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“Stand up you!” Mr. Okoli snapped as he came into the classroom, pointing at a chubby faced boy. He had seen him from the window, bullying a classmate of his, while others cheered him on.

The rest of the class became quiet; one could hear the sound of their breathing, heavy and anticipating. The pupils stared at him, wondering what this new teacher could do to the wealthiest chap in the elementary four class. Wole is his name.

“What is your name?” Mr. Okoli asked as he stood in front of the class, with hands in his pocket.

“Oluwole Akanni” he answered with so much confidence.

Mr Okoli looked at him from head down, “obviously a spoil brat” he thought to himself. The lad was chubby, dark skinned and looks tall for his age, an exact miniature opposite of Mr. Okoli, except in height. Mr. Okoli is fair skinned, slender and tall. He took some steps closer to the boy’s seat and whispered loudly to the hearing of the entire class, “How old are you Oluwole?”

“I am eight years old”. No trace of politeness could be heard in his response.

Mr. Okoli swallowed hard, looked at the ceiling, then at the pupils who were still staring at him with wide eyes.

“I was eight years when my parents died” He began.

“They died in the 1993 popular Nigerian plane crash that claimed the lives of many influential persons in the country….”

He paused as the children expressed their sympathy in various ways. Some sighed, others exclaimed “Jizos!”. He kept still for awhile, acknowledged their sympathy with a heavy nod of his head and then continued…

… “Before their death, they were very wealthy, and I was their only child. I had everything I needed and life was a bed of roses for me. I went to the best schools and changed whatever school that won’t treat me like a king.”

His eyes met that of Oluwole, who still held his head high with some air of haughtiness.

“Teachers never raised their voice at me not to talk of raising their hands. Everyone didn’t want to provoke the wrath of my parents. And of course they donated heavily to my schools, so I was a spoilt brat and as well, a bully; considering my background and my size”…

He purposely allowed his eyes to rest on Wole for awhile again, hoping to communicate to him that this story was specifically for him.

“However, life taught me real lesson, and I learnt the hard way” He shrugged and continued…

“When my parents died, I was sent back to the village to live with my father’s uncle, my father had been an only child too. Life in the village was no fun for an eight year old boy who has gotten used to a world of affluence. From being treated like a king in my father’s house, I became the slave in my uncle’s house. I learnt to do the things I never knew how to do, and I learnt them at the command of the cane. I fetched water from the stream whereas I had never fetched from the tap in my father’s compound. I swept an enormously large compound using dried palm fronds but I had never picked dirt off my bedroom floor in my father’s mansion. I went to farm with my uncle’s family and hawked during school hours, gone were my days of excursions to the zoo and amusement parks, days of sweet ride to and fro the school. I was made to be grateful for the fact that they even took me in, not letting me wander the street or rot in some poorly managed orphanage, I never was grateful for the family picnics and vacations, I always wanted some more, but life taught me the hard way”….

He shook his head sideways as though trying to shake off the painful memories, then he looked at pupils again… “However, that life became bearable for me because of Uzonna. He was our driver’s son. The first out of his three children. While my parents lived, Uzonna’s father lived inside our massive compound; he was from our kindred, so my parents gave him a room at the boy’s quarters. He lived there alone, and often went to our hometown once in every month to see his family. What my parents paid him was able to provide for his family but couldn’t afford school fees for their three children. Uzonna and his siblings weren’t going to school. Once in a while, their father would bring them to the city, to see what the city looked like. I would play with Uzonna. He would beg me to teach him few English words and mathematical calculations so he could show off when he returned to the village. We got along well not just because we were age mates, but because he was so nice no one could resist liking him except my parents. They feared that he would contaminate me with some village uncivil and tout-like behaviours. He never did.”

Mr. Okoli scanned the faces of his audience, to ensure he was not boring them, but he found their curiosity at its peak and they listened with rapt attention. Oluwole was still standing; it was Mr. Okoli’s subtle way of punishing the boy. However, Wole was so engrossed with the story, it was obvious he didn’t mind standing as long as it would take to see where this is going. Mr. Okoli cleared his throat and continued.

