1: For something shiny

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All that glitters isn't gold.

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This story began when Isabelle and her best friend, Emily, finally won in pressuring their individual guardians to take the offer and allow them study in Badmus High. 

Attending Badmus High has been a dream of every Nigerian teenager, because it was considered one of the best schools in Nigeria. So as soon as the opportunity came knocking, the two girls didn't hesitate in jumping at it. Mrs. Juliet Onyenorah, Isabelle's mom, found it concerning that a school was ready to accept final year students without the usual entrance examination while Jane Obinna, Emily's Aunt, was drawn in by the exclusive benefits Badmus High had to offer. As said by an advocate of the school, the fee would be cut as this was a means to promote the school's reputation and bring in more talents. 

Despite Mrs. Onyenorah's suspicion, her husband was on Jane's side, so they proceeded with registration. 

It was a Sunday and Isabelle and Emily were at a salon, fixing up their hair for the next day.

“Wow. Look at the size of their football field,” Emily gaped and Isabelle leaned in to see, but her hairdresser wouldn't let her as she gripped a couple of strands.

“Ouch,” Isabelle winced.

“Sorry. Stay one place so it'll not pain you,” was the hairdresser's advice.

Isabelle frowned and crossed her arms.

“See, see,” Emily said and held her phone in between them, so Isabelle could see from the corner of her eyes.

“That's a school field?” Isabelle wowed.

“Wait, till you see the library. It'll throw you off,” Emily said and winced when her own hairdresser pulled at her hair. “Easy na.”

“Sorry. Just stay one place,” the lady told Emily.

“Am I not staying one place? You sha want to tear my hair (you just want to ruin my hair).”

“Emmy,” Isabelle called.

“Abegi (please).”

Though it was in murmurs, Isabelle could tell Emily's hairdresser was muttering profanities at Emily and Isabelle eyed the lady evilly.

Soon, the two were done with their hair and were on their way home.

“I hope there are cute boys there,” Emily leaned in to say, one arm around Isabelle's.

“My own is I hope the workload isn't much. I'm happy we're attending this school o, but this one we're resuming on second week. I hope I won't have to write so many notes.”

“Mtchew. Anyone I can write, I'll write. Me I can not come and go and kill myself away (I can't stress myself).” 

Isabelle giggled, not only at what Emily said, but also at her choice of words. Eight years ago, Emily was still living with her parents in England and had a deep British accent. But after spending the following eight years in Nigeria, it was impossible not to have been corrupted by the popular slangs of the country.

Emily suddenly sucked in a breath, finger tapping the edge of her hair. “I hope I don't have to be making my hair every week in this new school, because I can't deal with this.”

“Why'd we be doing that?”

Isabelle knew why Emily would want such. Emily had natural curls that were as stubborn as the owner. They've tried every relaxer in the book, yet the hair remained the same. Isabelle sometimes teased Emily that it'd be until Emily stopped being stubborn that her hair would succumb. 

“I heard from a friend of mine, that knows someone there, that they don't give weekly hairdos. That as long as your hair is neat, you ain't got no problem.”

“For real?”

“Yes o. Ah, where we're going issa whole new level." 

Isabelle laughed. “Although sha, I'm going to miss all our friends from our former school. People like Dafe and Olive.”

“Henry, James, Bode.” Emily scrunched up her face. “Anyway! It's not like we won't see them again.”

That night, Isabelle and Emily couldn't sleep. The anxiety was enough to keep them awake and had Isabelle munching on every chip remaining in the house. 

“How can you eat at a time like this?” Emily asked.

Isabelle swallowed her food and shrugged. “You can't eat when you're nervous. But for me, it's the opposite."

“Hmm. You're just lucky you barely add weight.”

Compared to Emily, Isabelle was fatter, but this has always been her look for years. She ate a lot and barely added weight from the food. Though Isabelle had been warned quite a number of times that she'd see the consequences years later, when she becomes a mom, Isabelle believed that bridge was one she could cross with lots of dieting and exercise.

The door opened and Isabelle's mom walked in.

“Okay, time for you to go, Emily. It's already ten and late.” Mrs. Onyenorah stood at the door, arms crossed with her right flip-flop tapping the floorboard.

“Ten more minutes, Mrs. Juliet,” Emily begged.

“Yeah, mom. Please. It's not like Emmy lives on the other side of town. Her house is just across the hallway.” Isabelle pouted.

“I don't care. You know how grumpy you get when you wake up late for school, and I remember clearly that Emmy doesn't have to deal with that.” She narrowed her eyes.

