In case you are just seeing this, read the first episode here.
The proprietress went through my CV cursorily. Her hands were full of fresh, not a single vein in view: The hands of one who was used to taking vacations to London and South Africa. She nodded as though she had discovered a hidden truth from the reading. “You did English at the University.”
“We need an English teacher. Teach me something new in English.”
“Let’s talk about the verb,” I said.
“But I already know verb.”
“I don’t think you know everything about verbs.”
“You, do you know everything about the verb?”
“I know things that may be new to you.”
She looked at me with narrowed eyes. “You are confident… perhaps too confident. I hope you are not a comrade. We don’t want someone that will come and stir the hornet’s nest here. The last batch of teachers were all fired for ganging up against the school authority.”
I tried in vain to suppress a smile.
“Is it funny to you?” There were hints of a small smile on her face.
“It seems I am not the only guilty one.”
She smiled broadly. We talked for a moment or two, just making small talk and trying to read the other, trying to hear beyond what the other was saying. She struck me as a kind woman whose experience as a manager of people and schools have toughened her hide. She looked like one who would easily make a compassionate speech to raise funds for the orphaned and in the next moment tell a group of hungry workmen that there break is cancelled because they have been sleeping in their work.
“You will teach English and Literature for SS1 to SS3.”
I said okay. She directed me to the office of the director downstairs to negotiate terms and get documented and oriented. On my way down, I saw a young lady seated on a bench outside a classroom, lost in her thought. I didn’t look at her for more than five seconds in all but I saw everything. She is moderate in height, with chocolate features, and a comely face.
“Where can I find the director’s office?” I asked her after hello.
She pointed. “Down there.”
What’s the name? I wanted to ask but held myself. Face your front, oga. I faced my front.
The director is the husband of the proprietress. His was a real office; there was an air conditioner, a desktop computer, and a water dispenser. He sat on the only executive chair which created a semi-circle with the sofa and two armchairs in the space. The walls were covered with almanacs, maps, and the photos of the Governor and commissioner of education.
“Sit down, Kingsley.”
The fact that his wife already texted him my name made a fine impression on me. These guys know what they are doing here. The man, a small fellow with cunning eyes, pointed at the sofa. I sat down. He collected my CV and letter. He took his time to read through them. He took too much time.
“I was in Zaria once,” he said.
I was in no mood for small talk. He spent too much time on my documents as though he was looking for a fault. I was now hungry and tired. I made a noncommittal reply to his Zaria talk so he went straight to the point.
We will pay you 20 thousand naira?”
“Of course, per month. We are one of the best paying schools in the whole of Umudim, Nnewi,” he added.
“It’s too poor for me, sir.” My joints felt so weak as reality reared another ugly fang. In my desire to run avoid Lagos and work as a teacher in Anambra State, I never considered the particulars of the salary. I expected the salary not to be great but I assumed the salary would be good enough. 20 thousand sounded like a joke. As a corps member I was earning 19,800. This was a 200 naira upgrade.
I rose to my feet.
“My brother,” the director said, “we have a structure. We pay school leavers 7 to 9 thousand naira. We pay Diploma holders 12 thousand. We pay NCE 15. We pay university graduates 18 to 20 thousand for a start. For you, I can add another 2000 naira.”
I am going to Lagos tomorrow.
“Do you have a job waiting for you over there?” he asked me.
I didn’t even realize I spoke my thought out. Or, perhaps, he was a male witch. Nnewi is not far from Okija. “I will take my chances,” I said. “Thanks for your offer.”
“We have extra lessons Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays,” he said. “We pay teachers differently for that. Plus during WAEC, you can make some money from the small help you will give the students.”
“Small help during WAEC?” I said. I wanted him to elaborate so he could see how wrong the idea was. He didn’t pursue that line. He said 23 thousand was the highest he could go because he could see that I was young and would work hard.
On my way out, I saw the young lady looking worrier than before. She must be among those earning seven thousand naira. “What’s the name?” I asked her. If I don’t get the job, I may as well acquaint with a beautiful woman.
