Sunday, February 1, 2015

The New Term by Feyisayo Anjorin

A Nigerian biology teacher heads west to Bangoma and the big city, but one of the students in his class defies his authority; by Feyisayo Anjorin.

A man dressed in white short sleeved shirt, a red tie, and black trousers drew a few curious glances from the pupils of State Government College, Bangoma. Mr Obasanya squinted against the sun and walked towards the senior secondary block concealing his excitement.

He had thought of putting on a sunshade but decided against it. Not on the first day. He should not be seen as that teacher who is fresh from the village and is trying too hard to be the centre of attention. He was not wearing a buba and soro. A teacher should be dressed like this, he reminded himself again.

It was the beginning of a new year and the beginning of a new term. A new term comes with new pupils and new teachers. The new additions were usually objects of curiosity for the older members of the school community.

A teacher may be known for his or her rickety car, or height or weight. There was always one new girl that would be spoken of like a superstar; one of the new rich kids may be envied for his opulence; some poor one may be despised for his or her non-glamorous appearance. The impacts of a teacher's temperament would be felt by pupils and teachers. There would be gossips and exaggerations. Soon there would be fights among the boys, and girls would exchange stinging words.

It was a time of interaction between the newcomers and the established order.

It was Obasanya's first time teaching in a city school after five years of working in two different schools in the rural community.

Two weeks earlier, during the New Year church service, he had raised his hands solemnly in prayers and praise to God. One of his New Year resolutions was to quit drinking palm wine.

At Igbo Oluwa village, a short thick woman sold palm wine behind the central market. Obasanya would sit in the fourteen-by-fourteen shack, crammed with tables and benches, and crowded with men in adires of brown, navy blue, black, and their shades.

When he received a notification of transfer to Bangoma on the second Monday of the New Year, he headed for the palm wine shack. He decided to drink palm wine; and after then never again. In the city, drinking palm wine would not be the only fun thing to do.

He bought drinks for the gathering of farmers and hunters in the palm wine shack; and they praised him profusely.

"Oga Teasher Ose o." He heard it a hundred times. That was before the drunken crowd started a cheerful song with drumbeats from tables and palm wine gourds.

They sang:

Oga teasher ose o. Teacher, thank you.

Oga teasher adupe. Teacher, we are grateful.

Omo Obasanya, ose o. Son of Obasanya thank you.

A oluwa sin o, ose o. May the Lord be with you.


Obasanya wondered if his thoughts of the good musical quality of the songs were because of his intoxication. It could be the passion, it could be the stimulated happiness, it could be the non-existent self-consciousness; whatever it was, the drunken villagers were like a band that have toured the world and mounted countless stages together; they were fun to be with. But Obasanya did not like his life at Igbo Oluwa.

He was tired of the rural areas. He was tired of the narrow dusty roads and mud houses; he was tired of the virgin forests with giant trees, tall grasses and various creepers; he was tired of the simplicity of life and the feeling that he was missing out of the innovations of twenty first century life.

He would remember the smile on his face as he packed his books from the cluttered table of his previous office. That office with a massive table and no room for visitors' chairs; that room was about the size of the security booth at the gate of State Government College.

He was tired of interacting with ragged farmers, hunters and palm wine tappers whose words and actions seemed to express a deep-seated belief that the world started and ended in their village.

He was tired of witchdoctors and their intimidating explanations of the mysterious, and the slavish dedication of their followers. The villages would seem to him like scenes from Yoruba films of South Western Nigeria. They were like entertaining episodes of Iriri-Aye, or Agbeleku; each with its own Abija, Fadeyi, Ewejoko, Baba Suwe and Sango. Yet, Obasanya did not like his life in Igbo Oluwa.

He had longed for the city and its trappings: the variety of intellectual pursuits; the class and sophistication of fashion and style; the broad tarred roads and the sleek, luxurious cars that would encourage a young man to dream of a better life.

Obasanya loved the State Government College and the city life. Bangoma was like a dream come true. No city was better than it in Riverside Province.

According to the school timetable he should be teaching Biology in the B arm of SSS1: The first part of his lesson on photosynthesis, the theory part, would be in the classroom. The practical class would be held in the laboratory the following week.

Soon he was standing before a white building with glass windows: Senior Secondary School One. The B arm was the second class on his left. The notice on the Notice Board beside the door caught his eyes: PLEASE SWITCH OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE.

