It was still my first week at the village school when the kids dubbed me “Two Strokes”. The teachers eventually came to identify me by that name.
Two Strokes, however, did not survive long enough to become a secondary school legend like the Madame Koi Koi types. In fact, his legacy perished with the beginning of the second academic term after the Christmas break. I write about him now, twenty years later, laughing at the memory of it all. Permit me to title my narration, “The fleeting legend of Two Strokes”.
Two Strokes was a celebrity. I was granted immunity from the severe flogging that befell my comrades in crime whenever they were caught. My claim to fame had been incidental to the calamity that had befallen the first person who dared to lay his hands on me. Since then, nobody had been brave enough to test the ‘head’ of two strokes, who knew what misfortune might befall them? My ruthless karma kept them all at bay. This however ended when Madame Rita, our new principal, came along.
“Obinna Ike”, she called out finally, summoning me to the front of the school assembly to receive my share of flogging for resuming school late, all week, as was my tradition. It was general practice at the village school to make an example of students who committed offences that were above classroom jurisdiction on the Friday closing assembly.
I wasn’t surprised that I was last on the list because only the worst offenders were given that honour. My predecessors were in a crumpled heap to the left, broken and subdued, looking like a scene from Hades.
I made my way to the front with confidence, walking with the false limp I had learned from my Lagos-based cousins during the Christmas holiday. The students immediately started cheering me on loudly. “Two Strokes! Two Strokes! Two Strokie Strokie!!!” rang out from the masses of students in united worship of the one who was above them all. I took the glory in stride, waving, shaking hands, blowing kisses and signing autographs. Damn! It felt good to be Two Strokes.
The teachers didn’t bother calming them down, they were concerned for Madame Rita. They all tried to reason with the indignant little lady but she couldn’t understand them; she preached discipline and equity like it was the Holy Gospel. When the five teachers saw that their efforts were in vain, they left it to the Vice Principal to tell to tale of Two Strokes. He did his best to educate the madam with his handicapped employment of the Queens language.
“Two Stroke is not a boy to be flog”, he said, “He kill our last principal”
I remember that day like my mother remembers the day she gave birth to me.
We were having mathematics lessons and I was late that morning. The classroom back door was open and I peeped in to discover that the principal was the one teaching. I was officially chopped and screwed.
His was writing on the blackboard, back turned to the classroom so I quietly slipped into the class and made for my seat at the far right. I was about to take my seat when old man smirked, back still turned, and said aloud, “Two strokes”.
He then turned to the class and continued, “Two strokes for late coming, two strokes for not greeting ya elders”. I looked at him briefly because something on the teacher’s desk caught my eye; that cane looked like it had been optimized for inflicting excruciating pain on its victims. It was long, thin and so flexible that even the sudden stir of wind in the classroom caused it to swing menacingly. It looked like it was practising for me. I desperately that wished I wasn’t the only person who was late that day but it seemed that the other students had learned their lessons early enough. I was on my own.
The old man turned back to the wretched blackboard and finished writing the class work on the board. The fear in me combined with the fact that I was late to class, earned me a zero with mouse ears, and I was to get two strokes for every single question I missed. I had successfully earned fourteen strokes for my scrawny back to endure. The cane on the table was swinging mockingly and my spirit man was in tears.
It was time. The rest of the cane’s victims lined up behind me, each giving praise to God that for the number of victims that preceded him. I could even smell urine somewhere from the line at my back, the terror was paralyzing.
The principal smiled and started again, announcing my offences like a judge before issuing a sentence. “Two strokes, my friend”
“Two strokes for coming late”
“Two strokes for not greeting ya elders”
“Two strokes for missing question one”
“Two strokes …” he went on and on and on and ON and finally beckoned for me. I don’t know how my wobbly legs managed to transport my body to the terrifying presence of that wicked old man.
He lifted my punisher into the air.
Both of them collapsed onto the cement ground. He teachers rushed the grandpa to the school clinic, and eventually to the village dispensary. He died of a stroke.
Madame Rita couldn’t believe her ears. “That’s just a coincidence!”, she exclaimed, in an effort to convince the superstitious lot that I wasn’t an enigma after all.
“Madame Rita, you better not try me!”, I warned her boldly, “Or else!”
The slap was louder than the cheer of my supporters club. “Or else what?” she retorted. I would have responded but I was already dazzled by the glory of the starred universe.
Her cane wasn’t as daunting as that off my former adversary but lord knows that little lady could flog out the colour from a black man. When she was done, I created a special crumbled heap of my own and it admitted only those who Hades had referred to his mentor.
A taboo had been broken. My cry was the only sound that morning; even the noisy birds from the Guava tree were silent, recognizing the anathema.
Madame Rita did not resume work the following Monday morning.
She came in right before closing time to share the news of her newborn grandsons, bringing with her a picture of the cutest little twins you ever saw.
As for me, the teachers did not spare any efforts in making up for lost time. It was the same for seniors, school bullies and any other person whose fury had been held back by the legend of Two Strokes.
Although Madame Rita took me under her wing in the long run, grooming me to be useful enough to become the class captain, and later the head boy, I would forever miss the immunity I enjoyed in the awe-inspiring shoes of Two Strokes.
Thus ends my tale.