Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (26)

Previously on Memories

Today, I decided to ask Obioma to marry me. She was a beautiful woman, she was kind, considerate, and God-fearing. What else do you want in a future wife? Once she agreed to marry me, I would resign from here, leave for Lagos, get a better job, save enough money, come back, do the marriage rites, and take her away.

Sounds rather farfetched but this was doable. I needed to be sharp. Earlier this year, while serving, I fell in love with a corps member but I wasn’t sharp enough and I lost her.

I was in the staff room marking some assignments or classwork when this epiphany hit me. It was so clear that I saw both of us walking down the aisle of Saint Paul Anglican Church, Umudim, Nnewi. She was so beautiful, queenly, celestial. Obi-King 2020. The Heart of the King 2020. I can’t wait. I would propose to her on Sunday during the lunch at the director’s.

It would be beautiful. The director would be there, the proprietress, their daughter, Neche, their domestic staff, all; they would watch as I go on one knee and ask Oby to marry me. Today was Thursday, I would need to buy a ring as soon as possible.

I brought out my phone and Googled “How much is a good engagement ring in Nigeria?” I followed a link to Jumia where I saw rings priced at as low as 1,500 and as high as 100 thousand.

I settled for one for 15 thousand. I didn’t have the money yet but that was not a problem. First, I needed to inform Oby about our lunch with the school owners.

I rose to my feet.

Chisom and Adaora entered the room.  “You have us,” Chisom said.

I handed them the notebook. “I need to pass a piece information downstairs,” I told them. “I would be upstairs in no time.”

“You can send me,” Adaora offered.

“No, thanks. I got this.”

Chisom hurried away but Adaora maintained a slower pace so that both of us walked out of the staff room together.

“Is your flower bed outgrown?”

“I am not sure,” I said.

“Ok,” she said.

Downstairs, at the primary section, I stood at Obioma’s classroom window watching as she talked on the phone. She was consumed by the discussion that she only waved at me. She waved me on rather than waved me to stay and wait. I tried to blow her a kiss but she’d already looked away.

I went upstairs, less happy than when I came down. After my class, I went downstairs to meet Obioma. Informing her of the lunch was the first step to proposing to her. I met her still talking on the phone but this time around she had earphones on and feeding a child.

She smiled beautifully and I began to return the smile when I discovered she wasn’t smiling at me; she was smiling at the person (he must be a man) whom she was talking to.

I waited to have her look my way so I could mouth “We need to talk” to her but she didn’t look my way. She was consumed with the phone call, animated. I knocked at the window frame to get her attention and she signaled me “later” with her fingers. She didn’t even look at me. I left.

I wasn’t able to see Obioma until the end of the school hours. I had a class to handle at the extra mural lessons and there was no energy running downstairs to see her and then coming up again. If you ever taught, you would appreciate the special hunger that rules the middle belt from 2pm upwards. So I sent Obioma a text message. “I was invited for lunch at the proprietress on Sunday and I need you to come with me. Talk later.”

Her reply was instantaneous. “Ok.”

I sent the VP a text message, “We need to talk.”

The VP was the person to whom we gave all the monies we collected for the Christmas party and he should have a carton full of loot. I would ask him to lend me 15 thousand naira so I could buy a ring for my baby. He may not agree if I ask for the money to buy a gadget but he would when he heard engagement ring; he was that kind of a guy, a romantic.

After the mural lesson and everyone had gone home, I and the VP sat talking in his office while nursing bottles of soda.

“Is 15K ring not expensive?” he asked me.

“My brother, I know you are looking at 15K side by side my salary, but that is the wrong way to look at it. Look at it side by side the girl and you would see that 200K ring may not do justice to her,” I said.

“That is the point. No amount of money spent on an engagement ring would do justice to what you feel for her. It is your heart that counts.”

“So, I should buy two thousand naira ring?”

He smiled. “Five to seven thousand would be good. I would take you this my guy I know in Nkwo.”

“Let’s go right away.”

“No, it’s 4pm already. Let’s make it Saturday morning.”

I agreed but I also asked him to bring as much as 15K with him in case I didn’t like the 5-7K version. He said no yawa.

