Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (16)

Previously on Memories…

I stopped by at Oby’s classroom window and saw her consoling a child.

“Mother of many children,” I greeted her.

She turned and beamed at me. “I am their mother and you are their father.”

I nodded. “Don’t you think it’s high time we have our own biological children?”

“No.” She chuckled. “How are you?”

“I am fine but not so much. Have you guys been paid?”

She sighed and said no.

“I have a little something we can share it.”

She began to say no but I had already slipped a shiny 1000 naira note through the window and pushed it down. The money made a little dance in the air before falling down.

“That dance was romantic,” I said.

She blew me a small kiss. It was so small that if I wasn’t looking intently at her face, I might have missed it. “You’re a kind soul.”

“What’s your plan for this Sunday?” I said.

“You want us to go out?”

“Yes,” I said with unconcealed eagerness even though I didn’t have money. In fact, that 1000 naira lying on the floor of her classroom was my last card. One of my form students gave me the money as his Christmas party payment and I decided to borrow it. But I was always a believer. If she would go out with me on Sunday, money would come. Somehow.

“Ifeanyi Ubah FC is playing ball in the stadium on Sunday. We can go see it,” she suggested.

I nodded. “That would be fun.”

“I will come out at 3 o’clock. The match is by four but if we don’t go there early, we won’t get seats.”

I nodded, happy. A woman was talking about the need for punctuality on a date. I was a lucky man. I tightened the locks of my hands behind my back. This was the only way I could keep from grabbing the window, squeezing through it, and taking her into a warm embrace.

When I left Oby, I made deeper into the primary section for I wanted to go to Aunty Chika’s class and see my little friend and her classmates who were also my friends. You should remember my friend. She was the one they wanted me to force to take her medication but I wooed her into taking it instead.

I had to pass by the provision store. There was one teacher there eating buns and Fanta or whatever. Only God would know what would have been of teachers without buns and soda which they call soft drink or mineral. I said a “good morning” to the teacher.

“My in-law,” she replied as I hurried past.

I didn’t know why she said what she said? What is “in-law” by the way?

On the staircase to my little friends’ class, I saw the oldest teacher in the primary section, a woman of fifty or so. The only thing that joined me and this woman was good afternoon-afternoon. We were not yet in the “how are you?” stage so it came as a surprise, nay, a mild shock that she began to smile when she saw me.

“Good afternoon,” I said, refusing to smile nor stop walking.

“Hmmm, ogo, you came to see us?”

“No,” I said and walked past. Wait o, what did she mean by “ogo”? Ogo is the Igbo word for in-law, right? Yes, what the hell is an in-law?

I didn’t enter the classroom of my children-friends. I was so much in need of answers. So outside, I signaled Aunty Chika to come out and she did.

“The King,” she said. If she had called me ogo/in-law I might have jumped out from the balcony with frustration. “Why is everyone calling me in-law?”

She laughed, kikikiki. “Are you not our in-law again?” she asked.

“Who are “our”?” I said.

“Don’t pretend jor. We know your girlfriends na.”

“What do you mean by ‘girlfriends’?”

“You know them my friend, don’t pretend jor.”

They were talking about Joy and Obioma. The prickly gossips, I fumed. I was no longer in the mood to see the children. “I would see you around,” I said to Aunty Chika and turned towards the staircase. I need to see Joy.

On my way to see Joy, I met the daughter of the school proprietress, Neche.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi. I was coming from the staff room and was told you stepped out.”

“I did.”

“I brought my novel manuscript,” she said. “I dropped it on your desk. Please read it and give me your honest feedback.”

“I am afraid that won’t happen,” I said.

Her face crowded a little. “Why?”

“It is October 8 and no one is talking about my September salary. I find that contemptible, obnoxious, and dispiriting.”

“You are speaking grammar,” she said. “In plain English, how can I help you?”

“You may have to pay for my beta-reading service,” I said.

“How much?”

“I will leave that to you.”

“Your account number, please.”

