Story: Bobo

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on April 21, 2015.

A coming-of-age tale.

Around the third term of Class Five, thoughts of love begin to cir­cu­late. Everything con­spires to make things this way. Torsos begin to adver­tise gender. The weather grows moist and sen­ti­men­tal. The real­iza­tion dawns upon the pupil that Class Six is just an exam away- and then JSS! And then uni­ver­sity, and taxes, and feed­ing bot­tles and dia­pers! The world sud­denly looms before the eyes; life becomes real and earnest.

This fever affects girls more than boys. Before, they only raise their plas­tic chil­dren and cook their ined­i­ble foods in play. Now, the real thing beck­ons. Casting off the child­ish­ness of Frytol bottle seal-rings and Disney stick­ers, they begin look­ing for a worthy companion.

It’s hard for the ladies though. They have known the boys since nurs­ery, in all like­li­hood. They have seen their Scooby-Doo under­wear and smelled their exhaust fumes. Often-times they may have lent pens to the pim­pled freaks which were returned with bite marks and a trou­bling smell. For the young male, the real­i­ties of life will strike three years later, just when he should be gird­ing up his loins against the Great Examination. Such is life.

But there are always new­com­ers, those won­der­ful unknown angels. And into such a sit­u­a­tion came Bobo.

Bobo was remark­able in many ways. Most impor­tantly, he looked like a man. He wasn’t tall, but he was com­pactly arranged, with thick arms and thighs that stretched his shorts when he sat, and the dis­creet promise of a pot belly. He was thick all over- even his ears. His head shape gave him the clas­sic Nkrumah hair­line, and his chin was mod­estly dim­pled. He added to the over­all effect by wear­ing church shoes; they were scuffed, but still respectable. He laced them extremely tight. The girls won­dered why.

Bobo was obliv­i­ous of all the atten­tion. Bobo was obliv­i­ous of most things around him. He padded about in his click­ing formal shoes, with a whim­si­cal little smile on his face. Time to submit home­work? Bobo would sit, gently rub­bing the sur­face of his desk in cir­cu­lar motions, stop­ping to pass on the ones from behind him. Then the teacher would ask if anyone didn’t submit their book. With the soft smile in place beneath con­cerned eyes, Bobo would raise his hand and hurry up to explain. His rea­sons seemed good to him, but he always got lashed anyway. The smile would be replaced for a little while by a ner­vous lick­ing and biting of lips, and the girls in the class would weep inside. Class exer­cise? More desk rub­bing, then straight on to the whip­ping and lip biting. And the girls would curse the cruel world. Question asked? Bobo would lean for­ward politely and stay in that posi­tion, placidly play­ing with his collar, return­ing the teacher’s expec­tant gaze. After a bit, the teacher would real­ize that you can’t have a star­ing con­test if the other party is look­ing through you. After a few kind words for Bobo, they usu­ally moved on. The girls in the class wished teach­ers would­n’t call him Bobo. They called him Bobo, them­selves. But then they did it from a place of love. Teachers should call him Livingstone.

At break, they watched Bobo sit­ting by him­self under the nim trees, eating fried plan­tain. It was always fried plan­tain, with an occa­sional egg. He brought it in an Action Man lunch­box that looked ten years old. Why always plan­tain, the girls won­dered. Was it his favourite? Or was it all he could afford? Maybe he had a tree in his yard. Maybe his par­ents were poor, honest plan­tain farm­ers. They had to be poor, anyhow. Bobo never bought any­thing at school, not even ice­wa­ter. At Second Break when the other chil­dren snacked on Nice bis­cuits and Yoghurt 100 tof­fees, Bobo would approach the stalls, remove a hand­ful of coins from his front pocket, care­fully count them, look back at the dis­plays, look at the money- and smile his wist­ful smile, shake his head and trot back. After care­ful inves­ti­ga­tion, the girls devel­oped a sus­pi­cion that the coins never changed number, and never left his pocket. Instead of snack­ing, Bobo would sit and watch the boys play­ing foot­ball. He only played if they asked him to. Then he would throw him­self into the game- he played Number 6- briskly trot­ting around, having very little impact. Opponent danced around Bobo, but they did so politely. You could­n’t pay spe­cial atten­tion to Bobo. It would feel mean. It’s like with cows. You find your­self work­ing around them.

