Every year, National Youth Service corpers, in their service to their fatherland, were assigned to my school to teach. These were young men and women from varying cultures in the country. Predominant among them were the Northerners, with their aquiline features, sooty complexions and nasal way of speaking. Their females moved around with their heads bound in hijabs, and they had a habit of bonding with their kinsmen, the few who were students. Then there were the Yorubas, with the worldly, know-it-all, seen-it-all attitude that distinguished the Lagosians from the rest, and their loud, unabashed dialogues in their native language. Scant among these corpers were those from Akwa-Ibom, Edo and the Eastern States. The Igbo corpers almost always had something else on the side to fetch them extra income; they were the ones who gave us extra-mural classes which required fees to attend, and the women always carted about Ghana-must-go sacks filled with clothing materials and shoes which they peddled amongst the older female teachers.
My favourite corper in JSS3 was my English teacher, a Deltan named Anderson Ayede. He was this tall, good-looking, light-skinned young man, with a perpetual twinkle in his bespectacled gaze and a roguish grin he wore on his lips that made him very likable amongst his students. Because of his brawny, good looks, it was not uncommon to see senior girls flocked around his table in the staff room during break times, all of them giggling endlessly at his jokes, hanging on his every word and going ‘Sir AA this’ and ‘Sir AA that’ on him. He oozed an air of camaraderie that made senior boys warm up to him too, which was evident when SS3 boys were seen hanging out with him at his place in the staff quarters. The AA fever, we soon started calling it. Junior boys would see him and run to his side, skipping alongside him and beaming up at him. He’d walk past a junior classroom and the girls in it would hurriedly cluster around a window, giggling in hushed tones as they oohed and aahed over the sight of him.
Yes, all the students like Corper Anderson aka Sir AA. And he liked us all too. Well, all of us, except one person, it seemed. My best friend, Joseph. The teacher’s chilly attitude towards Joseph started soon after Joseph told Joyce Agberia in our class that he did not like her and would not go out with her anymore because she was not a good kisser, a putdown that reduced the girl to tears and made her threaten to report him to Sir AA.
Sir AA called Joseph aside to give him a stern talk. Joseph must not have acted repentant, because after the incident, Sir AA adopted a very frosty attitude toward him. He had a sharp word ready for Joseph during his classes, and did not hesitate to punish him for any of his misconducts that came to his attention. He would give impromptu tests and pull Joseph from the back of the class where he sat with me to the front, where he would make sure Joseph didn’t interact with anyone throughout the period of the test.
A couple of times, Ibuka and I tried to get Joseph to go and apologize to the teacher. When we said anything, he would dismiss the suggestion. “Me – say sorry to that stupid man,” he scoffed one time. “No way oh! We go see who go tire. One day is one day. Shey it’s because I’m a fine boy, that’s why he’s doing nonsense. He’s just jealous of me.”
“Sir AA,” Ibuka interjected.
“Jealous of you?” Ibuka’s sneer was obvious.
“Hah! Joseph, the dreamer – continue dreaming.”
“So for next lesson,” Mrs. Oguzie, our Agricultural Science teacher, instructed at the end of her class that Thursday morning, “I want you to bring your hoes and cutlasses. We will be taking our lesson in the school farm, where we will learn how to plant maize and cassava.” She tucked her notes inside her bag and turned to amble out of the class.
Kpam! Kpam! Kpa-kpam-kpam!
She was startled around with the sound of someone slamming his hand on the top of his desk. All the students got rousingly to their feet and chorused, “THANK YOU, AUNTY!”
She gave us a quick smile, muttered her response and continued on her way to the door. She met another teacher at the doorway. “Ah, Anderson,” she greeted.
“Good morning, ma,” Sir AA responded.
“Have you corper people finished your CDS already?”
“No, but I did not go. I took excuse. I am not feeling very well.”
“Ah-ah, idikwa mma?” She looked concerned. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I’ll be fine, ma. Just small fever.”
“It’s malaria. It has to be. Nna, drink medicine oh, inugo?”
Sir AA nodded, and shuffled his feet, an indication of his impatience with the small talk. Mrs. Oguzie took the hint and ambled out to the pavement, making way for him to enter the class.
Kpam! Kpam! Kpa-kpam-kpam!
“GOOD MORNING, SIR!”
He waved at us to sit down, a distracted gesture which was uncharacteristic of him. Sir AA would usually answer a class greeting with a smile, a brief enquiry about the day so far, and the telling of a joke. He did neither. He walked to the seat in front of the class which Mrs. Oguzie had just vacated, dropped his books on the table and stared morosely out the window.
“Hmm, what is wrong with Sir AA today?” I mumbled at Joseph. When he didn’t answer, I turned my face to him. He was staring out the window. I nudged him. “Joe –”
“What is it?” he hissed. “What is my business with Sir AA? Abeg, I’m looking at better something.”
I followed his gaze out the window, and instantly saw what – or rather, who – had his attention. It was Uduak Isong, one of the most popular SS3 girls in school. She was walking by, and from the distance, it was easy to see why students loved to talk about her. She was not a beauty, but was attractive, short, and chocolatey-skinned, with a compact body that told an erotic story. She was heavy-breasted, her hips were solid and flared out in sinuous curves, and she had a buxom bum that moved in a slow roll as she walked. Senior Uduak never went anywhere without drawing all eyes on her, males loving her, females scorning her. She seemed to know this and she had an attitude of one who accepted it as her due.
