Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (22)

The last time I published here was on October 2nd. I skipped the following week because I travelled. Then EndSARS came upon us. With EndSARS protests, I couldn’t do this, I was on the streets. With the barbarism and massacres that followed the protests, something in me died and I couldn’t do many things. For a long time, I was filled with hate, confusion, laziness, and near-depression.

Two people close to me urged me to continue. The first said: “We can’t give them the joy of seeing us mourn forever.”

The second just harrased me day and night. Here I am.

In case you missed the previous episode, read it here.

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Mount Sinai School is somewhat of a Mountain of Fire. We prayed nearly every day.

Wednesday was for the entire school prayer in which the nursery, primary, and secondary sections all gathered in the school hall to sing praises, listen to a short sermon, and prayed; this happened during the assembly time. Thursday was for moral instruction for just secondary school in the period before break-time. Friday was the day for teachers’ prayers (both sections) after school hours. So much prayers in this school yet my September salary was paid on the 22nd of October.

No, I didn’t mention all this prayers angle just to make a point about my delayed salary; it’s just that the irony was too hot not to sneak my salary in.

The Friday teachers’ prayers were coordinated by a prayer warrior aunty from the primary section whom I suspected saw the vision for these prayers (yes, the prayers were convened after someone saw a vision).

The moral instructions were given by Aunty Oge who was in charge of them and sometimes Uncle Matthew. The Wednesday gatherings were led as the spirit led.

Last Monday, the proprietress said she was aware that some people were dodging leading the praises or giving the sermon, so she asked that a roaster be made and every teacher’s name included.

The list was drawn, on the following Thursday, by the vice principal for our section and my name was for preaching this Wednesday. I didn’t know about this until I entered SS2 to teach.

“We can’t wait,” someone said after I asked them to sit down.

“You can’t wait for what?” I asked.

Three or four voices tried to tell me and gave way for someone who said: “You will be preaching on Wednesday!”

“Hmmm,” I said and made for the chalkboard to write English Language. No need of asking them how they knew: News travels fast in the mountains.

 “That day would be hot,” a student said.

The class cheered.

I turned around and faced them. “Hey, guys, there’s time for everything,” I said. “There is time to pray and commune with the Throne of Grace and let His powerful presence manifest…” my voice was drowned with shouts of “Ride on, sir. Yes o” and all those terms you hear in a core Pentecostal gathering.

Buoyed, I continued: “Things will happen on Wednesday but that is not what we should dwell on. Just prepare your heart because… See, brethren, I don’t wanna make promises; in fact, I don’t wanna be seen on that day. I just wanna be used by the Almighty. We have allowed the devil a lot of territory. And on Wednesday, we shall pursue…”

“Yes o.”

“She shall overtake…”

“Yes o!”

“And we shall recover all.”

“Yes o!!”

“Hey, hey, hey, brethren, lower your voice. This is no church!”

But that wasn’t the end of it. In SS1, the students confronted me about the coming sermon. In fact, they asked me to heal a sick person. When I walked in, I noticed one of the students didn’t stand up. “Is she okay?” I asked.

“She has fever,” their class captain said. “Maybe you can pray for her.”

“Yes sir, pray for her,” multiple voices chorused.

I walked to her desk and felt her chin with my palm. “Have you taken medication?” I asked, she shook her head.

“Someone get her paracetamol,” I said.

The class exclaimed with disappointment.

“When you are hungry, do you get something to eat or you pray for manna? Be guided, my friends!”

 “Let’s wait for Wednesday,” their captain cautioned. “Things will happen,” she added in Igbo which carries more power than the English counterpart.

They nodded and made noises of agreement: Things would happen.

In SS3, they were more coded but it was evident from the way they watched me teach that they half-expected me to just go “kadosh-malosh”, speaking in tongues, the tongue of angels. I stuck to English language, the tongue of men. I was unsmiling all through and left no pause for non-academic chatter.

When I finished, I said, “Do you have any question related to the topic I just taught?”

They said no. I picked up my notebook from the front desk and made for the door when Ifeoma said, “Excuse, sir.”

I stopped walking. “How may I help you?”

“Can I ask you a question not related to today’s topic?”

“You may not.” I walked out.

“Uma Ukpai,” Ikenna hailed me when he saw me enter the staff room.

I ignored him and sat on my desk.

“Wednesday would be hot,” Ikenna said.

“No be small thing,” Aunty Peace said.

“He is a stubborn man of God,” Mrs. Nwokeji said. “The kind that can just walk into a mortuary and drag a dead body to his feet.”