I collected her phone number instead and promised to text her my account number. I made for Joy’s computer room. Joy was typing when I came in. This is the closest we have been, physically, since she rejected me/sent me the “you are not a good person” text.

She was typing when I came in.

“You are not welcome here,” she said.

“People think we are dating,” I said. “Are you aware of that?”

She said nothing. No, she did with her fingers, hammering at her keyboard. How do I proceed? To buy time, I brought out my phone and texted Neche my account number. As I returned my phone to my pocket I said, “Talk.”

She typed on.

I decided to leave. I would return with a strategy and make her feel some heat since she wouldn’t see the light of my talking.

“You asked me out,” she said.

I stopped at the door. “And you said no.”

“So you went after my colleague.”

I turned and walked deeper into the room. “If you apply for Unizik and they refuse to give you admission, won’t you try UNN?”

And she began to laugh. I smiled in spite of my frustration. I believed I knew what she was doing and many girls are like this. They don’t really like you enough to date you but they want you around, as a toaster. They may never agree to date you but you have to remain as their toaster, how dare you “toast” another girl?

A keg of inspiration for how to punish Joy suddenly hit my ribcage. “What is the most expensive restaurant in Nnewi?” I asked. She mentioned the name of an eatery in Old Onitsha Road. “Good, let’s go eat there on Saturday.”

“Wow,” she rose to her feet with excitement. “For real?”

“I am a man of my words,” I said.

Now, this is my plan. I would take her to that eatery and make sure we buy the costliest meals then I would give them an ATM card where I had no money. I would say oops, I left my ATM where I have money at home. I knew Joy was not the kind of person to pay for food she and someone else ate so we would end up washing plates in the eatery. Considering how little Nnewi paid their menial staff, it seemed we would wash plates and pots for up to a week to pay for the meals. I would wash and she would rinse. Perfect punishment.

“Do you know how to wash plates?” I asked her.

“Yes. But why do you ask?”

“Nothing,” I said and held my laughter with both hands. I would laugh my belly out while we wash the plates. I was the kind of man to cut off my leg just so I would beat you up with my shine bone.

I am was a terrible person.

To be continued

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (15)

 I apologize for speaking last week. I was choked up on my desk I didn’t realize the week was slipping away until it was Thursday. Would publish every Monday for the foreseeable future. If you missed it, read the previous episode here.

*

It was the sixth of October and I was yet to receive my salary. I was being sustained by the 1000 naira my form students pay to me for their Christmas party and this drives me crazy. I had now spent nine thousand naira of their fund which means when my salary finally comes, it would be 16 thousand. This fills my nose with gaseous fury. This drives me crazy.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one suffering this. If anything I was better off since I had the good sense to borrow money from my students Christmas party funds. The other teachers who were not form masters/mistresses or who didn’t have the insight to borrow from their students’ Christmas fund were going about borrowing money.

They came to me a lot and this morning as I stood behind the assembly ground fuming about my salary I counted three of them. Uncle Matthew owed me 1500 naira; Ikenna owed me 1000 naira; Aunty Tracy owed me 400 naira.

One thing that kept me from gingering so much about the salaries was because I wasn’t the only one affected and mustn’t be the one fighting it. The last time I fought for them, I fought alone and it was not an experience that filled me with magnanimity for another brawl on behalf of the teaching staff.

Let us all suffer.

The principal had the floor of the assembly ground and he was telling the students that the deadline to pay up their Christmas fees was drawing close and that if on the said date they didn’t pay up, they would be whipped. And the principal left the assembly ground.

Unlike the principals you may have known, this one was a visiting principal to the assembly ground. Of course, I know principals were not always around during assemblies but when they did, they stayed all through. Not this one. They would send a student to call him when he had some information to pass. He would come, pass the information, and stamp out. The boss.

After the assembly and all the students matched to their various classes, three SS2 girls came to me. There was Chisom, there was their class captain Chekwube and the third girl they called Adaora (which was literally “the people’s daughter” and in this case, the people’s beauty), which wasn’t her given name but which her mates called Adaora because of her appearance. I hate to say this of my student but the girl was comely. She was of tall height, chocolate skin, and calm eyes.

