Just before I finished writing Obioma, I knew I had guffed and for half or three-quarters of a second, my hand froze on the chalkboard. I recovered and went on to write “Obioma was bitten by a snake”. The students were vaguely aware that I had made a guff. In fact, it should be more than vague for two reasons. One, I wrote the Obioma sentence where I usually wrote “English Language”; two, I never wrote sentences until after writing the subject and the date.
I faced the students carrying a heavy face so that even if you had doubts about the appropriateness of the sentence, the evil spirit face would clear every iota of doubt.
“You,” I pointed to a student, “tell me what voice this is.”
He said passive voice.
“Why is it passive?”
He said, “Because Obioma come before snake.”
“Who is Obioma in the sentence?” I asked.
“Obioma is the positive,” he said, “and the snake is the negative.”
My head did a small tint towards nothing. The class wanted to laugh but no one wanted to laugh and attract my err. Only the very, very funny and the one that I joined in did they laugh out. Isolated laughs in my class was risky and the punishment was an immediate, quick tongue-lashing.
I looked at the boy. A sentence was passive because the subject (doer) of the action comes after the object (sufferer) of the action. What the heck did he mean by positive and negative?
“So Obioma is positive, huh?”
The boy said yes.
I said wow. The class laughed.
“And the snake is negative?”
The boy said yes.
I said, oh wow, wow, wow.
The class laughed again.
“And you are going to write WAEC in a couple of months’ time?” I shook my head.
I went on to write out a sentence on adjectival clause of reason and another on adjuncts and asked them to say what they were. I ended up giving them a talk about taking their studies seriously, mostly by revising, as WAEC was fast-approaching. Then I asked Ifeoma to wipe the board for me.
Ifeoma wiped the board for me and wrote English Language and the date on the board. Heroes don’t wear capes.
I went on with today’s class. The second lesson and third saw me do a round each in SS1 and SS2. By the time I was done. I was now fully applied in my work and the thought of Oby didn’t crossed the pathway of my heart even once.
When I returned to the staff room, I saw Neche the proprietress’ daughter on my chair.
“It’s October,” I said.
“Then call me the October visitor.”
“There are no October visitors,” I told her, “just October surprise.”
“Then call me the October surpriser,” she said.
I shook my head. “You pass my power.”
“Have you done reading the book?”
“No, but I have read a portion. Let me show you.” I reached for the textbooks on my desk, shifted this book and that and came to a file with her name on the cover. I brought out a portion of her typed manuscript and gave her the ones I have worked on. Her lips dropped into an O when she saw the heavy scripted corrections of my pen on her art.
She couldn’t find a word to express her feeling.
“You have a fine grip of your pen,” I said.
“I’m bad,” she said in a small voice.
“You have rooms for improvements and these I pointed out. It will shock you at first but when you read through it, you would see the light of my harsh pen and would improve your art drastically.”
She nodded, sad.
I watched her knowing I would never say sorry for correcting and upholding the art of literature.
“Go through the work,” I told her. “We would find time, sit down maybe with a bottle of malt or la casera at our elbow and talk about it.”
She nodded and made no move to get up from my seat. I suppressed a sigh as small pangs of hunger knocked at the door of my belly.
I needed to grab a bite downstairs. “What can I get for you?”
She shook her head for nothing, consumed in her reading of her art.
I went out. I didn’t feel like going down now. I felt tired. More than that, I didn’t want Obioma to see me. I would make myself scarce for today and half of tomorrow. By the time she finally saw me, she would have missed me a lot and forgive me a little and open up to me. I am not new in this game. I know the gambits, I know the tactics, I know the strategies. Relationship is not a sprint; it is a marathon – people who play the long game seldom get hurt.
There was a teacher in SS1 and SS3. There wasn’t any in SS2. I decided to send someone from SS2 to buy me something downstairs.
I put my face in the window and tapped one of the guys on the shoulder. “I need you to buy something for you,” I told him. He stood up and left the class. I decided to wait for him at the window. I couldn’t put myself in awkward way by going to the staff room and seeing Neche’s piqued ego on her face.
“Uncle, I saw you in the stadium yesterday,” one of the students said to me.
I looked at him with all the disinterestedness I could put in my face. “What class do you have now?” I asked no one in particular.
“CRS and Commerce. Our CRS teacher has Igbo Class in JS class.”
That should be Mrs. Nwokeji. “What happened to the Commerce teacher?”
“He is part-time. He would come later in the day.”
There was a pause and it was a ripe opening for a gossipy line and I don’t like gossips that I cannot control, gossips that are too close for comfort. Time to leave.
“Uncle, so you like football,” someone said.
I walked away. I met the boy I sent for malt and snacks. “Take it to my desk,” I said to him. I needed to walk. Going down to the vice principal’s office and coming back up would do me some good.
“Wait, my change,” I said to the boy.
“She collected it,” he replied.
“She asked me we sent me and I said it’s you then she collected the change.”
“How much is supposed to be the change?” I asked.
Mehn, that was some money to seize. Well, this was providence teaching me the way. I would soon become a big businessman and Custom may seize my goods momentarily. So Obioma seizing my money was teaching me the way of my billionaire future. It also showed that she wanted my attention. If this wasn’t love, what was?
I was still at the stairs analyzing this when the boy I sent to drop the snacks on my desk made to pass to his classroom. “Oga, come here. What did Aunty Oby say when she seized the money?”
“It is not Aunty Oby o that seized the money. It is the computer lady.”
The anger started from my ankle, travelled through my shinbone and hit my kneecaps so hard I had to reach for the stairway rail for support. Of course, the boy had disappeared; no mortal stayed outdoor the night Onyekwuru masked spirit patrolled.
A message hit my phone. I brought it out. It was from Joy and it read: “Your small change is my smoke allowance. The first installment.”
I shut my eyes but my mouth opened and cursed in Hausa, Igbo, English, and broken Yoruba.