“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Life is hard. My father must’ve known this when his father died before he had graduated primary school.
Life is hard. My mother definitely knew this when three of her sisters died in a car crash as they came back from a party. Her eldest sister had been drunk that night — she had been driving.
I got polio when I was very young, my battle scars consist of the painful memories of my mother looking down at me, her eyes downcast, in pain, as she stared at my shriveled left arm. Life is hard: I was reminded of it every day I dressed up.
That night we all dressed up like a storm; AZU was around, there wasn’t time to waste. My bags were still unpacked, sprawled across the floor as my roommates tippy toed across them to move and dress up. I kept my eye locked on my small hand luggage, watching it as I moved — I needed to find a place to keep it.
The security guard who was searching our stuff that morning moved too close to the hidden zip and my body straightened. His hands were grazing the back now, any second now he’d —
“Ah oga,” I said, as I removed one thousand naira from pocket, slyly shaking his hand with it, “you dey try o.” He smiled and winked at me as he closed my box and allowed me pass.
Life is hard, but people are easy, anybody is willing to turn a blind eye to anything as long as some money is involved. And nobody wanted to disturb the guy with only one working arm. I looked for Otitọ that day as soon as I came but I didn’t see him and the goat forgot to WhatsApp me his room.
Footsteps echoed outside and voices were loud and disjointed. Everybody had the same thought in their minds, ricocheting around their heads.
KAZU was coming.
Kenneth Azuka Zacchaeus Ubuike, or KAZU was the dean of student affairs during those years and he was feared all around school. He was a spindle of a man, with eyes of a hawk. Everyone had heard tales of KAZU, who hadn’t.
Once, during a patrol, the white bus found a couple kissing and they split, running into the bushes. Reports varied but since then, nobody ever ran from KAZU; he was faster, and you’d lose.
Another time, he and his wife had dressed like students and gone to the caf, eavesdropping on conversations and catching people pairing. 20 offence forms were given that day, no MSS staff had broken that record since.
KAZU could, in one glance, tell if you were drunk, high or lying. It was like his eyes could see into your soul, searching for a rule you had transgressed.
But these were all rumours, stories, tales by the moonlight. I actually doubted any of them actually happened. I mean, yes, he was probably intense, but going undercover to the cafeteria? Come on.
My roommates were cool enough, I guess, I didn’t know them much — I didn’t even know their names. But I made jokes, I made them laugh, shared my food with them too. People wanted to feel comfortable, wanted to feel like home and if you could give them that, you were in. They’d eat out of your hand for as long as you wanted.
But they didn’t ask too many questions, they didn’t stare, they didn’t talk too much. That was all I wanted, all I needed.
Now, all I needed to do was pack the damn bag in the —
The door flew open and one man strode in, followed by two men. The two men behind had dark circles under their eyes, the same eyes that inspected the room from every inch, looking through the wardrobes without touching them, inspecting the mattresses without making a move towards them.
They had maybe searched the room two or three times within the moment they had taken the first steps into it.
But the first man, I can’t forget his face. It’s been more than a decade, and I still can’t forget his face.
It was one of his qualities, his traits.
You never forgot KAZU the first time you saw him.
“Good evening, boys,” he smiled as he pulled a chair from under a table, sitting down like he was our fifth roommate. “How are you guys doing today?”
This was a trap, this was nothing but a trap. I could feel it, sense it under my skin. My heart threatened to leap out of my chest but I didn’t dare look at my bag. It would give the whole thing away. He would see it, oh God, he would see it. Why did I even do this, why?
But I knew why, I knew why I was doing it.
I couldn’t not.
If I got suspended, my father would probably kill me. Of course, he’d have to get his face out of that woman’s neck. What was her name? Nancy? Something like that. They changed every week and I found that it was easier to remember them by how they reacted to seeing me for the first time. Jennifer had covered her mouth in shock, Adanna had looked at me with cold indifference, Stacy had hit me when I was young, wrenching my one arm whenever daddy wasn’t around. She said I took his attention away.
I still hear her voice.
But Nancy was nice enough, I guess, she treated me well. I wonder where she is now. It’s Amaka’s time now. When my mother was still living with us, my father was at the top of the world and so when she left, he fell hard. In some ways, he’s still falling, tunnelling through the air, screaming, but nobody can hear him. I can hear him sometimes, but then he stopped screaming, stopped looking for help. That was when he found the true power of alcohol. My mother had given him a choice: his vices or her. The substances or their marriage. He had picked.
And we all paid.
“Nobody wants to say something?” Kazu said, his arms outstretched, smile fading as easily as it had come. “Okay, I’ll introduce myself to you boys. My name is Kenneth and I am the Dean of Student Affairs, you know what that means, don’t you? I’m in charge of what goes one with you people. I’m here to help.”
We all stared at him, half dressed, eyes open. The two men just stood beside the door, watching.
He stood up. “You all know the rules,” he said. “That’s why you’re here. Nobody forced you to come to Covenant, you came here of your own free will. You all signed the Undertaking, no?”
We all nodded.
“Exactly,” He said nodding his head as he went to the nearest locker to the door, throwing the clothes in it to the ground. “I have to do this, and I hope you all understand that this is for your own good. It’s for you people, not us. Vision 10: 2022 has to come to pass and for that to happen, every single person has to…” He trailed off.
I knew why.
One of my roommates, I think his name was Steven, had been shaking uncontrollably since he had entered the room. I willed him to calm down, wishing he’d just be still. But by then, he was already sweating elephants, his shirt drenched.
Kazu walked and stood in front of him and only then did we appreciate how tall he was. Steven was maybe six feet tall at the time, but Kazu towered above him, easily.
No words were spoken for what felt like eternity.
Kazu stared at Steven.
Steven tried his best to stare back.
Kazu cocked his head to the right.
Kazu reached very slowly reached behind Steven to his bed, taking his wallet. He calmly opened it and fished out a Glo sim card. He inspected it for a moment before he gestured to the two men to take Steven outside.
The remaining three of us just stood there like trees, no single move was taken.
Kazu looked at us, none of the early humour to show. “See what happens?” Was all he said.
He was about to walk out when he stopped at stared at me, doing a once over. “What’s your name?” He asked.
“Daniel.” I answered quickly.
Kazu smiled honestly for perhaps the first time that day, showing his teeth like a lion. “Ver nice name.” He said as he walked out.
I was Daniel, he was the lion. And I was in the lion’s den.
I needed to find Otitọ, there was nothing else. But maybe not that night, maybe in the morning.
That night, my now two roommates slept as I crept out of my bed, going to my bag in my locker. I pulled the zip as quietly as I could, reaching in the bag, feeling for the secret zip. I opened it and pulled out a Ziploc bag filled with white powder. I pulled the bag open, dipped a finger inside and tasted it, the buzz filling my entire body.
My father had his drinks, I had my drugs. And the world kept going round and round.
Life was hard, but it was easy if you could make it so.
I needed to find Otitọ, true. But that was all the way in the morning, for now, I could just get high.
Nothing better to do.