Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (5)

Vengeance is of the Lord. Full stop. But no, humans don’t always close this remark with an affirmative dot, humans don’t always wait for God to act. One great quality we love about God is that He is merciful and slow to anger but this is one pair that frustrate us when we come to Him for retribution. After my betrayal by the other teachers, I decided to write down Uncle Matthew’s and Mrs. Nwokeji’s name in my imaginary blacklist.

The first rule of vengeance, don’t attack the multitude: choose one or two leaders and put a small pin on their chair and watch their eyes roll and their lips fall on the ground with the agony of sitting. But I am not that kind of wicked and moreover, their betrayal didn’t warrant such art. But a lot passed through my mind that day as they left me in the library, humiliated and feeling sorry for myself: a lot, even a soldering iron, passed through my mind.

I would get a pound of flesh from them someday, trust me. It may tarry but it would happen. It may get cold but it would never sour.

The next day, there was another meeting in the staff room. Mrs. Nwokeji called the meeting. She said that time was running out and we need to make our contribution (200 naira each) for the principal’s wedding. I will not pay, I said in my mind.

The lady by my side, Mrs. Anozie brought out one 500 naira note. “I am paying for myself and Uncle K,” she announced. This was her way of apologizing to me for her role in yesterday’s farce. She didn’t have to, she was a small fly in the grand scheme of my vengeance. I nearly smiled.

The name she called me, Uncle K, would stick with me for the rest of my time in this school. The woman herself became an ally and even my friend to this moment that I write this.

The meeting didn’t end there. Mrs. Nwokeji went on to rattle about staff welfare and asked how much we would like to contribute for our welfare so that if someone’s child was ill or the teacher was ill or something, we could take money from the purse to support the person. This woman looked like the kind of woman who lay eggs and not give birth like normal women. She could have up to nine kids at home and likely going to announce each of them sick per week to drain our account.

I would not argue with them but I would not just pay.

Uncle Matthew spoke next. “In my former,” he said, “we used to do cooperative. We contribute five thousand every month then at the end of the year, we buy foodstuff like rice, crayfish, onions, all in bulk and share…”

“I need to ease myself.” I rose to my feet.

“But we are in an important meeting,” Matthew began to argue but stopped when he saw the coals in my eyes.

There was a small provision store in the primary section. I walked there. In the shop, I saw one customer seated and drinking malt with Gala. She was of a slender frame, curvy, and possessed a striking chocolate face.

“There is not a single ugly girl in the whole of Nnewi, North and South,” I said.

She smiled with joy. “You must be Uncle Matthew,” she said.

“God forbid,” I replied calmly. “You, you must be Mrs. Nwokeji.”

“Jesus!” she looked horrified. “Do I look married?”

“No.” I smiled. In the game of chess only a queen can counter another queen in the same file or rank. In this school, it was only Mrs. Nwokeji that could counter Uncle Matthew. “I was just pulling your pretty legs,” I said. And they were pretty legs. Soft, long, and straight; the kind of legs God gives supermodels.

“My name is Joy,” she said.

“Sweet name. Call me Uncle K.”

“Hmmm. Let me guess. K stands for Kennedy, right?”

I said yes. If you think I would take my bath, tuck in my shirt and come here to argue with an attractive lady, you must be joking. In fact, I would accept Katum if she said that was my name. I ordered Sprite. All fingers are not equal.

“You teach in this section?” I said.

She said no. “I am the computer lady. I type your question papers and everything typeable in this school.”

I had never heard the word “typeable” but it must be the correct word since it was coming from comely lips. I nodded.

One of the primary school teachers came into the shop. “Enjoyment galore,” the newcomer said. She looked like a troublemaker.

“Meet my boyfriend, Uncle K,” Joy said.

“I hope he is not stingy,” she said.

“Not at all,” Joy said. “He bought me malt and this. Take whatever you want, we would pay.” Yes, we would pay; we, Mr. and Mrs. Katum.

