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Oct/Nov 2015 Fiction

Pure Water

by Chikodili Emelumadu

Image courtesy of NASA and the University of Arizona

Image courtesy of NASA and the University of Arizona


I found reasons to punish her, the chubby girl at the back of the class.

"Kneel down and fly your hands!"

"Kneel down and raise your hands!"

"Crawl!"

"Pick pin!"

Pick pin was my favorite. Not for all the girls, though. Sure, some of them showed promise in this department, but none compared to my Chubby. She bent over, balanced herself on the point of one index finger, and raised the opposite leg in the air. Her shirt ballooned with the weight of over-sized breasts. She usually wore a vest under the cheap, transparent blue of the regulation school uniform. No bra, like a lot of the junior students, although none was as endowed as Chubby was. It didn't matter what she wore anyway. Nothing could hold those bosoms back. Gravity was a bitch.

My bitch, to be exact.

That first surge of flesh was nothing. Five, ten minutes into picking pin, when the muscles began to ache and shirts to soak, that was the real magic moment. I watched Chubby shake on one unsteady foot. Her breasts rippled like those sachets of pure water sold in traffic jams. Sometimes cold, but more often than not, simply wet from being immersed in a bucket of filthy, melted ice blocks.

Thirst.

I swallowed, dabbing at my face with a handkerchief.

The girls groaned, protesting the heat, the blood rushing to their heads. I let the skinny ones go first. I had no use for anything that could break in half. I released Chimdi, the class bully, too, asked her to take her friend Ogugua. They were always whispering and held a knowing look in their eyes that unsettled me. The two of them were too much wahala for one man.

"Sir, please now!"

Music to my ears.

"Who said that?" I asked. "Did I tell you maggots to talk?"

"Please sir, she's asthmatic o!"

"Sir, please, I'm on."

I grimaced. Why couldn't these girls ever talk in full sentences? I sent On-her-Period and Asthmatic on their way. I didn't need that shit. Once I'd tried to flog a girl in class who had answered my questions incorrectly. She'd leapt over the desks to escape the switch. Apparently suffering from some kind of breathing thing, too, she grew light-headed and fainted, cutting her head on the edge of a table.

Seriously. Full on Victorian swoon-and-faint.

Some of these girls were perpetually afflicted with some ailment or another. Mostly the spoilt-rotten ones who weren't smart enough to get into fancy private academies in Lagos or Abuja and had to settle for unity schools the federal government partly subsidized. Some carried doctor's notes for illnesses even they couldn't pronounce. You saw them during PE lounging about in classrooms, shelling boiled groundnuts and talking crap. Lazy bones. What the fuck did they know about suffering? Suffering was coming into this world knowing neither of your parents gave a damn about you, that you were a mistake one of them kept paying for and the other resented. Suffering was having them use you as a pawn in their games.

One of the girls at the end of the first row switched out her hand and leg, but I pretended not to see. All I cared about was Chubby.

Com'on Chubs. Take a break. You know you want to.

Chubby sweated the most. Buckets ran through her cornrows, beaded on her forehead before dropping onto the ground with the soft tap of drizzle on aluminium rooftops. Perspiration flowed down the back of the knee she was balancing on, spread out at the crease and ran down the calf in multiple distributaries. She kept tugging on the grey A-line skirt—"Six-pieces," the girls called them, after the way they were fashioned from six panels of material. Sometimes the tailors combined different shades of grey on one skirt.

Those panels of grey reminded me of old slate roofs. They infuriated me.

I wondered, why did every bloody thing in Nigeria have to be made without care? Fuck. It was baffling to consider the talent that had once come out of the country. Sculpture, painting, textiles. Mediocrity permeated the Nigerian system, and it started early. It didn't matter what assignment I put in front of my students—perspective, light and shade or gesture drawing, simple clay figures—the results were always the same. Wonky and careless, with no patience, desire, or ability for detail. Art used to be the blow-off course before I came along, the subject you took so you got a chance to spend an hour out of class chatting with your mates. There was never any true expression, no love or beauty. My pupils' efforts were enough to give me constipation for a few days. So what was a person to do? I had to punish them like the maths and integrated science teachers did, those worthy compulsory subjects they were all terrified of failing. Mother always says I have no stomach for ugliness, and maybe she's right. But then again, she is always talking nonsense like that. For the first three years of my life, I thought my name was "Sensitive."