“By the time, I was back to the village, Uzonna had gotten a scholarship. The missionaries had picked genuine interest in him, and some other children, who showed high level of intelligence at the Sunday school. Fate turned our tables. I would walk Uzonna to school in the morning, while I am headed to the market with my pan of goods on my head. Once school closes for the day, he would come to market searching for me, he would comb the market until finds me, he would join me as I struggle to finish off my goods, and when we are done, we would go home together. Late in the night, he would sneak into my hut, we would look at his assignments together, and he would even teach me new things. Then he would say goodnight and sneak back to their hut. But never without saying night prayers with me, he always insisted on that. He was a church boy after all. Every night he would pray for my parents’ souls to rest in peace, and for the church to give me and his other two siblings scholarship. Nothing new was added, it was his routine.”

At this time, his eyes became misty, he couldn’t believe it. “No!” he thought to himself “he could’nt possibly allow himself in front of children young enough to be his sons and daughters”. He brought out his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped some invisible sweat, and then wiped his eyes. He hoped their childish minds won’t let them understand what he just did. With his eyes clear of mist, he looked at their faces, and he saw tears streaming down some of their cheeks. Some others simply wore a solemn look on their faces. They pitied him.

Motivated that his story was effectual, he went on…

“One day, Uzonna came to the market so sad. When I asked him, what the issue was, he said the headmaster who happened to be a Reverend had responded to his letter. I immediately asked him what letter. He made me understand that he wrote a letter to the headmaster, telling him my predicaments and asking him to consider me for a scholarship as I badly needed it. The headmaster had told him that there weren’t enough money to sponsor one more child, unless they were through with the ones under the scholarship as at that time. Until then, there wouldn’t be any vacancy”.

He wept profusely as he narrated his encounter with the headmaster…

“I wept too but not for the same reason as himself. I wept because of the extent my little friend went in showing his concern about me. That was the first day I hugged him, and that day is still etched in my memory. We both wept ourselves to exhaustion that day. I didn’t finish my sales and by the time we got home, my uncle’s wife flogged hell out of me. The marks on my body tell the story more than I can ever do.”

Mr. Okoli paused again, he could’t go further, “maybe I should leave the rest of the story for another day” he said to the children “no need opening old scars” he thought to himself.  He searched the class, “My story hasn’t ended, but we should be stopping here for now. Okay?” he asked searching their faces. They kept quiet, their silent appeal for more hanging in the calmness of their atmosphere.  A voice coarse from crying, spoke up from behind the class “Master, how did you then become educated?” Mr. Okoli looked up to see who asked the question, but that venture was interrupted by another question,  this time it was coming from Oluwole “where is your friend now? Is he a teacher too?”

Mr. Okoli had thought that the kids were too young to be too inquisitive, he clearly was wrong about that. He hung his head for while. Then on raising it, he nodded at Oluwole “Sit down Son, you have been standing for so long”.

As Oluwole sat on his seat, Mr. Okoli turned to him, I will start with your question…

“It was a beautiful Friday, I had finished my sales before Uzonna’s school closed for the day but I waited for him in the market. I knew he would be coming. As I sighted him, I rushed to break the news to him, to tell him that I had finshed my sales early enough, meaning we have spare time to play. When I told him, he didn’t believe it, because it has been awhile since I last finished my sales in a day. So he asked to see how much I made from the day’s sales, that was when I realized that I had lost all the money I made from the day. I screamed, and immediately began to cry, I thought that I might have lost it when I went to the field to watch some teenagers playing foot ball. It must have fallen off then, I tried to think fast….

Uzonna begged me to calm down so we could look for the money together, but I wasn’t listening. I could only imagine what my uncle’s wife will do to me that night. Without thinking and looking crefully, I dashed to cross the road and make my way back to the field. I didn’t see the lorry speeding towards me from the left, I only heard Uzonna scream my name, before I could turn to look at him, he pushed me  from behind, I fell by the road side and blacked out. When I woke up, I saw myself in a hospital, my head was bandaged.

