New Feature – The Yam Po Club
So last week I mentioned that I was looking into a new feature for this blog. I’ve been kind of busy with work on Aversion and now I’m writing Sentient so I’ve pushed short story writing to the side for a bit. What I hope to do though is to start a weekly post featuring a chapter of a novel I wrote a few years back. It’s called The Yam Po Club and is the tale of a young girl who starts her first year of boarding school in a south east city of Nigeria in the early 90s. It’s mostly fiction but very, very, loosely based on my own school experiences so a few readers might relate to this. I’m not quite sure what genre it fits into so if anyone has any ideas, let me know. I also apologise in advance for any errors as I haven’t read it in a while but I hope people enjoy the story. Today, I’ll start off with a teaser (first few paragraphs) but the full chapter will be uploaded later on this week.
The rhythmic sound of crickets chirping and frogs croaking away on a hot humid night always brought a smile to my face; the creatures were clearly oblivious to the discomfort the rest of us felt as they carried on their routine. I also enjoyed listening to the ridiculous melody that was created when Obioma’s snoring was added to the equation. Thick and bordering on suffocation, the rumbling that came from my younger brother’s small body was fit for the body of a middle aged obese man. But that was one of Obioma’s many unique qualities; if he could do anything wrong, he did it worse than anyone else. I tried not to grin as I heard him slap at a mosquito that had perched on his bare arm. He probably missed as well. That action stopped the snoring for almost five seconds before the room was filled again with the familiar sound.
I tried to close my eyes and return to the sweet land of slumber I had just left but I already knew that nothing I attempted would get me even a fraction closer to falling asleep. There was no way I could sleep feeling as anxious as I did at that moment. My throat was parched, my stomach twisted in painful knots and my back completely drenched in non drying sweat. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you are ill in bed fighting malaria or some other unbearable persistent illness. The big difference here was that I wasn’t ill at all. Far from it, I was as healthy as any other ten year old girl you would find in town.
The problem was that in about six hours or so, I was going to leave my much adored family and friends and head off into the dark gloomy world of boarding school in Enugu. Yes, boarding school. And no, my parents didn’t hate me or want to keep me locked down away from home for the fun of it; it was just what most families I knew did. At the ripe old age of ten or eleven (twelve if you were actually trying to get in at the correct age stated in the non-existent prospectus), parents all over the country prepared to send their children off to boarding secondary schools where they were expected to carry on their education in a safe and conducive environment. As I had skipped two years somewhere between nursery school and the end of primary school, I unfortunately fell into the younger more terrified group of children waiting to be sent away.
I lay silently in the dark, counting the seconds and attempting to make music out of the imposed sounds surrounding me. I always tried not to think too much about the future because I was constantly faced with disappointed when I did. Anytime I convinced myself I might get a positive outcome out of something, some other contrary situation would pop up and completely throw my well balanced world upside down. Obioma said I was negative but what did he know, he was only eight. I was surprised he even understood the concept of negativity.
Slap. Another mosquito delivered a fatal blow by my baby brother. I actually hoped he got it this time because it would probably be on its way towards me next. My father, with his wealth of wisdom, had decided a long time ago that putting up mosquito nets was a total waste of time and money as the blood suckers always found a way in eventually, so we had never had the luxury of cloaking our shared bed with the only nontoxic fly repellent we knew of. Instead we sprayed our room weekly with pungent insecticide and prayed the choking smell would subside by the time we were ready to go to sleep. Of course Daddy knew what he was talking about, he had to. Every decision he made took long painstaking deliberation so nobody could question his commitment to any issue. Did my mother have any say in the matter? Let’s just say Mummy was even more silent and resolute than Daddy when it came to decision making. It was hard to believe that anyone could surpass him on that but we were constant witnesses to this fact.
Back to the potentially dead mosquito on Obioma’s arm; no wait, we were done with that. I couldn’t hear it whining anymore so it had to be dead. That set the pattern for the rest of the night. Not much else happened. The chirping and croaking carried on; Obioma occasionally hit out at something, narrowly missing my shoulder twice as we lay side by side on the springy mattress; the pain in my stomach grew until I thought that my insides would explode or implode or do something else uncharacteristically vile. And then it came. The lovely welcomed sound of our neighbourhood rooster crowing its heart out at the crack of dawn. Thank God Mr Nwankwo had the good sense to keep a mini poultry in his backyard two houses away. I never had to scramble around in the darkness to look for my wristwatch because even from that distance the rooster had turned into my faithful alarm clock.
I rose gently from the bed so I wouldn’t wake Obioma who happened to be the grumpiest little boy in the world if you touched him before he had taken the decision to rise himself. The family bathroom was inconveniently located down the corridor beside my parents’ bedroom and far away from ours. I tiptoed all the way to it and began to brush my teeth. I had to remember to dry and pack my toothbrush when I was done. Mummy had said that if I forgot it, I would have to use my fingers to brush my teeth for the next three months. Having already tried that one morning, I knew how ineffective it was. I did not want to get branded girl-with-stinky-breath for the whole term so I had written myself a list and put that item right at the top, even before my reminder to collect my pocket money from Daddy.
