When I was in boarding school, my set was very significant for a lot of things. We had a great number of rule breakers, bad boys and pretty girls. In fact, at SS1, we had SS3 boys dating girls in my set. And the usual dynamics of SS3-SS2 rivalry didn’t exist very much, because the SS3s mostly saw the SS1s as the bigger threat. Why that was so, I would never know. We weren’t the ones who’d be succeeding them in power, and yet, the bad boys of my set were the ones they hunted and whose spirits they persistently tried to break. There was such bad blood between SS3s and my set of SS1s, and even though good boys like me were not the usual targets, we weren’t immune to the antagonism.
In school, I was what you’d call an ajebutter. During my short-wearing junior days, every time my father dropped me off at school, he would personally seek out the house captain of my hostel and charge him with the responsibility of looking out for me. As a result, I wasn’t too often exposed to the underbelly of senior boy cruelty. By the time I got to SS1, my dad had stopped seeking protection for me, and I had gotten sexually aware enough to know that I could use sex to get the protection I needed.
And boy, did I!
The combination of my delicateness and sex meant I had an easy time working my way through to the SS3 boys who were most formidable. The ones who were only known by nicknames and reputation. The ones whose names you’d drop as you say, “X said I should do something for him,” and that senior boy who’d been about to ruin your day or the prefect who’d been about to pounce on you for missing a school activity would back off.
The moment I became associated with one such SS3 boy – named X for the purpose of this story – I became fairly untouchable. It was nice. It felt really good to be one of the few students in the senior hostel who moved about unhurriedly in preparation of his morning, while other students darted about in panic because the school bell for breakfast had been rung and prefects were rampaging about with their canes. Or to not be bothered with missing a meal, when I could just go to X’s dorm and curl up in his bed, waiting to join him to eat his food when it’s been smuggled out of the dining hall.
The downside of this “relationship” with X was that I came into the crosshairs of a few other SS3 boys, who wanted to have what he was getting. Only one or two could approach me to ask me – not demand – to have sex with me. I liked one of them and I agreed to get with him. The other one I said no to with as much politeness as I could muster in a circumstance like that. I may have been an ajebo, but I wasn’t a brat; I didn’t let X’s protection get to my head and turn me insolent. I only defied senior boys I absolutely could not stand.
And Oscar was one of them. Oscar was this tall, dark-complected SS3 boy with a perpetually brooding expression, who was in my House. He had a mean streak too, which I’d seen him unleash occasionally on some junior boy, something that made me decide to stay away from him if I could help it. But he had a cousin who was in my class, and he would often drop by during night prep to see him, and I would feel his eyes on me, watching me with that hooded expression that was unnerving. I suspected that one day, this boy would want to personally make my acquaintance. And I wasn’t wrong.
The day he sent for me was on a Saturday. The hostels were mostly empty, and I was getting ready to step out to join my friends in their caper at the school field. I was dashing across the courtyard to the gate when I heard my name called out loudly. With a sinking heart, I turned to see Oscar standing at the doorway of his dormitory, beckoning for me to come over.
With stiff legs, I jogged toward him. I was getting to where he was when he turned and walked into the dorm, and I followed him inside.
We were the only two people in the dormitory.
I knew what he wanted before he opened his mouth to ask for it. And I was ready and firm with my no. I would like to think that even though I didn’t have a thing with X, I would still have said no. I simply didn’t like this boy.
He didn’t beg for it. He didn’t even try to cajole me. I got the feeling he felt too proud for that kind of humility.
“Come on, you and I should do this,” he said as if he wanted to do me a favour. “It will be good for both of us, you’ll see.”
“Oscar, please, I can’t do this,” I declined a second time.
His face began to shut down and his voice was a low snarl as he said, “Why? Is it because of X?”
I should have said yes. Maybe that would have given his ego the soft landing it needed from my rejection. But I didn’t want to be dishonest about my refusal.
Instead I said, “No, it’s not about X. I just don’t want to.”
I saw the ugliness leap from his eyes a second before he reacted.