"I'm sure he didn't mean to," she used to say, smiling as if she knew all the secrets of the universe. "He's just really sensitive."

I inhaled. The air hung still and muggy and barely made it past my nose. A semi-circle of moisture formed a smile on the ground under Chubby's forehead. She tugged on her skirt again. I smiled back.

When I first joined the school, Kelvin the former Youth Service Corps member turned full-time staffer called me a latecomer, said I'd missed a good show with the previous uniforms.

"You should have seen what they used to wear before. Like air hostess dem. This new Princi is a born-again sha, so nothing for the boys," he said.

I'd found my tribe. Nothing was off limits in our gists, gathered as we often were, in Kelvin's rooms. We drank. We smoked. We watched porn on mute when there was light so that busybody staffers wouldn't hear. In there I came to change my mind about being exiled. Princi was ingenious. The A-line gave one an almost unrestricted view in the picking-pin position. I say almost because nothing could be seen past the dark thunder of Chubby's thighs. Pity.

The lace hem of her slip peeked out. I still cannot believe these small girls wear slips. My mother wears slips. She used to dress me up and take me girly shopping at M&S just to spite my father, get him to pay her attention. Even after I grew up and online shopping became a thing, she still thought I would go with her. Like we'd bonded or something.

"Sir, I'm not feeling fine," said another girl. And as if to make up my mind for me, she threw up.

Stepping back from the splatter, I ordered the two females on either side of her to take her to the dispensary. They put Pukey's arms around their necks and vanished, balancing her with their own arms straight out. The picture reminded me the reproduction crucifixion triptych which hung in my mother's bedroom, showing Jesus and the two robbers, one on each piece.

I thought how pleased Mother would be that I made the association. She loved church: the solemnity and sorrow in the long faces of long-dead saints, the high drama of incense and candles. The confession part, too. She liked to tell my father's sins. I guess the priests couldn't up and run like he did, trapped as they were in confessionals, poor bastards. I thought perhaps I'd send her an email with the Jesus imagery, those precise lines, change the story a little. That should tide her over for a few more months, get her to stop ringing at four bloody o'clock in the morning.

"Sir—"

"Shut up," I snarled at the interrupter.

Chubby still hadn't made a sound. I had to hand it her. She was dedicated. A little slow at first, but not a complete moron. She'd figured out she was on my radar eventually, and nowadays, whenever I punished the class (I never punished her alone to avert suspicion, always in a group), she always went above board to serve it. Obedient. Take this moment. The 45-degree angle was tough to execute, and yet apart from the oh-so-blessed mammary quiver, her pin-picking was perfect. Not a kink in that raised leg, index finger down on the ground. Wet and sweaty, but perfect. The ideal candidate along with that woman-body of hers. I could smell her. On the cusp. Not too young, that would be weird. I'm not that fucking senator with his nine-year-old bride.

After I'd just moved to Nigeria, the gate man next door had a girl I used to spy across the fence, scrubbing out crockery by the tank in the backyard. A slip of a thing, all averted liali glances and shy smiles under the headscarf tied at a jaunty angle. God, she was pretty. Thought it was his granddaughter or something and was going to make a play for her until they told me she was the gateman's wife. Lost my appetite, sharpish. Her old man was about 60, his teeth stained from a constant mastication of kola nuts. Nobody married to such a man, at that age, could ever hope to retain a shred of cleanliness. That day, I saw her smile for what it was. Like a carnivorous flower, she wanted to trap me and suck me dry. Probably wasn't getting enough, the slut. Her old man had three other wives.

Flies buzzed around me, lethargic in the heat, attracted to the salt in my sweat. I wiped my head and neck again and stuffed the handkerchief into my trouser pocket, feeling irritated at myself and at Chubby. Nobody picked pin for that long, and I could see the spaces between the louvres of the staffroom darken, as faces peered out at us on the assembly ground. Fifth period was almost ending. Perhaps Chubby Pure Water was not perfect after all. Perhaps she was too stupid. Stupid enough to land me in trouble. Couldn't she tell I wanted her? I couldn't go through stupid shit with stupid girls too juvenile to handle themselves. Not again. Not after all my parents went through to pull me out.

