I.S.I (International School, Ibadan) was where I first learnt how someone could be under constant pressure…just about every single day of his/her secondary school life. And I’m not talking about pressure to excel above the pass mark (which, then, was about 40% in all subjects)…no, I’m talking about the pressure to be cool, ‘bam’, ‘hard’…if you were linked to any of these accolades back in the day then your ‘rep’ was off to a good start…supposedly.
Now the problem I had was that I didn’t fit the bill particularly. I had a small tennis-ball afro which wasn’t cool enough, overly smart shoes which weren’t ‘bam’ enough, and a group of friends I rolled with who were not ‘hard’ enough. As a ‘day’ student (i.e. a student who doesn’t reside in the school’s hostels during the term) I was already screwed because the ‘boarders’ (those students who do reside in the school’s hostels…) were automatically catapulted into ‘hard’ status. I don’t think I’ll ever know why.
Maybe it was because you’d see one guy wear a different pair of ‘pumps’, moccasins and Tims for 2 straight weeks – I was baffled! How could one kid have close to 14 pairs of shoes? But I soon learnt that boarders had a sharing culture – they exchanged just about everything. So of course you could seem to have so many clothes, shoes, schoolbags…oh my God…I just remember I had a hideous schoolbag.
It was called a ‘U.S army bag’ – Trust me, it didn’t look as cool as it sounded. It was the size and shape of a 14-inch box TV – perfect for those tons of textbooks which I carried but would hardly have to read. Mine was black with all the different colorful badge prints and miniature flag images. It even had an ID number, yet I didn’t feel anything close to being a boy scout. Instead, as I walked around the school grounds with the crushing weight of my backpack I felt like Quasimodo – the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
My cousin (the eldest of the three, who was in JSS3 at the time) used to make fun of me – at home and at school. We didn’t quite get on initially but during my stay at his mum’s place I started trying to emulate his style as much as I could. He was like the big brother I never had. He would help guide me through this transition from Pee Wee Herman to ‘Cool’, from Inspector Clousseau to ‘Bam’, and from N-Sync to ‘Hard’. First stop – the barbershop.
My cuz and I went to the local barbershop and said hello to the natives. I was corrected abruptly. Hello = Not cool. Hi = cool. What’s up = cool. How far! = Razz but way better than Hello. Anyway, I got into my chair and looked up at the charts to see what was on the menu. Skinned (Oh, HELL no!), Bobby Brown slant (not brave enough), The Punk (hmm, now there’s an idea!) It was a kind of square-cut with a puffed top (View pic: Kadeem Hardison a.k.a \’Dwayne Wayne\’ in teen comedy, \’A Different World\’ ). It was one of those I-love-my-mama-but-she-don’t-tell-ME-what-to-do haircuts. It commanded respect. I loved it. I got my first pair of Reebok pumps too. I even started wearing cologne (with a cologne-drenched handkerchief in my top pocket just for good measure).
I was ready to re-enter I.S.I with new a found sense of courage. At break time it was ‘cool’ to be seen having lunch with a (pretty) girl. After managing to save up a decent amount of pocket money I asked a girl to lunch, she agreed, and we took a pleasant stroll to the kiosks to get our soft-drinks and snacks. As I sat on a ledge with her I was excited because I could feel eyes on me…not hers, my peers. They were filled with awe and probably a little jealousy. I savoured this moment. But mid-way through my conversation I felt like either I had coughed up a fur ball or Barry White’s ghost was trying to use me as a medium to convey a message. Perfect! Just as I was trying to break my way into the ‘In-crowd’ my voice decided to break its way into Puberty.