PROLOGUE

It always becomes temporarily better in a way which appears the worst.

Very far away... very, very far away I can hear and see them. Strangely, I can do these even though they are yet to speak or materialize. They spring out of the thin dust and invade our world, earth. In the twinkle of an eye and a single moment; thy materialize. They become real. And as the ground violently trembles under their countless, running feet, I remain where I am, without moving a single inch away. I continue yo ser and listen. It is as astonishing as it must be to see a donkey or goat fly, that I could be so courageous, so fearless. It is much beyond the imagination of what I could naturally be. As the invading, ghostly army of powerful beings surges far across the earth, toward me, thy become increasingly more vivid, increasingly more real. And even more baffling about my courage now is the fact that I have hardly ever imagined or come across a scene and an army such as that which approaches now. My subconscious mind therefore asks me;

Who, or what, are these?

And, very frankly, I don't know. They only surely are not human or mortal. They could be an army of angels or demons or gods. This coul be a battle of immortals about to happen. And I am at the same time on the pinnacle of a catholic tower; perhaps the highest point of our city, for I can see the rest of it splayed out like a little; alive map in front of me. As the army surges forward and grows in number and power, there are screams echoing. They are crumbling our world, all that mankind is and has achieved for himself. Our mortal weapons are powerless against them and they can hardly be stopped.

The surging army is led by a mighty, fierce-looking warrior, whom, strangely I recognize to be Kehani. Yes, Kehani. I have never even heard about him before now yet I know him. And I sense that, in very same vane, he must know me. The warriors behind him- now that they take distinct forms and shapes -are all in his likeness; dust-coloured giants covered in linen and golden armour, with spears and strange swords and axes in their hands. But for their rage and might, it is almost comical, in our world, in this twenty-first century, to see them. They are like a depiction of murderers from a horrifying account of the something-B.C Kanuri war. I have little time as it is to identify very distinctly how they are similar, yet it is obvious that they are. They are of one blood. And perhaps I, being apparently the enemy, am of another. But how come? Who am I and who are they?

My present self is one who cam think yet can hardly speak. He is one who would hardly be able to accept or answer that question. So I would leave it for lar; for the other version of me, from.a different time and world. My courage now knows no bounds. I do not run away the pinnacle trembles an crumbles gradually under me. There are a few, faint remembrances of what I am, in the other world; what I should be, yet these too disappear into the growing wind as fast as my mortality and my fear. In my right hand, there is a weapon. In my ears there are sounds.

I am sorry for everything; says one of them. I could have warned you.I am so sorry, Lenu... I only wanted you to be safe.

I may have heard that word before ...Safe.

Anything can happen in a single moment; whispers another. like a brushing. ominous breeze past me. Anything.

I hold the weapon in my hand before me, watching grimly as everything happens. Awaiting the worst. I feel suddenly that my entire body is aflame, burning with wild fire that swarms all around me. The warrior in front of the approaching army looks up that same moment, and our eyes meet even across a distance of several kilometers, hard with a deep hatred as old as several centuries. He growls and screams as he sees me.

"Come! die, Kahani-i-i!"

Kahani. He calls me Kahani. Yet that is not my name. And in spite of it I remain still, waiting, listening at the sound of the word with which he calls me and which I have never known to be my name. Perhaps now it is. Anything can happen in a single moment.

"I would not run away from you," I say in a low voice, which I hears even above the turmoil and across the distance. "You breached the covenant, Kehani. You will die, not me."

Then I leap high into the clouds,.falling down the pinnacle. For a split second I expect myself yo scream but I do not. I rather descend on mighty wings which materialize out of thin air on each side of me, reaching the ground with great speed and a loud cry. The rival army is only a little distance away now. A thousand against one. As I run toward them, raising the weapon high in the air with me, I realize that I have soon become no longer alone. There is a multitude rising out of nothing all around me, running with me, running for the same cause and in the same name. Like the multitude running with my enemy, we are all of the same blood. So now it is complete, as the prophecy of the world of Achaele; which also means Seal of God, predicted. The final battle of the brothers the end of the universe. Kahani against Kehani. Angels against gods and demons. The prophecy predicts the existence but not the outcome, of the end. So it is destined in neither our favours. For me, this is a battle above all others. It must be won.

"Let us go!" I shout army that follows me; my brothers, as it appears.."We would conquer!"

They let out a nearly unified, animalistic cry of rage and triumph as we plunge forward like darts of dust and fire and pound the earth beneath our feet. Where is my mortality? I think fleetingly to myself. Well. it is gone for now forgotten, as it always is when I have lost it. To be mortal is a little dull and hurtful. I am presently in the very midst of what you would only see in a most exotic kind of epic movie showing in a cinema for the affluent and insane. I am presently like a superhero in a comic book for teens; infinite in speed and power and ability. The thrill of power is beyond me. The rival army bares it's own weapons as we draw closer across the destroyed and chaotic world, the blades catching skylight and gleaming dazzling-ly. Our collision is imminent and would be disastrous. Who knows; I think; this could be a reality after all; a glimpse of the end even before the beginning. I have a terrible inkling that it might be.

Then, suddenly a voice which is very out-of-place on the present situation, calls me.

"Lenu!"

My startled mind wonders; What the?-

"Wake up, you foooool!"

Shit! That must be from the real world. And have I told you yet that my real world is of a most unanimated and uninteresting kind? Well, happy you,; now you know. But who knows? that too could change soon. Anything can happen in a single moment.

I try to get my bearings in the face of ny advancing enemies and the voice shouts again.

"Lenu! God knows I'm gong to whip this boy!"

Hell no; I think suddenly. I've got yo get back before things get uglier on the other side already are here. Yet it was only a moment of relent. I never really was far gone. Talk about a little sleep and a little slumber- or a little closing of the eyes. Anyway, I open them now. I'm off.

"Siiir!" I yell in reply as I jump up and out of bed.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2019

Dear... Whoever;

Today, I have no idea what the hell I am.

I hope it doesn't baffle or irritate you that I have said this, especially because if it does, unfortunately I wouldn't likely notice anyway, because right noe my eyes are closed.

...Closed yet conscious as a squirrel (sorry for the queer comparison).

I know when the thin, red arm of the clock ticks and I know where the other two, broader arms are at every moment, spinning painfully-patiently across the surface of that 2D circle far away in the front room. Yeah, I sleep quite far from where the clock is- the frontroom, I repeat -which is where Banny might be sleeping now. Like me he sleeps at odd times and in odd postures and in odd places. Poor guy. Once I saw the man fully dozing with his head lolling out of the window in the drizzle of July and his shoulders on the metal pane and his legs kneeling with ragged jeans on the concrete floor. Banny is one good guy whose life would have done better(I presumably almost guarantee) with some sensible sleep. It would make him less grumpy and drawling, and less goof-eyed and les flabby-bellied (never, ever, tell anybody I said that) and less mad.

And, talking of the word Mad... Talking of the devil. Back to me.

My eyelids tremble restlessly over my eyes despite all my hardwork to keep them still as as deadman's. Although the sun is still far too shy to show itself, it is morning now. Another, shitty day like every other... Oh, thank God for life. I know it's coming. I hear nothing yet I sense it, amd think dismally to myself;

Shit! that madman's on the way

"Rrraaaagh! Lenu!"