“You bastard!” he hissed, and a moment later, his open palm cracked against my cheek.
I am a lover of literature, and even back then, I read a lot of books. I was familiar with a lot of figurative expressions, one of which was the one about getting slapped and seeing stars. I used to think some of those phrases were just words people used for effect.
That morning, I was disabused of that thought.
When Oscar slapped me, I saw stars.
When his palm connected with my cheek, I didn’t register the pain at first. The force of the blow propelled me backward, and as I staggered back, a darkness descended before my eyes. My eyes were open and yet I was blind to everything but the darkness. Then twinkling dots of light began to glimmer through the blackness.
I was seeing stars.
All this happened in a space of microseconds, before the burn of his slap began to spread over my face and tears stung my eyes, washing away the darkness and the stars, but blurring the sudden hatred I stabbed at Oscar with.
I stared at him with impotent rage, expecting him to follow up the slap with more blows. But he was done with me.
“Get out,” he commanded.
And I turned and left. Till today, I cannot tell why I didn’t march straight to X’s hostel to tell him what happened. To follow after him as he rushes over to Oscar’s dorm to shove him around and tongue-lash him, to his eternal humiliation because it would happen in my presence. I don’t know why I didn’t get X to exact my revenge for me; God knows I was angry enough.
Instead, I blinked away my tears, curled up my anger into a tight ball in a corner of my heart, and continued on to join my friends away from the hostel.
Oscar and I didn’t have any further interaction after that. We stayed out of each other’s lanes. Time sped by, and soon, SS3s were writing their final exams. WAEC, and then NECO.
On the evening of the day they wrote what was their last major exam, SS2s invaded the senior hostels. Bloodthirsty and heady with newfound power, they swarmed everywhere, attacking the unfortunate SS3s who hadn’t had the wisdom to pack their things out of the school before that day. They descended on the lockers of the SS3s and hacked them to pieces. There was such madness in the air.
The stampede for their authority carried on till nighttime. For hours, everywhere was rowdy and loud. It was about 8 PM and I had just returned from night food. I was at my locker, putting away my dinner things and about to change from my day wear into mufti.
When I heard my name hissed from the window beside my locker.
I turned to the window. The courtyard beyond that window was the backyard my hostel shared with another House, and the light on in the dorm was enough to illuminate the face of the person who’d just called my name.
It was Oscar.
My instinctual response to seeing him was to turn around and yell, “Oscar! I have seen Oscar!” And leave him to the mercy of the SS2s who would rush to the backyard to grab him.
I was in fact already turning my head and opening my mouth to shout, when I heard his next word.
There was desperation in that word. It was an apology too. It was asking me to forgive him.
In that moment, I understood what the SS2s were currently feeling: this rush of power when you stand supreme over the person that once subjugated you.
“Please…” Oscar had said to me, making me realise how much the dynamics of power had shifted between us since the day he slapped me into seeing stars.
I moved close to the window and hissed at him, “What do you want?”
“I left my traveling bag under my bunk. It is black with red stripes, and filled with my things. Please, if you can just help me get it…”
I stood there, watching him and not saying anything.
“Please, I’m begging you…”
I still didn’t respond.
“I’m really sorry for everything… Truly sorry… I’m just begging you…”
With a nod, I turned and walked away from the window. I left my dorm and went to his, straight to his bunk where I could see the bag he’d described tucked in a corner under the bed. He’d at least been wise enough to not leave the bag locked inside his locker, because the locker was standing, hacked apart.
I took the bag and left the dorm. I went to the backyard where he was skulking and handed it over to him.
“Thank you very much,” he said with feeling.
We stood there awkwardly, not sure now what to do with each other.
Then he said, “I feel like we can be friends beyond this school. I mean, if you’re ever in Aba…” He trailed off.
“Goodbye, Oscar,” I simply said. “And good luck.”
“Yeah, goodbye,” he said to me. before turning and slithering off into the darkness.
That would be the last time I’d see him. But I would never forget the slap he gave me that made me see stars: the only time that ever happened to me.
Written by Pink Panther