I was drowsy.
The sun had reached that point – usually after Break – when it dominated everything including the wind, into submission. Inside the classrooms, the air sat still and heavy. Pupils repeated phrases and sentences after teachers in a lifeless buzz. They sounded intoxicated. I tried to concentrate on my notes but the words swam.
“They sound like they are having fun,” said Chinenye, gripping the edge of the bench. I looked out of the window at my classmates. They were by the school dump site moving piles of rubbish further into the bush with anything they could lay their hands on; bits of cardboard, rusted sheets of zinc roofing, and their hands and feet. Some of the girls stopped several times to spit into the sand at the edge of the dump site. Someone flung something in a black polythene bag which exploded at their feet. They screamed. In the shade of 6E, Mr Nwokeocha shouted a warning before returning to his newspaper.
“That doesn’t look like fun to me. That place must be smelling.” Chinenye’s eyes blazed a path down the side of my face.
“I don’t know why you didn’t just write everyone’s name and be done with it. We could have all been there now, instead of having to stay in and read.” She turned back to the window.
“Since when did you have a thing against reading?” I looked at her. She was the class swot. I hated her because she never let me come first in class for a whole year. We took it in turns; sometimes she was first and I was second, other times I was first. Our parents knew this and encouraged the competition. She beat me more times than I did her on the strength of her Maths. I wiped the floor with her in English. Sometimes, it felt like our friendship was spent more in rivalry than anything else.
“Besides,” I continued “I had no choice in the matter. Teacher U-U pointed out more people for me to include and I obeyed him. Did you want him to flog me? Maybe they shouldn’t all have been shouting when he came in.” Chinenye was barely listening. I followed her eyes and saw that the boys were now attacking the elephant grass thriving all over the dump. Some of them had taken off their shirts to stop them from getting sweaty. Frank was like the sun’s brother in his white vest. It hurt to look directly at him.
“It must be so hot out there now.” Chinenye put her hands in her hair. Her finger tips turned white and red as she bound and unbound them with strands of her hair. Her hands stilled. “I’m going outside. I will take them my water.”
“What? Are you crazy? Why would you want to do that?”
“We were all making noise, including you. You fought with Ebere in class. You should have put your name down. I was talking to you so I should have been on the list. The only person who kept quiet was Chioma.” She gestured behind us. The girl in question didn’t even acknowledge her name.
“Yes, you were talking but you weren’t making noise. I was writing ‘Names of Noisemakers’ as I was told, not ‘Names of Talkers’. And I didn’t fight with Ebere, I was trying to get back my paper which was not his business…” Chinenye grabbed her bottle of water and tried to get out in front of me. “No.” I said. “They will write it in your report card if you go out there. Besides, your water is small.” I pointed at the bottle in her hand. “You have less than half remaining and that bottle is too small. Even if it were full it wouldn’t be enough.”
“I’ll pour it myself. We’ll manage.” She crawled under the desk and sneaked out the door. A round of applause went up as Chinenye appeared at the edge of the dump. I saw Mr Nwokeocha look up. Chinenye walked up to him, gesticulating towards the dump. He nodded and wrote down something then he went back to his paper.
Chinenye walked round with her bottle, pouring sips of water into open mouths. She got to Frank and paused. He crouched over a tangle of grass. Planting his feet, he pulled hard and earth flew everywhere. Frank staggered and barely managed to stay upright. He turned to where Chinenye stood shaking her hair and brushing at her clothes. He looked concerned. Chinenye handed him the water bottle and continued to brush the dirt off her clothes. She bent at the waist and tapped her hair. Frank put the bottle down and leaned over to help her.
My heart thudded in my chest. Frank pointed at her socks. Chinenye unbuckled her sandals and stood on one foot to take off a sock. She wobbled. Frank reached out to steady her. Chinenye put her heel on the ground and turned the sock inside out. She flicked it several times and stood on one leg again to put it on. Frank took the sock from her and slid it over her foot. I looked away from the window. My eyes hurt. My throat hurt. I tried to go back to my text book but the words mocked my efforts by running around. Something tickled the right side my face. I reached up to brush it away and my hand came away moist. The bell rang. The punishment was over. I did not turn around when my classmates trooped into class.
Ebere walked up to me and smacked an open palm on my desk. “Now that you own the whole classroom, I hope you enjoyed it.” Some of his friends laughed. He swaggered back to his seat. I tried not to look at Frank and Chinenye as they brought up the rear. Frank was holding up his palm and Chinenye was examining it as if she was a doctor.
“Wow, you should see the marks on Frank’s hand. The grass really cut into it. There was even some small-small blood but he says it doesn’t hurt. I don’t think these Americanas are as weak as we thought.” I said nothing. Chinenye looked over at me. “What is wrong with you? Why are you so quiet?”
“You stink.” I replied.