I was driving home yesterday when I saw a boy scout in full regalia. I had completely forgotten about them, I didn’t know they still existed.
Perhaps you’re like me, and you went to a primary school in Lagos where there were four societies to join for extra curricular activities: The Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, Brownies, and the Girl Guides.
But you didn’t get to choose which of the groups you wanted to join. We were randomly assigned. Like those random airport security checks that only pick out Middle Eastern travellers.
If you were a scruffy boy with a square shaped head and bow-legs, you were put into the Boy Scouts.
If you had smooth skin, a high-pitched voice and no open sore mosquito bites on your legs, Red Cross.
If you were in the shortest 25th percentile of the class? There was no escaping it, you were hurried into the Red Cross.
A baritone voice at the age of seven? Boy Scouts.
A disfiguring facial scar that doomed you to a lifetime of acting as a movie villain? Boy Scouts.
In the movies, the Boy Scouts are always learning cool skills–how to tie 52 different knots, starting a fire using rocks, shit like that. And they would have different badges. Rock climbing badge, Road safety badge, Arts and crafts badge.
Our own Boy Scouts? Nothing of the sort.
They just hung out and climbed trees, like their green and brown uniforms gave them an excuse to play in the dirt.
While the Red Cross was learning to save lives, the Boy Scouts were picking up rusty nails and rotting branches from the ground and starting fights. They used the nails to play a game where they drew a circle in the sand, and threw the nail into it. They would draw lines from the center of the circle to where the nail stuck. You would think they were financial analysts preparing pie charts, but don’t be deceived, these kids were touts.
Maybe you thought it wouldn’t be so bad being in the Red Cross since it had both boys and girls. You would think that would make up for being unable to make it into the Boy Scouts. You thought wrong.
On the assembly ground, the Boy Scouts, aspiring playboys that they were, would swarm into the Red Cross gathering and kick all the male members out. And they would make us go stand with the Brownies. Not even with the Girls Guides, the Brownies.
In the primary school caste system, The Brownies were the untouchables. Named after a delicious pastry, they didn’t have a lot of credibility to begin with.
The Girl Guides, on the other hand, was pretty much just a way of rounding up all the girls in the school that had gotten famous for beating up boys, then adding all the girls who already had breasts in Primary four and giving them a formal group name.
For the rest of the (mostly malnourished) girls, this was the catch: if the socks you wore with your school uniform were still white at break time, then that was already half the uniform for the Red Cross and you joined them.
But if the socks were stained brown from mud and dirt, then they gave you a brown beret to complete the outfit and you were in the Brownies. Boohoo.
The only excuse you could have for speaking to a Brownie was if you were related to her, and even then, only in moderation when your friends weren’t looking. If you know someone now who tells you she used to be a Brownie, just give her a hug and whisper, “It’s alright.”
Sometimes you would have a pair of siblings, a brother and a sister. Him in the Red Cross and her in the Brownies. It would break your heart watching them after school as they walked home together with their shoulders slumped and nothing to say to each other. You would shake your head thinking, who would comfort who at night when they cried themselves to sleep?
One holiday I fell down a flight of stairs, and I cut my head on a sharp edge. I sustained a gash that required my head to be shaved and stitches to be sealed shut. At the end of that holiday, I had grown one more inch. I walked to school proudly with a bandage on my head and new sandals with thick soles hoping I was now big and rugged enough for the Boys Scouts. Nope.
I’ve never been laughed at so much in my life.
So it is understandable that when I saw the boy scout yesterday, I turned the steering wheel and swung the car towards him.
He was quick.
He skittered across the road, jumped onto the sidewalk and escaped.