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.
“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.”
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.