What a hurtfully precise prediction. I flash open my eyes just in time to fly off the bed, spinning out of the way as the heavy stick comes crashing down on the poor bed. The bed frame itself groans from the pain and shock, giving way with a hollow crash. Banny is not nearly done yet. Lenu must pay with his life.

"Hraaahh! Wake up early!" he yells, his eyes and his moustache and the stick wild as it flies again, missing my square head by only a few lucky inches. Wow! thank God I'm so fast.

"I'm up Sir!" I yell. "Up! Up!"

"Yes, Fool!.Up!" Banny roars, swinging his weapon all the more with clenched teeth and wicked determination. I duck beneath one another, again and again as I scheme and scramble for the door. One of these mad mornings, I'm going to get killed. Do they have child abuse agencies in this country? Does anybody cares the fuck about what happens to me, to me, to me, in this place?!

The stick relents a little as Banny catches his breath and I fly out the narrow door of life that same split second in a sliding tackle, like Messi. I told you I was that good. Crap! The band of my pyjamas trousers leaves my waist and acts like a horse rope around my legs. I wonder sme times who really changes between us, Do I get lankier or does the damned cloth grow baggier? This is the devil's stop me. However he fails. I escape into the narrow, oil lamp-lit hallway.

I might caption this DAY 1, for your own convenience. However bear in mind that this is indeed DAY 11; 11th since I last slept.

Well, don't ask me why, because that I would surely provide; I would like to gradually tell you rather than confuse you with a few ridiculous sentences all at once. And don't ask me how, either, because that I really don't know.

I think that I don't suck at so many things as everybody assumes that I do, but at this one I indeed suck. Acknowledged. There is very little about everything which I know or can account for, and even what I know, can account for only a little.

I googled (with a samsung bought after three years of saving since I was eleven, and religiously hidden from Banny) about some similar characters and possibilities. The results? well, too far-fetchedly ridiculous I almost drowned the phone in a muddy pond. Wikipedia and Quora and some middle-aged men sitting in dark corners far across the world and writing long and frightening nonsense. The possibility of non-sleep was said akin to... what were they again?... Werewolves, Vampires, Talisman-weiling confidence men, buggers sniffers (like Banny. hehe). The biology said you could get bitten by some not-too-friendly arthropods and it could change your character, like the tse-tse, maybe. It made me remember Peter Parker; Spider man. So I was being likened to a marvel super guy. How pleasantly flattering. It could flatter Queen Elizabeth of England and make her dance like Micheal Jackson.

...Shit no.

Who the heck would believe that? Even kindergarten guys in this century, no. I couldn't be spider man. And although I had unfortunately pissed off the white rat at Biology practicals and it bit me hard in the hand, I couldn't be Ratman, either. Ratman would suck and I don't quite suck.

I know that I can keep to it but I just somehow don't. I know I don't need to sleep in order to be healthy or to survive. To sleep for me is terrible, like a journey of a sort to somewhere in nowhere. Yet I do sleep sometimes anyway. More often than not.

And Oh, I must not leave out the guy who attacked me so suddenly. I must tell you about him... Well. what fo I know?... Barnabas got married to my mother before she died- and after ny father had died. Which means he is, quite unfortunately; my Step Father. And, please bear this firmly in your mind any time I mention his name; Banny, after now. I know he would act mad and I hereby deny any bloodlinks to all that massive madness... Yes, as I continue, Banny had a daughter before he married , and she is called Mickey- absurd for a lady, right? In any case I don't think Mickey is any normal lady, although for now I cannot give clear details about her own kind of madness, since it is a little twist of Banny's which I am most familiar to by now. Banny is mad in an annoying way that could make you mad, yet want to laugh out loud or smack his head- if you can -Banny's like a hybrid of Godzilla and King-Kong, mind you. But Mickey- her real name is Nichole, mind you also -is mad in a way that makes you know that she is yet prevents you from knowing just how, or how much. With that said, I imagine you would be gracious enough not yo expect me to account too much for the daughter as her father. Oh, I suspect you won't, yet let me give a small example; t took me nine-minths to realize, and to convince myself and to believe that the lady wasn't dumb. Yes, buddy. Nine whole, hefty, donkey months of brooding and watching and sneaking and stalking and imagining and thinking and praying and crying... you just name it. And the lady was only three years-old then- she is twelve now -so you can imagine. year-old lady. Not talking a damn thing at the age when a human being should ordinarily blab and shit and fight and cry the most. I only achieved the success of my confirm-this-gal-isn't-dumb study by observing that Banny did signs to her. often implied. or was treated as an implication, of deafness. However the madman simply spoke to his dumb daughter and the two mad people got along fine. So it dawned on me then (and thank God it did so early) that;

1.) I was on my goddamn own

and

2.) In the midst of mad people

So here I am today; nine years later. That is exactly how I came to become what I am. So please don't blame me too fast or too totally. I had to become mad or be left completely out, thank you very much for understanding. You are a good baby... When she was five or six Mickey however began to say a few intelligible words to my hearing, like "Hi" and "Yes" amd "No", you know; all that minor conversational fragmental stuff.

... back to the reality of the present. I'm still running from the madman behind me. Banny's footsteps always sound like little slaps on the floor; the louder they get the faster you can tell he is moving. Pretty much gives the guy away anyway- you should ask me why I haven't always been safe still -but, yeah, the guy is cold weird, and it makes him detectable. A moving astonishing bizarreness, I tell you, though good-naturedly too. And Oh, let me acknowledge that Banny has successfully made me a bit of a super-sensed, super-subtle-duper scurri-er. In order to escape him I guess my senses of sight and smell and hearing have all heightened a bit, you know, above the normal. So most often he just has to be within two hundred meters- maybe even three or four -for me to detect his dreadful arrival, and of course disappear. Say; he is coming around the rectangular winding wall that leads from our rickety back door to the indoors and I am in the kitchen- I rummage a lot, just for boredom's same - with his much-worshipped, obscure new brand of beer under my scrutiny. All I have to do is sniffle the air twice for his Papa's body spray, prickle my ears for the tiny slapping sound on the floor and I'm off through the window of the toilet, two hundred meters away fron the entire house before he even gets in. And I would stifle laughter when his angry, disembodied voice echoes after me.

"You fool! Leave my beer!"

I would picture him holding the beer bottle which I had left on the counter in haste, standing stiff with rage and astonishment in of the kitchen. Then he would take a stick and look for me. Poor guy, he never figured out how I used to disappear from the entire house -until seven months back, that is, when I ran too fast to bolt the window shut from behind and he nailed two hard boards across that little gate of life. So I guess that thrill is likely over for me now, since I'm neither getting any younger. Fourteen. An old man of fourteen. I feel my abs weakening already, and perhaps my head would begin it's journey to baldness soon. Yuck. Somehow to be older stinks. You know what you could do but you don't because you can't any more. You ought yo be a grownup now; to be responsible and to talk in a low, drawling and deep, Papa voice and chase lanky lads around at odd hours with big sticks. Oh Lord take my soul at once... I don't want to get old.

"Come here!" Banny yells behind me as I dived through the narrow door of the bathroom in to dark safety. The door itself is as scary as Banny; having falling perhaps on every other day of every year since we moved in- which is almost as far back as the -Banny got fed up and at his command I nailed an aluminium sheet in place of it, turning the heavy door itself into a funny kind of barbell which I lift above my head repeatedly on any dull evening that finds Banny not around and myself alone (Mickey can almost be said to be a ghost), seeking how to feel good about myself. I doubt anybody can cheat the proper thing, anyway. My biceps never seemed to rise by even a thousandth of an inch and other boys still called me "Stick".

