Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (29)

In case you missed the previous episode

I entered the staff room after the assembly, today, and saw Aunty Peace with her hands supporting her head, crying at her desk with Aunty Oge, the two Mrs., and Uncle Mathew around her desk and looking sorry. My mouth jumped to my heart, someone has died.

“What happened?” I said with a small voice. This is the kind of question you can’t wait to ask but really don’t want the answer.

“It is your fault,” Matthew said.

“How?”

“What did you do to her yesterday?” two or three voices demanded.

Yesterday was Monday… Wait, I hope this was not what I feared.

In Mount Sinai International School, we had a gateman whose name I can’t remember. He was from Akwa Ibom State and everyone referred to him as the gateman or the security man. I called him CSO. But security is not the only thing he did. After school hours, he would take his bike to the main road and do some Okada runs. A few weeks ago, he brought shoe making tools and began to repair shoes on his official desk (we would talk about this later).

Now this CSO and I were friends. This was me, always befriending the wretched of the earth in every environment I find them. I generally disliked crowds – mobs, actually – and there are no crowds around security men, gatemen, cleaners and lift guys in settings like this. (When I left Nnewi, I fell in love with our office cleaner and it set up a whirlpool of passion, drama, and all manner of aches. I may tell this story in my post-Nnewi workplace series, don’t hold your breath.)

So I got talking to the CSO one morning while on duty at the gate to stop latecomers and Aunty Peace passed and I caught him smile and asked him why he did that. He refused to talk and after a few prodding lines, I gave up. For that day.

The next day, I winked at him. The day after, I called him in-law. Another day, I asked him if he had anything for his Oriaku. Each time, he would just smile coyly. A week later, he opened up to me that he really liked Peace but that he knew it was impossible to have her. “I no get money,” he said.

“Forget that thing,” I said to him. “She too no get money na. If she look down on you because you de broke, she no get sense. Nobody know tomorrow. Gateman today fit be Dangote manager tomorrow.”

“You de correct,” he said.

“Tell her how you feel. She won’t beat you.”

He said no, he couldn’t talk to her.

“A closed mouth is a closed heart,” I said.

He shook his head. I shrugged and walked away.

One day, he approached me and told me he bought Peak and Bournvita tins for Aunty Peace and asked me to take the package to her. I said no. “Things don’t work like that. First, tell her about your feelings.”

“Abi?”

“It won’t be like you are trying to buy her affection. No girl is that cheap anyway.”

My plan was simple. I wanted him to talk to Peace first; if she rejected his proposal, he would keep his Peak and Bournvita. From the look of him, he needed them more than Peace. Me too, I needed the Peak and Bournvita more than Peace.

The CSO didn’t have the liver so I coached him. I taught him how to stand before her, how to keep his face while talking to her, the tone of voice to use, and what to say (and a long list of what not to say). One Saturday, he came to my place and I prepped him for hours and encouraged him with war stories from past battles I and my guys fought and won (and lost) for love (and showed him trophies in the form of scars).

He was fired up.

So yesterday, Monday, he blocked Aunty Peace on her way home and told her he liked her and would like to date her. I knew something was wrong when I got home and saw two missed calls (my phone being on vibration alone); one from Aunty Peace and the other from the CSO.

Who would you call first between a toaster you are coaching and the precious toastee?  I decided to call neither, dropped the phone on the mattress, and walked into the bathroom.

This morning, I hurried past the CSO in his full military regalia, so sharp I nearly saluted him. I winked instead. He only nodded. Another red flag.

Now, we have a whimpering Aunty Peace in our their hands.

“Why the hell is she crying?”

“You are the cause, why did you ask the gateman to chyke her?” Oge asked me.

“This thing happened yesterday,” I said.

“What is your point?” Mrs. Nwokeji shot at me.

“Why is she crying this morning?”

A chorus of voices greeted me and I couldn’t make sense of them except that of Mrs. Anozie, I think, who said, “It really hurt her.”

“So she cried for 24 hours non-stop or resumed crying this morning? I don’t get this.”

“Nna mehn,” Uncle Matthew said, “you are just after the details of her crying. The issue—”  

“Is that a common gateman asked her out,” I completed for him. “Because he’s a gateman, it’s a taboo to talk to Peace the Princess of Ozubulu and heir to Ikemba’s throne. Even you, Mrs. Anozie, I am surprised at you. Christians, church-going people, all of you, gathered around a lady who is mourning because a common gateman dare to ask her out…”

“Would you allow your sister date a gateman?” Mrs. Nwokeji fired.

