By: Dupe Kuku
“Tolotolo! Lenge lenge! Legginus Oluwaclaire!”
A chorus of chuckles followed. The Menace was a beloved nuisance. Irreverent and witty, the triad jested about everyone who walked past. And that was a lot of people. Situated right next to the toilet and just before the block of science laboratories, SS3 Technical was an inescapable horror for staff and students alike.
“Lenge lenge where are you going?”
Thomas shouted at her back. He slunk out of his seat; exiting the class through the perennially open backdoor. He was stalking the long legged girl who, for the first time ever, had seemed to not hear him.
Claire was his favorite. Tall and slim with endless legs and long arms, she reminded him of holidays and coconut trees in his Badagry hometown. She was also shy and kept to herself. It made him want to be the person who saw her smile and come alive.
The Menace of Three usually got one of three responses.
Junior students pretended not to hear them. Their mates returned their remarks with quips of their own, flung rude hand signals, laughed, or screamed lighthearted cusses like your papa. Teachers were the tricky ones. They usually never heard whatever was said. The ensuing laughter however ticked them off worse than a dog seeing an intruder. Thomas and the gang were punished often, threatened with beating, and sometimes got the whole class into trouble.
Claire was distinct. You could tell when their voices got to her. She would jump, hug herself, and walk so fast her legs looked like propellers. Thomas enjoyed watching her respond to his voice. It was one of the few pleasures his insufferable teenage life afforded. He also liked to imagine that this was a thing between them. That she was his shy, long-limbed baby.
Thomas trotted to Claire. She was shorter; bowed at her waist and almost doubled over.
“Are you al…”
The question was swallowed when he blocked her path and lifted her face. There were unshed tears in her eyes and her teeth were sunk into her trembling lower lip.
“What happened? Someone hurt you?”
Anger blazed in Thomas’ gut at the thought. Raw. Unguarded.
Everybody knew Lenge Lenge was off-limits. He had announced as much the day he walked into the dining hall to see a male SS2 student bullying her. If someone had dared despite that…
Claire’s voice was weak and it returned his attention to the moment. He looked behind her and turned to follow her gaze forward. She had been coming from her class, and was heading to the sickbay; he deduced. Shutting off his mind’s riot of anger and panic, he lifted her like an egg; left arm circling her back and the right behind her knees.
Panic assailed Claire and she kicked her legs up.
Hunh?! Did he just… Why was a member of Menace carrying her? And to where? Why was HE carrying her?!
“If you’re strong enough to protest, you should be telling me who hurt you.”
Claire’s teeth released her lower lip but she realized she couldn’t tell him. She probably couldn’t speak articulately either; she feared. She could feel the heat of his body through his uniform and hear his heart pounding. They were too close for propriety, let alone….
She didn’t dare complete the thought. She was uncomfortable and embarrassed enough as it was.
Thomas watched worry play on her face. Her glabella squeezing as she contemplated whatever chess moves gamed in her head. Eventually, she lowered her lashes and caged her lips with teeth again. She might not like this, he thought, but she was done fighting it. And that was fine by him. He would find whoever was responsible after, and they would get a first lesson on why no one touched whoever the Menace said was off-limits.
Tension dissolved in Thomas’ shoulder, and he stood straighter. Gathered her closer.
“Rest against me. I’m taking you to the sickbay”