by Esomnofu Ebelenna
In Nigerian private schools, everything is possible.
If you can spare some minutes, I shall justify the validity of this assertion by telling you all the dramatic things that happened in the private school where I was teaching—or pretending to be teaching—before I landed a well-paid job in the government.
That’s my name. Amu, for short. The mischievous students whom I taught English and literature, or whom I thought I was teaching English and literature, preferred to call me by the abridged version of my name—Amu—because in Igbo “amu” means something significant.
Amu means “penis”.
“Mr Amu, we have English now,” the students would say.
“Mr Amu, how can a noun phrase function as the object of a verb? You don’t know it, Mr Amu? Oh, I see you are reading the answer from your phone?”
“No, Mr Amu is watching a blue film on his phone. Let’s go and tell Proprietor.”
God knows I prefer beer to those nasty grasshoppers I called students.
Who in a private school would not prefer a chilled bottle of beer over his students? I guess, as you, nobody really!
After breakfast, I’d gulp down a bottle of Heineken, or Gulder, or Life.
And if the weather was that cold, I’d drink the brandy my uncle brought from Portugal, after mixing it with whisky, to taste.
And I would then stagger to school, smelling of alcohol, beans and pepper soup.
I was punctuality-personified—I always arrive in time before the recess bell is rung.
I am also always the last to leave.
See, it’s not that I liked to supervise the students as they swept the school compound or darkened the chalkboard. No!
I only liked to leave that late so that Mrs Okoye, who was habitually punctual like me, could breastfeed me in the staffroom when everybody has gone.
She taught Biology, but she could not explain the life cycle of a cockroach to a layman. The only thing she was good at was breastfeeding.
The Proprietor of the school once remarked that I was the best English teacher of the month of December.
And so he bought me a textbook on English pronunciation for Christmas.
This half-crazed human being taught CRS, but he did not know anything about Jesus—if you know what I mean.
Titus was fat and slow.
The students always debated that Titus is bigger than the gigantic Coca-Cola refrigerator in the school canteen.
Of course I always flogged them whenever they said that.
But behind Titus’s back, I told the students that they are right, that Mr Titus is indeed bigger than the tall Coca-Cola fridge.
We would laugh together in the un-swept classroom, forgetting noun phrases and clauses and all the other boring topics.
Titus’s ugliness became more hilarious the day he lost one of his ears, an ear that looked like a hand fan.
He lost it while fighting with the Proprietor in the school compound.
They were fighting with wood planks, brooms and buckets.
The students flogged them to stop, but they didn’t.
They were fighting because Titus had one day tripped and fallen on the flower hedges that surrounded the school compound.
Many of the plants died and Proprietor seized his salary.
Proprietor finally pinned Titus in the mud and bit off his left ear.
Later, after a one-month suspension, Titus came back, promised some students A’s and they put money into the large pockets of his trousers.
With the money, Titus bought new flower plants and replaced the dead plants and Proprietor gave him his salary and they hugged.
This one-eyed lady was forty-five years old and she taught Igbo.
Her salary was 7, 500 naira.
One of the things she hated the most is Igbo.
She told the students that Igbo language is useless.
She told the students how she had wanted to read English or Law, not the “inelegant” Igbo, but WAEC seized her Literature and that had broken her heart.
She was crying as she narrated this story.
The mischievous boys in the class produced their filthy handkerchiefs, old socks and some tore out sheets from their exercise books and gave to Miss Oge to wipe her tears.
They asked her to cry no more, that everything is gonna be alright.
Then the boys broke into Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and Miss Oge picked her things and stormed out of the classroom, banging the door—plywood—shut.
She usually lumbered to school with a mighty handbag, but you couldn’t see Igbo textbooks and lesson plans in it.
You would only see things like mirrors, eye pencil, baby powder, lipstick, and a book titled “How To Get Man In 10 Minutes And Make Him Marry You”.
One day, she went to the class to teach and I tiptoed to her desk, took the book and escaped.
I hurried off to the back of the school toilet and threw the book into the burning heap of rubbish there.
That day, Miss Oge and I searched all the students’ lockers for the book.
“God will punish the person that stole my book,” Miss Oge said.
“Amen o!” came from me.
One Monday morning, when Proprietor went to the Ministry of Education, Awka to bribe some men, we lied to the students.
We told them that we were sick (typhoid and acute malaria) so they bought us vitamin C and orange juice and malt and doughnuts and stopped asking us to come to the class to teach them.
Miss Oge, lips screaming with blood-red lipstick, took my hand and we walked to under the broad canopy of the Terminalia tree at the back of the staff room.
There, Miss Oge told me about her friend whose husband had flown to Los Angeles for their honeymoon.
She told me about a boy my age who married a woman her age.
