By Gideon Odiase
There were no stars in the sky that night, the clouds had covered them. Stem branches of trees that survived the earlier storm that came with the rain, waved in surrender, as the cold wind sliced through them mercilessly. The dark smoke from burning wood deep in the forest just adjacent the University’s back gate, went up high and if one put an ear to the ground, the vibration and shouting emerging from the forest would be heard, though faintly. The Vipers were not known to fear anyone, their black colour and viper crest depicted that. They danced around the large fire in their numbers, up to fifty, singing strange songs, shouting and hooting. “Ijamba jamba…” the song leader called, and a resounding response “ehu!!!” by the others. They sang this repeatedly, in a call and response manner, dancing around the fire and stamping their military boots alongside. They raised guns, machetes, battle axes and other dangerous weapons up and down, round the fire.
The charade suddenly came to a halt when a man raised his left hand. He was not the tallest, standing about 5.5 feet above the ground. He was as dark as the night itself, but for the light from the fire, he would blend perfectly with it (the night). Unlike the others, he was not putting on a shirt, perhaps to distinguish himself as the leader of the cult. He had an old dry skull tied around his neck, which dangled about his chest when he moved. “Brothers, I welcome you all to this very crucial meeting. You all know that tomorrow the fresh students will be having their matriculation ceremony and as we always do, we get the best initiated into our fraternity. There is war coming, we must be prepared.” He said, eliciting an “ahu!” response from the others, raising their weapons in solidarity. “They are having the fresher’s party at Hall 2, in the evening after the matriculation.” He said further.
There was a sudden quiet in the den and leader walked around the circle formed by the standing men, looking into the eyes of each man, slapping them in the chest. When he got to where Jimmy was standing, he paused, and smiled wildly, exposing his brownish teeth. “Black J, you will lead the Vipers to carry out this operation.” He said. Jimmy, now on bended knees with a bowed head replied, “my grandmaster, it will be an honour.” After performing some of their rituals, they drank and planned their invasion of the fresher’s party.
The morning of the matriculation day was beautiful. The sun shone brightly and the cold breeze swept very close to the ground, tingling bare feet. Etim eventually opened his eyes and it was daybreak. He could barely sleep through the night, always checking his phone’s time, an untamed excitement for his matriculation ceremony. At last, he was where he always dreamt to be. He parted the curtains and allowed sun rays permeate into the hostel which he shared with two other boys; Tayo and Jaji. Among the two, he was closer to Jaji. They met each other during the registration at the school’s exams and record department. This was his third week in school after leaving his family in Aba. He missed Papa, mama and Emeka. But He had already gotten used to his environment and the people around. “Get up! Are you not excited?” Etim asked, not waiting for any reply, he pounced on Jaji’s bed. Jaji at this time had his eyes half open. “Come on, it is already 7am, the ceremony starts at 8am.”
He finally forced him up and they both had their shower and prepared for the occasion. Tayo was not in the room at that time and they were not concerned much as he was known to have many rooms to sleep in, he was that jovial.
The ceremonial hall of the university was venue to the occasion. The hall, which had a capacity to hold over two thousand people was dressed and well decorated with colourful lights and materials. Photographers were seen in just about every available space in the compound with their stands. Cars of different brands were arranged in fine manner and people of different ages were seen moving into the halls, they were either family members, friends or well wishers of celebrants. The fine patterns of green formed by the garment worn by the fresh students who were sitting together, synergized, and in the midst were Jaji and Etim.
After the Vice Chancellor’s speech, the Dean came up to the exalted podium and gave his fatherly words of advice to both freshmen and their wards. The ceremony ended just the way it started and really lived up to the hype. After dancing and taking so many personal and collective photographs, it was time to go home. As they walked towards the car park, they overheard two ladies talking about an after party. They were both putting on matriculation gowns so undoubtedly, they were freshmen. “We should be there man!” Jaji giggled. “I do not think we should. Let us just go home and relax, lectures start tomorrow” Etim responded with a clearly feigned confidence as even Jaji could see through his eyes the way he looked at the ladies that he wanted to go. Jaji looked at him sardonically with a side eye and gave him a crooked smile, “we could meet lots of girls there huh...” It did not take time for Etim to budge. They went back to the hostel and waited for the evening party like a child excited about a new toy.
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