The girls could­n’t approach Bobo either. Oh, but how they wanted to. Of course, they didn’t mean to marry Bobo- even they had to admit that he was use­less. But they wanted to take care of him, just for a bit. Maybe until JSS, when the boys grew up. So they watched and yearned. And then they dis­cov­ered the draw­ings, and the yearn­ing intensified.

There is this thing that school chil­dren draw some­times- or they used to, at least. There are many vari­a­tions, revolv­ing around the basic shape of a heart, and the words ‘Odo Handkerchief’. I’m not sure why they do it. I doubt they know them­selves. But ever so often you find a real artist who applies him­self to the task, with kente bor­ders and little sen­ti­men­tal back­ground encomi­ums. Bobo was one of these spe­cial ones. He had a great tech­nique- he would smudge the lines of the heart with his thumb, cre­at­ing a blurred effect.

And he wrote the ‘Odo Handkerchief’ in cur­sive, with long flow­ing lines. The draw­ings didn’t sur­prise people too much, con­sid­er­ing. They did not flat­ter them­selves that they under­stood this trea­sure of a boy, so they could­n’t say what was unusual in his con­text. But the cur­sive did throw them a bit. They didn’t teach cur­sive in this par­tic­u­lar school, so the girls had to apply them­selves extra for this skill. And this boy was cur­siv­ing loopy rings around them. It was a delight­ful heartache.

Even with these rev­e­la­tions, still nobody could find a decent way to invade Bobo’s per­sonal uni­verse. They just watched, and yearned, and sud­denly mid-term was here, and the exams were around the corner. And Bobo’s heart was still his alone. The trial grew sore. And then, with­out warn­ing, Jessica Ampofo got up one day, went to the class­room during break time, and took Bobo’s note­book from under his desk. (The draw­ings were done on the insides of his note­book covers.) And she held on to it, until she saw him look­ing for it before the RME teacher came. Then she went up and did a coy little bit about won­der­ing if the book was his, and not being sure because she didn’t know that the rest of his name was Kweku Agyare. Lie! They all knew. The name was on all his books, in the same care­ful print. But Bobo politely smiled. And she put the book on his desk and acci­den­tally flipped the cover, and gasped in honest sur­prise to see this beau­ti­ful work of art. And she gushed and said wow. And Bobo’s smile broad­ened. And she said, Did you do this? And Bobo nodded yes with a quiet pride, and she took the book up and stared at the draw­ing, and stared at Bobo, and back at the draw­ing, and so forth. And every­body in the class pre­tended not to notice this little sit­u­a­tion, but there was a breath­less­ness in the air as they watched Bobo’s smile broaden, bit by little bit, into a grin. And when Jessica play­fully slapped the back of Bobo’s hand and said, Oh you have to make one for me- the world stopped spin­ning for just a little bit. And every­body, even the boys, felt a little drained when Bobo grinned and nodded Okay. That Jessica Ampofo. Deceiving Bobo; who ever heard such a thing? The girls busied them­selves with schol­arly prepa­ra­tions as the sloth­ful RME man came in- much too late. Even as the man droned on about good­ness and right, in their hearts they agreed that injus­tice had pre­vailed today.

Then came second break. Everybody sort of milled around the door, won­der­ing if Jessica would walk out with Bobo. Of course she did. The girl had no shame. And they watched help­lessly as the two headed to the nim trees, Bobo car­ry­ing a note­book. And then they watched him trot toward the stalls, and the world stood still again. Even the foot­ball game slowed to a halt- Class 5A’s trea­sure was well known. And the world watched as Bobo drew the eter­nal hand­ful of coins from his front pocket, care­fully counted them, looked at the dis­plays, looked back at the money- looked toward the nim trees, nodded pur­pose­fully to him­self, trot­ted up to the seller, and bought two Nice bis­cuits. And a balloon.

In the mem­o­ries of some forty people, grad­u­ates of Class 5A, this is the crys­tal moment when ‘Odo Handkerchief’ made sense.

And that is the story of Bobo.

I’m not Bobo.
Or Jessica.
I do like Nice bis­cuits.
And fried plantain.

I never drew ‘Odo Handkerchief’.