“My name is Obioma.”
“You have a beautiful name,” I said; “and a beautiful face, too, most especially when you worry.”
She smiled and her pimples showed. “You won’t understand,” she said. But I understood. Her salary was seven thousand naira. It was now the first week of September and she hadn’t been paid for July.
“It is well,” I said.
The school is around three hundred metres to the main road that leads to Ozubulu, Okija, then Owerri. I was a couple of feet away from the road when my phone began to ring.
“Why didn’t you tell me before leaving?” It was the proprietress. “Is it fair?”
“The salary wasn’t fair.”
“You should have talked to me first before departing. I was the one who brought you, not the director.” They were playing good cop, bad cop with me. “Come back.” She didn’t say please and I felt her authority reverberate.
There is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Time to say please and time to say come back. Time to work in Lagos and time to buy time in Nnewi. I went back. I agreed to work for Mount Sinai International School for 25 thousand naira and free accommodation from them. The accommodation has to be decent, I insisted and the proprietress said trust me.
“It is my cousin’s mansion boys’ quarters,” the proprietress told me. “He and his wife and kids live in Port Harcourt and all you have to do is water the flower from time to time and just be a human presence there.”
The school driver drove me on the school bus to the house. It is indeed a mansion. It is a three-storeyed white house with a bulletproof gate and barb wires on its walls surrounded by blossoming flowers. Looking at the house impressed the feeling of power and affluence in me and filled my head with a portentous air.
The driver parked the bus in front of the gate and stepped down. “Kam wete the key.” I later found out the keys were with the aged father of the owner of the house who took care of the house for now. The driver walked down the hilly untarred road of the street.
I stepped out of the bus to look around. There was a field of block industry just after the wall of the house. There were a couple of heaps of bricks, two ancient vans, and two or three workmen around. One of the men was smoking a cigarette and looking at me like he knew me before now.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Odogwu,” he said. “Na you wan stay here?”
I said yes. “How do you know that?”
“Mount Sinai teachers usually stay here,” he said in Igbo. His teeth were black with smoke and there were sheds of greyness on his hair. He had a small talk which was more than small talk as I got to know many things about him. He was in Oko Polytechnic, he worked in a bank in Awka before heading to Germany where he ended up in prison and got deported after his release.
I will call him Bismarck which is the name of the unifier of modern Germany and the German chancellor who called the meeting of European powers who partitioned Africa in 1884.
The school driver returned with the keys and we went into the compound. I didn’t enter the main house. I was shown my room, a small space enough to contain a mattress, a reading table, and a chair.
“This room used to be furnished,” the driver told me. “But two years ago, one of the teachers sold everything because the director refused to pay him his last month’s salary.”
The toilet/bathroom had constant running water which was a big upgrade. As a corper, I carried a keg of water for hundreds of metres on my shoulder, climbing up and down the rocky and hilly terrains of Osun State.
“The father of the owner of the house wants to meet you,” the driver told me.
I reckoned that by the time I was done with this town, I would have met their Obi-in-Council. The driver decided to take a look around the compound so I went outside to wait for him. Bismarck came to me.
“I am hungry,” I said. “Any good restaurant nearby?”
He said “a lot” but that food should not my main problem for now.
“What should be my main worry?” I asked.
“This house,” he pointed at the house as you would point at a piece of rubbish. “Don’t stay in this house.”
“Why, what is the issue?”
“Ghosts,” he said. “The house is haunted by ghosts.”
I began to smile but his face was deadpan. “All the guys that stay in this place are my friends,” he continued. “They all saw things that mouth cannot say.”
The driver came out of the gate. “Let’s go see the father of the owner of the house.”
“Let’s talk later,” I said to Bismarck.
“Oga, dis one no be the matter of let’s talk later. Fly wey no get adviser no dey near graveside.”
I smiled and got into the bus. “It is a fine proverb,” I said to the driver. He grunted yes. As the bus snaked out of the street, I heard the proverb echo in my mind:
Fly wey no get adviser no dey near graveside.