“I have SS2 now,” I said.

“We know,” Chisom said. “We came for a different thing.”

“You don’t have a class this morning?” I asked.

“It’s maths,” their captain said, “and the maths teacher is on duty at the gate.” (She meant the maths teacher was stopping latecomers at the gate).

“Because your maths teacher is not ready, you want to stop me from teaching my class?”

“No sir. It is the Christmas fees that we don’t have,” Adaora said.

“Now the principal is saying he would flog us,” Chisom said.

“Your parents don’t have 1000 naira each or you guys don’t want to pay or you guys have collected the money and spent it on abacha, which is it?” I asked.

“All of the above,” their captain said.

“I beg your pardon.”

Chisom explained. “One of us didn’t bother to tell her parents because she doesn’t want to pay for something she won’t attend; one of us told her parents and they said get out of my presence; then one of us have collected the money and spent it.”

I shrugged. “One of you is in trouble, the other one of you is in trouble, and the last one of you is in serious trouble. All of you are in varying degrees of troubles but you should be consoled by the fact that you all are in trouble…”

“Uncle,” someone called me.

I looked up. It was an SS3 student calling to remind me that I had their class that period. “Girls, I have to go. Pay up.”

“Would you let the principal flog your favourite?” Chekwube asked.

“And who the heck is my favourite? You guys have a really touchy imagination…”

A JS2 boy was signaling for my attention a few feet away. “Yes?”

“The principal said I should call you.”

“To your tent O girls,” I said and left.

There was a woman carrying a baby in her back in the principal’s office. “That is the uncle I told you about,” the principal said.

“Good morning, madam, I said. Hope I am safe.”

“You are,” she said and smiled sadly. “It is my son.”

I look at the boy who called me and who now stood at the door.

I sat down. “What did he do?”

“He drives me crazy. He doesn’t obey me. He leaves all the work for me. When he comes home, he would eat then go and play ball. He won’t come back till 7pm to eat night. The can’t beat him sef. The last time I beat him he ran away from the house for two days and I was worried sick. It is just the four of us, him and his two younger ones. My husband is in Gabon and the money he sends is not always enough and when I ask my son to look after his little ones while I go to the market to buy bitter leaf that I wash and sell to add to our income, he would abandon them.” The woman began to cry.

“Uncle, I want you to handle this boy. He needs iron hands.”

I would have felt like a thug under a different circumstance but this story broke my heart a little. In fact, it broke my heart a little more than a little. I rose to my feet. The boy shrunk into the wall. I went to the woman and placed a palm on her shoulder. “I am so sorry to hear this story,” I said. I reached out with the other hand and grabbed the boy by his hand and draw him closer.

“I will talk to your boy,” I said and transferred my hand to the boy’s ear. “He will behave, won’t you boy?”

“I will,” he said.

I didn’t hear that. I squeezed the ear.

“I will, sir!”

The woman looked up but by now I had transferred my hand was on the boy’s head. “What is your name by the way?”

He said a name I no longer remember.

“You don’t make a woman cry,” I said. “And it is a taboo to make your mother cry.” I stepped on the boy’s ankle and as I asked, “You would be a good boy, won’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I will!”

“The boy will behave, madam, I promise.” I turned to the boy. “You know that Jesus loves you, right?” I was rubbing his head affectionately while I said this. Then I bent down and whispered into his ears: “Jesus won’t eat you alive but I will. I will eat you raw, chew you, swallow you then vomit you out whole. One more wrong step and you would feel the heat of a faulty transformer.”

Aloud, I said: “You are a good boy. Don’t let the devil use you. Resist him and make your mother and father proud of you. Will you?”

He said he would. I asked him to go to his classroom.

If you think the jungle is only used to describe the place where animals eat animals, then you haven’t been paying attention since episode one.

To be continued