The moment my body tumbled into the narrow enclosure I banged the roofng-sheet-door shut so that the aluminium crackled along with my yelling.

"Raaah! I would get you when you are out. Wale up early!"

He just said Good Morning, I think with a sigh as the shower- a hose arched high on a six-inch-nail -turned on above me. You have to turn on the tap below to use it. The water cascades down in a single, dense spurt over my body as I stand still under it, shivering, doing nothing else. Most often I do nothing else for the first minute, then I feel around for the soap. Four minutes at most is all you can use for a bath or else Banny would crash the door and bath with you- of course in the disastrous company of his big stick. I always need to let the invisible dirt wash off before the visible. The invisible is more powerful... Which brings me after a long encircling journey, back to the center of my ordeal on this crazy day. As I soap my hair with closed eyes I think of what is happening to me, what has always seemed to happen. There it is and yet it cannot be described, being the most worrisome aspect. I know about the other realm, the other reality and the other side; the other me, yet have no idea what it or I really am. Of recent, I made a grim decision not to sleep, that isn't too nice in itself, as it accentuates the ab-normalcy to me; the fact that I can stay awake all year round and get away with it- the fact that I don't need to sleep at all. I was forced to ask google- please let nobody know about that -what I could possibly be. Had anything such as that existed ever at all? Had anybody any similar experiences? Well, th results of my search? So terrifying that I altogether forsook it. Quora and Wikipedia and some blogs here and there making allusions to all shapes amd sizes of things. Of a sudden. vampires and shape-shifters and U. flooded the already messy picture, with Illorin witches suddenly flooding the air in my dingy den on broomsticks, cackling and slashing at me with machetes in their left hands. Anyway I knew and know that I couldn't be a vampire or shape-shifter or U.F.O for all the crap I know. Those things start and end in movies for blockheads to watch and cry and be fascinated about. I'm not a blockhead and I don't believe.

And while I ponder about all that, today is in itself special- if being utterly miserable can be considered a sign of being special. I'm going to the Government College... Shet. Before now I've been lucky to long predict that this bad day would come anyway. Banny always loved that kind of thing. Government stuff was cheap and he liked cheap stuff. "Get a government job;" he would say. "You won't worry about losing it. It would be stable." Banny himself has busted is ass trying to become a teacher at the Government College. He studied Physics and made a Two-One. But No Jobs; they would always tell him. This government's administration is not for you. Sit down and stay poor. No Vacancy... Banny is a believer; he still images one day there would be a special government and a special job, crafted and placed by Jehovah, just for him- and please bear in mind that we are Witnesses, too. I hate to but kinda hope it works out for him too. At least he would be using the big stick on other boys then, not just me. Paramount among my concerns about the school is that of bullies. They say there are guys about twenty-one years old in that place who would call you up and make you hop around after taking your shirt and pants and whipping you with their belts and extorting you. Somehow it sounds like an act for Idi Amin or Sani Abacha or someone else like that. I'm lanky and might pass fot an easy and amusing prey, and the very thought makes me sick... Well you can't judge anything too soon. I know I'd get to see for myself.

I open the crackling door very carefully, so it doesn't sound too loud and doesn't cut me with it's edge, and I peer into the hallway for any sign of my madman. Phew! Banny's not there. I see the oil lamp flickering tremulously on the floor, out of kerosene, maybe. Taking my clothes from the nail on the wall with a shivering-freezing hand I open the door fully with the other, then I dash through to the safety of my room, my nakedness flashing with a trail of water down the hallway till I half-skid-half-tumble into the scattered, safe space. Men, this place is in a mess; I think glumly to myself as I pull the leather trunk out from under the heap of clothes on which I sleep. My bed is a heap of my and Mickey's babyclothes and I'm damn proud to argue it is the most comfortable contraption mankind has ever invented, if you are an easy-going, simple-minded man, like I think I am. Banny arranged the space which should have been a small, kitchen-side pantry for me to sleep some three years ago, when the menace of my snoring in the front room had become unbearable. I wonder sometimes what Banny would think or do if I ever dare mention that all my snoring was a conscious and deliberate and desperate measure to convince he and Mickey that I slept when I didn't. He would certainly need more than his big stick to correct my backside on that one. Maybe he would borrow a horsewhip, or a machete for me. Mickey later grew too old to be afraid of the dead boy- the son of the preceding tenants of our flat who had killed himself in the one bedroom of the house. The idea of the boy killing himself is one which I remember as having given me the craziest notions about killing yourself. Maybe it wasn't so bad; I had thought. So long as you do it in the only bedroom of your flat and because you just want to sleep a long, deep sleep. A long deep sleep would be fun; I thought, although I never had it. Once when Banny was away I tried to do as the boy had done, with sme bleach from the bathroom. A deep long sleep wouldn't be bad. It didn't work. Maybe I wasn't as blessed as the other boy. Then I tried other things. Kerosene, diesel, a knife. I later discovered that people did what that boy had done when they were 'depressed' and that if I had done it I would have been called 'depressed' also. I was not depressed and only wanted a good sleep, like what other people had. The bottom line in any case; it didn't work. Neither the bleach nor the diesel nor the knife. I could not sleep, under any condition or by any means... That was when I knew something was likely to be seriously wrong.

I take out the folded uniform from the trunk. This is the only surviving vestige of my mother and father; Banny said (not directly to me) that- according to my mother of course -they had "only a brown leather trunk of old clothes first arrived Port Harcourt, so in the absence of any other around I guess this is the one. It has been my pillow for some donkey years now. And I won't lie to you that when I lay my head on the thing I hear any angelically sad voice whispering to me; 'Lenu, find and fulfill your destiny, my so-o-o-n' , or that I feel sad, even. I simply have no memories to substantiate the reality of my parents' ever having existed. I barely knew them and sometimes it seems almost funny to think how they appeared to have competed for who dies first. My father was off with the fairies when I was three nonths-shy of the world and my mother raced after him in my second year; back to back. Oh I admit now, there is a little tinge of sadness to it- just a little and I always catch myself; I really don't like the feeling of being sad, and I think it won't do any good any way. My mother's death still hurts Banny however, although I perceive it might be the associated horror of thinking that every wife he marries dies almost at once (that guy might be really cursed with the wife-death-disease after all, haha), and coupled with the habitual madness of his character, it makes a disastrous, depress-able mix waiting for the smallest sparks to be ignited. For sme reason he took all her pictures and hid them away, and if you ever mention my mother, he bits the shit out of you. Till now I don't know what she looked like because Banny hid the pictures and my real parents, for all I know, have no siblings or family to provide a picture. and I would be damned to ever stick out my square head to find any or demand for any, either. Banny would decimate me. So nobody ever mentions the fact that there were any other, real parents and I call the madman 'Pepa' and the lady 'Sister' and I guess till now we've got along just fine- in way, ot course that is.

