besides, I already brought this one in here. I’m not about to leave this one to go and carry another one in.”
“Ok. Fine,” I said agreeably. “Come and show me another seat you want and I’ll bring it in.”
He wouldn’t have any of it. He simply didn’t want to let go of this seat. Before long, we were having a row over the seat. At this point, other classmates had started arriving, and a few wanted to know what the issue was.
“You know you’re looking for trouble,” a classmate said to my seat-claimer, after listening to the cause of our now-growing tussle with the seat.
But the boy didn’t want to hear it.
A few minutes later, my other two seatmates came into the class. Together, the three of us were able to wrest the seat from the boy. Then we put our seat in its usual position at the front of the classroom. As I made to sit down, the boy came over to my side and started pulling at the chair. Clearly, he wasn’t ready to concede defeat.
“What is your problem nah?”I growled, now very and truly angry. “Remove your hand from the seat before the count of three! One! Two! Three –”
And then I pounced on him, going straight for his neck with my right hand. My fingers were claws and hooked into the flesh of his throat, clamping down and squeezing tight. He staggered back from me and began struggling to break free, but my hold was vise-like. I wasn’t letting go. As he struggled, he began involuntarily regurgitating the green leaves he’d been chewing since he got into class that morning. Then I saw that his eyes had turned red and teary. I quickly loosened my grip and then let go of him, stepping backwards, slightly alarmed. He began coughing, his breath coming in gasps. He was wheezing so hard that I feared I’d somehow caused some damage to his lungs or oesophagus. I was so afraid that I didn’t know when I apologizing profusely to him. In the end, he let me and my seat be, and went to get another one for himself.
Two years later, my uncle had suggested I move to the East to school and in the process learn about my cultural heritage. My parents agreed. A change of school was in order. They were going to send me to Enugu, but eventually, I ended up in a school located in the remote town of Amorji Nike Emene. A school located in a once-upon-a-time evil forest of that village. I was distraught when I got there for the first time. But eventually, I made my peace with the school, considering it was a boarding school, some place I’d always wanted to be since I graduated from primary school.
I started my very slow adaptation, took a lot of time to get to know my classmates by name. Many months later, I lost out on being the sanitary prefect despite acing my interview. The Reverend Sister told me, “You’re still basically a new student. We don’t give posts to new students.”
This comment stung, and caused a rise of resentment in me, which stayed with me as I went to fetch water to bathe the next morning. I’d also woken up quite late that morning. Who wouldn’t? The school’s functionaries were now with my set.
I strolled pass the grotto, where some students had gathered for morning prayers, and went on down to the well to find a handful of my classmates bathing. I also noticed that none of them had a tube to draw the water out from the well with. However I spotted a junior student tying up his tube, about to leave the well. I rushed over to him.
“Can I use your tube for a minute?” I asked.
“Senior, I’m already late for morning prayers,” the boy pleaded, “and if Senior Aki finds me here, he’ll beat me.”
Aki was the new chapel prefect and my classmate.
“I know,” I said, “but if you leave, I won’t be able to get water. And if the Reverend Sister finds me here, I will be suspended.”
Understanding my dilemma, he released his tube to me and I quickly fetched my water, whilst assuring him that he’d be on his way in no time.
However, just as he was about to leave, Dozie, my corner-mate and classmate, was approaching us. From the distance, he hollered at us, “Hey! You! Don’t step an inch!” He was clearly addressing the junior boy. “I need you to fetch water for me with your tube.”
Whimpering, the boy turned to give me a ‘see what you’ve caused’ look. “Now, I’m surely going to get punished for being late for morning devotion,” he complained in a low tone.
Before Dozie could get to the well, another student could be seen approaching the well also, with a tube. Seeing him meant there was no need for the junior boy with me to remain waiting for Dozie. So I asked him to go. Dozie could use the other student’s tube to fetch his water. But Dozie, who had gotten to the well, would not have it that way. He insisted that the first junior student, the one I had delayed, must fetch his water using his own tube. It was ridiculous. There was another student and another tube. I tried to reason with him but he wouldn’t listen. His attitude got me pissed. So I turned and ordered the first student to go ahead and leave for his prayers. He began picking up his bucket to leave, and Dozie lunged forward to stop him. But I blocked him off. A struggle ensued between us. We kept at him – or rather, I kept him engaged – until I’d seen that the boy had gone well and truly far away from us. Then I let Dozie go. Then I proceeded to pick up my bucket of water, and moved to a spot where I wanted to bath.
Feeling defeated and angered by the jeers of our other classmates who’d been bathing and who’d observed what just transpired, Dozie ran after me. Immediately I put down my bucket of water, he kicked it. The bucket toppled over, and my water splashed all over the ground. Leering at me, he ran back toward the well. I let out a small sigh, smiled a bit and resolved to go fetch more water, since there was now another tube at the well. I didn’t want to waste my time and energy confronting him.
But the rascal would not let that peace be. When he saw me get to the well and not go after him, watching me instead as I made to draw water from the well, he said tauntingly, “The worst you can do is pour away my water too.”
The statement got to my nerves, pulled at them and squeezed them tight. Suddenly my rage bloomed and I turned and pounced on him. He hadn’t seen that coming and fell to the ground when I tackled him, with me on top of him. I grabbed at his neck with one hand and with the other, I repeatedly slapped his face this way and that. He struggled to get me off him while giving off choked screams. I remained on top of him, at once strangling and slapping him, until the other boys ran to us and pulled me off. After we were separated, I turned my back to get my water, thinking the bitch had had enough. I thought wrong. He got to his feet, picked up a piece of bamboo, struck me on my shoulder with it, and turned and fled. I made to pursue him but the others held me back.
We eventually buried the hatchet and became friends. During our WAEC period, somehow, that debacle came up during a conversation, and he said to me, “Do you know why I picked a fight with you that day at the well? It was because I thought I could beat you up.”
“Why would you think that?” I asked.
“You’re quiet, reserved and never confrontational,” he replied.
“Well, you got served,” I returned.
So, why this long trip down memory lane, you ask. Well, life on its own is about struggles and fights. There are people who would want to add to it by trying to take you out. Don’t let them. Fight them away. When that boyfriend hits you upon the slightest provocation, don’t sit back and sulk and feel sorry for yourself. Hit him back. And maybe, when he feels the bug to physically abuse you again, he’d remember you struck back the last time and swallow that bug of causing you that pain. Sometimes there is also the need to fight in order to protect your pride, to send a message to others who might be planning to mess with you, to mark your territory or discourage intended attacks. Don’t be afraid to take on that person even when he appears to be bigger or stronger than you are. Just do something retaliatory, no matter how minutiae. It might just be enough to send a signal for him or her to back off.
Written by Michael