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Guilt & Grief (Episode 3)
Novella

Guilt & Grief (Episode 3) 

In the sweet tastes of my days at Nsude, the freshman year didn’t really count, merely because the freshman year was a kind of puzzle. You really can’t tell what’s happening next until it starts happening. Information was gathered from all sources, and the brain did the work of retaining these information and producing it at the time required, and none could tell when these information would be needed of you. There were so many information to be gathered from the class, at the chapel, trash”. at the refectory, at the bathroom, at labour, at the sound of the bell, from the whispering voices of two gossips, even in your dreams, and I know the last mentioned may seem funny to you but it’s not, at some point I just had to accept that we were being trained to be very good eavesdroppers.

Speaking about information, the class had a bucket list of them. We were introduced to a certain kind of educational system that had a slight difference from the one we had before, the kind that makes it seem as if we’ve all played away our time in our former schools. There were subjects in the list that made it look quite funny to me, these were things like Latin, Vatican II Council, Liturgy and Catechism of the Catholic Church.

At first, I believed so much that these subjects would be easy with the exception of Vatican II Council, probably because I had never heard of it in my life, and the Catechism, just because I hated Mr. Titus who presided over my childhood Catechism in my hometown. Everyone believed Latin would be easier because 95 percent of the class were altar servers before the admission into Nsude. I still remember vividly the words of Ifekandu on seeing the list that day.

“I have learned how to recite the credo, Gloria, Agnus Dei and a lot more at six, I had joined the altar servers at seven after my first holy communion, learning the sacred linens and vessels and the liturgical calendars at best…these courses are mine to trash”.Β 

When the first Latin class came, myself and Ifekandu had had our rehearsal of the Latin responses we knew, including the chants. The bespectacled priest who took the subject had a slightly bow leg, a desert skull that had not grown hair for years, and the balance of a man who kept himself in good working out condition. He had this air of presumption that his students went to Rome with him, so he did his teachings in a manner that could be understood only by advanced students.

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We waited in anticipation for the priest to tell us to recite Credo or Gloria or any other Latin chants but the class came with a disappointed surprise of two hours of intense declension of Latin words: Mensa (table), Nauta (sailor), Agricola (farmer) and long translations of English sentences to Latin. The drill was mind blowing and I remember fighting sleep all through.

Speaking about the chapel, the chapel had a certain kind of information, one that is spiritual, just like a sponge, soaking us up in goodness. There were four prayers each day: The lauds, the afternoon prayer, the vespers and the nunc dimitimis. All these came with a list of new things you are to learn. I sincerely did not like any of it.

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The lauds starts by 5:00 am in the morning, when half of the world are still asleep, the other half are either awake or consumed in sin. I hated the lauds because it comes at a time when sleep seems to be sweeter than it had been.

The afternoon prayers were said immediately at the end of class work just before Lunch. It came with a litany of psalms and I really do not know if it was the traditional method to rush this prayer because it came faster than others.

The vespers is said after the 6pm Angelus. It comes with a calmness of the day, a time the world is ceasing from labour. The vespers however have a greater record of non attendance by many in one way or the other.

While the Nunc is said after the night erasing our sins and soaking us up in meals and before the start of night prep. The nunc sets in a magna silencia, a wholesome silence that ushered us into the quietness of the night and protected us while we slept.

The information at the refectory was the worst for me. There were three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. In-between meals were forbidden. So, each meal was looked up to by the students as a promised feast for such fierce hunger. We never complained about quality, all that was desired was quantity.

I hated in particular the fact that we had to follow the revered ritual of pausing at the middle of the fierce hunger to watch our meals as we listen to the person appointed to read either a passage from the Bible or a novel or a poem or a magazine, and be attentive enough as to not miss the last word of the reader, or the last sentence or the theme or the message the writer had, as that may come as a question to anyone from the moderator.

All these information kept us loaded with work that I didn’t even have the chance to notice that the bond between Ifekandu and I was gradually fading, new interests were found, new friends were made and we had soon become “Hello” friends. It was this fading of friendship that made it difficult for me not to have any idea of what was happening to my good friend.

It all happened on the 3rd of December, barely two weeks to the Christmas break. The joy of getting back home had taken the air, the first term examination had come to an end and students had nothing to do if not labour and more labour. Each student in my class had made a list of what he or she would do during the holiday. I was feeling kind of dizzy that morning, that feeling of waking up with a bad mood which you can’t even tell the cause. I had brought out my little calendar book with which I kept track of time and with my reddish ink pen, I shaded across 2nd of December as a day that had finished, a ritual I started since the beginning of November, this I believed made the day pass faster. The thought of Ifekandu flashed to memory, that strong feeling to go check up on someone.

“I will check on him tomorrow, I’m just too tired”, I mumbled as I dozed off.

Three hours later, two of my classmates dashed into my corner waking me up from sleep, they were panting audibly.

“Fr Micheal is calling you, run!”, one of them said and they started running back from the direction they came from. I stood up immediately, not knowing what to do, the information said ‘run’, I started running after them.

Fr Michael’s car, a reddish Volvo, was packed at the school roundabout. Two senior students were stuffing someone into the back of the car while more than a dozen other students stood, waiting and watching.

“You’re Arinze right?”, Said Fr Michael. “Yes Fr”

“Enter the car”

As I tried entering the front, I pepped into the back to see the person laid in by those students. The thick glasses of Ifekandu was the first thing I saw, and my heart skipped. I sat in the front, turned back again just to get a clearer view. He lay motionless at the back, streams of blood gushing from his head and mouth, his eyes fixed on me, he wore his sky blue shirt, the one he had worn on the day I did my first opera. I whispered his name gently “Ifee” but no response came. I felt cold, my brain was processing a lot of information.

“Calm down, He fell from the school’s ultra modern site. I called you because your classmates said you are closer to him….I pray your presence brings him back” The priest said while we drove to the hospital.

A sense of guilt flushed down my throat. ‘We have not spoken in months as we used to, and yet people believed we were still close.’ I fumbled in my pocket for my rosary, I started picking the beads, trying to pray, trying to be hopeful but my mouth only muttered “Godabeg, save him”.

The parents of Ifekandu were already seated at the hospital waiting when we arrived. The nurses rushed him to the emergency ward. Ifekandu’s mom came with a set of three other women whom I believed were her friends from the Legion of Mary society. They held hands at a corner saying their prayers while Ifekandu’s mom cried.

Ifekandu’s Dad was everything Ifekandu said of him. He had this look of authority, the type that wouldn’t want his children to associate with others. He was not wailing like the woman, he only tapped his leg incessantly and then touched his bald hair at intervals.

“Can we all say a little prayer together?” the priest announced. The seven of us held our hands as the priest tuned in the “Memorare” prayer. At the middle of the prayer, the doctor signaled for the priest and the boy’s father. Everybody stood and watched them disappear into an office with the doctor. Minutes later, the priest came out first, his cheeks seemed to be smiling but his eyes weren’t happy.

Ifekandu’s mother stood from her seat and moved towards the priest.

“We need to pray more, The doctor said he’s in a very critical condition, He’s in coma and there are slight chances of him making it”, He said out aloud bluntly, adding not even a bit of euphemism to his words.

Everywhere dropped dead. I remembered immediately how Mr. Okoro, my dad’s best friend, died after two weeks of being in a coma. Immediately I let out a loud shout, it was then that everyone noticed my presence at the hospital.

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