“You’re up early. Are you okay?” My mother’s voice startled me from the doorway. She walked into the room, bloodshot eyes and hairnet in tow, with her brown wrapper tied tightly around her faithful white cotton night dress. I don’t think I had ever seen my mother look any different in the morning.
“Buchi, I said are you okay?”
I didn’t realise I had forgotten to answer her. I spat out toothpaste into the sink. “Good morning Mummy. Yes, I’m fine.” No point mentioning the stomach ache, she would wave it off as nerves which was probably accurate.
Not immediately satisfied with the answer, she came forward and touched my forehead. The funny thing was that whatever answer I had given her would have resulted in the opposite reaction to my response. Mothers!
“Hmm, okay oh. I was just going to wake you up sef.’ She unwound her wrapper and tied it even tighter across her chest. ‘Your father wants to leave at nine on the dot and you had better be ready by then. Anyway you have three hours so you should be okay. Do you want some akara and pap for your breakfast?”
I rarely ever got asked what I wanted to eat. The unspoken rule, one of many, was eat whatever the good Lord provided. Usually the Lord provided amazingly delicious delights like okro soup and plantain porridge but sometimes he decided to drop egusi soup or semolina on us. I knew never to complain because we had three square meal everyday and not everyone had that luxury. The boarding school thing was evidently affecting my mother more than she was letting on. I nodded to the akara offer, toothbrush back in my mouth and foam everywhere.
“Don’t forget to pack your toothbrush when you are done,” were her last words before she left me alone and headed for the kitchen at the other end of the house.
It didn’t take long for the smell of hot oily akara to fill the house. It never mattered how many doors you kept shut in our three bedroom bungalow, anything my mother cooked found a way of spreading its aroma around the house like there was a special food vent connecting every room. By the time the food was ready I had returned to the bedroom following my dutiful bucket bath and was wrapped in my large towel as I rubbed body lotion onto my skin, praying that I wouldn’t wake Obioma.
I have always had incredibly rotten luck. Obioma stretched and yawned loudly just as I began to apply a thick wad of lotion to my arms.
“Have you not left?”
“I thought you were meant to go to school today.”
I sighed with frustration. “So that’s how you greet your elders good morning eh? Silly boy. So you wanted me to leave before you woke up. No goodbye for you. Okay oh, if that’s the way you want it. I’ll be gone for three months anyway so I’m sure you’ll be happy.” I failed to mention that I would be back for the midterm break but the shock on his face when he found out later would definitely be worth it. I had to remember to drop that little piece of information before I left or my anticipated joy would be short-lived.
“Nonsense. Go, I won’t miss you. I will finally have this room all to myself. My own big bed. Go, go, go.”
I shook my head and carried on dressing up while Obioma went to the bathroom. When he got back with clean teeth and an empty bladder, I was dressed in my brand new school uniform. Well, one of many. It turned out there was a uniform for classes, daywear for evenings, shorts and vest for sportswear and right now I was clad in the school’s outing uniform. Navy blue skirt with a baby blue collared blouse, blue beret, blue socks and brown loafers. It looked like someone had thrown up blue fabric all over me. And yes, the other uniforms were also different shades of blue with the odd white article thrown in to brighten the look. I brushed down my recently shaved head with the new hairbrush my mother had bought for me. I was still getting used to the fact that the days of my fairly lengthy braided hair were gone but Mummy had insisted that it was school regulation to have my hair cut down to about one inch off my scalp. Only the girls in the senior secondary years were allowed to grow their hair out. I couldn’t wait to get to that stage but realistically I would have to wait three years; very annoying indeed.
“Ha, ha, you look silly,” Obioma bellowed with laughter from the doorway.
“Blue girl, how come your shoes are brown?”
“I said shut up. Have you seen your own red baby uniform? Don’t you know this uniform is for grown up children?” Grown up children? Was there such a thing?
“I don’t care, you still look silly.” Trust Obioma to throw my insult to the wind like it meant nothing to him. Maybe I would finally learn how to tell him off properly after a term holed up in boarding school. My older brother, Emeka, had been a little too nice to me when I was Obioma’s age so I was not good at slinging abusive words but then I had not been a nightmare sibling so I guess he had no choice but to shower me with warm affection. I had to learn some good insults before I returned for the midterm break.
By the time I got back to the kitchen to have breakfast, my father was already sitting fully dressed at his place at the head of the table with spoon and fork in hand as he lapped up thick white pap and made akara balls disappear with incredible speed. How had he managed to get ready before me? I wondered for the umpteenth time. I hadn’t been in the room that long. Now you could see why I had dressed up so quickly, my early was always too late for my father.