He almost chuckled. This was not an issue in the rural schools. His last appointment was in a village that had no cell phone signals.

At Igbo Oluwa village, only senior citizens had cell phones; a luxury and not a necessity because the village could be explored on foot in ten to fifteen minutes.

There was no hurry or urgency because little or nothing required such urgency.

Obasanya brought out his mobile phone from the pocket of his trousers and adjusted the setting to the silent mode.

He noticed that the pupils had their eyes on him; he saw them through the glass windows. He was almost stepping into the class when he heard his name.

"Mr Obasanya."

It was a short bespectacled woman with a dark brown blouse and black skirt. The Principal, Mrs Igbinosa. He recognised her because he had a brief meeting with her at the Ministry of Education office the previous day.

"How are you today?"

"I'm fine Ma, just about to get started."

"Oh, your first lesson," she said with a broad smile. "Good luck, I'm sure you'll like the school. It's the best working environment in the city. I'll see you after the lesson. I have to introduce you to the other teachers."

He said thanks and entered the class.

"Good morning Sir," the class chorused as he stood before the white board.

He had not given much thought to his heartbeat until he faced the white and blue uniforms.

All the pupils were on their feet except a chubby light complexioned boy in the far right corner of the front row.

Mr Obasanya thought it strange that the boy remained seated, but he would not make a big issue out of it, he would not mind, he told himself.

He had never demanded the old-fashioned expression of respect that other teachers thought was their right: Some teachers would make it mandatory for a pupil to stand up when presenting a question to the class; some teachers would be offended if a pupil did not greet them with his head bowed; some teachers would not like a "yes" or "no" answer to their questions, they preferred "Yes sir" or "No sir".

In Obasanya's perspective: If a pupil is not disrupting the class, he or she can do anything else.

It was the largest class he had ever taught. The village schools had smaller classes. There were twelve pupils in his last class. But now he was facing over forty pupils.

He introduced himself. Tunde Obasanya, a graduate of the University of Ibadan, where he studied Biology Education, he was from Ondo State in Nigeria.

He noticed widened eyes and the brief contemplative mood when he mentioned Nigeria.

"I'll get to know every one of you during the course of the term. Please make sure you introduce yourself anytime you want to ask questions or make comments on the topic."

He wrote on the board. PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

The boy who had refused to stand up had his eyes on his hands somewhere between his legs. He was pressing his cell phone. Nothing in his gestures or manner showed that he was listening to the teacher's explanations. The teacher felt like saying something, but he decided against it. "He can sleep for all I care," he thought, "as long as he doesn't snore."

Obasanya thought he knew the kind: the attention-seeking, arrogant, spoilt ones. The best way to handle this sort was to ignore them. He was sure.

When the teacher was through with his explanations he called for questions. He had expected questions of a different kind. He was curious; maybe these kids with well-combed hair, silky smooth skins and new looking uniforms and shoes could present more challenges than the village kids. He had underestimated the intelligence of the village pupils. The questions did not express superior intellectual abilities. Apart from their cultivated demureness and the acquired British and American accents, their questions did not present an intellectual challenge worth grimacing and pondering over.

Loud music interrupted him as he was tackling one of the questions.

All eyes were on the boy with the cell phone; Obasanya could hear some giggles.

"Hey, stand up," the teacher said.

He turned to the rest of the class. "Guys, keep the phones away during class. You are all here to learn, every other thing can wait. Okay?"

He was shocked to realize that the boy was not on his feet. He had rested his back on his seat and was chewing gum. A look of defiance was on his face. His expression reminded Obasanya of the hen and their manner of protecting their chicks from hawks.

"I said stand up!" he barked. The boy placed his cell phone on the table, raises his chin, and folded his arms; still seated.

It seemed the class stood still for a moment. Eyes rested on the teacher, and the defiant pupil; a teacher who was expected to have the authority to discipline pupils and maintain order in the class; and a teenager who seemed harmless but acted like a dreaded warlord.

Mr Obasanya felt annoyance growing in him like a full pot of boiling soup. He walked to the boy and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.

"Boy, when I talk to you, you listen, Okay?" he snorted. "I'm your teacher, not your age-mate or buddy!"

The boy was breathing faster; the teacher could feel his heartbeat on his arms.

The class was lively with muted conversations, sighs and groans; as if he had done something epic.