“It’s my sister’s decision to make, not mine. But if I catch her crying because someone she thinks is beneath her asked her out, I’ll be mad at her.”

“Oga, leave that thing—”

“Leave nonsense!”

“Just apologize…”

I didn’t let Oge finish. “Apologize for championing love and connecting souls? You have to kill me first. Dead, my ghost won’t apologize; you have to kill my ghost then my ghost’s ghost…”

“Sharrap!” Aunty Peace screamed.

“Scream your lungs out if you like but you can never tell tomorrow.” I stamped out of the office, my heart burning. Looking back, it was a great thing that the school was far away from a petrol station otherwise it would have been another story.

I had SS3 at this period but I didn’t come out with my notebook. I breezed back to the staff room. I picked up my notebook. “I will never apologize for love,” I said and re-stamped out.

Nonsense.

To be continued…

Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (28)

In case you missed the last episode

I finally went with Hosea and Ikenna to the lunch at the proprietress’. I called Ikenna on Saturday and he said he was game. Then on Sunday morning, the VP called me and said he could join me if my babe wouldn’t make it. I said he could come.

We agreed to meet at Lassel Junction by 2pm. I was there by 2.15 and sat in a restaurant/bar where I sometimes ate. Hosea came there at 2.35 or so and we had to wait for Ikenna till 3.20, I believe. He said something about something coming up. We headed to the school owners’ house which we arrived at just a little under 4pm.

Neche opened the door for us.

“Mummy,” she exclaimed as she led us into a large sitting room, the size of half a tennis court. “Your star teachers are here!”

The mother came out. “Look at them!” Then she lost her smile and asked us to look at the watch. “The director had to leave for a meeting.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “The VP was doing makeup.”

They laughed.

“Ma,” I said, “I am sorry I came with two people instead of one but it’s no problem. You can give me my plate of food and drink and then give these two people the other plate of food and one bottle of drink to share.”

Everyone laughed.

“This is my house,” Hosea said. “It is you two who should share a plate.”

“Well since it is your house, you will eat yours on the kitchen floor.”

Another round of laughter. The woman of the house said: “I was really looking forward to this but it is now a shame I will miss it as I have a meeting by four. And did you all see the white mansion as you turned into this street?”

I kept quiet knowing this was an opening gambit to a sucker punch. The two idiots said yes, they saw the mansion.

The proprietress made her point: “Well, that mansion belongs to our kinsman. Peradventure what to provide for your guys’ flats stomach becomes too burdensome for me, I will call on him for help.”

They laughed. I shrugged. “You know, well she asked if you saw the mansion I refused to answer because I know a backhand slap was coming.”

“You know my mother too well,” Neche said.

“Yes but it wasn’t easy learning, I bled a lot in her hands.”

They laughed.

“And I have to confess, that was why I delayed the guys just to get rid of her and save my skin.”

Neche giggled but the guys didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked. The proprietress shrugged. “You won today but we would fight some other day. In the meantime, my daughter and son – he is around – will keep you guys’ company.”

“When did you become close with the proprietress?” Ikenna asked me as we settled down in the dining.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but those days I climbed upstairs to cry over my September salary helped.”

Neche served us white rice in a big bowl capable of feeding five hungry farmers with steaming stew crowded with chicken wings and laps.

When Hosea opened the stew flask, I said, “You guys cannot say I have never done anything for you all.”

“My brother you have o,” Ikenna said. “But wait o, why did they invite you for lunch?”

I touched my collar neck. “They know I’m starving.”

Neche came with the salad when we were laughing and a fake epiphany suddenly hit Ikenna’s coconut head and he closed one eye.

“My brother, perish that thought,” I said.

“VP, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” He nodded slightly towards Neche.

“They assume we’re in love or something,” I said to Neche and she laughed. “You,” she pointed with a dismissive left finger. “You would wash plate tire o.”

And the boys laughed their heads off, so loud and so long that Neche left before I could come up with a comeback. I shrugged as I took a liberal bite at a chicken wing. This is my revenge. One thing I came to learn about having a bad mouth was having ears receptive of insults. And your comebacks mustn’t be that day. It may tarry up to one year even but it could still be served, the colder the sweeter.

