Mankind's greatest and most ancient problem has been the law. Everything is normal until you make a rule out of it. We always prayed for an opportunity to sleep in the afternoon until the boarding authorities attempted to make siesta compulsory. Even naturally, erosion passes through your frontage to your neighbor’s until you choose to make a little mould by your gate…just in case…Worse still, Staurday morning inspections in F.G.C. Ikot Ekpene were like a walk in the park until the new Principal christened it “Marks-Awarding” Inspection and made it compulsory!!!
MPE sat on the corner of CAIPO that made it easier to realize that he was the new intake. Dark as charcoal, MPE rarely spoke. I always admired that aspect of him until, recently, I realized why: he could barely make full sentences in English Language. Yet, his Ibibio was far deeper than those I heard from my grandfather the few moments I spent with him in the village. Most times, MPE was compelled to sit alone, except where he was assured that the conversation in the group was done in vernacular. Severally, he reacted with so much rage whenever a member of the group attempted to switch the conversation into any other dialect than the deep Ibibio he was conversant with. His ability to churn out proverbs in Ibibio was second to none. The few times he attempted to make contributions in an English conversation, he would end up feeling like a stammerer struggling to complete a hanging sentence. This usually threw him into rage; the type that kept us all away from him.
I had made myself adapt to the company of “skippos”, myself being one of the greatest. It was a taboo to attend every activity the school had to offer, even if one had the capabilities to. For those who may not have been priviledged to attend F.G.C. Ikot Ekpene, skipping was the act of not attending a compulsory school activity…even meals. This Saturday morning was a core skipping day; Marks-Awarding Inspection was ongoing. Funny enough, the most unlikely place to have found a skippo was on this road; CAIPO. Yet, we all gathered here; gods, spirits and humans.
In my 4 years as a student here, I had discovered all the skipping routes and places. I even perfected the act by having resting places in each of the skipping routes. White Sand, Caipo, Back of Kitchen, Orchard, J-Staff Forests, Back of Soweto, Back of Library, Intro-Tech Lab, under stairwells, Pavelion, lawn tennis court, Back of Canteen, etc…were all beneath my feet. I knew where to go during any particular activity. Of course, you would not skip to the Intro-Tech lab during the Introductory Technology classes. In simple analysis, my skipping skills were legendary and only trailing behind the gods of skipping like Amanambo, Senegalle, Igboayaka, the Ideh brothers, Varlash, Sparrow and the few others. These were not humans, they were spirits.
Amanambo was raw legend. Even as a fellow spirit, I rarely met him. He could disappear at mere sight. Yet, what distinguished him from the rest was that he never missed his meals and he slept in the dormitory, right beneath the noses of the numerous seniors and, even his classmates (creditors), who searched day and night for him like the deer searches for running streams. He could hide in plain sight. He was rare enough a spirit we had to nickname him “the unfamiliar spirit”; he was everywhere, yet, nowhere!
Senegalle was human until his fingers came in contact with any two green leaves. His green Niger River House cheque simply blended with the leaves. I ignored this fact until one evening, while we sat together behind Ntinya’s house in the company of lesser gods, Ini-ini and Ayadu, Mr. Ntinya showed up almost unexpectedly and swore that he will turn “3 of us” over to the labour prefect. In shock, I turned around and realized that we were actually 3; Senegalle had disappeared and only the wind that trailed his demise waved the leaves around.
Igboayaka was much more of a name than a person. The person behind the name was far less physically present except that he left delible footprints anywhere he passed. Legend had it that where that name was mentioned anywhere near a locker with provisions inside, the padlock would vibrate. This figure preferred to be found where others are prohibited from; hostels during lecture periods, classroom during siestas, etc.
The Ideh brothers were almost demonized by those that knew them. I only saw Ideh(Snr) on Saturdays in Mr. Ntinya’s residence. I would rather talk more about Ideh (Jnr), who later became the Commander-in-Chief of Ntinya Boys Association (don’t ask me who we were) and MY PERSONAL TRAINER. He preferred to devise an escape than to hide ab initio. So, usually, he would sit around, get caught and escape. Ideh (Jnr) was once captured during a raid on Senegal one Sunday night by an age long enemy. The senior student was on his way to having a bath from Kampala to Soweto; Ekpato was fun of walking around unclad from post to post. “Mkpo Ufok”, one might be tempted to say. While the senior student had his bath with his fingers clasping Ideh’s wrist, Ideh came back to me! The senior student almost fainted when he realized that the moment he closed his eyes to rinse his face, the god has replaced his wrist with that of a JS3 student standing around, holding the senior’s towel.