“Yes o,” Aunty Oge said. “On Wednesday, the sick shall receive healing.”

“The lame shall walk,” Ikenna said.

“The deaf shall hear,” Mrs. Anozie said.

“And the dumb shall speak,” they chorused.

I stood up to answer an imaginary call and walked out of the staff room. I dislike a toxic working environment.

Time to see Oby and make peace. I walked to the primary section and stopped at her window. She was leaning on the window when I came around, staring at the wall opposite, thoughtful and beautiful even in her melancholy.

“A dollar for your thought,” I said.

She smiled weakly. “I need more than a dollar.”

“How much do you need?” I was used to asking people this question, even today, whether or not I have money. This time, however, I could have hijacked a CBN van and gift Oby all the cash in it if it would cheer her up.

“I just need my salary.”

“You guys, too, haven’t been paid?”

She nodded.

“I will get your salary now,” I said. “How much is it?”

She told me. “How would you…?”

“Call your account number.”

She called the digits and I typed them on my phone.

“But—”

I rushed upstairs to the proprietress space.

“I heard you would be preaching on Wednesday,” she said after the greetings.

“Yes but there is a problem.”

Her eyebrows crowded. “What is the matter?”

“I need a small loan until I am paid which I believe won’t be long.”

She considered my proposal, searching my face. I maintained a face that said a lot would spoil if she didn’t give me what I needed.

“How much are we talking about?”

I mentioned the figure that was Obioma’s salary.

“Okay. I will do it later.”

I didn’t stand up.

“I said I will do it later. Or, you don’t believe me?”

“It’s critical, ma.”

She sighed. “Honestly, you drive me crazy in this school.”

“Sorry ma,” I said.

She provided me with a piece of paper and asked me to write out my account number. I wrote Obioma’s account number, her name, and bank. When the proprietress saw the name, she frowned. She opened her mouth to say something then shut it without a word coming out. She sighed and a small smile crossed her face.

“You want me to pay your girlfriend’s salary with my personal money?”

“She is really broke and her morale is very low. Please do it for the sake of the kids she teaches and takes care of.”

She brought out her phone. “Hello… Yea, please pay Ms. Akujuobi’s salary to my account when it is time. I am taking care of it now… Thank you.”

She looked at my face, I refused to meet her eyes. I found my hands on my laps attractive. “In my more than two decades of school management,” she said, “I haven’t seen such selflessness.”

I grunted.

“But true-true, why did you do this?”

“I believe she needs the money.”

“So you did it for love?”

I nodded.

“Or for lust?” she said.

I looked at her with a disapproving face.

“Don’t you look at me like that, jor. Do you want to tell me you have not noticed her big breasts?”

“Chukwu-okike.”

“Do you want to tell me you never removed her bra with your eyes?”

“Chukwu-okike Abiama.”

She sighed and began to punch Oby’s account number on her phone. When she was done she asked me to write down my own account number. I did.

“I have sent it for your babe. Yours would come later. I will have to talk to the bursar physically before she thinks I am under a gunpoint.”

“Or opium,” I said.

“Keep quiet.”

I rose to my feet. “You are so kind, ma.”

“You broke all kinds of protocols,” she said.

“I am sorry, ma.”

On my way towards the stairs, she called me. I turned around. “You are a good man,” she said.

“How did you do it?” an excited Oby asked me when I made to pass by her window. I didn’t want to talk to her. I wanted the alert to hit her first. Obviously, it had.

I came closer and whispered: “I love you.”

She took my hand in her hands with affection and said, “I love you too.”

To be continued…

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (21)

In case you missed the last episode, here.

Today, the 13th of October, 2015, I walked into the staff room and found a United Bank for Africa account opening form on my desk. I looked around and I could see that nearly every desks had the form. Oge and Ikenna were in the staff room.

“I don’t understand this,” I said to them.

“Can’t you read?” Oge asked me.

“I am not sure,” I said.

“Yes, it is written in Arabic,” Ikenna said.

I sat down at the desk and studied the content of the form intently. “Is nobody doing this maths?”

“We have done the maths,” Ikenna said. “We fill the forms, submit them with all the delays that come with them. Then we get account numbers after a week and God willing we would get paid September salary before 31st of October.”

“So you did the maths?” I said.

“We did,” Oge replied. “Some of us are also smart.”

I ignored the cheap shot at me. “What are you guys doing about it?”

“What can we do about it?” Ikenna asked. “They have the knife and the yam.”