Whoooh, now here is today. Lawd, today! The ninth of the ninth of the ninth (if we the 1 in 19) and I'm destiny-bound to the most vaunted-ly despicable secondary school any government was ever barbaric enough to establish on earth. Not too surprising for a date which when turned upside down would look like the number of you-knoiw-who-I-mean: the beast, that is. So in the end it is off to the barracks which they call a school. Nothing can or would save ne now. And whole I think about all of it, the thought occurs suddenly to me. I heard the suckers down there wear blazers. Now that I am one of them, I would wear a blazer too. God! can it get any worse than it already is?, I think. Come on Satan, you've doen your worst already. Come one. Give your best shot left. I'm bullet-proof now... Or please don't. I know how bad things happen than good. Don't amaze me any further Sir.

"Wait up Sir!"

I'm always in a mess. Yeah, congratulations to me. The madguy on his first day to a place of madness, from yet another place of madness. No chaotic arrangement can ever exceed this one. I have my bag strangling my neck with it's single, battered arm which has survived it's brother for four hard years now. My biro is stuck behind my left ear- give the blame for that ine to Banny and the family business, not me dear - and I am half-skipping, half-prancing on one shoed foot while trying to shoe the other, my new trousers below the waist, dragging and trailing me along like a rope of rags. The shirt- do I remember I am wearing a shirt? -is askew at the collar and the check blue tie is like another noose, exsanguinating the life out of my already baffles self as I crash and roll and tumble out of the flat, yelling and flying with the heroics of James Bonde- kindly spell the guy's name correctly for me if it is wrong. In the truck, Banny casts me a habitual, nastily-disgusted-not-knowing-what-to-do-with-this-boy looks as he battles the protesting stirring. I race hard after him. He can't let me trek the thousand miles to that outdated prison on the first sad fay. He can't leave me. I won't let him.

"Wait!" I roar, my limbs flailing by my sides as uncordinatedly as my mind as I scamper toward him, leaving the door open (Banny and I hardly care about the door, any thief with a brain would be sensible enough to keep away from a place as our flat even in our absence).

"Raaaah! You run up! F-o-o-l!" he yells, obviously frustrated as always. I catch up with the speeding thing and dived like a goal keeper into the tray behind, rattling into the rusty vessel of hammers and nails and pincers with the sound of nuclear bombs in the Nazi war. Yeah, that was fun. Hurtful, disgusting fun, but fun anyway. Especially for you if you live as perpetually dully as I have to in this God-forsaken city. In this Godforsaken tray I would forget my crazy reality for a little moment. Oh yes, only a little moment is beautiful enough, when you are deceiving yourself. In the truck behind me I can hear one of Banny's back of beyond jams on the back-of-beyond, wires-jutting-out-hit-and-start contraption. A horrid voice is messing up the atmosphere in there now. I listen over the rickety clangs and clutters and jumps of the truck... This world is not my own... Shet. Who on earth would listen to such sad jams so early on a bad Monday morning? Amd he expects to live long and healthy and happy? I know the madman is nodding now and (with clenched teeth) I envision him hunched over the stirring with his back-of-beyond, unsmiling face. Banny is like a barrel of tobacco in the cramped, crumbling driver's seat; which itself is too hilarious to ever see. I guess people in Tahali are tired of being shocked at the sight of us anyway. One mad man and two slaves in a cramped truck apparently manufactured no later than 2000Bc, speeding across a pothole-riddled, awakening street with absurd songs playing and the sound of rattling and a massive cloud of smoke and dust that might as well require fire service to extinguish. I smile to myself tightly as we speed on, not seeing the countless, scowling faces that glare at our out-of-this-world, blockbuster exotic scene. It is good however that I hardly bother myself to think about what others think. If I can't think for anybody else, why so much as attempt? Only now does Mickey occur to me again. Oh, pheew,.Mickey. Yeah, yeah,.Mickey. It shames me that for a while today I forgot she exists, and I hate to acknowledge that momentarily it made me mire lively. With one foot wedging my body rigidly to the steel, I look back through the glass behind me and see her, in her habitual corn-rows/ponytail amd with her Sisters of Mercy (which I call "Mary-Magdalene") white tunic and red beret, sitting in the small space beside Banny and staring at th rough rad ahead, rocking this way and that with the vehicle, not saying a word. I scuff to myself inaudibly. Like Dolly Parton and Great Khali. Oh man, so much to make even a gravedigger laugh.

"What is it?!" Banny yells over the voice on the mp now and I stiffen right were I am. We sink into a gully now, the truck trembling and rattling like it would burst apart.

"Whuh?" I blurt with bafflement.

"What? What are you smiling at me for?!"

I now his eyes are in the overhead rearview mirror, glaring at my face. Oh, he caught me red-handed om that one.

... "Nothing Sir! I... I was trying to, to check... to check..."

-"Hraah! Check your head! Or I'd get my big stick for your head!"

"Yessir!" I reply as heartily as possible as the truck suddenly huddles to a bone-rattling halt. I whirl now as the door falls out of it's place with a shove of Banny's big, angry hand. I flinch as th hand jabs into the tray next to me, rummaging frantically and violently as Banny rambles under his voice. "You rat! I would deal with you!"

He locates the huge pincers close to my foot and yanks it out, stumping hurriedly to the car which has stopped in front of ours.

"Rat!"

The pincers' jaws take hold of the number plate of the nice corolla ad twist the metal animalistic-ally. yanking it out of it's bolts in violent jerks. Poor, pretty,.fancy car to show up on dooms day. The driver's door opens just as Banny hurls the mangled number plate so hard that it spins and tumbles like a bizarre, dangerous kind of discus. The driver looks as Banny with his spectacled eyes, not uttering a word. Yeah, sorry bro. I understand that fear. He could be a banker or architect, all packaged up in that corporate cover, lean and kind-faced and just healthily normal. Well, our Banny is much like the opposite. To so much as say a word now could be to het decimated, and I think our lucky friend here can foresee that. Just in front of us, the rest of the vehicles begin stealthily to move again. Alas it a traffic jam, no body's particular fault.

"Get out of my way!" Banny yells.

The man just looks (cautiously) at Banny, shakes his head, and moves the car out of the way. I see him pull up at the far, dirty corner of the street to pick his ruffled number plate. He ought to be thankful anyway. It could be his bonnet or more still his ass on the ground by now. The truck trembles as Banny jumps in again, huddling and cursing behind the stirring wheel as once more we shoot off. I grip the steel close to me, keeping my balance firmly. I have no idea that this is one of the last times I would do this, or rather, do this with a clear conscience. In fact, this is one of the last times I would do many things which I once did, and yet do. Beyond now, many things would no longer seem as normal as they were.

The truck slows down as we pass Kahiala, I see the logo and the words on the arched gateway as we pull up.

SISTERS OF MERCY, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY SCHOO (The 'L' is nowhere in sight), KAHIALA

Motto: The cross is our strength

For what might be the ten thousandth time I echo the words with a despicable taste in my mind's mouth. The cross is our strength... What kind of bleak, madman caption is that? Why would anybody stand on his two legs to contrive a sentence like that and hurl it upon some skinny, girl children in a school?

Some people... I think to myself. Mickey opens the door at her end with a small rattle, stepping out. . Oh, there goes; I think to myself with glumness. She stands mutely by the truck amd gives Banny a nod. Although I cannot see him I know Banny nods back. Then I freeze as she turns to me,.equally nodding.

