WHEN OUR headmaster asked my classmates whether I had any “friend” amongst them who would know where I was, one of them, Kwasi N, said he did.
So, the headmaster sent him to go and look for me.
Well, it wasn’t difficult for Kwasi N to find me, as my brother’s bicycle shop, which saved me from the boredom of school park weeding, was right beside the market,
And Kwasi N went and hid behind one of the many neem trees that grew in the market and gave a clear view of the bicycle shop.
I later heard from reliable sources that the maxim, “konkonsani bɛbrɛ” [the backbiting informer has to endure unforeseen hazards whilst going about his sneaky business!] took concrete form on him quite literally as he hid behind the tree waiting for me.
That extremely noisy bird that is ubiquitous wherever there are neem trees, the apatuprɛ, relieved itself on his head as he hid beneath the tree!
He was still angrily wiping the smelly contents of the bird’s stomach from his head when I came and parked the bike I’d been riding.
From nowhere, Kwasi N approached me.
He had a menacing look on his face. “Duodu”, he intoned, “the headmaster said I should call you for him!” It was as if a death sentence had been pronounced on me!
What? The headmaster had noticed that I was absent from class?
I called upon the good nature of Kwasi N. I said, “Kwasi, I beg you please tell him you couldn’t find me!
What Kwasi N did next was to go and tell the headmaster that he had found me but that I had asked him to tell the headmaster that he could not find me!
That’s what a “friend” is for, isn’t it?
I didn’t know what Kwasi N had told the headmaster when I returned to school for the afternoon session. But ominously, as soon as the register had been marked, the headmaster asked for the assembly bell to be rung.
We trooped to the assembly hall. The headmaster took the floor.
Now, Akoraforipan was a very good story-teller. He dramatised every incident and made it memorable, no matter how drab it otherwise was. When he got going on a good story, he got so excited that the corners of his mouth foamed up. But he never realised this and went on reeling off his stories with full aplomb.
Well, the headmaster now got going and told the whole school about my “escapades” from school. He said:
“The other day, I noticed that although I had marked one boy “present”, he was “absent” when the class went out to weed the school park. I had intended to let them do Arithmetic Paper One afterwards. But I immediately changed plans when I noticed that he had taken French leave as usual. I made the class go in and write Arithmetic Paper One.
“The truant turned up for Paper Two in the afternoon. We went on to do English and General Subjects. Now, you won’t believe it but when I marked the papers, that runaway boy, who had lost a whole 35 marks in Arithmetic Paper One, because it had been written when he had run away from school, had scored 65/65 in Arithmetic Paper 2; 148/150 in English, and 146/150 in General subjects! He had topped the class again!
“Now, I like children who are a “break” (as we called them at our Teachers Training College). I got so excited that I called the school to assembly to inform you all that we had a very bright student among us. But as you will remember, I had to return you all back to your classrooms again, because he had run away again! Yes, on the day he was going to be glorified, he was nowhere to be found!
“Now, I don’t like to be frustrated, so I sent one of his friends to go and look for him and bring him back to school. The friend found him all right. But he told the friend to come and lie to me that he had not found him! Well, he is here now! “
The vehemence with which the headmaster now called my name out nearly made me faint. He said:
“I am going to punish you! You will get twelve lashes for running away from school. And you will also get another six lashes for telling the friend who found you, to come and lie to me that he hadn’t seen you. Eighteen lashes altogether!”
There was a hush in the assembly hall. The headmaster looked at me. I looked at the headmaster. I said, “Master, please, as for eighteen lashes, I cannot take it!’
The headmaster replied, “Well, if you don’t take the punishment, I shall have to expel you from the school. But I know your father. He is a very nice man, and when he comes to beg me to reinstate you, I won’t be able to say 'No'. So, we will give you the lashes and then, if you say you won’t continue with your schooling, it will be your decision, and cannot be blamed on me!”
The headmaster got two powerfully-built boys to hold me down.
And I was given eighteen lashes on my buttocks!
Frankly, I do not know how I survived the ordeal. But as you can see – I lived to tell the tale!
By Cameron Duodu