When we were finishing our food, the proprietress’ son joined us. He was a tall and very fair chap.

“That’s Emenike,” the VP said. “This is Ikenna.” They shook hands.

“This is K.” We shook hands.

“My mom told me about all you’re doing in the school.”

“Your mother is very kind,” I said. “And I thought you weren’t happy with our presence here.”

He smiled. “Na, I didn’t want to look at your mouths while you eat. Now that you guys are done, we can go sit at the garden outside and drink something stronger than Pepsi.”

“This guy is a guyman,” Ikenna said. When an Igbo guy calls you a guyman then you are truly a guyman.

We sat round a table in their garden with a bottle of dry gin and glasses on the table.

“My mom told us you are coming with your girl,” Emenike said as he poured the drinks. “What happened?”

I shrugged, “She couldn’t make it.”

Emenike nodded. “Scheduling conflict.”

“Is that your way of saying she had an appointment with another man?”

He smiled without mirth. “That… or she doesn’t see you guys like that.”

“It is also possible,” the VP began, “that she is shy. You know, coming to your employers’ house with a man who also works in the same organization. It’s somehow… for some girls.”

Ikenna agreed. “I’m a guy but it kinda feels somehow to me.”

Emenike took a sip and shut his eyes as the liquor burned his throat, chest, and elsewhere. We waited for him to recover. He did (thank God). “See eh,” he said, “it is possible that she is shy or actually busy, but she is a Nigerian girl, right?”

“Yes.”

“Not just a Nigerian girl, an Nnewi girl. My brother, you should always assume the worst about them.”

“Let me see. She has many men and K is number four?’

“That should make sense,” I said. “I’m an Arsenal fan.”

They laughed. Arsenal was known for finishing fourth.

“You are not entirely wrong,” Emenike said of Ikenna’s point. “An average fine girl usually has two men that truly counts: One in Nigeria and one abroad.”

“There are so many Nnewi/Ozubulu men abroad,” he continued. “One guy can be controlling ten girls in Nigeria with the promise of ‘I will come back, marry you and take you abroad’, and each girl would believe she is the true love. But it is just a game to him.”

“But why refuse to come here with K?”

For inspiration, Emenike took a draw from his glass then it burned him. After he survived, he said: “Now, this brings me to the point Hosea made earlier. This is her employers’ house. More than that, the director and the proprietress are important people that your babe would like to invite to her wedding. When it’s the time, she would feel terrible bringing an IV to my parents that doesn’t carry the name of the man she once came here with for a lunch date.”

There was a moment silent as we mulled Emenike’s words. He poured his fourth shot. Ikenna was on his second, the VP on his first and mine just stood there. Our host looked at my glass. “You haven’t touched your drink.”

“I’m thinking,” I said; “this one that you are just drinking and dropping rhema, I am strongly considering going home with the whole bottle.”

One or two laughed.

 “What’s the way forward for our guy?” Ikenna asked.

“Nothing. He would continue to love her and be with her. He would just tamper his expectation. She may be his, she may not.”

“And no too much investment of energy, emotions, and the likes,” Ikenna said.

“It is the hope that kills.”

At this moment my phone began to ring. It was Obioma.

“Talk of the devil.”

“Put it on speak out,” someone said.

I wasn’t comfortable with this but following their concerns and counsels, I felt they had gained the right to officially eavesdrop.

“Hello,” I said.”

“Hello, are you done with the lunch?”

“Rounding up?”

“Eiyeah. So sorry I couldn’t make it.”

“It’s okay.”

“I will make it up to you,” she said.

“I will be waiting.”

“Er… Who did you go with?”

“You don’t know her so should I just describe her for you?”

“No need,” she said curtly. “I am a little free now so I will be coming to your place so we could spend a little time together. Please start coming out.”

“Tell her to go hell,” Ikenna said without saying it out.

I looked at the VP who shrugged with a lack of opinion. I looked at Emenike and his face was covered with his glass. “I will be there in a moment,” I said. The time was quarter past five.

I ended the call and pocketed my phone. I owed no one any explanation.

“Something must kill a man,” Emenike said.

I agreed. “Let’s toast.”

We all lifted our glasses. “To something that must kill a man,” I said.

“To something that must kill a man,” they chorused.

To be continued…