I told her about a woman her age who did not marry a boy my age.
I told her about a poor hunter in my village who lent his wife to a wealthy Chief so that the Chief could give them some food stuff.
I told her about a man who exchanged his son with a bag of rice and threw the blame at Nigeria’s president.
I told her the history of Cabin biscuits, about the delicious union it formed with Cowbell milk.
My stories nearly bored Miss Oge to tears.
Her ugly face creased like an old leather shoe.
Finally, a hush descended over us.
Then Miss Oge rearranged her face into a smile, caressed my soft neck with her rough hand and asked me to marry her in a roundabout way.
I told her I would, if only she would agree to let me have her salary for that month.
Miss Oge’s mouth hung open, forming the letter O.
Then she quickly took her rough hand off my body, abruptly, as though something in my skin had stung her.
Since then she started avoiding me.
If I enter a place she was in, she would leave immediately.
Some week after, she asked fat Titus to be her lover and Titus agreed.
Titus told me that he’d only agreed to be her boyfriend because he had not had sex with any woman from Miss Oge’s local government.
Titus wanted to have sex with at least one woman from all the local governments in the state.
He said he did exactly that in Akwa-Ibom State when he was a Corps
Though I didn’t believe him.
Well, Miss Oge and Titus became, in the words of the students, an obese Romeo and his one-eyed Juliet.
We later heard that Titus asked her to always wear a long gown to school, a gown that could hide her strong yam legs, to stop disgracing him with those legs, and she hit him with a loaf of bread.
The affair lasted for just two weeks.
Before mid-term break, Proprietor divorced his wife for an obscure reason and married one-eyed Oge.
The female teachers gossiped that she had put a love portion in an apple she gave to Proprietor, but I did not believe them.
God eventually blessed the union with a son.
His name was Darlington.
The students gossiped that the boy is an imbecile and I always scolded them.
“He is not an imbecile,” I told them. “He just looks like one but he is definitely not one.”
This dude taught Maths and Basic Science.
He was good at Mathematics, I must admit, but he smoked marijuana before and after school.
Sometimes I saw him speaking to the trees. One day, he penned a letter seeking permission from Proprietor.
In the letter, he wrote that he was going to the bed sheet to buy a market, and that he would be in the students the following day to teach the school.
He ended the letter with “Yours faith-fool” and signed his name with a pencil.
After the exams, Proprietor heard that Obika took the students on an impromptu excursion to his ganja farm, and sacked him.
In anger, Obika collected all the Maths scripts and hopped over the fence.
The next day, Proprietor and I entered his office, locked the door, and we entered random scores into the students’ result booklets.
Later, we assured them that the police had rescued their Maths scripts from the lunatic Rastafarian and that everything was fine.
That term the boy who always came first saw 30 out of 36 in his report booklet and went mad.
He hollered that something was fishy and then took his angry friends and they invaded Proprietor’s farm.
They pulled down his banana trees, squashed his plump tomatoes and pineapples with their boots and sandals, ate all his garden eggs and urinated on the vegetables.
They also ran to his poultry house and stabbed some birds to death.
Obika sent a letter to Proprietor, promising that he had forgiven him, that even though Proprietor discarded him like an expired milk they could still hang out together and drink beer and smoke wee-wee as friends, if Proprietor liked.
This one taught Basic Technology and Physics.
And he’s the best teacher in the world, according to Proprietor. But to me, this guy was an arse.
Nothing but an arse. He was full of petty ambitions. One of his ambitions was to become a principal in this bush-surrounded private school, or any other bush-surrounded private school that was keen to offer him a small stove, pots, one or two kettles and a big bedroom or a small bedroom, any type of accommodation.
The pretentious snake would sneak into the Proprietor’s office and tell him which teacher was incompetent and which teacher was a habitual latecomer.
He didn’t flog the students so that they would love him.
He didn’t argue with Proprietor so that he would love him and increase his salary.
Whenever he saw Proprietor coming, he would raise his coarse voice in the class so that Proprietor could hear him teaching.
He told Proprietor that every teacher ought to emulate him, ought to be
coming to school by 6: 40 a.m.
I frowned and stormed out of the staff meeting.
One day, we heard that Jude was coming to school by 6:30 and a bicycle knocked him into a gutter and he lost seven or eight teeth.
It was still very dark in the morning so he didn’t see the bicycle coming.
That morning, I danced in the rain and told my landlady that I would go to church for the first time in two years and give God two fowl.
The woman left me and started toward her poultry house immediately, to count her chickens, to be sure that I had not tampered with them, again.
The next day, at the assembly, I urged the students to remember Mr Jude’s teeth in their prayers, but when I got into my small office, I laughed like a hyena and did some break-dancing.
