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…