I brought out my phone and dialed Obioma’s number just to hear her voice and confirm our date for Sunday but she didn’t pick up.

The next day was Friday. I went to Obioma’s classroom three times but I didn’t get to talk to her. The first time, I saw the headteacher in the classroom with her and I just greeted them and passed. The second time, she wasn’t even in the classroom which was rare. I saw her hurrying into the gate carrying a package wrapped in a big brown envelope and I just nodded at her and entered the provision store.

The last time I passed by her window, there was a parent in the classroom and they were fusing over some child. Upset, I gave up talking to her today. At least, not in the school.

After school dismissal, I was walking home when I got her call.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“On my way home.”

“I am home already,” she said. “I know you have been trying to talk to me. I am sorry today was unusually busy for me.”

“It’s ok. We would talk when I get home.”

She said no problem.

But we didn’t talk again that Friday because my phone was dead and the chemist shop I usually charged it was fully booked with chargers. I gave it to my neighbours whose father parked the bus in the mansion’s compound every night.

It was my last resort and I asked the boy to bring the phone for me the next morning when they come to pick up their bus.

It was to 9am that I finally reached Obioma.

“Your phone was off last night,” she complained.

“I am sorry, it died.”

She made sympathetic noises about Nnewi and Nepa. I grunted. “Hope you still remember our date tomorrow.”

“What date?” she asked.

“At the proprietress house by 2. I texted you and you said ok.”

“You are not serious,” she said, “how can you give me that kind of information over the phone?”

“I tried to speak to you face to face since Thursday and failed each time.”

“Well, I am not prepared for any lunch or dinner.”

“What do you need to be prepared?”

“Nothing really but Sunday is so soon and I didn’t make any plans for it.”

Frustration and anger mixed in equal proportions rose up from my chess and filled my nasal cavity with gaseous fury and my vocal tract with too much words that any words that struggled out would come out in a babble.  

Two things happened almost simultaneously. Someone began knocking at my gate and a peep on my phone announced the vice principal’s call waiting. I swallowed more than three times then managed to say, “Lemme call you back,” to Obioma.

I didn’t answer Hosea’s call. I would call him back when I find the words to explain why we may not be going to buy a wedding ring or engagement ring or whatever today. I reached the gate, unbolted it and opened it. Adaora stood at the gate, standing in her full height and chocolate elegance.

The devil said, “Go buy the ring and give it to this one.” I told the devil to go behind me. Then the devil said, “At least you can take her with you for the lunch date tomorrow.”

I asked Adaora to come inside.

To be continued

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (25)

Previously on Memories

Today, I got a love letter on my desk.

As soon as I saw a paper wedged between students’ assignment books, I suspected what it was. The assembly was just over and I was upstairs to take my notebook for my first class. I took the letter, unfolded it, and gave it a cursorily reading, she referred to me as My King and said something about candle lights and flowers and dreams and signed off as Sugarlala. I can’t remember the details and all that. In fact, I can’t even reproduce it without it being a lie.

If I knew that a time would come when I would tell this story more vividly, I wouldn’t have trashed the paper after the first reading. But I was in a hurry to attend to my class and I was a little miffed. The Vice Principal Hosea had already received four love letters and one of the girls even signed her name (a legend!), and Ikenna had received two.

Basically, this people are saying that Hosea was four times handsomer than I am and Ikenna twice the man I was? Nonsense. Nonsense.

I made for the class I had.

It was now the middle of November and the wind of exam was now blowing and we have passed the deadline to submit our exam manuscripts. Also, there was Christmas party somewhere in the air. Every class, from pre-nursery to SS3 were expected to make a presentation on that day and as a graduate of English Literature, I suspect they expected my class, JS3, to have the best presentation. I was yet to give this a thought. I was yet to think of whether to think up a reason not to organize a presentation for my class or to think up what to present.

After my round of classes, I returned to my desk to see three missed calls from the proprietress. I called her back and she asked me to come up to see her. I loved the sound of her voice and I hurried to the primary section.

I stopped by at Oby’s classroom window. She was trying to console a child and backing me. I noticed that she was adding on weight. “Fatima,” I said.

