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Run for the shield

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Kole Omotoso


That year Empire Day was to be celebrated throughout the British Empire, the primary schools of Akure, the provincial headquarters of Ondo province included. A new shield had been designed. Polished brown hard wood shining bright. And the words “RESPONSIBILITY, SYMPATHY, DUTY, SELF-SACRIFICE” were carved on the face of the shield. The words, translated into the three main languages of Nigeria, were gold-plated. Smaller replicas of the shield accompanied the big shield to be given to individual athletes, winners of the debates and dramas to be staged. So, why anyone would mistake such a shining shield for a piece of firewood to be broken into pieces to feed a fire nobody could explain. And how that act of an illiterate but intelligent mother led to riots and demand for freedom is history now. But we seem to be running ahead of ourselves.
{the beauty of the head gear goes beyond wearing it well Wearing it well goes beyond being beautiful in it.Freedom is not difficult, Using it properly is the challenge}

June was rain and rain was June. The following year it was moved to the 24th of May. But in the year being celebrated here Rain said if he didn’t fall his most falling, the people of the world should change his name to No-Rain. Lightning slashed the dark low-lying clouds and thunder followed with its rumbling. And heavy rain drops pounded the roof.

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June 10th was going to be D-Day, the day that would settle the winner of the rivalry between Sacred Heart Catholic School and St. Davids and St. Thomas’s Anglican Primary Schools. Representing Sacred Heart was Roofy Brown, all round brain and brawn, a Muhammad Alli before his time. On the other side representing St. Davids and St. Thomas’s was the soft spoken J-Julie otherwise known as Seweje because of the suppleness with which he took bends when executing the 200 meters or the 400 meters. The inter-house sports in each school had picked their teams. All that remained was for the day to arrive. The 24th of May. If you don’t give us a holiday/We will all run away!

At the St Davids Sports Field preparations were under way. Those painting the white lane demarcations were busy demarcating. Those trimming the edges were busy doing their part. The teachers who supervised them would lean back and beg God make rain no come to spoil everything. Her colleagues would ‘Amen’ to that prayer. The rain would ruin everything. In the Staff Room during the joint meeting of the organizing committee made up of the headmasters of the schools, or their games masters, the matter of the rain was raised. The games master of one of the Ereko schools suggested he be appointed to speak to an old man in their village who knew the ancient art of holding the rain. Opinion was varied. Some said that it was mumbo-jumbo while others didn’t care but they could try. A Catholic priest headmaster condemned the whole idea and threatened to walk out of the meeting if the rain holder was mentioned again. The Ereko games master decided to go ahead with his mission to the rain holder but he would not share the secret. When that day comes and no drop of rain falls, he will reveal to all and sundry that our ancestors were not fools.

The provincial athletes and other competitors started arriving in the capital a few days before May 24th. One contingent of eight with drums and trumpets announced for all to hear: This as they matched to their temporary accommodation.

One of the clubs launched that year in all schools was the Bribe Scorners Club. It was to encourage school children not to accept bribes and not to give bribes. Pupils registered and took an oath to keep to the dictates of the club. Other clubs were the Boys Scouts, Boys Brigade as well as their female counterparts Girls Guide and Girls Brigade.

That year, the schools in the provincial capital fojudi those from the rural areas. As the elimination stages of the races went ahead the games masters of the capital schools were shocked that their prize pupils were not up to the mark. Father Donavan, the one who objected to the rain holder was so worried he wanted the elimination trials suspended until tomorrow which means a day before the finals. But the rule book did not allow for such breaks. The rivals survived, barely. Afojudi is dangerous in situations of competition.

What was the political circumstance in which that Empire Day took place? In the world of the children of the Empire, everything was honky-dory. It was their persona prowess. It was the pride in the name of their schools. Even their teachers also shared in the enthusiasm of their pupils. The Empire was falling apart and Britain was losing the moral courage to keep an Empire. Movements for freedom and independence were on the increase.

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June 10th came like all days. The whether people, notorious for not getting the weather right predicted that there would be no precipitation on that day. The Ereko games master said it was tanks to the old man in the village with the knowledge of ancient art of rain holding.

The athletes from out of town jumped higher. They leapt longer but could not out perform Seweje and Roofy Brown who was awarded so many smaller shields he needed a truck to take them home. Finally, he was handed the big Shield of all Shields, the Shield of Champions as the Captain of the winning school. As soon as he received the prized Shield he took to the streets of Akure followed by his whole school Sacred Heart School. The school band led the procession with Roofy Brown holding the Shield aloft. The beat was quick and maddening:
WE WON THE SHIELD OF CHAMPIONS
REJOICE WITH US!
REJOICE, REJOICE REJOICE
REJOICE WITH US
WE WON THE SHIELD OF CHAMPIONS
REJOICE WITH US!!!

There is a narrow road with a long name bordering the Kabiyesi’s rambling palace. The road links Arakale and Oja Oba. There is a Smithy working in gold and various metals. Behind the Smithy is a big house. Roofy’s parents lived in the house. Roofy entered with some of his friends. He ran in to show his mother the shield.

She took the piece of wood from him thanking him for it. He took the piece of wood to the kitchen. She fetched an axe and broke it into pieces. She then started the fire on which she placed a pot to boil water.

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In this article:
Kole Omotoso
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