Let me tell you a story.
This happened many years ago…
Iwas about 11 or 12 years old and in junior high school — Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom state. I was in the boarding house system of that great institution and it was the first time I would be leaving my parents’ abode.
One of the rules of the institution was to observe a 2-hour study time between 7 pm and 9 pm every night, Monday to Friday…. we called it ‘prep’. For some, prep was fun, because it took place in the classroom facilities of the school… which was a mile from the boarding facilities where the hostels, clinic and other facilities were located. So those unserious ones relished going for prep every night to play, gossip, sleep… whatever. For very serious students like me, I went to prep to study every night. I always went to prep with my school father, a lothario called Femi Fashanki.
So my story begins here…..
I had gone to prep one night and for some reason, I slept off in the classroom. When I woke up, it was pitch dark and eerily silent. After a few seconds, it dawned on me that everyone must have made their way back to the hostels and left me behind… including my good-for-nothing school father. I was confused, afraid… not sure of my next action. Should I arrange myself and sleep in the classroom or make my way back to the dorms ALONE… AT NIGHT.
I looked out the window and the heavens had opened completely; a heavy storm was showing off… the ground was wet and the air was thick with a dense earthy smell… It was quiet, dark and desolate. As each second passed, the reality of my predicament became clearer. Every few minutes, I would contemplate braving the long walk back to the hostel and every time that thought crossed my mind, I would remember the mysterious beast that lurked in the bushes that separated the classrooms from the hostels… more on this later.
And come to think of it, It wasn’t like walking from Seven Sisters to White Hart Lane.. a nice straight road, well-lit, with a phone booth located every couple of yards… Ok, I added that one because I wanted you guys to know I am a janded guy.
Anyway, this was a twisty, bendy path that required mad skills to dodge the numerous muddy potholes and crickets that sang A Cappella… add to that, the wicked storm that was throwing it down, snakes, bats, ghosts and of course bush babies.
According to folklore, bush babies are stunted half man, half beast creatures that roamed Nigeria’s forests. Those who ‘saw’ them described them as incredibly short beasts, with long, razor-sharp claws and extremely big, round eyes…. I heard stories that they cry like a newborn baby when chasing their preys. They attack people who wander into their territories and start off by first chewing their skins before snatching the individual’s spirit. Since my high school was located in the dense Akwa Ibom forest, I was sure there must be bush babies aplenty. Stories abound of students who broke bounds from the hostels and never returned because, on their way back, they encountered bush babies who snatched their spirits.
I cursed the sleep that caused my problem that night. I was faced with a choice of taking my chances with Mr bush baby or the first battalion of the Ikot Ekpene mosquito army…. To some, that mosquito army is deadlier than any Morafokin creature. They were already singing battle songs in my ear. I wasn’t too keen to allow bastard rainforest mosquitos a field day on my ajeboh skin.
I regretted not having the Puma Tennis shoes my dad bought in Yankee the previous summer. If I had that, I would have sprinted to the dorms — but senior Santos had done himself a favour by ‘seizing’ the shoes on the very first day of term…. after telling my mum he’ll take care of me. “Madam, consider me his school father, I will take care of him like my very own younger brother., I remember him saying.
He also seized some of my cutlery, wristwatch and a couple of my white Mothercare socks. Let me also use this opportunity to give a shout out to senior Bode who seized some of my provisions every term and Senior Fagba who enjoyed seizing my meat or fried fish every dinner time.
Anyway, I digress. … I decided to make my way back to the hostels. I was determined to run like my life depended on it… it actually did. So, after a short prayer, I made my way out of the classroom. When I got to the threshold of the bushy path, I made the sign of the cross and entered the thick bushes, walking briskly, calculating every step and trying my hardest not to make too much noise, so I don’t wake any bastard bloodthirsty beast.
I navigated the thickest part of the bushes sharpish.. but it was when I got to the clearing before the paved path that led to the hostel that I heard something ahead of me. I stopped in my tracks. By this time, I could feel my heartbeat in my mouth… a few more minutes and my heart would have come out of my mouth completely and landed by my feet.
I was faced with another dilemma, is bush baby in front of me? Should I make a quick retreat back to the classrooms and offer myself to the mosquitos? Or should I just brave it and run headlong into whatever is in front of me? I decided to brave it…. If I got captured by a bush baby, I would scream and make enough noise and hopefully be rescued anyway. So I started running…. God Please, God Please…. I kept saying to myself with every stride. If this were a movie, Davido’s Risky would be playing in this scene.
A few moments later, the bushes ahead of me rustled again and this time a figure stepped out and stood in front of me… severely hampering the 800m world record I was about to break. I halted again…. This was it… I was about to die young…. memories of the good times flashed before my eyes…so this is how I won’t become President of Nigeria?… so this is how I won’t marry Sade Adu?… because I died in a Nigerian rainforest… attacked by an elusive beast.
I was on the spot for a few more seconds, drenched in rain and squinting my eyes, expecting to only hear the bush baby when it was upon me. When my eyes finally adjusted to the figure, it was Mr Momoh… one of the teaching staff…. a very short man with a limp. He was stood right in front of me, complete with his silver torchlight and a crooked walking stick.
“What are you doin owside arand this time? Don’t you know there are bush babies arand?” He barked.
“ I , I slept off during prep sir… I just woke up and decided to run back to the dormitory sir.” I muttered.
He was torn between whether to believe my story, or not. He must have suspected I was up to no good.. so with his stick, he quickly gave me 2 lashes for good measure… sort of a goodnight present, but I was grateful because Mr Momoh’s presents came in 12s or 24s.
After the quick. 2-stroke action, he commanded me to jog back to the dorms.
I didn’t jog…..I walked with a newly found confidence and cock-sure swagger back to the dorms, relieved that I faced evil and triumphed.
Bush baby? what bush baby?