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A junior student of Mount Sinai International School threw himself down from the first floor of the secondary section. Yes, it is what you think – he wanted to end it. It was on a fine Friday, the sun was dampened by clouds and fresh air blew with rare steadiness.
I was teaching SS2 Literature in a classroom on the second floor. While all the senior classrooms and the staff room were on the first floor, the second floor had classrooms we used for subjects with lesser populations such as Literature, Commerce, Agric., Home Economics, etc. So I was teaching Literature when it happened.
The commotion started with a shout and an uproar of multiple voices. My class was distracted. “Someone go check what’s up,” I said.
The whole students rushed to the door. I opened “The Native Son” which we were studying and began to read the monologue of the lawyer. I hoped that whatever the commotion wouldn’t take over the rest of my class.
The racket downstairs continued to reverberate. I sat down to contain my impatience. I had learned that the best way to remove the poison from every shocking was to hear it second-hand; you can always tell yourself the storyteller was exaggerating. Whatever you didn’t see can be an exaggeration.
Adaora was the one who came up. “Uncle, a boy committed suicide,” she said.
“Suicide?” I didn’t get it. “What is suicide?”
“He killed himself.”
I studied her sweaty face, looking for the lie. “How.”
“He jumped from the first floor.”
I stood calmly to my feet. “I don’t think he is dead,” I said grasping the disbelief. “They took him to the primary section.”
“Tell your course mates that the class is adjourned. I am going down.”
I met Mrs. Anozie in the stairs between ground and first floor and he told me that the boy wasn’t dead and that the director, the principal, and Aunt Peace the boy’s form mistress rushed the boy to the hospital in the director’s car.
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I hope he survives.”
“He would but he would never walk again.”
“But why did he do it? How are we sure it is no accident?”
“His seat mate says he has always threatened to kill himself but he thought he was joking.”
“Holy Mother of Christ,” I said.
An emergency assembly hall was called for the secondary section and the proprietress addressed us, more like she led the prayer, binding the spirit of death and claiming victory in the name of Christ. Then she told the children that God loved them and He would never abandon them. “Talk to me if you have anything disturbing you.”
She ended by telling the students that the incident was an accident that if anyone mention the syllable sui- let alone suicide in this school premises or outside, she would show the person that she was a mad woman of Umudim. That was the proprietress for you: she had the special gift of spitting fire and a loving piece of ice in the same mouth, at the same time.
Now I understood why she had me and the vice principal on the podium, either side of her. Hosea represented goodness and kindness she offered with her right hand while I represented the fire and thunder that would descend on you should you decide to be foolish. But the whole three of us starting here was not even planned. The VP went to call the proprietress and joined her up here; I went up the podium to maintain law and order in the absence of the VP.
The fact that it wasn’t planned made it the more chilling.
Teachers’ emergency meeting was held after school hours. The principal and Aunty Peace had returned to say that the boy broke his waist/leg and nothing else.
“We should watch these children very closely,” the proprietress said to us. “A lot of them may be depressed and we would never know. Talk to them, form teachers, seek them out. If this child had died where would I hide in Anambra State?”
The proprietress said that for Wednesday Prayer, she would bring a powerful man of God to admonish the kids and pray for their protection.
“Uncle K was going to preach on Wednesday,” Ikenna said. I sensed disappointment on his voice and leered.
The proprietress said, “He would preach the following week.”
“The blind would have received their sight and the deaf would have received,” Aunty Oge said and the whole room laughed. We needed this comic relief.
The proprietress looked at steadily, the way she looked at me when she asked me why I was pleading for Obioma’s salary. She looked at me a little too long that I began to worry that she would bring Oby’s big breasts into this Christian matter, and I began to dig a hole to hide in with my shoes.
She let slip a half-smile and said: “The blind and the deaf have been blind and deaf for years, one more week won’t kill them.”
I let go a secret sigh of relief.
This school was not a place of peace. It was full of violence. All are violent.
During the first period on Monday, I was in JS3 classroom with my children. Yes, a form teacher is the father of the class. I was supposed to be teaching in SS3 and these kids were supposed to be having maths but I swapped with Uncle Matthew. He could use my time to teach SS3 maths while I talk to my kids. When SS3 would be having maths, I would go teach them English.
I sat down for the first time and faced them. Usually, I stood, make my announcement or mark the register, settle a quarrel or two then left. Today, I collected a spare chair and sat down. How do I start this talk? The boy who wanted to kill himself was said to be maltreated by his aunty whom he stayed with.
“Is there anyone of you who doesn’t stay with their parents?”
They all shook their head.
“Is there any of you who is unhappy?”
One of them said yes.
“What is bothering you?”
“Recession,” he said.
The whole class laughed.
I wasn’t making the kind of headway I needed. “Do you want to kill yourself because of Buhari’s recession?” I meant to ask but thought against it.
I gave a small talk about the extent of the recession but made it clear that Nigeria was running an economy of complaints. “There is no time when Nigerians aren’t complaining about the economy,” I said. “During Abacha’s time, people said it was the end of the world. Obasanjo came, even garri was hard to see. Yar’adua and then Jonathan as you all can remember wasn’t rosy. So why do you want to kill yourself because of Buhari?”
The class exclaimed.
I cleared my throat. This talk wasn’t going my way. I got a breakthrough when I asked, “Why should a JS2 student want to kill himself? Can someone tell me?”
Most of them were willing to talk and I let them talk. After the talk, I found out what I had always suspected: I was more likely to get married to Linda Ikeji this year than these guys were going to attempt something suicidal throughout their stay in secondary school.
Time raced on and Wednesday was upon us. This was the day I was to preach but a powerful man of God was expected. As we drove the students out for the hall that served as the church for such prayers, something told me that the man of God would fail to turn up and I would have to preach. I won’t let that happen, I said to myself as I led a group of students to the hall.
In the hall, Aunty Oge asked me whether I had seen the guest man of God. “Check with the principal.”
The students have begun singing. I stood in the back between Ikenna and the VP. The students sang and you would need no soothsayer to know that their voice reached heaven.
The principal and Aunty Oge entered the hall and made towards us. The principal addressed his deputy. “Did Mummy tell you anything about the man of God?”
Hosea said no.
“Let me call her.”
He began to dial. He made for a corner. I watched him with the corner of my eye, praying for their own good that they sorted this out. I saw him making towards him. I tightened my face. “I can’t hear you.” The principal was now within earshot. He put the phone on speak-out.
“I am on my way to a meeting in Awka,” the proprietress was saying.
“What of the man of God?”
“Next week,” she said. “Uncle K can handle today’s home.”
“I am not prepared for this,” I mouthed to the principal.
“But…” he began but she didn’t let him finish. “I trust him. He will do a great job.”
I shut my eyes. The principal slapped me encouragingly on the shoulder and left. Ikenna had drifted away. He suspected that there was fire building up and didn’t want to be within the burning point. Aunty Oge came to me. “What did the principal say?”
I suppressed a sigh of the trepidation that comes with unpreparedness. “I would do it,” I said. “Hey, no fancy names. Just introduce me like a normal teacher.”
She nodded and as she turned to go, I saw it clearly: Today was the day I disgrace my lineage.