"S.-see you" I mumble for the total lack of any other idea. I doubt she would ever have heard me anyhow. Drums beat as she turns and walks toward the large gates without even slightly moving her neck. The other students about Mickey's age run and jog into the premises but she doesn't. I trust our Dracula. Nobody would be daring enough to discipline her. Sometimes I feel sorry for her classmates and teachers. I just wonder what it would be like to stand or sit in a class with Mickey when you are a stranger to her. It would be like confronting a... a... don't let me say it. Banny's sad jams sing on as he takes off in our cargo again, and I am jerked backward by the force of off-taking. It reminds me obscurely of a section of the NEW SCHIOL PHYSICS textbook where it mentions Newton's third motionary law, of action and reaction and the example of a passenger's neck getting broken when collided forcefully with. or pushed hard from behind. That is what Banny just exemplified now. Action and reaction. Banny just nearly broke my neck. He'd have to pay for that one in a hilarious way which would make nobody laugh. Very soon. Hmm... I guess I can sight some other practical example. Like Inertia explained by his big stick on your head. Force of the stick times period taken for you brain to just fundamentally recover from the shock. Maybe he could have made a good physicist. The guy is rather too frighteningly physical. Oh, well, the more you talk, or rather; think- I am not talking right now -the more you complicate a would-have-been-simoke picture, isn't it? I know I mentioned a biology practical earlier in our time-away-whiling ramble, and now there comes this talk about Physics and Newton. You wouldn't expect that from a lad on his first day to Senior grade one. I haven't had much of schooling. to be honest, although it is thankfully such that when you piece the shards and fragments to each other, they form a not-so-bad whole and you can't possibly say I haven't had an education. or a complete one- maybe we can leave the completeness aspect out of it altogether. Mickey is the one who always went to school; to the same school,.rising up the levels normally. For me, life is always with a little touch of animation, if you'd agree. Much of my early learning happened at home (Oh my Lord); and most of the time I was either teaching myself. or getting taught ny some insane and obscure personality of a teacher which Banny had brought from church, or. getting taught by the beast Banny himself. No longer sounds so , eh? However must confess I enjoyed it because people hardly ever sat their asses over my square head and told me to and how and why to learn. For some reason till now I never really left the sickeningly dark (and I apologize for saying that) life that surrounded us. I don't know why anyway, but it seemed almost as though Banny was wary of something in letting me live a far-going and far-coming kind of life. Maybe he felt something would happen, I would make something happen as I always did. Something terrible in a Ben-ten-super-heo style maddening way. And if that I am in absolutely no position to blame him. Why? Me?... Do you really mean me? I know me. Mad things happen always around me. So I wouldn't blame a man for trying to decrease the magnitude and frequency of all the mad events by making me school home, amd school barely at all. Also, lest I forget to say, there is the family business. Yeah, you heard it rightly. Family Business, full stop. Frankly the mere term makes me feel just as sick as you do. In any case, Banny is kind of an artisan- although if he wasn't a member of my family I guess I wouldn't likely recommend him to you for your own wellbeing. And I feel a bit cramped-tummied to add, but a carpenter, to be more detailed. It is something similar to a generational occupation for Banny's family. His father and uncle weaved the bottom of broken chairs for people to sit their asses in, and his grandfather- Oh my Jesus -built caskets all his nineteen-twenty-something era, surviving by it with his two quarrelling wives and eighteen hefty sons and five bickering daughters before the war, till he went to sing hallelujah in the bye amd bye which nobody talks about and his eldest son made one just like the ones he had made for others to lie and die in, for him. Funnily it seems all the men in that long mad line from which Banny fell into the world all had, and have a nut loosened hidden, unfortunate part of their heads, like it gets struck accidentally on several occasions by the hammer in their hand while trying to hit a nail. True, I've seen a number of them. Uncles Jioke and Mance and Banny's crazy cousin Thompson; the one with a big head and big bottom and big belly who chased me half way round the yard with his belt in hand for calling him, "fat". They're all as mad as Banny, as we all unfortunately are. That, along with the Family Business concept, could pass easily for the reason Banny prefers I run around in a tight circle into which he can easily jump, yelling with a big stick in hand. Or, there would be the chance that he knows... Knows? you might be forced to ask. Knows what? Well, I'm worried with question so I can't precisely tell you, the reason being referable to my initial sentence in all this ramble if I can remember.

I have not the smallest idea.

And now, have I accounted for my little Newton and lab rat talk?.Okay, I havren't quite. The government college isn't the first school I am enrolling into for the senior secondary level, as obviously you can see that this is not the first day of September either. The first of September was a Tuesday which saw me in a missionary, boys' school somewhere in the middle of nowhere close to, I think, Umuahia. Guy, you should have seen it. It was like a cubicle in the center of a dense tropical forest on Mars (if there really could be any there). I presume lions and gorillas students away .night prep very often and you might get to find not-too-friendly anacondas in your study desk at class once in a while. To make things more brutal, the land seemed to have been a kind of cemetery or something in the past; so you could be wise to expect ghosts of Biafran soldiers to show up in the pretty picture every other midnight. They had a statue of Mary in the center of the vast unused space which was the final straw for Banny. If you have any problem understanding why this was, please refer to any AWAKE! bulletin near to your residence, see what they say about statues and figurines, especially the ones depicting the poor lady (with all due respect there). A deserted land in a dense forest was okay. A former cemetery was manageable. Emaciated boys skinnier than me (and I must warn you that I am skinny!) ambling and trudging and speaking igbo and laughing with battered day wears and torn footwear and all shapes and sizes of craniums was in fact just alright. But a stone statue of Mary- A statue of Mary! That was far too much. That, that, that, in fact that was just mad. We could ask God to give us back all our tithes if He approved of it. That was the picture Banny painted and although the levy had been paid, after two days as a day-student (within which I got the physics idea and the bite fron the lab rat) we left.

But I doubt it was the real reason.

In any case I would take no time to beat around a stubborn bush that gibes no clues to you or I, and I can't purport to think for him or you or anybody. So it can rest there. Just rest and sleep and be happy for now.

An update on the present situation of my location: I am in the madafarkin second school now; school 2 as we might easily caption it. Hell yeah, I'm such a traveller. Columbus and Armstrong might do better with a rundown of some of my voyage experiences. The gates here are thankfully better than all.I have seen so far, and there is no unsettling caption on the high arch. Only a shield-shaped badge with a book and pen on it's face and a few words out of which I can only catch some French; "Pro Unitate'" because of our own speed. Banny has to get to the workshop early. This is Wednesday and waiting clients seem to consume a strange specie of heroine on Wednesdays. Unfortunately he is on it alone for today. Poor him. happy me. I wouldn't likely be doing that shit on every other day any longer. As we move in, I sense an abrupt change in the very texture of the air which brushes past my face and neck in the truck's tray. It seems to have stiffened and tightened a bit, and worse still; around me. I look around innocently and first cite the security in their oversized black-and-blue, sorry dabs as they mope at me. They are so intent they don't remember to slow the truck ask any questions. With some gear action Banny shoots in, burning the tarmac so that the hem white shirt- which was never neatly tucked-in im the first place -flies into my face. I hold the thing down, squinting for the fierceness of the breeze. That is when I see the students. Dots of white and blue checkers that gradually become moving human beings as we get closer. Like the security most of them look back, the same astonishment in their eyes. What? I think. A boy in of a truck with the appearance and speed of a spaceship from an alien ambush in Venus, with his old man driving without smiles in the front, passing with a whiff of some oldschool song. Not too bad still... or is it?

