Memories Of A Young Man As A Teacher (35)

It is now one full year since I last published here. Like a cowardly man at the mention of pregnancy, I left after episode 34 and didn’t glance bank. Today, the child born in and by my absence is about to celebrate her one year birthday and here am I, without shame, tiptoeing back onto this blog to see the ditch my absence left, to do what about it?

I don’t know what to do about it nor what excuses to offer. Nor if you can forgive me. But I plead that you hear me out. Look at my hands. I have at least a dozen episodes left on my adventures on the Mount. Kindly continue to be my ears as I unload them, like hot potatoes, on your laps. Hopefully in sustained rapidity.

My people say that when Trouble comes to your house and you tell him you have no room for him, he will tell you he brought his own chair. You’re stuck with me, baby.

In case you need a refresher for the series, here’s the last episode. Should you be seeing this for the first time or have the need to start from the beginning, here’s the very first episode.

* *

After my query response, I didn’t hear again from the authorities. Time sped through the exams period, so much that if you skip your breakfast, you would just discover that you skipped dinner as well and hunger will remember you in the death of the night.

The exams period was rather fun. There were no classes to teach and no latecomers to catch and punish – if you were late, your punishment was playing catch-up in the exam hall.

All I did during this time was supervise papers then lazy about in the staff room. I did my markings at home.

I saw so little of Obioma. I wasn’t avoiding her but I wasn’t seeking her out, either. It appeared our relationship was in some sort of hibernation.

As for Joy, I was freeing. But I didn’t think she had my time. She was neckdeep in work. She would be typing tomorrow’s paper today and having the teachers make corrections. Tomorrow, she would be on next tomorrow’s paper. All these were for the primary section. She was done with ours in the secondary section.

After the exams, we continued to come to school to mark, gossip, and give students their papers. Joy was still typing. Now, I no longer knew nor cared what she was typing. I felt like this was some sort of punishment for her to type till her fingers hurt, to type up to Christmas day. As though being Joy was not enough punishment.

One day, I think a day before the final day, the principal came to the staff room to address us.

“The management is happy with the staff,” he said, “so they have decided to pay us half salary for December. Normally, you are not paid until January but they have decided to…”

“Show mercy,” I completed for him.

“Yes. Normally, you only have your lesson money to spend but they have decided to show kindness. You people won’t clap?”

They clapped. I clapped.

“Apart from the half salary,” he continued, “the management have decided to give us a little package. So when you come tomorrow, prepare to carry something home.”

They clapped. I clapped.

The principal looked at me. “This one you’re clapping after everyone.”

“Slow network,” Ikenna said.

Everyone laughed. Then I laughed which make everyone laugh again. The principal shook his head.

The next day, school officially dismissed for the term, results sheets given out, every staffer gathered at the primary section.

The director thanked us for a good term and left to the bank to withdraw our lessons money. I shook my head, he had to wait till today, Friday, which meant that the chances of telling us stories were high. My face crowded.

Obioma came and stood at my shoulder. “A penny for your frown,” she said.

I almost smiled. “Our lesson money is heading towards voicemail. Ready to fight?”

“Ye of little faith,” she said.

While the proprietress was speaking, the gate opened for a rickety van which stopped on the half circle we formed. The driver and his boy began to offload chickens – old, tired looking layers in their dozens. They must have counted all of us.

The proprietress said this was her small token to thank us for a well-done job. She said we would all receive our half salaries on or before Tuesday, the 22nd of December 2015 and we will get the other half in January. She said this was a way of making sure we had something left after the jollification of Christmas.

“Remember,” she said, “January is the longest month of any year.”

“With 99 days,” Ikenna interjected.

Everyone laughed. I did not.

The principal was the first to select a chicken. The bursar was next. Then their assistants. Then it became come-and-pick by age or perception of age.

I was the second or third to the last to pick up an old fowl from my section. An urge to say something pushed hard at my throat; I bit my tongue. I walked back to my lady.

It was quarter past 12pm when the picking ended and many in the primary section had gone home. I learned that the bursar kept their lesson money and they shared it this morning.

We secondary section, whose money was kept by the director, began what must be a long wait. I waited in Obioma’s deserted classroom. She gave me a large piece of cake that came from one of her children celebrated birthday today.

I thanked her and kept it on her desk.

“Don’t tell me you’re worrying about your lesson money.”

I said I was worrying about how to carry this old chicken. She said she would show me how to. I thanked her.

She came and sat on my laps. “You have been so kind to me this term. It was tough in so many periods but your friendship was really helpful.”

I smiled. “You are my baby,” I said.

“I am thinking,” she said, “why don’t I follow you to your village? You know I have never visited Orumba before and I can spend the weekend seeing things.”

My heart was pounding on my ribcage, deafening me. “Your parents — “

“You can follow me home and ask my mom for permission. She knows about you and likes you already.”

