My phone was ringing, and it displayed ominously: ‘Junior’s Housemaster’. It was a short conversation over the phone. I nodded repeatedly and spoke softly, “I’ll be there shortly.”
I knew my way around the school compound, having been there recently—three times already this academic year. When I walked into the administration office, he was standing in the corner of the room with his hands in his pocket, a familiar frown on his face. He looked away as I sombrely shook hands with the headmistress and his housemaster. I anticipated the worst.
The headmistress related the incident, speaking with the calm firmness that comes with decades of parenting and teaching. He had not destroyed school property or broken school bounds this time. He had gotten into a fight. Not with a junior colleague or a classmate like before. He had attacked a teacher.
I sat poker faced as his housemaster filled in the details. He had been goofing around in the back of the classroom during a lesson. When he was ordered to step out, he refused and dared the teacher to force him outside. The teacher—his authority and pride directly threatened—tried to drag him out, but he had fought back and pushed the old man off him. Luckily, other students intervened before he could land any punches or kicks.
They were suspending him indefinitely, the headmistress informed. They would call me if they thought it was alright for him to return. “We cannot make any promises,” she said, “we hope you understand.”
I drive in silence from the school to a washing bay some kilometres from home. We leave my car and I lead him to a chop bar adjoining the bay. The place is unsurprisingly empty at this time of the day. He reluctantly sits on a plastic chair at the end of a small rectangular table, facing me.
My wife calls on the phone and asks if everything is okay. “We’ll be home shortly,” I tell her. I order a bowl of Fufu with goat light soup. He shakes his head when the waitress asks what he’ll have. “Bring him the same,” I say, “and bring us two bottles of water.”
He does not eat. He sits in the chair, petulant and looking at nothing in particular. His contoured brow is strongly tightened. His jaws clench and his lips pout.
“Junior, eat your food,” I say to him.
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbles, his gaze now fixed on an invisible horizon.
“Look at me,” I say. He almost appears to ignore me but, slowly, his neck forces his head to face me. “Eat your food,” I repeat the command, with a death stare inviting him to defy me.
He scoffs momentarily and slowly washes his hands before finally dipping it into the bowl. He plays with his food, picking at the lump of Fufu and pieces of meat. I ignore him and work my way quickly through my morsels. I drink up the soup with a spoon. He is still playing with his food. I wash my hands and wipe them clean as the waitress eventually returns with two bottles of water. He still plays with his food.
“Oh, sweetheart, please eat okay?” the waitress begs him.
He glares at her and she recoils. Quickly, she collects my empty bowl and walks off to mind her business. He takes his hand out of the bowl and starts to wash it in the water-bowl.
“—I said I’m not hungry ah!” he blurts out me, “can’t you s—”
I fling a bottle at his face and narrowly miss his head. His eyes light up in shock. The second bottle hits him square in the face and before he knows it, I’m already out of my seat and dragging him by his shirt collar to the nearest wall.
“You—” he starts to speak, but I am silencing his insolence with repeated slaps across his face.
He begins to kick out at me. But I am too quick for him. I pull him from the wall and slam him against the concrete floor. His hands reach for my hanging necktie but I quickly lock his forearms across his chest with my left arm and pin him to the ground. My knees hold his legs in place, fixed flat on the floor.
I am slapping his face. I am striking his left cheek with the inside of my palm. Then I am striking his right cheek with the back of my hand. I am striking him and reminding him who his father is. I arch my body, raising my right arm and twisting my fingers into a ball. I swing at him, but my blow is caught in mid-air. Wet soapy hands grab my arms and lift me off him.
He spits a little blood onto the concrete floor. He is squealing and then coughing. The tears are freely flowing from his eyes. Now he is wailing and choking up as the rest of the men from the washing bay collect him and take him outside. My chest heaves with quick breaths. I wiggle out of the grip of the men restraining me and return to my seat.
“Boss, take am easy okay? We beg you.” someone pleads. I reach into my trouser pocket and pull out a handkerchief. I notice a nick on my index finger. I bring it to my tongue. It tastes like blood.