I woke up from my afternoon nap and tried to get up from my bed in the lower frame of the bunk bed. The room was dark and it was no news that E.C.G had played its usual trick again: cutting off electricity supply and giving robbers some room to operate. In wondering why they kept doing this, my mind settled on only one theory, that the ECG boss might be partaking in enjoying the loot from the robberies. In my attempt to rise from my bed I hit my forehead against the iron frame of the top bed and slumped back into my bed. I wondered if this signified some bad omen but, ah, I am Catholic. I must not be superstitious. I rose, more gingerly.
My stomach was screaming for food. My thoughts were set on a single purpose: to catch my school son! Then the dining hall bell rang. It was time for supper. I dressed up quickly and stepped out of my room. The junior boys saw me and started running. Some fell on the stairs leading to the ground floor while others trampled the fallen. I reassured myself again of the terror my presence always brought. Of course, I was the dreaded head prefect who kept poison under my calm demeanor. Anyone who dared me drank a potion from my stern disciplinary cup and was never the same again.
I descended the stairs and walked with my usual swagger and briskness that made some female students yearn to taste my forbidden fruit. Gossips got to me faster than intended, courtesy my assistant head prefect. The courageous got close but did not succeed. The usual chit-chat in the dining hall ceased immediately someone saw me approach and shouted "the dreaded". That was how they called me. My punishments were severe and that earned me the name. Some teachers even had to plead on behalf of certain students who violated the law and found themselves in my grip.
In the dining hall, the lights were not very bright. You could feel the bulbs dozing off. The school generator was making a deafening sound, pretending to work. I took my seat at the high table. The meal was served after a prayer had been said. Prayers before meals reminded me of my English summary lessons. They were similar every day and very short: similar not in diction but in grammatical structure. They were always simple clauses. "Lord, dine with us," the junior girl said. "Amen," we responded.
Hardly had we finished chorusing 'amen' than the lights went out again. "Senior Falou, please check that," I wanted the dining hall prefect to check the generator. Before I could finish my sentence, I felt something whizz past my ears and land on the wall behind me with a soft thud. I became alert. Then came another and another and then... pam pam pam. Warm, soft, acerbic substances landed on my face. There were three, two landed on both eyes and one on my nose with some pieces covering my mouth. In a sudden reflex, I cowered under the dining table, examining my face with one hand. Touching the substances, I suddenly realized what they were. They were soft malleable moulds. Banku balls! The very ones we were supposed to eat for supper!
I quickly and quietly removed the three balls of banku plastered on my face, while still crouching under the table. By this time almost everyone had left the dining hall in a flight of violent confusion. Everyone, that is, except the D-clan. I became suspicious. I felt the slight tremor of a sensation creeping into my slouched form, bulging through my eyes, and thundering out of my ears with a deafening thud. I could hear my heart pounding, threatening to betray my position, give me away. I was afraid. I remained very silent.
"Congrats comrades, we got him today," said a voice. It sounded like Death-bro, the leader of the D-clan.
"Yes, we did," another responded. That should be Lucifer, I thought.
"It's been long overdue. He needed to be taught some sense. No one jokes with us. Hurray to the brotherhood! " Death-bro, again.
"Tomorrow is another day. What is the battle plan?" That was Viper's voice.
"Yes, brief us, Lucifer," retorted Death-bro.
"Tomorrow is Operation H," responded Lucifer. The group members shook hands with one another and snapped their fingers.
Lucifer continued, "We gather at base at 10:10 pm and take position near H's bungalow. Viper and Destroyer will camp at H's gate behind the hedge. Sonority engages H as H approaches operation base at usual time. Death-bro and I will camp in the gutter at operation base. As Sonority engages H, Viper and Destroyer will run and push H into the gutter. Death-bro and I will do the final attack inside. Our acid is ready. Our masks and gloves are intact. Camouflage is in shape. All is set. That's the plan, comrades."
They shook hands and snapped fingers again.
H was the nickname of our headmaster. He normally returned from drinking around 10: 30 pm, walking on imaginary stilts and directed by the wind. They got me. Now they wanted the headmaster. The Deadline-clan had finally shown that it was not only my name that sent shivers through souls: theirs did too.