“Ah, that girl too much abeg.” Joseph had a silly grin on his face.
“Comot your eyes from there joor.”
I nudged him again and we turned our attention back to the class when we heard Sir AA talking: “We’ll be having a test today.” A groan rippled across the room. “Put your notes and textbooks inside your lockers. In the next one minute, the only thing I want to see on your desk is a clean sheet of paper and your biro.” He moved to the blackboard and wrote ‘English Test’ in a sprawling handwriting on it.
For the next minute, there was a hum of movement filled with the muted slams of desk tops and the rustle-rip sounds of papers being torn from notebooks. Beside me, Joseph was tense; he was waiting for Sir AA to order him to the front. The corper turned to face the class, swept a quick gaze over us to make sure we had all adhered to his instructions, and said, “Okay, good. Now, there are two sections in this test. Section A is Dictation. Listen carefully, because I’ll call each word only twice and I won’t repeat it again after that. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” we answered solemnly.
He nodded. “Number one, what is the spelling of INFRASTRUCTURE.” He waited a beat before reiterating, “Number one, write the spelling of INFRASTRUCTURE.”
An instant silence descended in the room, broken only by the scratch of pens on paper, and the interjection of Sir AA’s voice as he called out his test questions. Not once did he glance in Joseph’s direction.
“Hallelujah,” Joseph said in a grateful whisper before he started scribbling after peering into my paper for the spelling of ‘Infrastructure.’
We wrote as the teacher read out loud from the paper in his hand. Occasionally, he transcribed on the blackboard. The faces of the students were rapt with concentration, eyes squinty as mental gears shifted and churned out whatever answers were available. There were those who had on shifty expressions on their faces as they searched for the moment when Sir AA wasn’t looking so they could quickly lift the lid of their desks to spy for the answers in the open pages of the books inside. Hushed whispers ping-ponged from one corner of the room to the other. The silence was taut with anxiety, purpose and determination. You could almost feel the strain in the atmosphere.
And then, Sir AA finished writing on the board, turned around and his eyes fell, by some stroke of bad luck, on me as I pointed at an answer to Joseph on my paper.
“Eze!” His voice was a whiplash. The two of us jumped guiltily in our seats and looked up at him bearing down on us. His eyes were stormy behind his glasses and his nostrils flared at the strength of his annoyance. He came to a stop before us and divided an angry gaze between Joseph and I. “Is this not supposed to be a test, hmm?”
My heartbeat had started a fast tattoo. I swallowed hard before stuttering, “Sir, I – I’m sorry–”
“Sorry for yourself!” he barked. “I’m disappointed in you, Eze. I have always told you that this boy” – he jabbed a furious finger in Joseph’s face – “is a bad influence on you. But you will not listen. This test is over for the two of you.” And he snatched our papers from our desks.
“Sir, please!” I burst out, grabbing at his arm.
He jerked it out of reach and snapped, “Leave the class now – the both of you.”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I got to my feet. “Sir, please…I am sorry…sir, please…”
But he wouldn’t even look at me.
The tears started to leak through my eyes as Joseph and I walked out of the class. I was looking downward, the tears simply fell. My chest heaved and my breath came in gasps. I sobbed silently. I could not believe what had just happened. Sir AA is wicked, I fumed. He is very wicked. Why is he wicked like this? How can he do this to me – me that is class captain? His main person kwa! Outrage and dismay roiled around inside me.
“Eze…” I heard Joseph say tentatively before I felt the weight of his hand rest comfortingly on my shoulder.
“Leave me!” I snarled, shrugging off his hand and moving a few yards away from him on the grassy quadrangle before our class.
“Eze, sorry nah…”
It’s all your fault, I wanted to scream at him. Because of you now, I will fail this test. Every time you will be doing expo, you won’t go and read. Now, you have made me fail. The hurtful words, however, remained jammed in my throat, constricting it, together with the dismay I felt as I wept.
“Eze, what’s the problem? Joe, why is Eze crying?” Ibuka must have seen us from his class. Through the blurry curtain of my tears, I saw him hurrying across the greensward toward me. Joseph was closing in too. “What’s making you cry?” His plump features were wreathed with concern.
“It’s that wicked teacher that calls himself Sir AA,” Joseph spat before I could answer. “Sir Afo-nshi like him. Nonsense man–”
“What happened – what did he do?”
“We were writing test and Eze was showing me something on his paper, and the man now come and catch us and take our answer sheets, and said we should leave the class.”
“What?!” Ibuka’s eyes goggled with horror. As an ace student, he could not imagine anything more cataclysmic than getting dismissed before you were done with a class exercise. “Eze – Ah! Joe, why did you – Hei! Nawa oh! This man is wicked, no be small oh! Let’s go and beg him now.”
“I’m not begging him,” Joseph said flatly.
“He will not agree,” I mumbled.
“Hei – nawa oh!” Ibuka clapped his hands and hissed in disgust. “Wicked man.” The fulminating glare he shot at our classroom was hot enough to sear through the walls and incinerate Sir AA inside. “Oya come, Eze. Don’t cry again.” He enveloped me with his arms. “Don’t cry, e hear? Everything will be alright.”
I seriously doubted it, but I let myself be consoled.