Isabelle knew her mom was right. She hated being tardy, but tomorrow was going to be their first day in their new school and sleeping early was not a way to contain the excitement bubbling within.

Emily laughed as Isabelle's shoulders slouched and her pout deepened. 

“Okay. Let her sleep over instead,” Isabelle suggested.

“Eh? So that you people will whispering like church rats immediately I leave? It's not like you won't see each other tomorrow. Oya, come on. Up.” Mrs. Onyenorah clapped at Emily.

Emily got off the bed and slid her hands into her back pockets.

“Bye, Mrs. Juliet.” 

“Bye Emily. Tell your aunt I said hello.”

“Will do.”

It was just Isabelle and her mom now, and Isabelle was grumbling incessantly as she fixed her bed and got into it with her chips. Her mom shook her head, a knowing smile on her face.

“Ten minutes wasn't too much to ask for,” Isabelle said loudly with an eye roll.

“Goodnight, sweetie. Don't forget to say your prayers,” her mom said and turned to leave.

Isabelle sat up. “Mom! I'm not five.” 

“You don't need to be five to talk to God,” Mrs. Onyenorah said with one hand grabbing the door's handle.

“I know what I'm supposed to do! Stop making me feel like a child!” 

“Okay, baby,” Mrs. Onyenorah said and made baby noises as she turned off the light and closed the door.

In spite of herself, Isabelle smiled and knelt by her bedside, setting her snack aside. 