As we near each moving cluster of them. I see smirks on the students' faces. Perhaps we are an amusing sight... Did I just admit that? I doubt I did. I hope these people's attitude, whatever ut is, won't get too good a hold on me. I'd have to be here for the next three years and it can be ugly if that happens. I know Banny is a little off and we're not quite like everybody. But I've never felt guilty or palpable and I never want to.

We beyond the smirking faces and white shirts and head into a park. The steel rods are painted blue and there is a stone statue close to the park itself, of a student with a graduation mortarboard in one hand and an open book in the other. Not too bad a replacement for Banny, isn't it? The engine dies and I jump spryly out of the truck, missing the tools that clutter the tray's floor. Banny's already moving and I . beyond the park. down a concrete-floored archway and past a winding staircase to an office on the ground floor of the two-storey into which we go. On the door post; VICE PRINCIPAL is written in bold letters and for a moment I get a tiny tingling that I've seen something similar before. We head in with Banny n front. There are two clerks in the first room who look at us any look like they're about to say something but don't. I understand that one. Nobody easily wants to say anything when Banny's face is in their face. We move into the the clerks and a man jumps up at the sight of us. Banny is towering with his big belly in the door wat and I am like a child assasin from Soweto at his back.

"May I help you?" he says,. frown appearing above his bottle-thick, round glasses. He has the complexion and voice and tribal facial markings of a Yoruba and Banny offers a bone-crushing handshake without a word which he takes, more out of horror than courtesy.

"Morning," is all I hear as I remain at the door. "This son, Lenu, who I told you about."

They speak a few words more before Banny turns his face back to me. I am trying to remember how many months ago I wrote the entrance examination which I am surprised to think anybody could have failed. It looked like a mockery for disabled kindergarten children. Somehow Banny had initially changed his mind and we had made the fatal attempt of the other school.

"Go," Banny says to me now. "Get your books. We'd see five-thirty."

Five-thirty; I record to myself as I leave them. No earlier or later. That is Banny's way of delivering an injunction. You never suspect until his big stick gets you.

I ask a few questions till I'n at the school's store. I have my receipt with which the books are given, alongside a checker blue blazer. A blazer?! I take it my heavy book-load and leave miserably. Wearing white and checkers and speeding in a truck's tray seems mad enough. Now I've added a blazer to it.

As I head toward the Acad. block, things get a little bit worse.

The monstrous three-storey harboring about two-hundred classrooms is heralded by another concrete archway in front of which is a field. Here, I meet a gathering of no less than a thousand white-and-blue-checkers-wearers like me. They are arranged in ling and numerous rows, before another gathering; this one being of teachers. I have never come across such a massive gathering all in the name of a school and I momentarily freeze, not because I am aware of the singing of the national anthem, although I am thankful I stopped when I realize. The drums and singing stop and I jog toward the lines till a bald,.dark man stops me on he way. He has a stick in hand, which though smaller, than Banny's and I stare at it rather than his face.

"You, come late why?"

I open my mouth as another man runs up behind us, a stick in his hand also. He is shorter amd notably uglier first one. "New boy," he says.

They let me and resume my jog, staring at the many rows in confusion as I come toward them. Maybe anybody can be anywhere. Maybe I can be anywhere for today, till I learn the ropes of assembly line-up for next time. The row next to me is an easy refuge. I'm drawing .

"Get-at here!"

A sharp slap meets my jaw from one of the boys in the line. "Fool! Getat!"

I see that I am surrounded by others like him, with the same baleful old, scowling face. Oh shit, maybe this place is not for me.

"Come," somebody whispers as I sneak away. It is a boy, and at least this one looks a bit as green as I guess I do. "Okay." I creep into his own line with my head ad back bent.

"How come you were running into senior lines?"

"I didn't know," I say.

"Oh too bad. Those guys are bad guys there. They can kill you."

He smiles says it and looks ahead again. I peek around me. The others too are about our age, and they a little bit too fanciful. Too many clean cuts and wrist watches. And there are girls n this school, too, although thankfully they keep to themselves in a different queue from ours. Under their breaths the boys bass voices. Somebody pinches the back of my neck and at first I ignore. The second time I catch the hand before time, crushing the struggling fingers without either a word or a backward glance. That's it for you, bitch, I think.

"Beast is here," someone whispers mirthfully. "The man is a fokin clown."

The lines from which I was driven; the senior lines, erupt with short laughter at something he has said as I now see the man standing on the platform high over us.

"Shatap!" he screams, his eyes dashing in their direction almost at once. "I am talking! Disciplinarians, fish out those laughing baggars! Asuquo!.fish them ouut!"

He screams the "Ouut!" like an exorcist casting out stubborn demons. The men who me now jog toward the senior lines and I sense movement there as boys slink from one line to the next,.shuffling positions. Whistles like birds' tweets mischievously emanate as the disciplinarians near them. Okay; I think. I am beginning to feel the familiarity of this after all. Demented people everywhere.

The baggar-fishing scuffle to an end and we hear the man in us- who I now guess must be the Principal -giving apologetic excuses for the shift in schedule; assembly ought to be Mondays and Fridays aline and this week we have to have one on Wednesday instead. The interschool essay competition is soon to begin; our be represented. Did he mention it earlier? Yes, more baggars would be caught. Bullying and extorting would be well punished. You expelled or suspended if you misbehaved too much. Read your books. The termly assessment would soon begin. Nobody would be bribed to promote, if you insist on being a baggar, you baggar.

Then we were off. Marching away with the beating of drums.

"What arm are you?"

"F"

"Oh same as me. You should come this way."

"I have to check on something."

I leave him and walk back toward the park where Banny had parked. From a stone throw I observe that he has driven off.

I return to the Acad. block and sneak around, wary of the "bad guys" I had earlier encountered. The classrooms here read on the post of their doors:

S.S 1 A, S.S 1 B, S.S. 1C...

I wander along till I' the one which reads "F". There are about forty-nine people already inside; boys and girls who all look at me as I stop for a confused brief second there at the door with blazer on my shoulder and book-bag on my back and stare back at them. Then it follows. The congregation bursts into laughter and I become momentarily even more rigid, thinking furiously to myself; "What the fok could be the problem?"

In the back a dark hand raises and waves and I breath deeply, looking down as I go through the doorway into the room. There are broken fluorescents overhead, only a few of which reflect white light upon the over-trampled marble floor. Somebody restrain me. I'm about to kill somebody. The face beneath the hand can soon be seen. The boy who showed me the correct line to be in half an hour earlier. I grip the hand of the bag harder and grit my teeth, nearing the seat he seemed to have reserved. Or perhaps which nobody else would like to seat.

"You've checked the something out?" he asks

"Yes," I say glumly. My eyes the desk's polished surface and I think of other things.

"You must relax. It's like this over here all the time," he says.

"Like how?"

"Like people being proud and fake and all of that. A newbee comes and they want to know if he has swag. If he doesn't, sorry. He's the shit for that school year."

-"Which implies I'm the shit for this year"- I hedge. I just want to be prepared afore.

"Not necessarily for that long," he replies with a grin. "Pray to be bailed by another shit who shows up within the term."

