Baba’s mouth was starting to quiver in that way again. In that way that told me I was going to receive lashings soon. Physical having a greater proportion than the verbal. “What’s this?” he asked, stabbing my report card into the air. The paper was not thick so, it curled and might have torn if he had not flung it away so that it lay on the red rug at the same time he stood from his cane chair which squeaked from the removed pressure, ambling towards me. “What kind of advice is this?” Angrily, he picked up one of the ‘kobokos’ he always kept at strategic points in the house. We had two of those in our sitting room, one in the passage, and one in his bedroom. No one dared displace or misplace any of it. My blood congealed when the nail was uprooted with the four mouthed koboko, leaving an indent on the wall, and bits of powdered brick which falls on the rug. He was that upset.
My stepmother tried to placate Baba. “E ni suuru.” Be patient. Baba did not take heed though as he kept charging at me, blocking my view of my stepmother who was attempting to communicate something to me. I saw her motioning her wrists backward and forward, but then it made no sense to me until Baba dragged me by my right ear and gave me a slap at the back that sent me to the ground. She had been telling me to run away. It was too late and I had to see the other side of Baba. I seldom saw it because I was always doing the things he considered right. However, I was a dull student, so I saw that bad side at the end of every school term. He switched characters like Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Once, I missed it because he had only paid part of my school fees, and the report card was not given to me. When it was, Baba had forgotten to ask, but I lived on tenterhooks, that he might suddenly remember and request for it.
“People will think I am suffering you because your Mother is dead,” he proclaimed as he gave me another slap, “they won’t know you are the dullard.” Baba had never called me a dullard even though I knew I was. He punished me but encouraged me thereafter. He was the one who always told me stories of Dele Giwa, MKO and Nigeria’s history. Everything he did was always imparting to me, and I held him in high esteem. Having been besotted by him, and believing every word, when he told me I was a dullard, I accepted it without questioning and something in me broke.
“Give me your hand!”
Robotically, I complied. I was all too used to it. That did not mean that I didn’t feel the pain, especially the first two, but I refused to cry out of pain and for help. The first lash of the four mouthed whips didn’t limit itself to my palm, it strayed to my arm. It sounded soft against my flesh, but it struck hard. I lost count of the lashings until I saw Baba remove his belt. He was about to break another of his unsaid rules toward me as he had never used it on me. Rather, on my recalcitrant stepbrothers. Nothing annoyed Baba more than someone who acted to be immune to pain. Still, I knelt there, my mouth drawn in a thin line, unyielding. Let what may come, my expression seemed to say but deep inside, I trembled.
“Run!” My stepmother shouted. I almost did but my inflated ego would not let me. What I was trying to prove to Baba then, I cannot understand now, but I wanted to subject myself to pain, wishing for him to kill me, but at that moment, Baba restrained himself and walked out of the room, his whip laying dangerously on his shoulder. He must have seen through my plans and would not allow for such a misfortune to occur. He bent because he knew I would not. I could not bend because I was already broken. He might have also remembered his dead wife, he always said he saw her in me. What made Baba walk out of that door must have been any of those two options but my mind was too lazy to process it. Instead, it replayed what had happened earlier.
My class teacher had been talking for a long time, but I chose to tune her out. She was about to give us our report cards, but it was her tradition to first give motivational speeches about how we could do better in the next term. In my opinion, no one ever listened at this stage with fear and curiosity at its peak. The start of a term was the best to motivate. Most students were calm then. My ears caught two words though: three and repeat. The idea of what was said was in my head, but I had to confirm with my best friend, Laide, on whose laps I was perched, so I had to crane my neck to the side, “What did she say?”
As stealthily as I had asked, she responded, “She said three people repeated.” Unfounded fear gripped me now as she started to call individuals to receive their cards. Luckily for a fair percentage, our class teacher didn’t announce the positions, but the ITKs felt that she had to because they topped the class. She called me next.
Leaping from Laide’s laps, I had forgotten that our bags had been on mine, so they fall, and I had to clumsily pick and dump it on her as the class waited for me. As I took the card from my teacher, I imagined her linger a bit, coupled with an enigmatic expression. Now, I picked my bag from the ground, Laide must have put it thereafter I went forward, and there was a tacit agreement for her to meet me at our joint.
‘YOU HAVE BEEN ADVISED TO REPEAT.’ Those words stood boldly in block letters across my report card. It overshadowed every red ink. The inherent evidence of my failure was held in my hands, and I didn’t notice when two fat tears dropped on it.
“Rika, how was your result?”
My best friend’s entrance had been unnoticed as well, so I quickly folded the card and squinted at her. Her face was invisible under the sun, so I made a canopy with my left fingers splayed horizontal to my forehead.
“How was it?” she asked again, trying to take my card from me as it was our custom to assess each other. I always had weaker points.
I started to smile, “They gave me, they…” The smile was starting to wane, about to be replaced with the scrunching of a face, and the rushing of words, “…they gave me a piece of advice.” In my school, that word was weighty. It came with no surprise that you had been asked to repeat a class.
Of all the things she could have done, she started to laugh, placing a palm across her chest, and exhaling with relief. “You and your jokes eh? With the way you did your face, I thought that somebody had died o.” When I didn’t respond to her dry joke, she stopped short, “Wait, are you serious?”
But, I knew she knew it was true. She was only trying to buy time as I was a perpetual bottom topper. Besides, who joked with such?
For the first time, my articulate friend did not know what to do. Standing over me in front of the dilapidated classroom, she watched, and I waited. Waited for her to tell me lies of how it will be fine. “Let me see first,” she said as though she needed to affirm my words, but I didn’t want her to. I was ashamed.
“I have to go home,” I told her roughly, angrily wiping away at unwelcome tears. Just wait, I tried to cajole but it stung still and found its way out. I wanted Laide to tell me it will be okay even if it won’t be as I had to face my parents soon, but she didn’t, just watched me shove my things into my bag and moved with purpose away from her. I would get to resent her for a while and wonder if she had known that that was the last time she would ever see me and yet do nothing about it.
Something hot pressed against my hand and I yelped out in pain. “You didn’t shout when Baba was beating you, but you are shouting now on top ordinary towel,” my sister hissed. “I don’t know why you are so stubborn.” As if to justify that, she placed the scalding fabric on my mouth.
“What’s that for?” I screamed, annoyed to be disturbed from my sleep. I had not even realized that I had fallen asleep in a fetal position at the same spot I had gotten the worst beatings of my life. At a point, Baba had started to beat me randomly, but the most damage was made on my hand. My sister lifted my right hand up for examination. Then, she soaked the towel in a bowl of steaming water, squeezed with her bare palms, and frowned before saying, at the same time pressing the thick material on me, “This will scar for a long time.”