He realized that the boy was very popular and his attitude and actions were expected. He waited for him to impress his fans; he expected him to do something; something that would express the power that could have motivated his defiance. Maybe a gun was in his bag, or he could have some supernatural power that could be activated with immediate effect. Obasanya waited.

The boy pursed his lips, wrinkled his forehead and cried like a baby.

The teacher released his grip and stared at him. The boy leaned his head on the desk and was busy with his tears till the end of the class. No gun in the bag; no charm like the ones usually feared in the villages.

The teacher pitied him, but he was curious: Why was this chubby-cheeked boy acting like a dangerous thug when he would shed tears this easily?

He had thought of seizing the phone and taking the boy to the principal for disciplinary action, but the tears touched him.

All the seats in the staff room were occupied at noon. Some teachers stood behind the principal on the high table.

The new teacher sat beside the principal. There was a short prayer before Mrs Igbinosa introduced Mr Tunde Obasanya to the teachers; the teachers stood up to introduce themselves one by one.

Obasanya forgot most of the names as soon as they were said.

But he remembered Mr Odofin who looked like one of the wrestlers he had seen on the WWE television programmes. He was the games master.

He remembered Mr Salisu for his long beard that reminded him of professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books.

He remembered Mr Adigun whose lips could not cover his upper teeth and made him look like a mouse. Mr Adigun had said the opening prayers.

He remembered Miss Labake. He had noticed her as soon as she came in.

When he saw her walking towards the staff room, his first glimpse of her as he sat beside the window during his wait for the start of the staff meeting, he had thought it was some young banker who had come to the school for some issue concerning a brother, or a sister. The ash-coloured skirt suit was slightly above her knees, and like her jacket and purple shirt, it fitted her like clothes on mannequins.

He was almost sure that she was not a teacher that would be seen inside the staff room. When he saw her in the staff room, his first thought about the slim body and the smooth oval face was a brief debate on: whether the girl was some vain type who works too hard on her body; or whether she had the body because she got good genes from her parents.

And oh, her parents must be rich. There was no ring on her fingers. He noticed it when she waited near the door for a brief chat with Mrs Igbinosa.

Mr Obasanya could spot her in the gathering as soon as he was seated on the high table, a decision to get acquainted with her came with the initial attraction.

Her name was the last one he kept in mind. His mind drifted after then.

He saw himself walking with her, hand in hand, smiles on their faces, in the parks and gardens. He saw himself standing beside her by a cot as they sang a lullaby for their baby with giggles; he imagined their picture in a frame in about eighty years, their smiles with several teeth missing.

Mrs Igbinosa was singing "You are welcome in the name of the Lord" when he was through with his fantasy.

Some pupils came in with crates of soft drinks and a warming container filled with sausage rolls.

The gathering ate and drank; some of the teachers came to shake hands with him, some of them smiled from a distance. Miss Labake walked to him with a smile, shook his hands, and told him that she taught chemistry and was from Ijapo in Akure. He knew she was Yoruba, but had thought she was Yoruba from Benin Republic or from the Riverside creeks.

"Such an amazing town," Obasanya said. "My parents live in Akure. We could hang out there sometimes during the holidays."

She said yes, that would be lovely. And he pondered on the tone of her voice when she said it, and her smile. He would think about the conversation on his bed with a smile on his face.

When the brief party ended, Obasanya made his way to the next class; he was sure that life in Bangoma would even be more interesting than he had imagined; and that his time at the State Government College would be memorable.

As soon as he was outside the school gate, a speeding Peugeot 504 with tinted glass parked beside him in the manner of stuntmen. The tires screeched and sent dust and smoke into the air. Pupils and passers by watched the scene like a stage performance. Two men came out of the car like fire-fighters on a rescue mission, and pounced on him; they dragged him towards the car.

His strength was resisted by hands that seemed like clamps of steel. With grunts and frantic efforts to break free, he lost his books, his watch and a shoe.

The men were more concerned with getting him into the car; it would not matter if his bones were broken or if his clothes were ripped into pieces.

Obasanya landed in the backseat of the car like a large package of trash tossed into a refuse disposal truck, and they sped off.

He was taken to the Bangoma Central Barracks. He was taken to a small windowless room with peeling wall paint and a rough stony floor. His hands were tied behind his back with a thin rope that was so tight it cut into his skin.

Three scowling faces surrounded him: the two men that had abducted him, and another that seemed like their superior; a tall man with a broad chest who folded his arms and watched.

