I watched Frank give high-fives to a group of boys sitting in the middle of class. Some of them got up and sat backwards over their desks putting their feet up on the seats, immediately trying to impress him. Sitting that way was forbidden. I scribbled their names: Benjamin, Paul, Chimezie, Obinna. I hesitated and looked over. Frank spread his legs wider on his seat. He held my gaze for what seemed like a minute before looking away. He seemed bored. I put my pen to the paper again. ‘Frank’.
To be fair, he was not doing what he was supposed to which was, reading the chapter we were assigned. It wasn’t as if I was punishing him for ignoring me all last week, but putting his name down in the ‘Noise makers’ list for the teacher gave me a small frisson of pleasure. Serve him right for treating me like I was a nobody.
“Hia, are you still hating him?” said Chinenye beside me. She was looking at the list which I had forgotten to cover up with my exercise book as usual.
“Who says I hate him?” I covered up the list and rearranged the expression on my face.
“Then why did you write his name ‘x3’? He is only sitting down there. Other people are shouting more than him.” I looked over to where he was sitting again. Aware of my eyes, Frank turned his body so that he could no longer see me. I bit the tip of my pen and contemplated changing the ‘x3’ to ‘x5’.
“I did that because he is responsible for all the boys making noise. They are only trying to behave like Americana that’s why they are sitting that way. Why doesn’t he just go back to his seat?” Chinenye looked me in the face. “You hate him,” she said and turned back to her books. I was distracted by a movement to my left.
“What are you doing?” A boy grabbed the corner of the paper and tried to slide it out from under my exercise book. “Go back to your seat now or I will write your name twenty times and you will cut grass until your fingers bleed.”
“I am trying to see if you wrote my name. I know you wrote my name. Why are you so wicked?” I refused to respond. I could not confirm or deny his accusations. I did not have to answer. The teacher had placed me in charge. I pressed my hands down on my book. He pulled harder. I leaned into my hands with my chest. I could feel the paper slipping out.
“Stop it!” I said. “You’re going to tear it and then you’ll definitely be in trouble.”
“Give it to me then, and I will not have to take it. Let me just see if you wrote my name…”
“No!” The commotion was drawing everyone’s attention. I stood up and threw myself over the paper just as I heard it rip. The boy held it over his head and laughed. I threw myself at him.
“Eh, Obinna your name is here o. Amaka so is yours…” I hit him in the belly but it didn’t seem to connect somehow. The named people started shouting. Voices flew at me from all sides of the classroom. I stomped on the boy’s feet, he winced and continued reading, but his voice was starting to register pain. I knew I had to keep trying before he got to…
“Frank, she wrote your name too. Times three.” My arms dropped to my sides. I could not look up. The silence in class grew until it was a living thing. Some of my classmates stared at me open mouthed as if I had reached into the sky, plucked the sun and shoved it, burning hot, into my anus. My brow furrowed and my breath felt hot on my top lip. Who was Frank anyway? Was he God? Why could I not write his name? I opened my mouth to ask as much.
“Hey let her go.” He looked at me. “She gotta do what she gotta do.” Shame twisted in my belly. I snatched the piece of paper back. ‘Ebere Nnemurumkuja – Grass cutting (for spying and snatching)’ I made sure the boy saw his name written in capital letters before I sat down.
The noise resumed in earnest and grew and grew. I knew what they were doing. They were daring me to write all their names. I brought out my pen and scribbled furiously….suddenly I was tired. I crumpled up the piece of paper and stuck it in my bag.
“What the hell is going on here? Where is Mrs Nwankpa?” The boys scrambled to take their seats, ending up in the wrong places and getting shoved about. Someone landed on their back in the aisle and struggled to right themselves.
“She put us in charge sir, she’s just gone to the admin office.”
“She did eh? Well, I can see from the board that you are meant to be reading Chapter 5 of your Social Studies text books but many of you, especially you boys over there,” he pointed with his cane causing a collective shiver in the room, “Were busy chatting as if this is a marketplace. Who is in charge of ‘Names of Noisemakers’?”
All eyes swiveled towards me.