WE WERE ONCE BOYS

Before you judge me for opening up, please let me finish. We were once boys. It happened during the most agonizin...



Before you judge me for opening up, please let me finish.
We were once boys.
It happened during the most agonizing ASUU strike ever recorded in modern Nigerian history.
2013 was the year we ought to have graduated from school but our country had alternative plans. And in Nigeria, you are not entirely in charge of planning your own life.
So, we conformed.
The strike wasn’t the only depressant we faced on that particular day though. One of the most notorious urchins in the metropolis had had his lungs excavated the previous night, triggering incessant riots from warring factions.
The anguish that followed the news of his murder was heightened by how the opposing faction had created ignominable and jocular rhetorics about his death. While some were rumoured to have sent death threats to his henchmen, others simply resulted to updating a score line of body counts. And from what we heard, it was 6 – 2.
But that wasn’t our business.
The riot meant that students couldn’t go out of school for several days on end. Many had run out of cash and resulted to nibbling foodstuff. Those who were born by mistake simply resorted to stealing. They stole soaps, buckets of water and of course, money.
As for the five of us who occupied a whorehouse of a room in one of the pseudo-upscale hostels on campus, we’d become broke and depressed – at the same time. We stayed in our rooms for the most part of the day, morose and hopeful of a glimmer. But the more we hoped, the farther redemption seemed.
Our parents couldn’t visit us either. The curfew had been violated so many times that the security had to be doubled. Mushin and Idi-Araba had become pariah neighborhoods. We survived on phone calls, which albeit yielded nothing physical.
We needed food.
Only one ATM worked on campus, and students queued in hundreds. Sometimes when the stress of standing became unbearable, some kept space with paper and stones. Others fought and on one occasion, someone threatened to bludgeon the ATM to a dysfunctional state if he wasn’t allowed to jump the queue.
He eventually had his way. Bastard!
Unfortunately for us, our last source of hope had also been cut short a few days prior, when Tega engaged his sidechick in a verbal brawl over the phone. That witch! She knew his girlfriend had gone home before riot broke out and so decided to cut off food supplies to us for other reasons best known to her. All our girlfriends had left campus a few weeks after the strike had commenced but being the rogues that we were, we stayed back, and lived to regret it. Belema was our only hope and pleas with Tega to make peace with her fell on deaf ears.
We had run out of food items and none of our neighbors seemed to have food we could share from, though they always washed dirty plates every morning. Those bastards.
We were dying and Belema knew it. A true witch!
At that point, the only thing that stood between us and death from starvation was the raw rice Yinka had kept for a day like that – a day that seemed as though we were destined to eat our last.
Tega was the only one who could cook and to a large extent, save us from untimely death. We dislodged the idea of having him cook for us knowing full well his stubbornness had brought us untold hardship in the first place. But during that period, we couldn’t afford to have anyone else cook our food. The hostel had become a maximum security dungeon and those you taught could help were the same ones bound to fleece you. Ebube swore he’d rather drink groundnut oil than watch Tega cook for us. But it took Uwaezuoke’s scary proverbs to calm Ebube’s nerves. During the argument, I remember Uwa say something like “On the day the monkey is destined to die, all trees start to get slippery.”
The proverb was indeed humbling as it became clear Ebube never wished to die.
So, we approved of Tega.
But while cooking, Ebube received a credit alert on his phone. 5000 naira. Hope was restored. We hugged one another so passionately you’d think we’d just returned from war. Finally, we had cash. We could buy and cook a large portion of beans and warm it every day until it finished. We could withdraw money and buy just about anything to sustain ourselves until the neighborhood war was over.
We defied the warzone that was the ATM point and shouted our way to the front of the queue after four hours. Meanwhile, Ebube had insisted that Tega stayed back in the hostel because for some reason, he feared Tega brought badluck. When asked why, I remember he said the ATM would crash if Tega went with us.
Well, it did. And Tega very well came with us.
It turned out the bank security guard had forgotten to charge the inverter that supplied the machine. So, the lights went out just as Ebube had punched the 5000 naira amount key. As if that wasn’t enough, his account had been debited but the money never made it out of the ATM alive.
In a raving fit of rage, Ebube tore into us like a lunatic and reached for Tega’s neck.
"I said it. He never should have followed us. Bastard. Bad luck."
Luckily for Tega, we subdued Ebube and resolved to go back to the hostel, to eat the last portion of rice and die peacefully a few days thereafter.
We’d been out for five hours.
As we made our way back to the hostel, Tega suddenly paused in his tracks, alone with his thoughts and mumbled words.
“Tega, wetin happen.”
“I left the rice on the fire."
That’s all I’m sure Tega remembered when he woke up at the Accident & Emergency Unit of the university teaching hospital the following day.
Lying faintly on his hospital bed with fresh guazes wound round his head, Tega opened his eyes and looked around. He looked drained, surrounded by the same room mates who had nearly assassinated him the previous evening.
“That’s him on the left.”
We looked back and saw Belema taking directions from one of the nurses on duty. Belema was coming our way. She didn’t come alone either." 
We ate and ate and had our fill.
Belema was no longer a witch.
Tega had become our friend again.
I don't remember what role I played in the attempted assassination, but I know God is a merciful God.
We were once boys.
FICTION.

-       Damzy.


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