No one would tell me exactly what happened and Uzonna never showed up while I was admitted in the hospital, nor did his parents. I knew that was odd. It was a small village and news travel faster than wild fire, as soon as I was discharged from the hospital; I learnt the truth of what happened. Uzonna saw the lorry fast approaching, he ran into the road to push me out of danger, he succeeded in doing that, but the lorry caught up with him before he could run across to where I had fallen. He was knocked down and the lorry ran over him, he died on that spot”.

Mr. Okoli’s voice cracked, he hung his head for a moment, trying to take the risen bile of pain in his throat back inside the dark chamber of his heart where he had hidden it for years. He hadn’t gotten over the loss of his friend, over the guilt that he died because of him. He never will…”

“And to answer your question er erm?” he signaled the liitle girl behind the class to tell him her name.

“Zara Sir, my name is Zara” she said with a crying voice as tears streamed down her eyes.

Mr. Okoli shut his eyes; fighting the temptation of yielding to the little girl’s invitation to cry. “Well Zara” he cleared his throat…

“I went to school because Uzonna created the vacancy. Upon his death, the missionaries felt it would be a good thing to honour his memory by granting him the request he made while alive, so they called me up to replace Uzonna in the missionary Scholarship scheme. I refused, pleading that one of his siblings should be picked, but the missionaries refused. They explained that they had a lot of orphans to consider for the program, if I had turned down the offer, they will be forced to pick any of those bright orphans from the Sunday school.  They stated that Uzonna’s siblings were neither orphans, nor were they as intelligent as those others. They then advised me to think of what would make Uzonna happy; losing the opportunity entirely or getting schooled.

I gave it a thought and agreed, on the condition that the consent of Uzonna’s parents would be sought. They gave their consent, and today I am where I am because of him, his parents became my parents, his future became my future.”

He sighed heavily and paused.

With a voice ladened with emotions, he continued..

“He gave his life for me; perhaps if he was older; he would have known better not to run into danger just to put me out of danger. You must all take note of that. However, also take note of the fact that the best friends you can ever have, would come from your classmates, friends of your age, who in their innocence can love you more than anyone else can. This is why there should be no bully amongst you. No boasting and intimidation. The richest today can be the poorest tomorrow.  You should treat each other with love and respect such that when fate turns the table on you, you would be comfortable to receive in the measures you had given. “Do you understand Oluwole?”

“Yes Sir” he answered remorsefully amidst tears.

Do you all understand me?” He asked searching their faces, they were all crying but they managed to reply “Yes Sir”.

“Good!” Mr. Okoli acknowledged with a nod “Now, I have to properly introduce myself to you” he paused waiting to have their attention.

“My Name is Mr. Afamefuna ‘Uzonna’ Okoli”. I am the new supervising head teacher for Elemenatry 4. I will be seeing you often and if you have any problem with any subject or teacher, please do come to my office, I will be willing to help. Have a nice day.”

As they were still wiping their tears with back of their hand, Mr. Okoli hurried out of the class before they could see his own tears flow.

CHIAMAKA

Good Luck Obiagbaoso Chiamaka ! :D

JUDGE’S REVIEWS 

Well crafted!

★★★★☆
4 5 1
Touching story. Well-crafted.

An excellent story!

★★★★★
5 5 1
An Excellent story, punctuated with vivid descriptive scenes that really draws down tears from the reader. Reminds one of Hardley Chase novels. Very few grammatical errors and sound use of English; quite ad rem to the theme, though fate is to blame more than human for the misfortune. It engenders very deep and moving call for responsibility for marginalized children both from adults and even children.

Beautiful!

★★★★★
5 5 1
I like how the subtle twist led the story on. I love the blend of past and present. My best line: his future became my future. This is beautiful. Keep it up.
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