"Okay," I nearly smile too now, but that is currently impossible. I feel that a million smirking eyes are glaring at us now, and want to poke my fingers in all of them. A brilliant spark of an idea (if you catch the point).springs up im my mind and I look up.

"How does one get swag?" I ask. "You say they laughed because I don't have it."

He turns and stares at me mutely when he hears it, at first amusement then astonishment widening his eyes and whitening his face.. "Are you serious?" he demands with genuine surprise. "Guy, what quadrant of Genesis have you come from?" his astonishment transforms to a sudden frown- "You are not trying to amaze me are you?"

"I'm serious," I say. "Tell me.."

"Akataka" (an onomatopoeic mutter of bafflement) he mumbles to himself and blinks his eyes, obviously wondering how to introduce the concept of swag to a human being twenty-first century. He looks around us inventively, then nods at a clincher.

"That," he points. "Swag."

"What?" I ask. I am becoming a bit more confused. In the direction of his finger is another boy about our age. He is leaning back in his seat with a head set curled around his neck, looking into the screen of a huge phone hidden under the desk before him. I whirl from the confusing directive as he points in another direction. "See shoes?" he asks. "Swag."

I suddenly realize that the shoes to which he points are notably different from mine. Wow; I wouldn't ever have noticed. They are symmetrical and thick-heeled and shiny and mine are hand-me downs from my man Banny- I know you require no further description than that. I am still looking down as he points somewhere else again and I look up.

"Pencil trousers? Swag," he says. The checkers trousers at which he points are tapered almost picturesquely to the wearer's legs, the fold lines ironed to crispness. Mine can be divided into five parts all larger one, and I guess even Banny's head would fit comfortable into the hem of it. Oh; I think to myself now. It is bizarre, yet becoming a bit clearer.

"This," he says, pointing at his silver watch. "Swag." Likewise he points at his low punk haircut. "Swag," he says again. "You get it now?"

"Yeah, I get," I reply, although I wish I rather don't.

"But it doesn't all that matter," he says with his lips turned down. "It isn't a crime if you don't want swag, or have it."

"I nod and blink my eyes calmly. Hell, things are getting shitted up. I couldn't have suspected I would be ending a place where I'd be judged for what I cannot change. Even Banny didn't wear such watches, so who was I?

"I am Henry," beside me says now, extending his hand for a shake. I take it and it feels cold. "I am Lenelu," I say.

"Oh Christ,"

"What is the problem?"

"It's kind of a funny name," he says. "Another reason to laughing for many years."

Okay, so I must make an estimate of my tenor as a laughing stock. Minimum two and a half years.

"I haven't told about my man Kaseem. He sits here too."

I look up now to see a lean boy walking toward us. He has the light-skinned, small-foreheaded appearance which gives him away as a Fulani. Kaseem pauses a few feet away from the desk and stares quietly at me, amd I notice a drastic death of the voices all around me at the appearance of him. I think I have a small idea of the cause of the deserted-ness of the back desk now. Kaseem.

"He keeps to himself," Henry says now. "But cool guy." Even he lowers his voice as he speaks in the presence of Kaseem. I shift a few centimeters as Kaseem comes to the desk.

"Get up," he says. I gape at him confused-ly, horror growing slowly in my heart.

"New guy, Kaseem," Henry says.

"Yes. Get up."

"... Get up, Lenelu," Henry says conceding-ly, in the tone of an advice. I rise up and step out of the way, his pointy nose close to my head as I get past. I am not nearly short at all for a fourteen-year-old, yet this guy's chin is above my head. I night have to find another seat, which in this place for now isn't likely to be too easy. Things are all going crazy today.

Kaseem goes to the end of the seat, close to the window and even Henry moves aside to let him get past. He seats and stares broodingly into space. I am unaware that I still stand close to the desk, looking at this feared-man. A minute passes before he turns to look at me again.

"Sit down," he says dully.

I sit and set my bag down beside the desk. Henry is talking again, telling me about the bad guys I saw earlier, the teachers who were the meanest, the girls. Yeah, I think he kind of centers on this one a little longer than the others. Talk of the tendencies of a future womanizer, I feel almost sorry for him. The bad guys are the S.S.3 students. They use cellphones in school and wear mohawk haircuts and earrings and peddle contraband materials, and they extort and beat you if you ever come across them on an unlucky day in a secluded place. The hostels go burnt down in fire started by one of these bad guys. That was about a tear ago. It appears the guy was using a ring boiler or smoking a cigarette or something. In any case,.although thankfully no life was lost in the blaze, he disappeared thereafter and was expelled, and since then there hasn't been any boarding for the boys anymore, only for the girls.

I think this might have been the catch for Banny. No boarding. I would still be able to assist in the workshop in my spare time and he'd still be able to chase me around with his big stick every morning. Oh perfect.

The bad guys did not touch Kaseem, or even talk to him. He did not hide or flee when he saw them, as all other boys did. They were afraid of him. Everybody was. It was surprising; Kaseem wasn't a very imposing or outspoken character. Bu it was true.

"Kaseem fears nobody," Henry says, in a pitch of voice which only I would be able to hear. "I wish it were possible for me. The only time I tried it with the bad guys, I got a black eye and cheek for the weekend."

Even now Kaseem stares blankly ahead of him, appearing to meditate upon some deep abstract thought. The a bit lively again, the voices recovering from their Kaseem-froght interruption. Then in a few minutes a teacher appears. His bloodshot eyes look around circumspectly as we all settle down. I momentarily think they'd settle on us three at the back seat, but they only hover over Kaseem for a moment, then dart off, clouded with what resembles both astonishment and terror. The air is soon riddled with flapping sounds of papers.

"Good Morning students. Get your Chemistry notes out."

...After what seems like twenty whole years, it is finally over- at least for one day. I am headed for the gates with Henry walking on the right side and Kaseem on the left side of me. Henry talks even at this time, which is a good thing, considering the state of my mood now and the fact that Kaseem would never have spoken under any circumstance. One person to liven up the dullness isn't so bad. As we go on we come across many people and Henry seems to have something bewildering to say about most of them. "This guy you see?" he would ask. "I know this guy. He is this and that and did this and that." He enrolled in the midstream, barely two weeks now. I wonder how he so much in so short a period of time. Maybe he knew so much before even enrolling. Maybe he knows so much because he has swag- which could as well be perfectly inverted to say that I; Lenelu, don't know much about anybody because I don't have swag. Well let me digress from it. I don't want to go toward that one.

We see sme of the bad guys now. They litter the stairways upstairs and the corridors- including ours -in black blazers(while the correct colour blue checkers) and huge mohawks and earrings, leaning against the pavement in the company of some girls who look as fierce as they do. They scowl at Henry and I, but they don't call us or extort us as he has said they could. We soon take the right turn which should lead us into the concrete walkway, if I very well remember. Here the number of co-trekkers increases, and I am thinking worriedly about all that crowd when someone appears out of it suddenly, headed toward me. Henry is still talking and Kaseem yet hasn't spoken a word and as our baffled gazes meet she lets her bag (it is clutched in both her arms, close to her body) fall to the concrete, all it's contents scattering far across with a sudden clatter that makes my shoulders jerk. Oh Goddamn; I think fast as I make to stoop toward the fallen items in common courtesy. In the same instant a hand grabs my left shoulder and pulls me up violently. I turn to see Henry looking frightfully at me. His lips move soundlessly as I frown in bewilderment; "Stop."