"But I love you," Lisa kept saying, over and over as if it meant something. Stupid cunt. Didn't she know that thing she carried could get us both in trouble? It was lucky she miscarried, doubly so that her mother was a greedy whore. My father said the settlement came out of my inheritance and booted me to the shithole he grew up in.

Granted, London was not Naija. Nobody would dare touch me here. Still, it would be an inconvenience. My father had been clear. Out of habit, I looked at my watch. I was always looking at it, even when I did not need to tell the time. It reminded me of better days, before I got locked out of his highness' castle. Bloody hypocrite. His latest wife is younger than I am.

Just as I was beginning to think I would have to release the rest of the class, Chubby tipped over. She put all five fingers on the floor to steady herself. It was only for a split second, but I caught it. Imperfect form. Definitely grounds for further punishment. Something fist-pumped in my stomach.

"The rest of you go back to class. You, remain where you are," I pointed at Chubby. She'd straightened up as soon as she heard they were being released.

"Sir, is it me?" She hit her chest. Thud. The dull, moist sound travelled through my own torso with the heat of an acid reflux. My vision dimmed briefly. Chubby stood there, as if I'd said "Freeze!" Her hand was still on her chest, her mouth open. I could see the inside of her heavy, bottom lip glistening pink, swollen from the blood pooling in her face. It hurt my throat to swallow. Her eyes were goats' eyes, half-asleep most of the time, dull from the pain of punishment now.

"Yes, you. Did you not see me pointing at you?" I asked. "You're trying be stubborn abi? In fact, follow me to my office."

The rest of her mates had already zapped—another of their slangs. Did I use it correctly? I wasn't sure. Plumes of dust hovered in the air where once girls had been. These junior students had skills. If the Nigerian athletics team was serious, they could win all the championships with runners from this school alone. I chuckled to myself and tried to cover it up by coughing. Perhaps I should include that bit in the email to my mother as well, I thought, add a little levity to loosen the purse strings. My youth corper's salary was abysmal, and man cannot live by bread alone.

No, perhaps I used the term wrongly. Zapping implied dodging authority. It was a punishable offence. I almost wished Chubby would try and zap. I'd pay to see that jiggle.

She lumbered on beside me, slurping air through her nose and mouth. I guess the punishment was more demanding than she let on. The heels of my formal leather shoes koinked on the hard-baked red earth. I cursed Princi. My Converse and Vans were much more comfortable. Cooler, too, but no, she didn't want to hear it. It was either "respectable" leather shoes or my ghastly orange corper shoes. Bitch. I would rather die than wear those. Wouldn't have harmed my swagger, not with the ride I owned. But they were so damn ugly.

A singsong, "Hi, sir," and I looked up. Ugh, I thought. Her again.

She was one of the most senior girls, the SS3 students. The "passing-out" students, they called them—thought I'd burst something laughing the first time I heard that. No longer subject to the weekly school hairstyles, she wore hers loose, to her shoulders. I knew her kind. Probably had lots of siblings. A father who considered his duty done by sending her to secondary school. University would be her husband's bag, if she went at all. I knew how she regarded me. I saw it in the hiked-up skirt, in the too casual attitude. Even right now, she looked at me out of the corner of huge, cow eyes. Cute. Too old.

"Good afternoon, sir," said her shadow. There was promise to this one with her small bones and yellow in her eyes where the whites should be. But her friend, her friend would never let that happen. Both of them, wahala. The last time they came to my studio under some pretext and wouldn't leave for two hours, dropping sloppy innuendoes as willingly as they would have shed their clothes.

"What do you want? I don't have office hours," I dismissed them brusquely. I could see the fury in the cute one's eyes. She shot daggers at my Chubby as she departed, as though memorizing her features, so that the girl cowered under the senior's hard gaze.

I felt a surge of protectiveness. "If she tries to punish you later, just let me know," I told her.

I think the whole thing became too much for Chubby then. The punishment, the hot sun, the daggers. She crumpled like a used tissue. Noisy crying, the sound of a wounded beast. Her entire body rippled from the force of her emotions.

Ecstasy.

I pulled her up from the floor and into my arms even though it was against the rules. She'd earned it, had suffered a lot—without complaining, I might add—for one afternoon. Chubby left a snail's trail of mucus on the lapel of my jacket.

"There, there," I rubbed her back. "There's a good Chubby." My cock stirred in my trousers.

Perfection.

 

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