Though her mom could be annoying sometimes, she loved the woman more than life itself, and she knew her mom felt the same way about her. 

~~~

Badmus High was a highly prestigious secondary school in Lagos, and Isabelle and Emily were one of the lucky ones to attend. The school didn't usually allow final year students to enrol, which was exactly why they both counted themselves lucky. Badmus High was a dream come true to both girls. It not only encouraged brains, but also talents — one thing many schools didn't do. 

The school was rated one of the best schools (in regard to academic excellence) in 2017 and the years before, and they were still striving for excellence. The teachers were top-notch and the building was state of the art. The football field was standard, and football wasn't the only sport the students indulged in; sports like basketball, tennis, volleyball and so much more were included. 

But this was what Badmus high was on the outside. The inside with its depressing and life-shattering cruelty awaited Isabelle and her best friend as their guardians signed the registration papers in the principal's office.

“And here.” The principal pointed at the last section on the page, peering through her glasses.

Isabelle took a good a look at the woman, being as discrete as possible. The principal, Mrs. Rejoice Johnson — as introduced — was a slim, dark skinned woman in recommended glasses with her hair braided up, and also had a tight-lipped smile. There was only one word Isabelle could use to describe the woman: disciplined. She looked like someone who made rules and loved to stick to them to the core, and wouldn't for anyone, change a dent. But with that demeanour came slyness. On the outside, she might look like a disciplinarian, but Isabelle suspected the woman had many secrets and had broken too many laws to keep count of.

Mrs. Johnson looked at the girls through her glasses and Isabelle grinned. The woman smiled at them, shaking her head at the same time.

Beside Isabelle, Emily was finding it hard to stay rooted to the ground as she bounced back and forth, her left fingernails in between her teeth. Isabelle saw this and slapped Emily's hand. Emily glared at her and Isabelle widened her eyes, telling her through barred teeth that she was biting her nails. Quite often, Emily did that, and most of the time she didn't realize it.

“What about their uniforms?” Aunt Jane asked after closing the registration folder.

Aunt Jane was Emily's Aunt and guardian, and has been her guardian since she was ten.

“It should be here any-” 

The door opened and a female, smartly dressed in a black two-piece suit walked in, holding two transparent bags which had their uniforms.

“Oh. There it is. I hope it fits though.” Mrs. Johnson smiled at the female, and the young lady returned the smile. 

The lady handed the uniforms to the principal and stood at the door, one hand over the other on her belly.

The female, if her age was to be guessed from her physique, looked twenty-ish. She looked quite decent in natur; although, there was something off about the way she wore an unwavering smile.

“Your uniforms,” Mrs. Johnson said and handed the transparent bags to both girls.

“There are two each.” Emily pointed at her bag.

“I know right,” Isabelle agreed with an ear to ear grin.

Mrs. Onyenorah laughed and shook her head. “Do we have to wait for them to change or-”

“Sure you can. Sorry, I didn't introduce you to her.” Mrs. Johnson pointed at the lady at the door. “That's Miss Lucy. The school's tour guide. She's a big help to all our new students and a ray of sunshine.”

Isabelle hadn't guessed Miss Lucy's smile could get any wider until it spread and her perfectly white teeth showed.

“They even have a tour guide,” Emily whispered, bouncing on her feet.

Isabelle simply nodded as she watched Miss Lucy with curious eyes. Her smile was so bright, she could feel the falseness radiating from it. 

Shaking her head, Isabelle decided she was still shaken up from the horror film from last night. Unable to sleep, she had decided to watch one before going to bed and now, she was experiencing its aftermath.

Mrs. Johnson gave each girl their school ID card and a pamphlet. The pamphlet entailed information about their classes, the assigned time and teachers in charge. They were also asked to pick an extracurricular activity they'd be participating in, and the options only made Isabelle frown. 

Soon, they were handed to Miss Lucy, who led them to a restroom where they'd change.

“I can't believe we're actually here,” Emily said from her bathroom stall.

The whole place was sparkling clean and reeked of bleach, making Isabelle scrunch up her nose.

“I know right,” Isabelle agreed as she tried not to salivate much, pulling at her sock. “But I still wonder why we weren't enrolled based on the usual entrance examination.”

“Who cares! As long as I don't get to stuff my head with books.”

Isabelle laughed. Emily had never been a book lover — be it academic or for pleasure. She deemed it tiring and pointless. Exam periods were the only time Emily ever put in any effort in reading.

Emily started humming to the tunes of Heaven by Tatiana Manaois while snapping her fingers, and Isabelle shook her head, smiling.

“You're picking the Music club for your extracurricular activity, right?” Isabelle asked.

“Yep! What about you?”

Isabelle sighed. “I still haven't decided. Nothing looks good for me there.”

“Debates?” 

“You know I hate public speaking.” Isabelle was scowling, though she knew Emily couldn't see her.

Emily was quiet for a while. “We'll figure that out later. You still have till the end of the week.”

Minutes later, they emerged from their individual stalls with their school bags and stared at each other in awe.

Badmus' school uniform consisted of a white long-sleeved shirts, black flair skirts (for the girls) — which was slightly above the knees — black ankle socks, black-and-silver striped ties and a black jacket which had the school's name imprinted on the breast pocket. The shoes, they had been informed, had to be black no matter the form it took — as long as it was appropriate and acceptable.

"I can't believe it actually fits," Emily said as she checked herself out.

“Emmy, you look amazing!” Isabelle complimented.

