Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (20)

In case you missed the previous episode, here. And if, by some metaphysical chance, you just dropped from the sky, here’s the very first episode. Today’s episode is for Moses Austin, soar brother.

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.

“How?”

“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.

“750.”

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.

To be continued

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (19)

Read the previous episode here.

*

Yesterday, October 11th, 2015, Obioma and I went on a date to the Stadium to watch Ifeanyi Ubah FC. It was a memorable outing with her riding her lady’s motorcycle and I seated in the back. She asked me to ride it and I said no. My motorcycle riding was rusty – wouldn’t be cool to ride your bae into a kiosk in Ozubulu Road. And her riding was romantic, drawing from the memories of Rancho and Mia in “3 Idiots”.

After the game, we had a long talk by the side of my junction. Then she drove away with her peck planted on my cheek. When she got home, she called me and we spoke until her credit finished. I called back and we spoke till my credit finished. I recharged with my app and we talked till that one finished. She called me back and we talked till her credit exhausted. Not wanting to cross below a thousandth threshold on my account, I borrowed credit and called till MTN told me “one minute remaining”. It was a sweet night, last night.

This morning, I met Oby at the desk at the gate where teachers write their attendance. She was writing on her primary section book and as I reached for the secondary section, I said, “Hey, Tom.” Tom was short for TomTom Mikimiki. She ignored me, finished her writing and went away.

I didn’t want to overanalyze this. She might be trying not to draw attention to us. That must be it, Atta girl! I wrote down my name, signed with the flourish of one with one million naira in his account balance, and dropped the pen.

“Latecomer,” the proprietress hailed me from upstairs.

“Good morning ma,” I said and looked at my watch with the deliberateness of someone who was fifteen minutes before time. 

“I came before you,” she said.

“And you forgot to write your name in the attendance list,” I said and she laughed and said welcome.

When I reached Oby’s window, I stopped to blow her a kiss a something but she stood, akimbo frowning. “What’s up?”

“Are you dating Joy?” she demanded.

“What is Joy?”

She made to say something but shut her half-parted lips and turned around and murmured something I didn’t hear clearly but made out to be: “After all, I am not your girlfriend.”

I smiled and made on my way. In 2013 or so, I once broke up with a girl for saying she hated me. Today, I know better. Nothing a woman says when she is angry is to be taken literally, except when she says you are not the father of two of her kids and that you have mouth odour.

Will deal with Obioma later.

I didn’t come down for assembly as I needed to finish a note or two. Don’t judge me: Joy and Adaora occupied most of my Saturday; Sunday was for church and The Good-Hearted.

After the assembly, I looked down from the window and saw some of the students going home. They must have been droved home for school fees. I looked at the clock on the wall of the staff room, 7.55am.

I looked at my timetable. English, SS3. My lesson for that was ready. I reached for the JS3 register to check who and who had paid and who and who hadn’t. I felt the presence of someone near my desk. That should be Mrs. Anozie. The person came and stopped before my desk. I looked up. Adaora.

She was not smiling.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning, sir,” she said, coolly.

“Why didn’t you say that before me?”

She made a sorry face. “They drove me out for school fees and the principal flogged me for not paying Christmas fee.”

“It was you who collected the Christmas fee and spent it?”

She said no. “My parents said they don’t have.”

“Well, I cannot turn back the hand and un-beat the beating you got from the principal. Your parents can help prevent the next beating. Insist, lean on them.”

She nodded like a child would nod at the counsel of a beloved uncle… or an adored boyfriend. The last point nearly ruined it for us. I decided to rise above this pettiness. A clear conscience fears no alligator pepper.

“As for your school fees,” I said. “When do you expect to pay it?”

“My father said month end.”

“A salary earner, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

“What does he do?”

“He drives for Blaze FM.”

“Blaze FM. One of the best in the East.”

She smiled weakly.

“Go to class and learn.”

She beamed. “Thank you, sir.” She reached the door and stopped. She returned to my desk as I rose to go out. “Sir, would you give me written note?”

“Oracles don’t do written notes. I asked you to go to your classroom, go to your classroom.”

She left. I used the corner of my eyes to catch Mrs. Anozie trying not to smile. Aunty Oge who never hid from her mouth what was in her heart said, “She is beautiful, isn’t she?”

I nodded. “She is very. One of the most beautiful young ladies in the whole of the South East.”

Mrs. Anozie said “wow” and asked, “Is she the one?”

“The one that did what?” I asked in a voice that a landlord might use for a tenant who hadn’t paid his rent for the past six years. Mrs. Anozie said “nothing”. I faced Oge. “Is there anything you wanna tell me?”

She said no sir.

I turned to the third teacher who covered her face with her water bottle. I sighed and stamped out of the room.

The students in SS3 stood up. I dropped my notebook. My cell phone announced the arrival of a text message. It was from Obioma and it was an empty message. In the university, The Princess usually sent empty messages to me whenever she was upset. What was driving Oby crazy? I didn’t know. Not that I cared. Why should I care?

I was at Mount Sinai International School to work not to play softballs on a turf full of women. I picked up a piece of chalk, walked to the board, and wrote “Obioma.”

To be continued…