They eyed him like a tiger eyes its prey. He tried to keep an eye on the three as he wondered who would inflict the pain that seemed to be coming.

He did not remember offending anyone yet in the city; there was no girl; there was no debt. Why were they sizing him up as if they were expecting him to do something?

"What have I done wrong? Who are you guys?"

The first slap made him light-headed. He struggled to stand up and staggered.

"Guys, please, take it easy; I'm sure you've got the wrong man."

They answered with another slap. In fact, he was not sure which one came first; whether it was the slap or the vicious kick; but he found himself on the floor and grimaced in pain. They poured water on him from a rusty bucket. The water could be fresh urine or dirty water from the creeks. He tried to keep the water from his mouth. But it is hard for someone who has to pant, groan, shout and scream.

He had not noticed the horsewhips that were in a corner beside the door. They stung like bees and wasps. Then the fists.

His stomach was punched as in boxing training. Like the punching bag that never returns a punch; and it was bare-knuckled against this bag.

"You bloody civilian!" they kept yelling at him. "You think you're smart? You think this is Nigeria?"

As the minutes turned to hours the teacher remembered the chubby cheeked boy in the biology class: his arrogance, his defiance.

It was soon clear to him that the men were enjoying themselves, and were not worried about the thought of killing him, and would definitely not be bothered by his death. He was soon punch-drunk.

"You finally got the message," the supervising tormentor later said with a sneer. "Those rosy and memorised ideas of human rights and justice don't work here. We have a country to run and rebellious elements like you, who don't know their place in society, will have to be re-orientated."



The following day, Mr Obasanya had no doubt about the conclusions that would be made from the swellings on his face, the bandage on his left hand, and the scars behind his neck.

There were wounds on his knees and his chest; they were covered by his clothing.

If he told people that he had survived a car crash, it would have been easily believed.

The stares, surreptitious glances and questions were in themselves painful. The teachers seemed concerned, caring or disturbed. The pupils had curious side glances; a few had sincere looks of pity that hurt him.

He saw Miss Labake as he walked towards the administrative block. She wore a red long sleeved dress that reached her knees.

He would have gone to Miss Labake's office during the lunch break. He would have talked about Olunike Adeliyi or Kim Kardashian or about Big Brother Africa. He would have talked about the English Premier league - the contest for the top spot between Chelsea and Manchester United. He would have tried very hard to spend time staring at the flawless shapely legs of Labake.

But not with swollen jaw and eyes; he was a pitiful sight. He was certain.

He turned towards the toilets beside the science laboratory and hoped she had not seen his bad form from the distance. It was a short-cut to the staff room that was rarely taken because of the narrow flower hedge between the science laboratory and the toilets.

Mrs Igbinosa advised him to take the day off. The boy's name was Kelvin Okafor, the son of Colonel Mike Okafor, the Riverside provincial military administrator.

Mr Adigun had experienced the same kind of brutal treatment when the boy was punished for littering the class with Coca-Cola cans and biscuit wrappings. Mr Odofin had been detained for two days for seizing the boy's phone because he was disturbing a lesson with tones and beeps.

The boy was hated by his seniors, Obasanya was told. He called his seniors by their first name, which was contrary to the school's tradition that requires pupils to use the title "Senior" along with the names.

"Sincerely, I'm tired of his attitude," the principal said. "But what can I do? Even my superiors in the Ministry can't do anything about it."

"All power belongs to God," Mr Adigun said. "Take heart, there will be consequences. You should even thank God that they didn't break any bone," then a closer look at the biology teacher as if he was some science specimen. "Or at least none seem to be broken."

Obasanya heard many such statements of powerlessness as the tale of the assault spread.

The boy is untouchable, he was told; God will repay him for his arrogance, just leave him and focus on your job.

They were the common philosophies he had never liked: everything will be fine in the distant future; but for now, just remain curled up like a sick cat and take your sufferings with the satisfaction of hope.

When he was sure that Miss Labake was busy teaching in one of the classes in the Junior Secondary block, he headed for the staff room. Most of the teachers agreed with Mrs Igbinosa. He had to take the day off to take care of himself, he was told with concerned frowns, solemn expressions, and slow shaking of heads.

His mind had dwelled on his reflection in the mirror when he got home after the torture. The swollen lips, and the left eye that was swollen shut, stood out. He reminded himself that he was an exceptionally pitiful sight.