The Deadline-clan, pontifically known in Gasokope College as the D-clan, was a fearful group of five boys. They each came from different places and converged in our college for their high school education. But they had attained infamous notoriety. They were the rulers of the night until I became the head prefect. At night, they scaled the school walls and went into the town. In town, they clubbed, drank, smoked and returned before dawn. Sometimes, they did some robbery and brought the loot to their girlfriends. Other times, they brazenly went with the girls on their nocturnal carousals. When I became the head prefect I set up the Zombie-watchers, a group that spent certain nights watching the adventures of the D-clan. My group uncovered D-clan's activities and reported them to the staff. By way of punishment, the headmaster made D-clan dig a gutter round the college to contain the overflow of the Volta River that occasionally flooded the school. It took the clan two months to complete that task.
I was still under the table listening to them. Their conversation went on for some time. They rejoiced over how successfully they had schemed and had the school electricity system tampered with in order to wage the banku war. They also made plans for a celebration in a popular club in town after the operation of the following day. There was to be another blackout to facilitate 'Operation H'.
At this moment, I thought I had heard enough. The tragedy on my face was also making me uncomfortable. My eyes stung from the crushed pepper and tomatoes into which the banku had been dipped before being fired. My knees felt stiff from my cramped position under the table. Tears swelled uninvited. The phlegm from my nose thinly danced salsa onto my lips. My hands were plastered with films of dried banku so I could not clean my nose. Inhaling the phlegm was also certain to produce sound and attract my adversaries' attention. So I left the phlegm to dance and occasionally my tongue tasted the salt in the phlegm. I felt that a huge pit in my stomach needed to be filled. The D-clan pitched camp near the only open door. I watched their legs keenly; hoped for an escape route. My mind was no longer on their conversations. They had even lowered their voices, maybe to prevent alerting any passers-by of their presence. It had been about an hour since I sought refuge under the table.
I heard a plate fall. Then, I heard washing of hands. Then I heard munching and the smooth clicking sound of finger-licking. The D-clan members were eating. This was my moment. It was time to go. I followed the way to the door, with my eyes. No one stood there. I mustered courage, and on all fours, carefully crawled out of my hiding from under the table. My leg touched the bench nearby. It made a sound. "Who is that?" one of them yelled. I was silent. Then I heard footsteps. They got closer. It was time to go. I bolted out of the dining hall.
They ran after me, all five of them: the whole D-clan. I never knew I could run like that. I was rather jumping and landing. I was far ahead of them. Then pam, pam, pam, some banku balls hit my back, then my neck, my buttocks, my torso. I did not stop. They followed me. Suddenly I hit my foot against a hard object. The pain was sharp. My head split into two halves; one half felt the sharp pain and the other felt the immediate aftermath. I went down face first and felt the impact of the gravels on my knees. I shot up with the agility of a soldier at the battlefront. I turned my head slightly, heard my adversaries' footsteps advancing and started running again, this time, in a zigzag path. Now, pebbles were whizzing past me. My breath was heavy, my strength was waning. My shirt was soaked in sweat. My palms and knees bruised. My feet hurt. I did not stop. I ran. I now reached a point where my shout could alert the senior housemaster. I started walking briskly while looking over my shoulder. They stopped. Then, they turned back towards the dining hall. I walked on in silence and following a curve, I got to Yellow House: my house of residence. I climbed the stairs with much difficulty, got to my door, opened it and dumped myself on the bed. "Tomorrow would be another day," I told myself.
I woke up and instinctively stared at my wall clock. It was 10 am. I could not go to class. The pain returned, more venomously. But I rose, walked at a snail's pace into the bathroom and showered. My stomach made a hissing sound. I soaked some gari and drank. I stepped out onto the corridor and saw a junior boy pass. I called him. He ran away. I was not surprised. It was an odd time to be at the block and my penchant for doling out punishments was well known. I went down the stairs to the ground floor and saw another junior boy. I called him. He ran away. I stood there undecidedly for about two minutes. A senior girl passed. I called her. She stopped, hesitant. I called again and asked her to come. She came. I summoned her to call my school son and then I returned to my room. My school son came panting. Without being told to, he had brought food with him. I sent him with words to my assistant and the two senior girl prefects to come to my room during the second break. He was also to ask my assistant to tell the patron of the prefectorial board that I was sick and needed to rest. My school son needed no warning to know that he had to keep his mouth sealed and not tell anyone else about me.