A week ago, I wasn’t even sure I had a girlfriend and now she was going to be my wife-to-be which was how my parents would see her when she got to my place, and I would become her husband-to-be which was how her mom would see my when I asked for permission to —

My phone rang. She had to get up for me to answer it. “What do you say?” she asked as she came to her feet, searching my face.

I answered the call from Ikenna. “The director is here with our lesson money,” he said.

I thanked Ikenna and looked at Obioma. “Gimme a moment, please.”

She nodded with eyes in the cusp of disappointment and elation. I hurried out without appearing to hurry, trying to make sense out of a 25-thousand-naira-a-month teacher whose parents looked at and sake their head with concern bringing home, to them, a woman for a full weekend.

What does Trouble say when she knocks on your door and you say there’s no room?

To be continued…

Memories Of A Young Man As A Teacher (34)

In case you missed the previous episode. Read here


I got two queries on my desk the day after the Christmas Party. The first one was aiding and abetting a demonic dance move. The second one was for holding jollof rice hostage (I still have this one on my desk as I write this and it never ceased to crack my ribs into many pieces).

Everyone was sympathetic to me for query number one because there was no how, they believed, I could tell how bad the dance would be executed/received – a dance whose idea I didn’t conceive, a dance which rehearsals I didn’t coach.

But for holding jollof rice hostage, everyone was asking for my head. Even Mrs. Anozie wasn’t by my side. I would grapple with this alone.

So I sat at my desk, weighing my options. I did what I did for my class, boys and girls I loved and cared for, all of whom paid the 1000 naira for the party, the only class with 100% payment. The least you could do was give them jollof rice whether or not they brought cooler or not.

I had the mind to just stand up and leave and never return.

I was a hero and heroes don’t quit. If I quit, what would be my excuse, that I left because of jollof rice? Not for the benefit of my belly, I can quickly add but what good would it do? Even Bismarck will not understand.

If I had headbutted MC Somebody who was actually a Nobody and broken his insipid nose, or if I had floored him on the dust pressing his potbelly on the sand and filling his lungs with dust, or if I had removed his leg and beat him on the head with his shinbone, then I leave afterward, it would be worth it. Bismarck would have been proud of me.

Something told me to take this battle to the kids and like Mark Anthony stir them to revolt. But I dismissed that immediately. I wouldn’t ask kids to fight for me. I wouldn’t bring bazookas to a knife fight.

An actor leaves the stage, they say, when the ovation is loudest. Not when the ovation is about jollof – who got and who didn’t, who brought cooler and who didn’t. I was the actor, better than the proverbial actor even. I was a legend. And a legend is not a food nutritionist.

I am a man of letters. I would never run at the sight of words. That would be my Literature degree in the mud. Moreso, I was no rebellious staffer. I would lose my right to demand obedience if I made nonsense of any form of authority. The kids may never know but I would know and it would diminish me.

I decided to answer the queries. For the girls dancing a “demonic dance” that “embarrassed” the school (although I can count and exhaust all the fingers in my hands and all the toes in my feet, parents and guests who were genuinely entertained and were sorry that it ended, shut down by an outraged proprietress who screamed her gullet out at the DJ), I took responsibility.

I am an artist, a poet, and a man of aesthetics. I was wrong in giving art a chance, I was wrong in allowing the musical expression of the next generation to manifest.

For the jollof query, I wrote the following:

Dear sir,

Some teachers are born great, some teachers attain greatness in the classroom, and some give a leg, an arm, and a tooth for greatness. Today, I am thrust with an unwinnable task. I have to dig the tooth, the arm, and the leg. This is not preposterous, this is not ludicrous, this is not horrid, but this is not an over joyous act: It is antithetical to the spirit of candor, of duty, of sacrifice.

Not the leader of the Jewish Exodus, not the Nazarene, not the beloved, not the apostle from Tarsus, not Cranmer, nor any of the beatified of Christendom, nor of Classical persuasion have been put on a lever where they have to expound with words an art that which was inscribed in blood while still dripping with crimson oil.

Not since the Wollof founded Jollof has one man been put on Abacha’s highway, chained in the manacles of Fela for standing up for kids in a messy world made so by adults. Authority belies consequence and there is justice for only those who seek and seek and seek, but not for those who dig and dig and dig. For an arm given is taken, a tooth buried is gone, and a leg forwent is only to be spoken in past verbs.

Nothing can be unburied, nothing can be ungiven, nothing can forth come that forwent. Martin Luther Jr shall not be shamed, not Lincoln, not Sartre, not Gandhi. But today, there is a noose for every one of them from Socrates to Saro Wiwa, for better for gore, nay, for gore, gorer – for the gored.

The chopping board gives a worthy fight. It is not a win-win combat.  

Accept my apologia.

Yours sincerely,

M.K.O, B.A (Hons), Litt., Eng., Thap, etc.

To be continued…