“’It’s only a pencil case’. Can you believe that’s what she said? ‘It’s only a pencil case’.” Nnenna’s voice when she mimicked Senior Ruth was perfect and even a little comical but I knew it was probably not wise to laugh. I bit the inside of my lip to stop myself from sniggering, after all it really was only a pencil case. The indifferent reception she had received when she brought her case to our prep prefect for the week had echoed our feelings.
“It will turn up,” Ifeatu said thoughtfully “I don’t know anyone else who has a bright green and yellow stripped pencil case like that.” She looked at us for assurance and we all nodded.
“Yes, it really stands out. In short if the person who stole it thinks of bringing it out at all, someone will catch them,” I said.
“Yeah, like they would bring it out. It’s gone forever. My Auntie Imelda gave me that pencil case when I was coming here. If I have lost it, she’ll think I am careless and never give me anything again.”
No one wanted to break it to her that she was actually quite careless because this time she really had been robbed, that is if you over looked the fact that she hadn’t locked her padlock.
“Don’t worry Nnenna, we will pray for God to show us where it is. Or at least for God to touch the heart of the person who took it so they will return it.”
Maybe she was too deflated to argue; Nnenna just nodded at Onyinye and carried on looking sad. I had never seen her look so dejected. The pencil case really must have meant a lot to her, more than any of us had imagined. We were standing at the main tap area waiting to wash our dinner plates. I had not gone back to dorm till late after afternoon prep because of this matter. Everyone’s locker in my class had been searched. Despite not caring about the loss of the pencil case Senior Ruth had at least tried to conduct an investigation of sorts to pacify Nnenna. She had come to the conclusion that if anyone in our class had taken it they had stashed it away in dorm or somewhere else. No use being a thief if you were going to be a stupid thief. It was quite obvious that our lockers would be the first place anyone would check.
By the time I got to dorm I had missed Funke and our water fetching session. She must have seen the commotion going on inside my class when she came to get me after prep. I had wanted to explain what happened to Nnenna but it had to wait till after night prep.
“Tapped? Her pencil case? The green and yellow stripped one?” Funke asked when I told her about the missing item before music practise.
“You know what her pencil case looks like?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, I thought it was pretty ugly. I saw it when I was waiting for you the other day in your class. I wonder why anyone would want to steal it.”
I had wondered the same thing myself before but hadn’t mustered the courage to say it out loud. Good to know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way about it. Ugly or not, the pencil case had enticed someone enough to tap it. Now we had to help Nnenna find it or face the rest of the term listening to her complaining about it.
“I’ll keep an eye out for it,” Funke offered. The choral practise had not begun because the house prefects had decided to start with the soloists today for a change. Funke was trying hard not to pay any attention to Chiamaka’s singing but I could tell she wasn’t disappointed when Chiamaka sang her solo in the wrong key and with the most grating tone we had heard come out of her mouth so far. Her sore throat was getting worse by the day because she wasn’t giving her voice a proper rest. Despite strict instructions not to attempt singing outside of practise, Funke and I had heard her trying to sing on the corridor in dorm many times. She wanted to sing at the competition even more than Funke but her determination was harming her cause.
“Funke, come here,” Senior Rebecca called and Funke scuttled off to the front of the class, abandoning our quiet time passing game of ‘name, animal, place, thing’.
I couldn’t hear what they told her and Funke’s face wasn’t giving anything away but Chiamaka’s did. It was only when Funke walked over to take Chiamaka’s place that I saw the flicker of a smile on her face. Maybe it was because we had just heard Chiamaka murder the song or maybe it was because Funke had been practising like her life depended on it for the last few days, either way when Funke sang that night everyone kept quiet and listened. Eleven days to go and you could see the dilemma written all over the house prefects faces. Chiamaka was their prime choice but at the moment she sounded even worse than Ndidi and there was nothing they could do about it except pray hard. Would they take the role away from her and hand it to Funke on such short notice or at least give her the benefit of the doubt till next week?
“Thank you Funke,” Senior Oluchi said at the end of the song. “Chiamaka did you hear that? That’s the way I want you to sing it next week and better, eh? Me, I don’t have time to waste waiting for you to get better. If you don’t take care of yourself Funke will sing it. You can see for yourself that she can sing it well.”
Chiamaka looked close to tears and when she shot Funke a glance you could see the anger seething towards her. She knew this wasn’t anyone’s fault, not even entirely hers. She hadn’t asked for the sore throat but she hadn’t exactly been the model patient with it.
“Yes Senior,” she muttered in her barely audible rasping voice, still glaring at Funke.
Funke did an amazing job of keeping a blank expression on her face as she walked back to sit beside me. But when she sat down she was barely able to contain herself.
“I can’t believe this, I may really get to do this,” she whispered, struggling to keep the excitement out of her voice. “Isn’t it evil that I really, really want this and the only way I can get it is if Chiamaka gets worse?”
I nodded. It was the truth after all. “As long as you are not praying for her to get worse then it’s not a bad thing. Maybe there could be another way for you to sing without her getting worse.”
“How? If she falls and breaks her leg? Oh my goodness, how evil do I sound now? This competition is turning me into something else.”
There wasn’t much alarm in her voice so I guessed she was not exactly shocked by her behaviour or thoughts. Maybe this had even happened before. Not in the same context obviously but maybe she had wanted something so badly before that she had wished harm on others just to get it. I thought of her parents divorce and her father’s new life and wondered for the first time if she was still praying for him to come back to them.
I didn’t get much thinking time after that. Senior Oluchi called the choral group and we began our much improved singing for the night. After that evening the next couple of days flew past quickly. Saturday inspection always took out such a huge chunk of Friday evening and Saturday morning that the weekend only ever felt like one day. Add constant rehearsals to that and that one day felt like it had evaporated into thin air. Surprisingly Funke did not go on about her chances of taking Chiamaka’s place after that Thursday. I think she may have realised that voicing her enthusiasm over someone else’s pain sounded incredibly selfish. If Chiamaka had been well, joking about her falling ill may have been passable but doing so now would simply expose a side of her Funke wouldn’t want anyone to see.
Nothing exciting happened in class either. Nnenna was still sulking over her loss and getting even more short-tempered by the day. She had no music rehearsals to occupy her mind so all her time was unfortunately dedicated to solving the mysterious case of the missing pencil case. Ifeatu had joined a fellowship and some other church society after midterm, on Onyinye’s prompt, so apart from offering a shoulder to cry on every now and then (and none of us did much crying these days), she spent a lot of her time getting to know her new church friends. Onyinye evidently was one of those new church friends; it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what she did in her spare time between that Thursday and Monday.
The monotony of it all was boring me half to death. I needed something to break the strange atmosphere that was building around us. Which is why when Funke ran up to my class during short break, slightly out of breath because she had been running from the Integrated Science lab, I was praying that the ecstatic look on her face would yield something exciting for me too. She half leaned, half sat on my desk and beamed at me.
“What? What is it? What happened?”
I tried to push all thoughts of a hospitalised Chiamaka to the back of my head but it was a huge struggle. Read more