I published the first two episodes of this series as Nwa Teacher. But the name “Nwa Teacher” doesn’t sound original to me, doesn’t own the story so I decided to tweak the name: I chose “Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher”, now this is my story.
The principal asked me if I owned a brown suit. I said no. He sighed. “My wedding is coming up next month and the men on suit are not complete.”
Five minutes ago, this man didn’t know what I looked like; now, he was trying to include me in his wedding train. A go-getter, a legend. I smiled. “Do you know anyone you can collect a brown suit from?”
I said no, I don’t know.
He sighed again. He was a dark-complexioned fellow with a big face, fleshy neck, and wise eyes hidden behind the spectacles he wore. He should be thirty-five and something told me he was marrying more out of the pressure from his people than anything else.
“You will teach English and Literature in the senior classes,” he said. He looked at the stack of textbooks on the floor of the tiny office. “Don’t worry, I would sort the textbooks for you.”
“No problem, sir.”
“Erm… you will head the press club. It is the English teacher who usually heads the club. That is how we do here.”
“We don’t have a sports master. As you can see, there isn’t so much of a playing field but we just have someone we can point out and say he is in charge of sports. You will help us, biko.”
I said no problem, sir.
“JS 3 doesn’t have a form teacher yet. Please help us, there.”
“Children in Nnewi speak vernacular a lot. So as the English man, you would ensure they speak correct English all the time.”
No problem, sir.
“Can you teach Government?”
“We are yet to get a Government teacher so I don’t know. Maybe in your free time, you can just go in and say one or two things.”
I decided it was time to shake my head a little. I have been nodding yes to everything he had asked of me. If I didn’t shake my head at least once, I might become a lizard. “No, sir.”
“Just Government classes? Ah han, my man, it is not always. Just when you are free.”
I shook my head. “No, sir.”
He smiled, eased back into his chair and engaged me in a thoughtful stare, he wasn’t sure whether to push or not. He decided to put on what he must have thought were charms. “The last English teacher taught Civic and CRS as well. He is so agile. The director and the proprietress are very kind. If they notice you are hardworking they can dash you money, many things. During…”
He tried to make an angry face but it was too late, I had seen all his cards, there is no angry joker anywhere. Even if he frowned and go all out, he had hit the rock: the case of an unstoppable principal who just hit an unmovable teacher. I decided to break the ice, “I think I know where I can find a brown suit to borrow.”
And he laughed very loudly. “If this is bribery, you have bought me.”
That was how I became his friend and that was how the matter of teaching Government in my pastime died.
I met the director on the staircase on my way to the staff school to meet my new colleagues. “The Kingsman,” he said.
“Good afternoon, sir.”
“Do you like the apartment?”
“Yes, sir but the father of the owner said I shouldn’t cook.”
“Food in Nnewi is cheap. You can get a plate for 250 naira.”
Three plates a day would be 750. 750 in thirty days is 22,500. That’s the salary gone on food. I will have to find a way.
“You’re a Christian, right?” he said.
Where is he heading to now?
“That means you can teach CRS.”
“No, I can’t.”
“It is not hard. In your pastime, you can just step in and teach them. It is not for a long time; just until we get a CRS teacher.”
I suddenly felt tired. I made towards the wall and leaned on it. The director patted my shoulder, “Think about it, my brother,” and went by.
I resumed my journey. I could now hear the voices of teachers in the staff room. My heart began to beat. Meeting new people usually made me anxious: Who would be my friends, who would be the enemy? Who would be the ally?
My phone began to ring. I checked, it was the proprietress.
“Can you come to my section?”
The proprietress’ office (the library) was in the primary section. With heavy shoulders, I walked to that section which meant coming downstairs, walking some scores of metres than climbing another flight of stairs. I was disappointed that I didn’t catch a glimpse of Obioma the worried girl from my first day here.
“Do you like the apartment?” she said to me when I sat before her.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a mansion.”
“I know. They buried a fortune in building that edifice.”
“The father asked me not to cook.”
She didn’t look surprised. “You can always come to my place and eat whenever you like. We live around. Hosea can bring you to the place.”
“You’re kind, ma.” Both of us knew that wouldn’t happen but I was grateful she offered.
“You are an informed young man. I don’t think we can get a better person to teach these students Civics Education…”
The principal wanted me to teach Government in addition to my primary subjects.
The director wanted me to teach CRS in addition to my primary subjects.
The proprietress was trying to rope Civics into my job description in addition to my primary subjects. A gang-up.
With the principal, I said a flat no then deflected; with the director, I nearly collapsed. Now, I was lost on what to do, how to say no. Sensing, my hesitancy, she attacked. “We used to have an Award for Best Teacher of the year but we stopped when the teachers became too interested in money and became lazy. With you, I am tempted to bring back the award. You’re hardworking and dedicated…”
“Ma,” I said, “I will go get a piece of paper and write that if I break down and die, they will hold the school authority responsible.”
“Chim o,” she exclaimed. “You’re too serious, my friend. Please o, just go away.”
I rose to my feet. “Go and teach your verbs and Chike and the River,” she added as I began to leave.
The afternoon passed, evening came, and that was the end of my first day at Mount Sinai International School, Nnewi. I survived. Barely.