He was undecided on the best way to spend the rest of the day. He could go home and lie on his bed, under the covers, and dwell on how pitiful his state was. He could continue with the day's work as if the wounds and scars were not enough to ground liveliness to a halt.

He sat on his desk, rested his elbows on the table and covered his face with his palms.

He had not thought about the city life in terms of its disadvantages: the dynamics of power and influence; the hierarchy of power based on material possessions and liquid cash; the competition among excellent professionals.

He had not given comprehensive thought to his position in Bangoma's pyramid of relevance and control. Tunde Obasanya: of the teaching profession, one of the lowest-paid professions in the nation; a teacher in a city with multinationals, banks, doctors, high ranking military and paramilitary officials, legal luminaries, construction companies, and wealthy business executives.

When he dwelled on his seeming insignificance in the grandeur of the city, his rosy idea of the workings of the city faded. "Maybe the villages are not that bad," he thought.

He saw Mr Odofin as he waited for a taxi outside the school gate.

"The military. Bastards!" He said in full volume. "If we don't get rid of them we will never live as civilised people!"

Obasanya nodded and wished he would speak on, but with a lower volume. He thought Mr Odofin would have been a good soldier. Apart from the physique and the sober demeanour, there was something military about him.

"But we are cowards," he added. "If I say anything against the military, people watch over their shoulders and ask me to keep quiet. Let's just pray, they will say. Let's just pray and do nothing. Will God come to chase the military for us? All the nations around us have sent the rascals back to the barracks, and here we are, still kissing their asses! I have got just one life to live, and I will never live it as a coward!"

A taxi came. He shook Mr Odofin's hand, said thanks, and entered the taxi.

This man is a soldier looking for a good cause. Obasanya had no doubt about it.

After a week, he was teaching SSS 1B again; the class was in the laboratory. PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

Kelvin Okafor was in the front row. He was without his cell phone, his eyes were on the teacher.

Mr Obasanya tried to avoid his eyes.

He had been captured like a mad cow, tied like a goat and beaten like a rebellious slave in a colonial plantation; just because the boy wanted to express his power and influence.

His eyes rested on the boy's eyes for a moment and he hoped the feeling of shame that swept through him would not be obvious on his face.

His shame birthed anger. His anger birthed a wish that he could do something terribly bad to the boy. He hoped for something that would wipe the feeling of being powerful out of the boy's memory forever.

Something in the boy's eyes made him feel worthless. He felt stupid, and he felt like an outlaw that had been stripped naked in the city market. He had thought he was one of the few dignified individuals in the Province. He was as clean and well-dressed as the rich and influential. He had seen them in the church, in the supermarket, in the botanical gardens, in the banks. He was twenty-first-century-compliant and sure of it.

He had never imagined that he would be humiliated, until his encounter with the boy and the Bangoma barracks experience.

He was sure he had seen a slight hint of a knowing smile on the boy's face. He was eager to leave the class as soon as the lesson period was over.

The passage of time made him feel better. The wounds became scars and some scars disappeared on the skin. The harshness of reality became more bearable: it was accepted that there was one boy in the school who could defy anyone without consequences.

The boy would receive calls in the class and speak loudly as if he was alone; he would place his legs on the desk during lessons as if he was in some health and wellness spa; sometimes he would have his headphones on during lessons and would laugh out loud, but no one would know what he had found funny.

Obasanya was also worried by thoughts of the trouble that could befall him if Kevin Okafor got poor grades in Biology. He wondered how the boy had made it to the senior secondary classes. He wondered how many times teachers had been intimidated to alter his grades.

Miss Labake was busy from the second week of the term to the end of it. She was supervising the JSS3 mock examination, and afterwards the SSS3 mock examination. For seven straight weeks she was busy with the committee that was to make sure that the mock examination was conducted like the real final examinations that was usually dreaded by final year pupils of junior secondary school and senior secondary school.

Obasanya would see her in the staff room, or in the corridor of one of the classes, but she was always hurrying somewhere; or too tired for a lively conversation. She started her annual leave after the examinations. He saw her on the last day of the marathon mock examinations. She came to the school in a taxi, hurried into the staff room, hurried out almost immediately back into the taxi. Obasanya had seen her entering the staff room from a distance and was thinking that the taxi would leave immediately. Without her.

