I was 11 years old when I started Junior Secondary School at The International school, Ibadan. I felt like a prisoner sent to Alcatraz to do time. As I walked through those gates and saw the boys in their turquoise short sleeve shirts with grey shorts, and the girls in their blue/white striped dresses, I couldn’t help feeling that I was just ordinary. How the hell could I stand out in this crowd? I thought.
I started feeling homesick almost immediately. Saying goodbye to my primary school friends of 6yrs was hard enough. I moved to a different state (from Lagos to Oyo) and left my Mum , Dad and 2 sisters behind in order to stay with my Aunt. Her children (i.e. my cousins) made the whole traumatizing experience bearable for me and so I gained 2 brothers I never had, and yet another (sarcastic but lovable) sister. On holidays I would be ‘deported’ to Lagos to see my family.
My uniform didn’t make my first day experience any easier to get through. The shorts were tight – not as high as hot pants but not as long as regular boxer shorts either (so it was a good thing I was still wearing Y-fronts then). I felt I was walking funny – you would if your shorts were climbing up between your buttocks! Speaking of which, and to make matters even worse, I had er…okay my bum was er…not the ‘average’ size for a boy…it was kinda out there…just a bit – not sexy, not cool. The shirt material felt cheap and caused my skin to itch sometimes. I wasn’t accustomed to applying lotion to my legs so my flaky, chapped chopsticks were glistening white for all students to jeer at that day.
I dared to look at some of the beautiful full-breasted girls in the school – they were all my seniors, damn! I made my way to my class after the school assembly and scrambled with my mates to get the ‘best’ seat. A complete nerd would sit right at the front in the first row. I was a partial nerd so I chose a seat in the second front row. I glanced at the girls in my class: a lot of them were pretty…(pretty flat-chested, that is). I couldn’t get it through my thick afro-head that girls of age 11 were meant to look like that. I was going to get my own big surprise in 2years time though.
I made friends quite quickly with a few of the boys but I was still shy talking to girls – not all of them, just the ones I thought were so breathtaking. It was fun at break time when everyone ran out to the food stalls or playing field. The seniors boys in SS1, SS2 and SS3 did not seem to like to see the junior boys having ‘FUN’. It was an abomination for junior boys to smile in their presence or even let your eyes meet. This was hard because they were everywhere. I had to learn to walk with my eyes just glazed – not really focusing on anyone but still making sure I didnt bump into anyone. In an innocent era when 2 junior boys could walk along, holding hands and sharing a joke, senior boys were quick to descend upon them and exercise capital punishment. I guess they knew something we were still oblivious of.
Breaktime was an uncomfortable period also because you didn’t want a senior to call you and send you on an errand. For instance, I recall one of my best mates being picked from my clique one afternoon on our way to buy lunch:
Senior: HEY YOU come here….I’m talking to YOU! Come here!
Best mate: Yes sir
Senior: Don’t look at me when I’m talking to you!
Best mate: I’m very sorry, sir.
Senior: Why were you ignoring me when I called you?
Best mate: I wasn’t ignoring you.
Senior: Oh, so you’re saying that I’m lying, right?
Best mate: No I didnt say that I…
Senior: Kneel down there!
As my mate surrended to this 6ft bully, one of my other friends suggested that he’d go to the senior to beg for my mate to be released. This was the dumbest idea I had ever heard because it was a sheep prancing its way to the slaughterhouse. But I felt my best mate’s pain as girls in my class walked past him pointing and giggling. We watched as the unsung hero went to negotiate with the senior. It appeared to be going well. The senior reached into his own pocket and even gave the braveheart some money. He walked back to the rest of us but to my surprise my best mate was still left kneeling down on the sandy ground.
Me: What happened?
Him: The senior said he’ll let him go once I buy his lunch for him.
Me: Okay, lets go buy it then.
Him: But he didnt give me enough money.
Me: How much did he give you?
Him: Five Naira.
Me: and what did he ask you to buy?
Him: 2 meatpies, 2donuts, 1 bottle of Coke, 1 Okin biscuit, 1 pack of Sprint chewing gum…and he said I should bring back his change!
I remember trying to stifle an outburst because that absurd senior wasn’t too far off from where we were standing. I refused when I was asked to contribute towards this greed-feast – my pocket money was limited. Let my best mate continue to kneel down there…we only just met anyway…its not like we’re brothers or something, I thought. But just then a teacher walked past and asked what was going on. In the end my best mate was allowed to go and he sluggishly came back to us looking really pissed.
The following day when we went to enjoy our breaktime, a familiar bully started beckoning us to come to him. I remember how we looked at each other briefly and quickly scurried off in different directions, running for our dear lives. Those were the fun moments. Life in Junior High inevitably became a game of hide and seek with the seniors. We wore the shorts, they sported the trousers. They abused their power, we were at their mercy - a word which was probably omitted from their childhood and English Language tutorials. This was only my first year and I still had a lot to learn about surviving high school.