I opened my mouth to say something then thought otherwise and kept quiet. I wouldn’t show my hand in the open. This is Mount Sinai International School, solidarities among the staffers wasn’t one of the things we did here. This would be a one-man riot for me.

I quietly folded the account opening form and dropped it in the trash bin just outside the staff room on my way to the assembly ground.

The bell for the assembly had just been rung and students were filing out leisurely. They usually never fully come out until the teacher on duty, or any teacher, chased them out or screamed at them. When they saw me downstairs, some of the students began to hurry and call their friends to come out “or else”.

But I wasn’t after them. I was making for the principal’s office.

“Knock, knock,” I said when I got to the door.

“Yes, Kings, come in.”

I walked in. “Good morning,” I said.

He looked at me. I usually said “Good morning, sir” to him. Hearing just good morning from me told him I wasn’t in a great mood.

“Your salary is on the way,” he told me.

“How do you mean… sir?”

“Sit down,” he said.

I did.

“Didn’t you get the form on your desk?”

“Today is the 13th of October, sir,” I said. “By the time this account is fully opened, it will be November. I know how slow these things can be.”

“No, UBA is fast. That’s where the school has their account. They would open it within two or three days.”

“After these two or three days, it would be the weekend. At the very best, we shouldn’t expect our salaries until the 20th. Mind you, we are talking about September salary.”

He sighed. “Just exercise patience.”

I rose to my feet. “I must take my leave, sir. Duty calls.”

He released a weak smile. “Please, bear with us.”

I nodded. I already knew what I would do. I just came in here in order for it to be on record that I spoke to the principal first. Outside the principal’s office which was technically part of the assembly ground, a short man charged at me. He was about forty, wearing shorts and sneakers.

“Why did you beat my son?” he yelled at me.

“Who the he-who’s your son and are you about to fight me?”

“Yes, I will fight you for beating my son because he didn’t pay Christmas party money. Is Christmas party by force?”

The students were now looking at us, willing us to come to blows. And, honestly, they were the only reason why I was keeping my cool. If this man had charged at me like this in the staff room or anywhere outside the sight of the students, I wouldn’t have been this cool.

“Listen, Sunny,” I began.

“My name is not, Sunny!”

“Joe-Joe, calm down…”

“I am not Joe…”

“And I don’t care what your name is; stop making an exhibition of yourself before children, some of whom you carried in your womb!”

“Stop shouting at me,” he flared.

Ikenna came between us and began to block the man off me as he continued. “Look at this small boy o. Do you know who I am here? How much is your salary sef?”

The principal was now outside.

“I am the one who beat your son,” he said calmly.

Sunny/Joe-Joe looked at the principal with rage. “But why will you beat my boy? Am I not the one who didn’t pay?…”

 I walked out of the mad scene. I headed to the staircase. As I climbed, the man’s last words bit me in the ear. How much is my salary indeed. I stopped walking at the first landing of the stairs and the things I could have said hit me. You know how it happens, you just discovered powerful things you could have said after the argument.

I could have said: “My salary might be peanuts but I am not the one bleating like a goat about to be killed on Christmas Eve because of 1000 naira.”

Or: “You ask how much my salary is, I will tell you, not so much but one of us looks like stock fish and it is not me.”

I began to walk down the stairs. The man was now talking with Mrs. Nwokeji and still fuming. I gave them two seconds of disgusting look and turned towards the primary section. I walked past the students in their lines and I could feel them shifting away involuntarily.

I remembered Brad Pitt as Achilles among Greek soldiers the day Hector killed his cousin. I didn’t know where I was headed to but I just wanted to put a lot of space between me and the rambler. I saw Joy’s computer room open and I decided to go in there.

I went in there. Joy was nowhere to be seen. But her desktop was on and open to an MS Word document. She must have left mid-work to answer a call of nature or a call of proprietress.

I sat down before the desktop and tried to read what she was typing. But I couldn’t concentrate; I brought out my phone and logged onto Twitter. Something bland was trending, I hissed, and left Twitter.

What do I do? Where do I go to? Oh wait, was I not supposed to be mad at Joy for seizing my 750 naira change? I was. So how do I punish her? I looked around. What can I spoil that would really hurt her but wouldn’t spoil the wheel of progress of this department?

After a long thought, I reached for the mouse, unplugged it from the CPU, walked to the dust bin and put it there. I covered it with the used paper dirt. This is not the real punishment. But as they say at all-at all na im bad pass.

To be continued…

Yesterday, I published Corpers’ Lodge as an ebook on Okadabooks. Go buy it there and I need you to drop a review. Many people have complained of being unable to navigate the site. In that case, use Paystack.