It was 2 p.m. when I heard a knock at my door. I opened it. There were my colleagues at the door with awe on their faces.
"What happened to you?" they asked in unison when I opened the door wider and ushered them in. I tried a smile.
"Mr. Kubada asked of you today in the literature class. I told him you were not well, even though, I had not heard from you. I knew you wouldn't miss a literature class, especially when we are discussing Kofi Awoonor's "Song of Sorrow." That was the assistant girl prefect who was also my classmate.
I asked them to sit down, and then recounted to them the story of my escape. Immediately, we set our minds to work on how to foil the planned 'operation' of the D-clan and then plan the final dismantling of the dreaded group. Meanwhile, the health prefect was summoned to take care of my bruises and was warned not to tell anyone about me. The head of the Zombie-watchers was summoned too. Our security meeting lasted an hour. My colleagues left my room to re-assemble at night for the battle-plan.
There was the planned blackout. No prep. All students were in their dormitories. But for us, it was time for the final solution. We took our positions as planned, six of us. We lay on the ground, close to the various positions of the D-clan. We kept them in sight, our weapons wrapped in black polythene bags. It was about 10:28 p.m. and the headmaster was weaving his way towards his bungalow. There was silence.
I heard whistling. Sonority came out of his hiding.
"Good evening, Master," Sonority greeted.
"Good evening my son. What are you doing around my headquarters?" the headmaster asked.
"I was coming from Madam Adevivi's house. She sent me to buy her something," Sonority lied.
"No. You cannot go to her house at this time," the headmaster retorted. The chat went on for about two minutes. Then the leader of the Zombie-watchers signaled. Two members of our squad perforated their polythene bags. They threw the bags in the direction of Destroyer and Viper.
"Ao, ao, ao," came the yells. We saw our victims run for their lives. The two other members perforated their polythene bags too. Lucifer and Death-bro rose from the gutter and before they could step out, "pa! pa! paaa!", our boys aimed their polythene bags with their contents.
"Aaaaaaaaooooooooo!" our victims shouted and started running. Confused, Sonority, followed them. We did not move. We remained lying down. The Headmaster was more perplexed. He appeared rooted to the spot. I whistled and my team came out from their hiding and we all walked towards the headmaster. He asked us to explain what had happened and how we came to be hiding there. I told him I would come to his office when day broke. We walked him to the bungalow and left.
"This was a smooth operation," I commented.
"Indeed, it was so easy," chipped in Worlali.
"That weapon has never failed us," remarked Segbe, leader of the Zombie-watchers.
"How did you get to know this weapon?" I asked him.
"Hahahahahaa, my older brother introduced it to me. He told me about how he put unripe pawpaw into warm ash and threw it at any senior who punished him in school. I practised it a few times on some people when I was younger," Segbe revealed. "When an unripe pawpaw is put in warm ash it becomes malleable and extremely hot. The heat so generated could be sustained over a long period of time when the mixture is kept in an airtight container. If thrown at someone, it sticks to and burns the skin of the victim."
We walked back to my block. I shook hands with each of them and then we parted ways for the night. My assistant stayed a little longer and we spoke about how relieved we were to have foiled the plan of the D-clan and avenged their attack on me.
The following day, I went to the headmaster as promised and told him everything. He called for an emergency disciplinary committee meeting. The D-clan members were sent for but they could not come, they were being attended to at the sick bay. The meeting ended with a unanimous decision to dismiss the D-clan members from the school. I was congratulated by all present. The assistant headmaster, Mr. Babanawo was, however, not pleased that we did not tell them about the incident beforehand. "It was a risky thing you did. Do you know that?" he said.
As I left the headmaster's office, I assumed my usual self-assured gait. "At last" I mused "peace shall return to Gasokope College again." Accounts of my bravery swept through the school compound like wild fire. My admirers increased in numbers.