Jude did not return to the school again.
This lady taught Economics, Commerce and Business Studies.
She was hated by most of the students because she hated examination malpractice and she always reminded them of hellfire.
During the WAEC examination, Proprietor asked her to take the Economics question paper, which he had smuggled out of the window-less hall, and hurry to the banana tree near the school toilet and answer the questions for the students.
She told Proprietor no, that Jesus was watching from above.
Proprietor kicked her in the back and dragged her out of the school.
That was the last time we saw her.
Mr Ayodele Aziz.
This sissy was the only Yoruba teacher among the staff.
He taught French and Music.
He talked like a woman, walked like a woman, danced like a woman and even chewed gum like a woman.
Surprisingly, all the students liked him.
Miss Maryann once begged him to accept Jesus as his Lord and personal saviour, so that he could go to heaven when he died.
Ayodele laughed and said that Allah is his Lord.
Miss Maryann shed sensational tears and paced up and down, speaking in tongues because, to her, when Ayodele died, he would go to hell and roast in the inferno with the devil.
This one was a bow-legged albino and Proprietor treated him like toilet paper.
Emeka taught Social Studies and Chemistry with fake credentials.
He was rusticated from the university because he raped the Vice Chancellor’s innocent fowl behind a banana tree.
Do you want to know how the fowl-fucker finally got his B.Sc. certificate?
He went to a photocopy centre at Aba, and they gave him a degree certificate (Medical Laboratory Science, First Class Honours) and an NYSC discharge certificate.
Emeka could not spell “ice cream” let alone “carbon dioxide”.
One day, he did not wear his glasses to school and he made a big mistake: he went to SS3 and taught them Social Studies and then went to JSS1 and taught them Chemistry.
I rushed off to Proprietor’s office and told him what had happened so that he’d drag Emeka out of the class, praise my discerning eyes and increase my salary.
But Proprietor hit me on the neck with a spanner and asked me why I had left my own class.
At the end of the month he deducted a part of my salary and paid Mr Emeka with counterfeit money.
Mr Emeka thanked Proprietor and pocketed the money.
The next term, the albino asked Proprietor to give him promotion and Oge, now the Proprietor’s wife, said no because Emeka had no respect and he did not call her by her new title—Mummy Oge.
Emeka said over his dead body would he call a woman who was younger than himself Mummy and she said he won’t be promoted and then seized his salary.
The next day, the albino didn’t show up and Proprietor was rushed to the hospital after he sat on a nail someone had fixed into his chair.
There were two or three other teachers, but I don’t want to bore you with their stories; those guys were so inconsequential.
The sunny afternoon some heavily perfumed men and women came from the Ministry of Education for inspection, we the teachers ran helter-skelter.
None of us had a lesson plan let alone instructional materials. Our hearts jumped when they asked us to go to the class and teach so that they would evaluate us.
I sneaked into the Principal’s office and opened his drawer in search of a lesson plan or something like that.
But what I saw in his drawer fractured my heart: Empty cans of Gulder beer, Star beer, Small Stout, Hero, beer opener, a packet of Dorchester, Benson and a blue lighter.
There were also an empty box of matches, Tom-Tom sweets, Banana chewing gum, dried kola nuts and a lady’s purse.
It obviously belonged to his wife.
I opened the purse and pulled out a N200 note and ran back off.
Outside the school compound, I bought a bottle of Alomo Bitters.
I was swallowing the alcoholic content and hoping that my thumping heart
would calm down when my phone beeped.
It was Proprietor.
I held the phone with a trembling hand and said, “Hello, this is Major General Gowon…Sorry, I mean, Major General Godwin. Who are you, please?”
“Where are you, this stupid boy?” Proprietor thundered. “You are hiding, abi? You know you are the only English teacher we have here. They said they only want to evaluate the teachers of the key subjects: English and Maths. Run back to school now, or do you want them to shut down this my shop? Sorry my school, not shop. I mean, my school.
“I know you are one of those who call it shop behind my back, but true to God who made heaven and earth and the birds in the blue sky and all the fishes in the river, if I don’t see you in the office in the next ten seconds I will eat your salary and arrest you with Awkuzu SARS.”
“Sir, I have retired…sorry resigned, I mean.”
“I resigned three seconds ago.”
“Oh my God, Amu, Mr Amu, please don’t resign today. Resign tomorrow please…”
“Are those Ministry of Education people still there?”
“Yes o, they are still here.”
“Then my resignation is final. Bye-Bye.”
Esomnofu Ebelenna is from Oba, Anambra State of Nigeria.
He read English and Literature at the University of Nigeria.
His stories have appeared on African Writer, AGNI(forthcoming), Storried, ElsieIsy and Genius Blog.