She turned and frowned at me.

“Go away, Audu.”

I laughed. I love you, I said without speaking the words and she smiled with joy.

The proprietress, her husband the director and her daughter Neche, the school manager where seated around the door mouth of the library that served as the proprietress office. Aunty Peace was standing.

“We have a full house, here,” I said.

“You have become a hotcake,” the proprietress said.

“I was in class when you were calling,”

“That’s how hotcakes sizzle.”

“Good morning, sir,” I said to the director and nodded at Neche.

“Morning. Sit down,” he said.

I sat down.

“Do you remember the boy that tried to kill himself?” the proprietress asked.

I looked at Aunty Peace. “That’s her form teacher.”

Aunty Peace made an exaggerated angry face.

“You saved the boy’s life,” Neche said.

“I don’t get this,’ I said earnestly.

The proprietress spoke. “Well, the boy told us in the hospital that he wanted to jump from the second floor but he heard you teaching there and he became afraid and went down to the first floor instead.”

“If you were not teaching on the second floor,” Neche said, “he would have used the second floor and he wouldn’t have survived that fall.”

“If the boy had died, the scandal would have consumed this school,” the mother said.

“So you didn’t only save a life,” the father added, “you saved our family legacy.”

I swallowed hard to eliminate the lump in my neck.

“Anyone could have been teaching on the second floor,” I said with a small voice.

“If I was the one teaching on the second floor, the boy would have still jumped,” Aunty Peace said. “These students are afraid of you.”

“I-I think…” I struggled to bring the words out.

“We are inviting you for launch in our house on Sunday to say a proper thank you.”

“You can bring our babe,” Neche said.

“Or your babes,” Aunty Peace said and they laughed.

I didn’t like this, being in the middle. Again, I didn’t know how to fix my face. Most annoyingly, my intellect deserted me and I couldn’t find a witty sentence to show modesty, or to throw the spotlight from me, or to

The director excused himself and got up and left. Neche got up and began to walk away, talking in her phone. Aunty Peace said she had an ongoing class, squeezed my shoulder and left me and the proprietress.

It felt planned, leaving me alone with the proprietress.

“So you have another girl besides Obioma?”

“It is an accusation of the brethren,” I said.

She studied my face, searching for the hidden truth. I lifted my head, admiring the Library scripted above the door frame.

“You must have finished setting your exam questions,” she said.

“No,” I said surprised at her sudden change of subject.

“I am surprised you haven’t finished setting up the questions because you are seen entering the computer a couple of times.”

Ahhh! So it was no change of subject, she only brought the exam questions up to water my jaw for an uppercut.

Before I could recover from this attack, while trying to set my face away from the mixture of blushing and embarrassment, she said. “Joy is a beautiful girl.”

I grunted.

“I think it’s my fault, employing too much beauties and confusing my star-teachers. I know what to do going forward: Ugly teachers needed. Apply in person.”

I laughed but it sounded like a cry for help. This woman had me in the ropes and there was no counter move for me. I was usually this open; I was always guarded, prepared for war. But by praising me for saving a child’s life and her family legacy, my neck was wide open and her butcher’s knife was cutting deep.

“I will declare a military regime,” I said.

She looked lost and I grabbed the opportunity to push back. “My military side is said to have saved a student’s life. I will start using it for the staff in order to shut up the busybodies who run up to report whenever I coughed.”

“I trust you,” she said.

I knew she was going to unleash another attack so I got up to my feet. “What is your favourite sports, ma?”

“I don’t really have any,” she said. “Maybe football.”

“I don’t think it’s football. It’s bloodletting. You just butchered me.”

And she laughed very loudly in a way that only a school owner dare in a school premises.

“I am not coming for that launch o,” I said, punctuating her.

“Why?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

“I can’t walk; you crippled me.”

And she dissolved into her special laughing fit.

I stood there frowning.

To mollify me, she gave me 3000 naira to buy “walking sticks”. As I hurried away, she throw a final punch at me, “When next you have cough, get medicine. Doctor Joy doesn’t treat tuberculosis o.”

God, end this world today, today.

To be continued…