And Isabelle meant it. She had always envied Emily's caramel skin. Emily was an admirable example of black beauty and quite tall for a female. Despite her height, Isabelle believed her friend was beautiful and even belonged on the covers of magazines. However, that didn't mean Isabelle didn't like her own physique: light-skinned and five-feet-five with lips as pink as strawberry cream. Isabelle wouldn't wish to have herself any other way.

“Why thank you, ma'am,” Emily said in a British accent. “You don't look too bad yourself.”

Isabelle held the dress of her skirt and gave a graceful knee-bow.

“Shall we exit the restroom like perfect gentle ladies?” She gestured at the door, playing along with the British accent.

“I think we should,” Emily replied with a giggle.

Isabelle snickered, and the two composed themselves at the same time as they grabbed their extra uniform and house cloths.

“The restroom is quite fancy,” Emily mentioned, her arm hooked around Isabelle's as the exited the bathroom.

“Sending you two in there at the same time. What was I thinking?” Mrs. Onyenorah said and palmed her forehead. 

Aunt Jane laughed, her arms hooked around Mrs. Onyenorah's free one. “You were thinking, let them have some fun.”

“You spoil them too much,” Mrs. Onyenorah complained.

Aunt Jane shrugged and the two girls giggled.

“Isn't the skirt a little too short?” Mrs. Onyenorah observed with a scrutinizing frown. 

The girls examined themselves as they tugged at the ends of their skirts.

“It's not that short, jo.” Aunt Jane slapped Mrs. Onyenorah's arm, sparing Miss Lucy's rigid face a glance.

“Why don't you two run along, yeah, while I take care of Mrs. No fun here,” Aunt Jane mocked with a British accent.

Emily snickered, Isabelle stifled a smile as Mrs. Onyenorah scowled at all of them.

“Shall we?” Miss Lucy wasn't smiling as she addressed them in her own British accent.

She looked pure Nigerian — black by skin and everything else — but her accent had caught everyone off guard when she spoke in the office.

Mrs. Onyenorah apologized for their unruly behaviour and the two women kissed the girls goodbye, collected their clothes and other uniforms before leaving.

“Greet dad for me,” Isabelle called out.

“Such bad behaviour is not accepted in this school,” Miss Lucy said with an air of authority. “Stand apart.”

Isabelle and Emily exchanged puzzled glances, but obeyed the lady.

“Backs in. Chins up,” Miss Lucy barked.

The two stared at each other and Emily shrugged as they did as they were told.

Miss Lucy glowered at them. “You will learn respect.”

She turned on her heels, and they exchanged glances before following.

She showed them their homeroom, where although class was in session, it didn't look like it. A teacher was clearly before them while some were chewing gum loudly and some had their phones out. A couple of seats were empty and a certain girl with a boyish cut was staring out the window, one palm supporting her chin.

They were asked to introduce themselves, but the response from the students were enough to kill an optimistic freak. Isabelle watched each and every person: no one looked enthusiastic as were the students in their former school on their first day. Bored and disinterested eyes stared back at them in response and Isabelle found herself feeling unwanted. Emily mustn't have noticed all these, because she was still grinning at the class.

After their introduction, Miss Lucy assigned the class prefect to give them a tour when not busy. Delightfully, the class prefect was an attractive student Miss Lucy introduced as Joel, and Isabelle found him quite interesting — not only to look at. He had a calm demeanour and a face to match. He wasn't immensely muscular, but he looked undoubtedly fit and responsible (given his haircut — a clean shaven, line-up cut). Something about him felt right and different at the same time. Nonetheless, Isabelle decided she liked him. And she hoped they could become wonderful friends in the long run.

“Hi. I'm Stanley, but you can call me Mr. Stan. I'm your homeroom teacher,” said the present teacher in the classroom with a smile and a handshake.

The girls took turns in shaking his hand and decided with discrete looks that he was creepy. Mr. Stanley was a balding man looking in his late thirties. His accent was well-off like that of an English teacher, but his smile was what made chills run down their spines.

“So you think Mr. Stan is weirder than Miss Lucy?” Isabelle asked in pure disbelief.

Isabelle paused to consider the use of the word 'weirder', and Emily laughed as she shrugged.

It was Lunchtime, and although it had taken few minutes for Isabelle to pack up, they met a short queue in the cafeteria. 

The school was big, but it wasn't that hard to spot the cafeteria, especially if one could hear their incoherent chatters from miles away. And also, it was easy to find because the cafeteria was a two-storey building secluded to the right end of the school.

“I just think since Mr. Stan was nice to us we should at least give him the benefit of doubt,” Emily said, but Isabelle could sense the sarcasm in her friend's voice, and they both laughed.

The line moved and so did they.

“Besides, he wasn't barking: stand apart! Backs in!” Emily mocked and Isabelle stifled a laugh.

Soon it was their time to order. Emily got an orange juice, an egg sandwich while Isabelle got a bottle of Coke and the same type of sandwich. She'd have got an extra sandwich, but decided against it at lady minute. They paid and while walking away from the line, Isabelle bumped into someone.

“Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry,” Isabelle apologized.

Luckily, nothing had spilled and the girl, who had been bumped into, was wearing a friendly smile.

“It's fine. Jessica Badmus,” the girl introduced and offered a handshake.

Emily took her hand while Isabelle stared in sheer surprise as her eyes searched for Jessica's ID card and found it sticking out of her breast pocket. Isabelle took Jessica's hand, remembering she hadn't seen her in class. 

With delicate features, cat-like eyes and glossy brown skin, Jessica was an epitome of natural beauty. She was trim looking, had her hair up in a bun and was an inch shorter than Emily. Her body complimented her uniform, instead of the other way around.

“Jessica Badmus. As in the Badmus family?” Emily asked in quick realization, much to Jessica's amusement.

