They started up the stairs, four of them, being the first group to finish the impromptu biology practical. Emeka had been greatly pleased when, in the biology laboratory, Mrs. Bassey had placed him in the same group as Kelechi Nzeh, the best biology student. Mrs. Bassey had described the practical as ‘the forerunner’; the main test she would still conduct, later that day.
“I wonder why the girls we love don’t seem to love us in return,” Efe said as they climbed the stairs. He hoped it would strike up a conversation.
“Its a lie, abeg!” Gbolahun quickly disagreed.
“Gbolahun, please, this is not the right time for your silly jokes. I’m serious.”
Gbolahun continued, making it seem like Efe’s plea had been directed to a different person. “I don’t know about the others, but for me, the girls I admire, they admire me too; and most times they make the first move.” Emeka and Kelechi laughed, Efe too. Gbolahun did not. “Hey, Efe, that wristwatch you bought for Amaka, I mean the one you spent all your savings to buy, did you collect it from her after she dumped you?”
This time they all laughed.
“But, I think Efe is correct,” Emeka said. “Its even worse when the girl is cool with your friend.”
“Better person, you sabi something, not like this black, fat fag.” Efe said. Kelechi, who had remained quiet, was the only one who laughed.
“Your father!” Gbolahun said.
The word ‘fag’ made Emeka to remember the events that followed after his father switched off the television set the previous evening. The piece of paper, he muttered to himself. Emeka was sure that he had not left the paper on top of the dining table at home, where he had stayed to read. He was also sure that Efe had given Gbolahun a ‘fitting’ reply, but he had not heard even a word that Efe had said. Emeka unknowingly had quickened his steps.
“Hey Emeka, are you already scared of our fag friend?” Efe said.
Emeka did not respond as he continued his walk to the classroom, and straight to his seat. His school bag hung on his chair, empty. It was his usual practice to empty the contents of his bag inside his locker. Emeka opened the locker and searched the pages of his biology textbook. Or, did I place it inside my notebook; Emeka thought. He wondered why he had not collected his notebook from Kelechi immediately he remembered the paper. He closed his locker, and stood from his seat, waiting for Kelechi to walk into the classroom.
“My note, please.” he said immediately Kelechi walked in.
“Did you see any piece of paper inside my note?” Emeka asked after he had searched the note.
“No. What paper?” Kelechi asked.
“A—” Emeka did not know how best to describe it. “Never mind.” he said. How could he possibly have said, ‘the paper where I drew Evans and labeled him—GAY.
Emeka heaved. He made a silent prayer as Efe and Gbolahun walked in—dear Lord, no one should see that paper.
* * * * *
“Good afternoon, ma. You are welcome to our class.” the class greeted.
“Good afternoon,” Mrs. Bassey responded. “I hope you are ready to take the test?” The response Mrs. Bassey got varied, but the majority had said ‘No’.
When Evans opened his locker, he noticed a piece of paper on top of his books. The paper was blank, but it was obvious that the other side was not. Evans turned the paper, making it rest on its blank side. And, right before him was an illustration, and his name written beneath it. The illustration had another word written by its side—GAY.
* * * * *
“Mummy, welcome.” Ruth greeted. Even before she opened the door, Ruth already knew it was her mother who had knocked. For a moment, Ruth clung to Nneoma, pressing her body against her mother’s. As Nneoma tried to close the door, Ruth helped her carry the nylon bag she held.
“Drop it in the kitchen,” Nneoma instructed, “you will find a small nylon inside, the one with the fresh fish. Remove the fish from the nylon and place its pieces inside any of those bowls on the sink.”
“This NEPA people, evenings like this when there ought to be light, they will just seize it,” Nneoma said in lament. “And my phone’s battery is flat.”
“There was light when I came back from school. They took the light not too long ago.”
“Are you the only one in the house?” Nneoma asked. She had raised her voice a bit as Ruth was now in the kitchen.
Ruth also raised hers as she responded, “No. Evans is in his room.”
“What about Jerry?” Nneoma asked. She recalled how she had tried severally to call Jerry, before her phone went flat.
“I don’t know. I’ve not seen him since I returned.”
“Maka gịnị kwanu—for what reason?” Nneoma said softly, then she raised her voice again. “Has Jerry not returned from the vigil?”
“I don’t know.”
Nneoma dropped her bag on the three-seater sofa. She held her small purse as she walked to the boys’ room. As Nneoma entered the room, she saw Evans on the bed.
“Mummy, welcome.” Evans greeted. His voice sounded weak, and her worry heightened. For a moment Nneoma’s concern moved from Jerry to Evans.
“What is wrong with you?” Nneoma asked, walking closer to the bed.
“Have you eaten?”
“Yes.” Evans responded, though he had only served himself a small portion from the rice Ruth had cooked.
Nneoma heaved. “Where is Jerry?”
“I don’t know. Jerry was not at home when I got back from school.” Evans answered. Nneoma held herself from asking him a second time if he was fine. “I don’t think Jerry has returned home from—” he purposely left the remaining words unsaid. He did not want to be a part of Jerry’s lie again.
“I tried calling him in the morning, but no response. And my phone has been off most of the day.” Nneoma pulled the zip of her purse, then she brought out her phone. She switched the phone on, but it went off almost immediately.
“Jerry won’t be able to answer your call,”
“His phone is on the table, he left it there last night.” Remembering that his mother had asked him about his brother’s phone the previous night, Evans quickly added, “I only discovered it this morning.”
“Ke ụdị nsogbu dị ihe nka!–what kind of problem is this.” Nneoma exclaimed. “Where could he have gone to?” she asked, deliberately ruling out the possibility that something bad had happened to her son. “Do you know the name of the friend who invited him for the vigil?”
“Where is Jerry’s phone, let me have the boy’s number.” Nneoma remembered that her phone’s battery was flat, and she hissed.
“I’ve already called him, with Jerry’s phone.”
“And what did he say?”
Evans was silent, as he recalled the phone conversation he had with Charles:
Evans had heard Charles’ voice even before he realised that the call had connected. “Guy, wetin happen na? Your number dey off since.”
“Sorry, this is Jerry’s brother.”
“Evans?” Evans had been surprised that Charles knew his name.
“Yes, its Evans.” he said. “Jerry has not returned home from the party,” Before he had mentioned ‘party’, Evans had turned towards the door to ensure that Ruth had not been standing there. “My mum would soon return home from her shop, she would be mad if she does not meet Jerry at home.” Evans had said. The piece of paper he had discovered in his locker was enough trouble to deal with. A long conversation with his mother was not something he was looking forward to.
“Hello . . . ” Evans had said as some seconds had rolled by without any response from Charles.
“I don’t know about Jerry’s whereabouts. Jerry did not show up for the party.”
Watch Out for Chapter Eight…