It's a hot, sticky afternoon, and I'm seated, as on most afternoons, at a shabby old desk in the very front of a crammed, poorly ventilated classroom. I turn around to peer down the steep row of desks pieced together with a precision and ingenuity that would have impressed the most accomplished pyramid architects. My mission is to find Lukeman among this cluster of bopping heads, which to complicate matters are all notoriously clean-shaven, indiscriminate of gender and ridiculous head shapes. They say it is to keep the children decent and neat and respectful. But that is neither here nor there. I focus back on my mission, straining my eyes and squirming in my seat to get a full view of the room. There he is! Two rows behind me. Scribbling away into his holy notebook. A notebook of doom, for he has been anointed with the chief task of jotting down the names of all those who disturb the class while the teacher is away. An occurrence that happens numerous times a day. Of course, the word disturbance is not in any form quantified, leaving it to Lukeman's wise and unbiased judgment to qualify what passes as disturbance and what does not. I stare at him intently, trying to gauge from his body language if my name is among those on the list. A group of girls swarm around him, giggling and pampering his ego with hopes of gaining favor in His Majesty's eyes. Lukeman, being the stiff fucker that he is, mostly brushes these attempts coldly to the side. But even he is not immune to all that attention, which his usual demeanor and mouse-like face, plagued by two distinctive tribal marks on each side, would under normal circumstances never garner. And thus it happens that some names miraculously never appear on these lists while others are unfaltering regulars. I hate that little prick so much right now. I hate him so much that it hurts. That ugly excuse for existence, wasting air that would be of better use in a wet fart. That ugly, filthy, ugly thing. The only reason they keep choosing him to write down the names is because he is supposedly more mature. At nine years, he is almost a full year older than most of us in the class. I don't see why we should be punished because he was retarded enough to be held back in first grade! Sigh.
I turn around and rest my weary head on the table. Papa Kwesi's persistent raps fill my ear. He sits in the row beside me, going on and on in a loud, monotonous voice. Being one of the firm regulars, he is obviously not the least bit worried. How I would love to be him right now. He is fearless in every sense of the word. He receives so many beatings, both at home and at school, that I believe he has developed a taste for it. And he never winces or cries. A real man! I peer at him from the side as he continues rapping, his enormous, protruding belly jiggling along to the imaginary beat. He catches a lot of flak for that belly of his. The kids go on and on about it, never allowing him to forget its abominable existence for even a second. "Papa Kwesi is so fat he broke his family tree!" "Papa Kwesi is so fat that God begged him to stop eating!" "Papa Kwesi is so fat Mount Kilimanjaro tried to climb him!" "Papa Kwesi is so fat that he caused the nineteen seventy-three famine!" Naturally, I join in. I mean, I don't make up the jokes, but I tend to laugh wholeheartedly at them. He seems to take it all in good spirits despite the fact that he is not actually fat but rather suffers from a severe protein malnutrition that causes his stomach to bloat. It is a quite common disease here among the poor lower classes. We all, of course, know this, but it doesn't really matter. It's funnier this way.
"You gotta catch them young and they be yours forever," he raps ecstatically. He seems to be lost in his own world, entirely satisfied in being both the maker and consumer of his art. Only occasionally does he toss a glance over to me, checking if I perhaps might be enjoying his raps, too. I of course pretend to be listening attentively to his every word. This always gives him an enormous boost. He picks up the pace, spitting out the cleverest rhymes in his repertoire.
"Look sharp, and take the condom, son; protect the kingdom-till kingdom come."
This is a line he picked up from an anti-AIDS commercial that runs 24/7 on all local TV stations. Suddenly, Papa Kwesi's heartfelt raps die down. I look up and see Mr. Addo stalk in, fuming.
"Look at them, now they are quiet." He lets out a disgusted grunt and eyes us condescendingly. "I could hear you all the way from the front office. What is the matter with you people? Heeeeh??" No reply. "You behave like goats."
A short, submissive "oh, sir" can be heard out of the girls' corner.
"Shut up before I SLAP YOUUUU!" he barks back. "I spent the whole of yester-evening... and night," he pauses for effect, "correcting your examination papers. And reading all the stupidity that you wrote. I didn't achieve more than four hours of sleep today. Four hours! And now I'm in the headmaster's office discussing your grades, and you people behave like foooools. Like stupid idiots!"
One of the more brave girls mutters, "Sir, not all of us-"
"I said shut up!" Mr. Addo screams, having worked himself up into a near fit. "LUKEMAN!" he shouts at the top of his voice. A wave of dread lingers in the air as Lukeman snaps to his feet. That little weasel has been hanging on to Mr. Addo's every word since he entered the class, hoping for this precise moment. His time to shine. He parades up proudly to the front, relishing the importance of his task. Mr. Addo snatches the list harshly out of his hands and picks up a switch, which lies ever ready on the teacher's table. "Now we shall see who is who." He lets out a wicked chuckle as he gazes hungrily at the list. "Kofi," echoes through the eerily still classroom. Kofi gets up and walks briskly to the front. Five brutal lashes whip through the air, leaving me quivering in my seat. Kofi returns to his seat. "Michael" is called out next. The routine continues. "Kwabena." "Selassie." "Josiah." "Ama." "Stephanie." Each name sends a fresh shiver down my spine. I am praying intensely now. Commanding God to make my name disappear from the list. I'm quite convinced it is on there, but that can be changed easily. It wouldn't be hard for you, God. You can do it. C'mon, I believe in you-
I get up from my chair and meander slowly to the front. It takes me almost a full minute to get there, even though my desk is situated a few feet away. I reach Mr. Addo and turn around, facing the class. All eyes are on me. Except for the boys at the back who, having already received their lashes and with the pressure of anticipation gone, are whispering giddily among themselves.
Whoooooop! I hear the vibration as if it were a mile away. For a moment, I am confused over what it was that I just heard. Then the pain comes thundering in. It feels like someone has lit up a campfire under my butt. The pain is ridiculous. There is no possible legitimate reason for such a thing to exist. Why, God? Why? Tears creep into my eyes, not because I feel like crying, but as a sheer chemical reaction, a protest by my body against this absurdity. Another stroke comes smashing down, almost on the same spot the first one did. At that point, I zone out.
"Go and sit down and don't mess up again!" Hearing this snaps me out of my temporary trance, and I jump back to my seat. I frantically wiggle my butt against the chair, trying to relieve the pain somehow. The girl behind me giggles at the sight of me squirming around like a decapitated chicken. A flash later, she herself is called up and promptly returns weeping hysterically. She squeezes her butt in pain while cursing like a sailor. Calling Mr. Addo the worst names in her vocabulary but making sure that they are just at the right volume to be heard but at the same time, not really heard. The last names are called out, and the kids are dealt with. Mr. Addo looks at the half-weeping class for a moment then utters. "Lukeman!"
"Yes sir?" comes eagerly back.
"Start a new list."
He spins around and stalks back out of the room. A soft murmur erupts as the class awakes back to life. The ones still crying are consoled by their friends. They scoot on the chairs beside the victims, whispering encouraging words and patting them softly on the back. Handkerchiefs are pulled out, tears are dried, and everything snaps back to normal. I straighten myself up and stare blankly ahead, allowing my mind to wander to better places...
This is an excerpt from the novel "Me" now available at amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AFKTEPM