“Yeah,” Jessica replied and gestured they gave room for others to order.

They starting walking away from the line.

“So your dad owns this whole place?” Emily gestured at the building with her eyes.

“Actually, my great granddad does,” Jessica rounded the air with her finger.

“Wow. Fourth generation,” Isabelle muttered.

“Yeah,” Jessica said quietly as she stared at Isabelle.

“Don't mind my friend,” Emily apologized. “She's... More in her head than anywhere.”

Isabelle slapped Emily with her one free hand and Emily raised her eyebrows.

Jessica chuckled. “Nah. It's fine, but I do think you should have left your bag in class. No one's going to steal it.” She pointed at Isabelle's bag.

“See,” Emily whispered to Isabelle.

Isabelle glared at Emily and shouldered her bag. “I prefer taking my bag with me. I'm more comfortable that way. Not because I feel like it'd get stolen. I just don't feel comfortable without it.”

Jessica nodded as if in understanding.

“Nerd,” Emily called quietly

“If I slap you,” Isabelle retorted, and then looked at Jessica. "Ehen. Have you guys done much? Wanted to know if I could borrow your note."

"We haven't done much, but my note is with a friend. Once I collect it, I'll give it to you."

Isabelle smiled in appreciation.

Jessica stopped and they followed suit. They had stopped at a table where their class prefect was present at, his head lowered to his phone with earphones plugged into his ears.

Emily bit her lower lip and squeezed Isabelle's hand. Thanks to their hands hidden behind an empty chair, no one saw when Isabelle slapped Emily's hand, but they saw Emily wince. The two gave wide grins as their cover-up, and Isabelle noticed Joel was the only one who didn't look up.

“Guys. Remember Isabelle and Emily? Our new classmates,” Jessica introduced.

Isabelle was impressed Jessica remembered their names, but also wondered if it was thanks to their ID cards. Maybe that was why its use was implemented — to aid remembrance.

“Hi, I'm Grace. But you can call me Gracy. And I'm as gentle as a dove,” said one of the girls with a wave and a wide grin. 

She had large eyes and it only worsened when she widened them. She looked small compared to her eyes, and appeared whiny. Isabelle smiled at her and so did Emily. After the smile exchange, Jessica introduced Grace as the social prefect.

“I'm Ope. Just Ope,” said another girl beside Grace, her voice naturally raspy.

Isabelle immediately recognized the girl as the one with the boyish cut, who had been staring out the window. Ope's introduction seemed to have had a hidden joke in it, because Grace responded with a low giggle.

“As funny as a clown,” Grace said, and Isabelle noticed that was the second time she used similes in her speech.

The lack of excitement and pleasantries in Ope's voice made Isabelle decide she'd have to give that one enough space. She looked like a Tomboy with her low haircut and also didn't smile. And smiling was a good first impression to Isabelle. However, Isabelle believed Ope was probably anti-social and that wasn't a disease.

Jessica later chipped in Ope's full name was Opeoluwa and also introduced her as the female sport prefect, which didn't come as a surprise to Isabelle. 

Just then, male laughter boomed across the hall and Isabelle turned to see the cause. Two tall boys (one, light-skinned and broad and the other was lanky and dark-skinned) had just entered the cafeteria and were slapping hands as they howled with laughter. 

“Dude, you're crazy,” the light skinned one said as the dark-skinned one left him for the other end of the hall, not without his gaze lingering on their table for a moment.

“Sup people,” the light-skinned boy greeted as he took a seat beside Joel, slapping Joel's shoulder. 

Joel spared him a glance and returned to his phone.

“And this is Bankole. But we call him Dave,” Jessica introduced and Bankole saluted them. “I thought you said you weren't coming today. Why are you here?”

Bankole leaned back in his seat, hands crossed behind his head, causing the sleeves of his shirt to tighten around his biceps. He wasn't wearing his jacket. Dimples dented his cheeks as he smiled and his eyes trailed down Isabelle's body making her feel uncomfortable.

“Coach said he wanted to see me today. Something about a match tomorrow.” 

Bankole was remarkably handsome, had a charming, dimpled smile. His tie hung loosely around his neck and the last two buttons were undone. He was one with a notable presence, even the moment he arrived the air was filled with his expensive perfume. He was the spitting image of your typical High School bad boy: short afro with shape-up, chiselled jaw and luring eyes. Isabelle also observed he had a polished accent. This was the kind of boy who won and broke hearts as he pleased, and also the image her mom would warn her against.

Apparently and not surprisingly, Bankole was the male sport prefect.

“And you've already met our anti-social class rep. Joel,” Jessica shouted a little over the overlapping voices in the hall, hoping for Joel to hear and added quickly: “We call him Joe though. He's the head boy.”

Joel managed to look up, give a small wave and return to staring down at his phone's screen.

Isabelle wanted not to like him. He had barely acknowledged their presence, but then again, being shy was a thing and not an illness — she should know. Although, getting a closer look at him, there was something about his face that wasn't just likeable, but strikingly familiar.

“Don't mind him. He's a nerd,” Jessica whispered from the back of her hand.

“I heard that,” Joel glanced up and everyone laughed, except Opeoluwa, whose lips only moved an inch.

“And I'm the head girl,” Jessica said, surprising Isabelle. “If you need anything, you can come to me, okay? Don't be shy.”

Isabelle and Emily agreed with a smile.

“They can join us, right,” Jessica stated, rather than ask the others as she took a seat opposite Bankole.

“We wouldn't want to bother you guys,” Isabelle said, and this earned her a pinch at the back from Emily. “Ouch.”

“They're offering the seat. Not us begging,” Emily said through gritted teeth.

Bankole laughed. “It's fine. We don't mind” 

The left corner of his mouth tilted into a smirk and Isabelle swallowed.

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