For Varlash and Sparrow, I still intend to sue the College for ever giving out certificates to students that were never in school. These gentlemen knew more about Ikot Ekpene township than they knew their 2 times table. With permanent residency in Etokakpan Street, they barely had an idea of when school closed. Sometimes, they would visit the school days after others had gone home, only to discover an empty school. I will speak no more of them because, till date, fear of these men grips me.
As my thoughts trod around, so were my eyes. A small group of huge men sat some distance away; the Unamas. Varlash and Sparrow sat on CAIPO fence, facing town; only seen by fellow gods. Just ahead, lesser gods sat; Stone, Olu, Ofonmbuk, Ekott et al. I sat beside Ideh (Jnr). My confidence never wavered. My very soul could tell the time once it was 10 am. Right now, it wasn’t. The waving leaves had a particular rhythm that seemed to be registered in our brains. Anything faster or slower than the usual will be treated as a threat and reacted to accordingly. Speed was everything. For the sleek and tiny like myself and Ideh (Jnr), we had it all. I had even acquired an extra weapon in my skipping arsenal that I realised was only ever possessed by Unen, the little’un. A little taller than the enamel bucket we used, Unen could freeze and watch the threat run right past. One Saturday, after breakfast, we arranged the dinning tables into a table tennis board and began our games. It was prohibited, yet, we loved illegals. When Mr. Dimgba appeared unannounced, we all ran. Realizing that his size had given him up already, Unen simply carried all the balls and bats and stayed right there. Mr. Dimgba simply walked past. Whether he hid in plain sight or not, that was mind control. I had this too. Mrs Odiongenyi walked right past me severally on the canteen after break period, even though she only sought to punish those, like me, who had stayed out beyond the official break period. Yet, one must know when, where and against whom to use it.
Just as I turned to take the last look around, some change had occurred in the area. This could only have been noticed by gods. I was one, so I noticed. In split seconds, I calculated the speed and velocity of CAIPO leaves; they were faster by about 17 nano-seconds. This was unusual. I turned to warn Ideh(Jnr), he had vanished. I simply disappeared and reappeared in my resting place; beheath a little mound of dry grass, gathered just beside CAIPO fence. Then, I heard the scramble. The screams. MPE had been captured, I could hear him beg Mr. Ekumah. Ndibe was there too, I could decipher the vibrations from his pounding on someone’s back. Varlash and Sparrow were probably sleeping in their rooms in town by now.
The “NO-Movement” rule in resting places during raids was in place. Ideh (Jnr) lay by my side once again. We had selected resting places near each other. This rule had saved us severally from the arrows that flieth by day and the pestilence that walked around by night. It was sacrosanct. Something was not just right, Ideh (Jnr) had moved! This was unlawful and he, of all men, knew it. I needed to warn him, so I twisted a bit and starred at his direction. Oh No: Ideh was unmoved, something else had moved.
A slim muscular rattle-snake lay, coiled between myself and Ideh (Jnr), starring right at me. It displayed its fangs visibly and waited for my reaction. Trust me, this was not the problem. What I realised next was. The snake was feeding on the numerous termites that had flooded my resting place, and now, covered my body. The twisting of my head had alerted them that there was a biological object upon which they crawled. So, they began digging their pincers into my very flesh. Now, there was a problem. Something heavy stepped on my back just above the mound of dry grass, I could barely breath. It was Ndibe, the Labour Prefect! Whether to continue its sumptuous meal of fleshy termites crawling all over my body or to strike the impending danger above, the snake’s thoughts were unknown to me. I simply saw the darkness that followed, the moment the snake began.
I am i~Witness.
Shout out to all 2003/2004 graduates of Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene. May your paths stay straight. And if you don’t belong here, you have not been tested by fire.
Grant eternal life to those ones who have gone to their rests with the hopes of rising again. Shine Thy perpetual Light upon them.
Names and places in this article are clearly imagined; with regrettable coincidences where any is found.