As he came near the taxi, almost breathless, Miss Labake peeked her head out of the window and waved.

"I'm going to Akure now. Will be there till we resume," she said.

"Why are you leaving so suddenly?" he was tempted to say. Of course she was in a hurry.

"Oh. Okay. Safe journey. Enjoy your holiday, I'll see you when I see you," he said as the taxi driver drove off.

The end of the term came without incident. Kelvin Okafor scored seventy four percent in biology. And it was such a relief for the teacher from Nigeria.

The afternoons of the second term holiday kept Obasanya busy with the curriculum notes for the third term.

On the last Wednesday of the holiday he had shifted his writing desk closer to the window and was fanning himself with a newspaper; Ras Kimono was playing on the radio, singing Under Pressure. Obasanya wondered for the umpteenth time why Nigerian music seemed to have taken over the airwaves. Even though the media was one of the things that made him feel at home in Bangoma.

D Banj, P Square, Tuface and Mo'Cheddah. Good music. It would have been believed if the radio stations in Bangoma were said to be broadcasting from Lagos.

That afternoon, as Obasanya wrote the final pages of his curriculum notes, the cool breeze coming through the window offered some relief, but the sun was shining with great light and heat. Butterflies were flying over the hibiscus flower near the window. Barefoot boys, who seemed to think that the sun was not too hot, were playing football outside the house and raising clouds of dust.

Soon the music from the radio was stopped for an announcement: Twenty two military officers had been arrested for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the government of the South-South United Republic.

Then the names.

The story had comprehensive coverage in the newspapers and on the television; there were pictures and video of the suspected officers with cuffed hands and leg chains, surrounded by hundreds of AK 47-clutching uniformed military officers. The pictures were on Facebook, the stories were re-tweeted, and the links that had the stories were freely shared.

People gathered in groups under the moonlight and built on the stories. The excitement, curiosity and sketchy details birthed speculations and assumptions.

Newspapers were bought, read, and passed around; journalists explored various angles of the story with caution; the bars and taverns were crowded with people with desires for expression, and the desire to be thrilled by a good story.

Obasanya bought the newspapers, listened to the news and enjoyed the speculations and exaggerations. He snorted and smiled at the sight of a shackled military officer who had ruled the province like an immortal. Kelvin Okafor would now learn the hard way that no condition is permanent, he was certain.

When school resumed the following week, Kelvin Okafor had turned a new leaf. He came to school in a taxi, walked with drooping shoulders, and his head rested on his shoulders as if it had assumed an enormous weight.

He was without his large lunch-pack that was usually filled with imported biscuits and Coca-Cola cans.

He would not be seen with his cell phone, he was usually in the school's labour ground. The boy had never been to the labour ground in the past three academic sessions. Eyes would rest on him if he pushed the lawn mower, or wiped the dusty glass windows, or if he pushed the wheelbarrow. Kelvin, that most people once dreaded to offend, and hardly dared, could actually work under supervision like everyone else.

When the change came he became a different kind of superstar.

Kelvin would walk around the school compound in a seeming state of trance, and he would be seen wiping tears surreptitiously. His feeling of shame became so obvious that some teachers and pupils who had hoped for his humiliation were overwhelmed with pity.

His father, Colonel Mike Okafor, was said to be identified by almost all of the accused persons as one of the masterminds of the plot to overthrow the Federal Military government. The South-South United Republic hardly spared coup plotters.

During the second week of the term Mr Adigun's sermon at the school morning assembly was based on the thirteenth and fourteenth chapter of the book of Exodus; on Pharaoh, and the fall of the wicked. He preached on the inevitable fall of leaders who abuse their power like Nebuchadnezzar and Herod.

Teachers talked about Kelvin, pupils were divided in their response to the news. Some of Kelvin's classmates covered their mouths as they giggled or chuckled; a few pupils were indifferent; some of the SSS2 and SSS3 pupils smiled at the thought of the new opportunity. Very soon nothing would stop them from punishing the arrogant, spoilt brat who had thought he was better than everyone else.

There were whispers and muted conversations about the trial of the embattled military administrator. He would be seen with cuffed hands and leg chains; he would be seen before the military tribunal with a lowered head and drooping lips.

One sunny afternoon, the military tribunal trying Colonel Mike Okafor, and his son's new life, was the trending topic that brought Obasanya and Miss Labake together in conversation.

