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.