So the newcomer ordered Fanta and two buns. When these were in her hands, she said she was actually here to call Joy that she was needed by the proprietress upstairs. They left. I felt like a woman whose second-best wrapper was taken away from her. I sighed and brought out my wallet. “How much?” I asked the boy in charge of the shop.

“420,” he said.

I gave him my last card. 500 naira note. This was supposed to take care of my lunch and dinner but it was now taken from me just like that. “Yahoo girls everywhere,” I said.

“Did you talk to me,” the boy said.

“Shut up.”

“I thought—”

I rose to my feet. “Shut up. You don’t argue with an oracle.”

I began to walk back to the secondary section but the thought of being in the same room with Uncle Matthew sent depressive pangs down my spine. I stopped at the small gate dividing the two sections. I went back the way I came. I passed the provisional store, I reached the main gate, opened it, and stepped into the street.

A pang of hunger shot into my system like an electric shock and I recalled I didn’t even finish my Sprite. I became annoyed and my nose hurt with hot anger. Everybody is playing with my intelligence. Teachers in the secondary section, teachers in the primary section, owners, everyone. Even the shop boy. Me that they called Wiki on the campus; me that was called Tinubu in my NYSC days.

Time to show some spirit.

I went back to the school premises. I went upstairs to the library. The proprietress was with someone. I waited with a cloudy face for them to be through. “Is anything the matter?” she asked when her guest rose to go.

“I met with an impediment while discharging my duties here and I took care of it at a cost.”

“Hmmm.” Her eyes narrowed with curiosity. “What cost?”

“Two thousand naira,” I said with a straight face.

“I only have one thousand naira with me.”

I collected it and made it for the director’s office downstairs. He was with someone but I didn’t wait. “There’s an emergency,” I announced at the door.

“What happened?”

“I took care of it,” I said. “It will cost you 1000 naira, sir.”

“I need details,” he said.

“I would be prepared to write a full report later,” I said, “but I need to get back to work now.”

“Ok, later then.”

“The money, sir.”

He reached out for his breast pocket. “This is all I have.” 500 naira

I collected the note, said thanks, and walked out. Outside, I saw Obioma. I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate her beauty. “Where is the bursar’s office?” I asked her.

“The bursar doesn’t come on Fridays,” she said. “She is doing her part-time in Unizik and usually takes the day off.”

I sighed. “I missed that one.”

“How?” she said

I didn’t even bother answering. I walked away. At the gate between the sections, I stopped just to slap the wallet in my back pocket. We are all Yahoo boys and girls in this place.

To be continued

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (4)

Read the previous episode here. Read the very first episode here.

*

There were nine of us. The staff room was a small space, made to be a normal office but now crowded with desks and chairs and called the staff room. When every teacher was in the staff room, it was a stuffy, airless space in which the tired fan struggled to cool. Sometimes, the whining of the fan, like a persistent fly at siesta, would drive someone crazy and they would reach for the switch and relieve the fan of its laborious duty. Thankfully, our part of Nnewi wasn’t overflowing with power, so the fan was rarely on.

I had my desk between two women teachers. The one on my left Hosea told me was related to the proprietress; the one on the right was a church member of the proprietress. “Be careful what you say in their presence,” he said to me.

I still hadn’t told Hosea that it wasn’t he and I in Sokoto camp. He looked like the kind of guy I would bond with and the kind of guy that would be pained if I reveal to him that his remembered contact with me never happened in real life.

Hosea wasn’t in the staff room. They announced him the vice principal on my first day and give him a tiny office downstairs. So I was left upstairs, boxed to a corner and sandwiched by the proprietress’ relations and church members.

There were two other guys in the staff room. The first one was such a character that I can write a full series on just what I witnessed of him in the school. Uncle Matthew. He taught Maths from JS1 to SS3 and Physics and Chemistry until the second guy resumed and took Chemistry from him. And he wanted to hold on to Chemistry, he wanted to win Teacher of the Year Award. He said he was a principal in his last job, he owned a WAEC special centre and used to own a school of his own. Every scenario, every incident, everything that happened in the school or someone said happened to them has happened to him or to someone around him.