"Life is so unpredictable," she said as she sat beside him on the bench at the school's botanical garden. "I can't believe this dude will be sober like this."

His eyes rested on Kelvin Okafor who was walking towards the SSS Block in the distance with his new posture.

"I knew this would happen," he said with a smile at the corner of his mouth. "I just didn't know it would happen this soon."

"I really admire what you've done. Not everybody can do that."

He wanted to ask her to clarify what she meant; but she spoke on.

"It's not easy to forgive. I mean, I didn't see you when the torture thing happened, but I'm sure it was pretty bad."

He had not given much thought to forgiveness as far as Kelvin's issue was concerned. He wondered why she had assumed that he had forgiven the boy. The fact that he had not made Kelvin's life harder at school did not mean he had forgiven him; but he felt good that he was being seen as a rare kind of man; one of the few that could forgive easily.

They spoke for almost an hour. Long enough for the Biology teacher to know that she liked lawn tennis; and that she represented Riverside Province as a swimmer at the 2002 PRG (Provincial Games); long enough for it to be known that her favourite TV show was Superstory; and that she hated spiders, because she had screamed like a toddler facing a scarecrow when one crawled near her leg.

And more importantly they spoke for long enough for him to be sure that she was single and available.

They planned to go to Akure together for the Mare Festival, they could climb Idanre hill together.

On the second day of the fourth week of term, Colonel Okafor was executed along with thirteen others who were found guilty of treason.

That day Mr Obasanya was teaching SSS 1B. Kelvin Okafor was in the class with a distant look in his eyes; once in a while he would peer around him cautiously like an animal that feels watched. The teacher noticed the glassy sheen of his eyes, and could not help the feeling of pity that overwhelmed him.

After the class he called the boy aside and hugged him. Kelvin's eyes were filled with tears and his lips quivered as he tried to apologise for his past misdeeds.

Obasanya took him to Mr Odofin and Mr Adigun. Both teachers shared a corner in the staff room; they seemed to have nothing in common aside that.

"The military will be swallowed by their excesses," Mr Odofin said. "I just pity those officers who will reap the bad harvest."

"Jesus can forgive and restore them," said Mr Adigun, "Not all of them will reap bad harvests. There is grace and mercy; just like the case of the dry bones in Ezekiel."

"Mr Adigun, this is not Israel," Mr Odofin shot back. "I understand your admiration for the stories of the bible. But we have to be pragmatic; we have to deal with these situations in our own way. Justice is an inevitable ingredient of social order. I'm not saying that I have any intentions to harm or hurt Kelvin, but bad leaders have to pay, and dearly too."

Mr Adigun nodded and gave up any attempt to explain the possible redemption of the military.

The teachers said he had been forgiven. They had savoured the satisfaction of seeing the former military administrator of Riverside province chained like a rabid dog. It was even pleasing to refer to him as a former military administrator; even at the time when the Federal Military Government had not officially replaced him.

The school community seemed to be of the same mind: Kelvin Okafor should be forgiven; he had had enough humiliation and sorrow to deal with.

5 comments:

  1. A finely crafted story, reflecting a rich tapestry of human relationships in a troubled and complex community
    Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Though they're sometimes a tough read, I enjoy stories like this (and Beryl's comical tales of the South African Sisters) because they introduce the reader to a world well beyond their own, a community that bares no resemblance to the comforts of their neighborhood. Traditions, expectations, dress, and cultural do's and don'ts all sneak into the sidelines of the story (in this case, as Ceinwen points out, a story of a complex, troubled community - in Beryl's tales, the emphasis is on the comical undertones) bringing a reader, such as myself, living in the comfort of western America, into a life that he/she would never have thought about, much less understood. Keep writing, Feyisayo!

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  3. a very interesting Story. i loved the descriptions of the Country, absolutely fascinating!. and a Story that Shows that good wins thru in the end, although it can be an extremely Long wait!

    Mike McC

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  4. Hello, Feyisayo Anjorin:

    Not only did I enjoy the story but the unruly student made me feel quite nervous. As a teacher, I'm familiar with the sort of teacher-student dynamics that emerge. You did a great job tapping into this kind of discomfort!

    Sincerely,

    BP

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  5. I am a fan of Alexander McCall Smith. This story gave me the same satisfaction as reading one of his. It has drama, sense of place and excellent characterization. It held my interest from beginning to end. Also, I held my breath a few times. Very well done.

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