I turn back to the girl who is bent intently over the scattered papers and pens now, keeping her face lowered without seeing me. I am beginning almost to feel miserably apologetic. Then I sense a stifling of the very air around us as I look up to see somebody emerge out of the moving crowd toward me again. Henry grabs my I stiffen.

"Guy, let us go," he says.

Well, what is this really for or about? As we get going in our way I watch the boy who has emerged behind the girl with the fallen items, telling myself I couldn't be that much to blame however (don't you think?). I didn't badge into the girl. I may have stunned her, but I did not physically hit her bag out of her hands. Who knows; she night only have been astonished at how much I lacked swag. So I'm not all that guilty... Oh crap, that's my guilty conscience speaking there. The boy's eyes neither at once see me. They are pale in a ghostly, dull way and they center circumspectly upon the girl and the fallen items which she picks up. Like Kaseem, he is much above my own height; perhaps 6'3" from my smoke assessment- I am 6'1" -and he wears a huge black sweater and a leather bag across his back. I think I can see the girl's hands get shaky as he nears her. and noticeably the moving crowd spreads in a much wider circle than before, around her the closer he gets. What the? Can anybody tell me what the - is happening in this institution? I think to myself just as Henry lightly chuckles. Now I feel actually miserable.

"What happened back there?"

"Nothing," he says.

"How do you mean?"

"That lady is the last person you want to be spotted even a hundred meters close to," he replies now. "Her boyfriend is Dracula. You don't want to have his teeth around your neck."

I look back now at the both of them. The boy is standing over her, not seeming too willing to help with the fallen items. So why does he show up in the first place? As my gaze settles momentarily upon him he stiffens for a moment, then rolls his eyes sideways to see me. I grit my teeth. Hell, something is wrong with those eyes. Something is very entirely wrong with this guy. I draw a deep, trembling breath as I face the walkway again.

"What do you think?"

"Queer nigga," I say.

"Exactly."

..."You called him Dracula... Did his father really name him that?"

"-God no, haha, don't be so crazy, 's just my private name for him. I think he acts like a snake."

I listen, but I don't smile or laugh.

"-His name is really Baliali."

"...Baliali. What kind of name is that?"

"You ask him, not me. The chick? Hers is Blantha. So please check which is more absurd between the both. It might be a birds-of-the-same-feather thing. Every nigga thinks Blantha is a pretty girl, but you can't attempt to get past Baliali. We doubt he really cares about her. but he's always there somehow, and we don't know the fok why."

He shrugs with a raise of both hands now that he says "we don't know."

"Just get anywhere near and he appears. So we all leave them to themselves. Nobody wanted to die so early man."

I want to glance behind us again, but I don't. I rather look to my right with puzzled-ness.

"Kaseem doesn't tell you when he leaves," says Henry. His face is bowed over the ground with (perhaps) awe as he mumbles it. "That one is really another queer guy, even though not as harmful." He looks up now that we are only yards away from the gates, an idea lighting up his face. "Bayern is playing tonight. Let's bet on them."

"I don't bet football," I say quietly. I am still thinking of other things. Of course I woukdn't tell hom that I hardly even watch; that the last time I watched the damn sport itself was the 2010 world cup,.when I was six years old. Yakubu's miss in the last game was enough to make me quit, even if I hadn' to. To say you don't watch football at fourteen might be a huge dent to your chances of having any swag by any chance at all.

"Okay," he replies easily. "I'm proud to sat I bet. Even though I've lost over twenty times more than I've won."

Thirteen tines? Now I laugh. We cross the gates into the street and he turns the left corner, walking on the side pavement. That; unfortunately, is my direction too. So I predict the question which comes next.

"Where d'you live?"

I jerk taut. No amount of preparation could brace me up for that one. "Me?"

"Yes, you."

"I- would tell you."

He shakes his head. "Funny you," he says. "I live at the fifth mile."

And thank God he lets it rest. I can't imagine letting anybody know about our ramshackle home now. They'd laugh me back into my mother's womb.

We get to a huge building painted blue, with a huge football logo in front of it; along side a broad tick sign and a stack of coins. the gamble house, alright.

"You're sure you don' to play?" Henry glances sideways at me as he diverts toward the building and I keep going.

"I cross my heart with Jesus' blood," I reply with a sorry smile. He grins back; mad guy, he catches the joke. I take the remaining walk way to the pedestrian bridge, then I board a motorcycle. Twenty minutes later I'm off the motorcycle with teary, dust-blown eyes and walking again. Haha, if I were an Arab maybe I would have trekked the whole earth over on my feet, it appears I have a gift for that kind . Or I am strengthened by the lack of a choice because "you have to save money, fool!," in Banny's voice. Unfortunately I am about that guy again not long from now. Banny's a good guy, but I can't be pretentious enough to lie that I missed his presence so sorely for these few hours. It's all inevitable to see im im the end however, and thankfully I beat his five-thirty ultimatum and saved my backside for today. Hopefully I won't be seeing the big tick till tomorrow morning.

I soon come to the huge, many-floored complex, the ground floor in which is Banny's workshop. I walk into the dark space- dark despite the struggles of a small golden bulb which dangles from wire overhead - and I see him seated in a corner, hunched over a workbench which a drill buzzing in hand.

"Hello Sir," I mumble. Right now the mirth and enthusiasm aren't all too abundant inside of me. He looks up as the little light in the doorway is barred momentarily, a serious frown on his face, and grunts. He looks at the watch on his big, hairy wrist... Lucky me; I think glumly to myself as I get further in.

"How was the day?" he asks me wth a worriedly-creased face.

"Fine-fine," I reply quietly. I know it is an unsatisfactory reply, but perhaps I am too drained by the day itself. Come to think of all of it; the morning rush and the hard ride and the long trek and the- I know I ought never to mention that one, but Oh my Gad -hunger which lingered and hovered over everything, mingled with the sudden consciousness that I was a living creature who no swag. Even one half of all that was enough to cripple John Cena in his best form, minutes before the Royal Rumble event.

"Very good then," he mumbles, apparently the dullness of my tone. "Get to work at once."

In that very instant I want to fly into the air and come down with my fist upon his skull- but sadly, of course that won't be eyes feel as they pop forward in bafflement, threatening to fall out of my face. To work at once! What is wrong with Banny, anyway. Don't people drink water or sit down or stretch out their legs and just, chill, in his village? Did his father never take any break from knocking and nailing caskets for dead people before he too was dead?

This guy... I think to myself as I look snidely at bent busily over his work. Somebody has to tie this guy with horse rope in a dark room and flog him with a guava branch. He is presently in dire need of such correctional punishment... You'd get your share one day soon.

I go over to the heap of wooden boards and rods which have been marked with chalk by Banny at the points were they must be cut, am as I gather a number of them heavily in my scrawny arms an idea suddenly occurs to me. How about I asked Banny for a little, yo know; Freedom? He could let me narrow my blazers and trousers till they were a nit more fitting? like the ones Henry had pointed at, couldn't he? If nothing else, that would make me a little more comfortable.

"Sir-";I begin in a spurt, hovering, hedging. His face creases as before and he looks up business at me. "Heh?"

"...Ehmm... Never mind," I suddenly say. I have thought better of it already. That would be nearly as risky as what a suicide bomber does.