Someone: “We killed a snake in our compound last night.”

Him: “I unknowingly slept on a snake when I was teaching in Awka-Etiti.”

Someone: “This staff room is too hot.”

Him: “When I was teaching in Ekwulobia, our staff room was sharing a wall with a large bread oven.”

He was that kind of a guy. He should be 31 or 32 years old then and still owes me 2 thousand naira as I write this today.

The second guy is Ikenna. He was about 27 I believe and there was this certain air of impatience around him and when he walked his shoulder crouched high but not too high, as though in a state of suspended sigh of exasperation. He was an Arsenal fan and spoke Hausa; he became an instant ally.

We were still in the first week of resumption and students were scanty and mostly doing school chores. We, teachers, were preparing lesson plans and making notes. I was working in the office (if you insist on calling it that) of the VP on my second day on the job which happened to be my first full day at work when Uncle Matthew came to me.

“There is something I want to tell you,” he said.

I suspended my writing. “Shoot.”

“See eh,” he began, “it is about the extramural lessons. The sharing formula is 50-50 with the school authority. In my former school where I was principal, the sharing formula was 30-70. 70 percent for the teachers.”

“What do you suggest?” I said.

“I suggest we go and talk to the proprietress, let’s tell her our mind. It should be 30-70. We are the ones doing all the work.”

“What do you think?” I asked the VP who had now entered the office.

“If other teachers are in support, why not?” Hosea said.

We went upstairs and the teachers were all supportive of the idea. One of them, Oge, even suggested that we should threaten the proprietress with mass resignations if they refuse to give in to our demands. I smiled. This is the kind of people I want to always work with, I said to myself. On the campus, in congress, in the classroom, and in the hostel, and during NYSC, I was usually vocal and one of the people who lead any protest or petition. Now, in my first job as a graduate, there was a protest/petition and I was just a follower.

We matched to the office of the proprietress. There were eight of us (Ikenna hadn’t resumed at this time).

“Hope I am safe,” the proprietress said when she saw us.

I wanted to say “it depends” but held my mouth. She would soon find out. Why warn her about light when she would soon feel the heat.

There weren’t enough seats for everyone so the women sat down and we guys stood. Before we could say one word, Mrs. Nwokeji’s phone began to ring. She is the one I was told was related to the proprietress. She said excuse me and left. I sat on her place.

“So what bring you guys here?” the proprietress said.

Silence.

“Ah han, you people don’t want to talk?”

I decided to talk. You know in this comrade something, some people are not good at the beginning, they need someone to open the door so they could pour gasoline all over the place. Plus, no one would accuse me of not contributing. So I said: “It is about the extramural lesson sharing formula.”

Her face lost its half-smile and became cloudy in less than half a second. “What about the sharing formula?” her voice was harsh.

I kept quiet so that someone else could take up the matter. They know these things better than me. But no one spoke up.

“Oga Comrade, I am waiting for you.”

This was when it dawned on me that I have been led to the middle of the Niger and pushed off the boat into the deep water.

“We think the sharing formula doesn’t favour us since we do all the work…”

“Oga Comrade,” the proprietress cut in, “don’t come and spoil my school o. Everything is fine here o. Leave things the way they are Oga NLC. Please, I am begging you in the name of God.”

“Madam…”

She stamped to her feet and began to rave. It was at this point that my colleagues stepped in to beg her to calm down and to forgive me. I think one of them used the word silly to describe me. The woman raved some more then walked out on us, on them actually as I was no longer here, I was in the middle of the sea in a faraway place, swimming against the tide to the shore where I could make sense of this betrayal, this nonsense, this comedy.

Afternoon passed, evening came, and that was the end of my second day at Mount Sinai International School, Nnewi. Pass me the bottle.

To be continued...