His eyes looked almost as if they were about to pop out of their sockets. They were visibly bloodshot, which does not amount to saying much, since at St. Peter's the mainstream culture was, literally, keeping a virtual vigil over one's books.
“Wake-up, PERSCOVITES, we are at war!”
Kpuli also cautioned against any coward who might attempt to chicken out of this sacred war which nobody in Augustine One, my dormitory, seemed to know anything about.
I quickly sprang out of bed, with Kpuli's machete still studiously trained at my neck; or so it seemed. Looking back, I think it was largely a matter of distorted perspective, for my bed stood right in the line-of-sight of any visitor who entered Augustine One.
The location of my bed was not particularly vantage, for during the early mornings and late nights when it was quite cold, anytime that anybody opened the door, the chilly breeze slammed right into my face. And there were about twenty of us to a room.
By 1978, however, when I was in Form-Three, I had acquired enough seniority to have enabled me to relocate my sleeping position; but I had gotten the hang of it, and so I decided to continue sleeping by the door.
During my first year, also called my “subbo” days (“subbo” is an abbreviated form of subordinate), I had so often and regularly been called out by some senior bullies to “bask in the cold,” as they cynically called it, that I had quickly overcome my initial fear of the nippy Kwahu early-morning and late-night temperatures.
“Basking in the cold” was a routine form of punishment for any number of infractions, ranging from failure to dress up one's bed before leaving one's dormitory for the classroom and the morning assembly, which took place at the PERSCO pavilion at 6:45.
“Basking in the cold” could also be the result of one's failure to dress up the bed of a Sixth-Former before leaving for class and the morning assembly; or it could simply mean failing to sweep one's dormitory by turn.
This hazing process was quite simple. The bully dishing out the punishment ordered his victim to furl himself with his blanket and then follow the bully into the bathroom, whereupon the victim, or subordinate student was ordered to go under any of the several communal showers which was then turned on at full-blast for three to five minutes, after which the thoroughly drenched subordinate was ordered to stand close to the balcony in front of the dormitory until one's teeth began to chatter up to the deafening decibel of a thermal power generator. A few students took seriously ill as a direct result of “basking in the cold,” but hardly anybody reported this patently cruel and unusual punishment to any of our housemasters. It is quite certain that virtually all of our housemasters knew about the sort of medieval hazing that was being meted to the subordinate students; some of them were National-Service Teachers, which means that they had themselves been Sixth-Formers only about five years or less. And who knows, very likely what they had themselves callously visited upon their subordinates of yesteryear was exactly what was now savagely being visited on us.
“People, our truck has been burnt to ashes by the MPASS boys! Abongo has been seriously hurt by brutal beatings, and one PERSCOBA has been murdered in cold blood.”
It was the latter fragment of the report, panted out of breath by Kpuli, that rudely raised our hackles, as it were. I had by then finished brushing my teeth and quickly opened my locker to pull out my machete and in no time at all, I had joined a legion of fellow PERSCOVITES at the school's main gate. Soon, we were on our way to settle scores with those beasts who had dared us into an epic contest between the Stygian forces of darkness and destruction, on the one hand, and the civilized and creative forces of light, quintessentially personified by us PERSCOVITES, on the other.
We had taken the main vehicular route to Mpraeso, which soon turned out to have been a grave mistake. Barely a mile into our three-mile journey, many of us began to sweat profusely and seemed to have prematurely run out of breath. Those among us who were agile enough had begun to jump onto the stepping boards of passenger buses and mammy-wagons wheezing past us. They were going ahead to wait for the rest of the group at the old church cemetery across the street from MPASS, they had promised. We would shortly learn that these were the smart-alecks. Almost every one of them, and there were quite a remarkable number of them, had shot past MPASS and gone straight to their villages and hometowns.
In retrospect, we could have acted wisely enough by dissuading these cowards from clambering onto those buses and mammy-wagons. After all, did not strength and unity lie in numbers?
Back then, though, all that mattered most was simply getting to the campus of the Mpraeso Secondary School and promptly and condignly teaching those sons-of-whores and bitches how not to ever mess with PERSCOVITES till kingdom come.
“Fanta Boys!” somebody shouted, and we all promptly broke into a thunderous chant. And such chant, to be certain, made perfect sense to us, since we had also contemptuously nicknamed the MPASS girls “Fanta Girls.” From time to time, as one passed by the front of the school, one could vividly see the bold inscription of “Fanta Girls” etched all over the cactus plants that graced the otherwise quite majestic approaches to the school.
In the wake of the total conflagration of our school truck, about the only person who appeared to be visibly irked by our great craving for revenge was Father Josef Glatzel, our headmaster. He would shortly post a letter mailed to him by a recent PERSCO graduate, Senior Emmanuel Asante, of Augustine House, on the main-campus bulletin board next to the Dining Hall. Senior Asante was a freshman at the University of Ghana, Legon, reading English. The gist of his letter alluded to the fact that Mpraeso science students routinely begged their way onto our PERSCO campus to avail themselves of our state-of-the-art laboratories.
In his letter, Senior Asante counseled Father Glatzel to cease his magnanimous gesture to MPASS forthwith, in order to teach “these ungrateful cormorants” a rude and memorable lesson.
A brief note by Father Glatzel, attached to the bottom of Senior Asante's letter, characterized the letter as being “troglodytic” and “regressively mean-spirited and totally unbecoming of a St. Peter's graduate, who was supposed to set an intelligent and civilized example for all his peers to follow.”
At the time, however, we were, almost all every one of us, quite bewildered by our headmaster's rather timid response to patent and savage outrage and privately regarded Father Glatzel to be off his proverbial rockers. For here we were justifiably seeking retributive justice and “Owudo” preaching gratuitous charitableness of spirit.
Looking back almost thirty years later, I realize to my utter embarrassment the rather obvious and basic fact that Father Glatzel was looking at the bigger picture, whereas the rest of us, blindly ensconced in our little fragmented worlds, confused collective self-alienation with the wisdom of the ages, as it were.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “When Dancers Play Historians and Thinkers,” a forthcoming essay collection on postcolonial Ghanaian politics. E-mail: [email protected]
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