I was sure something was wrong when dad drove in like a cultured man whose bowels earnestly sought to heed the call of nature. With every rev of the engine, dad’s VW beetle coughed repeatedly like an unrepentant smoker struggling with yet another stick of the infamous nicotine package. The panic alarm went off somewhere in my head and I knew I was in soup, yet again. With unwilling precision, the thought of all I went through last session, when my result was boldly designed by the ever-haunting ‘To Repeat SS1’, strolled through my brain in slow motion.
Schooling, especially the Senior Secondary Schoolstage, had become a most dreadful experience for me. Back in the Junior Secondary School, I was never on the brink of failure. I passed -without colours, though- and progressed steadily up the classes. The subjects were easier and easily understood. But the senior class was a different ball game.
I knew I was in trouble the day the Maths teacher taught us logarithms. No matter how hard I tried, I could not just make out what the whole of logarithm was all about. Physics was no better. Newton’s first law of motion seemed easy enough but when it came to the second law and the equations of motion, my grave was fully dug. It took Further Maths, which dad had forced me to take, saying it helped develop General Mathematics, and Chemistry (oh, that!) to bury me in the well-dug grave of confusion which, inevitably, led to failure. So when the session came to an end, I knew only a miracle could prevent me from repeating the class. When the miracle never surfaced, I was determined to create one.
And I did. Or so I thought.
In cahoots with my class captain, I got hold of a blank result sheet and proceeded to re-write my results. My five F9s became C5/C6, depending on the subject, while the only C6 I had –in Yoruba, don’t laugh, please- became an A3. I left the two Ds the way they were. Satisfied with myself and armed with my ‘result’, I proceeded home.
When dad drove in that first time, the VW engine had coughed repeatedly, like a tuberculosis patient whose ailment had defied years of treatment.
As dad killed the engine, I heard him shout my name.
“Tunnnjjiii!!” he had called out to me, barely out of the beetle. The visible anger that caressed his baritone voice told me I was in soup.
“Sah! Sah! Sah!” I answered, the words forcing themselves out of my mouth like a drunk’s vomit. I was confused at the anger in his voice. Had he gotten wind of my true result?
I didn’t know dad had befriended my school’s Vice Principal at Iya Igo’s beer parlour at the end of our street. Over some green bottles, the man had informed my dad of my academic standing and unwittingly condemned my stupid plan to the trash can of like-minded ‘ingenuity’.
“Fetch the pipe!” he had barked at me as I met him at the door. The pipe is a plastic tube, designed as a conduit for electrical wiring, which dad had salvaged from unused materials during the installation of our wiring system at home. When you are asked to ‘fetch the pipe’, you were destined for repeated strokes of the pipe till he felt satisfied.
With heavy feet, I trudged to the corner of his room where the pipe laid between the wardrobe and a dilapidated shoe rack. I remembered praying for one true miracle even as I cursed Iya Tunde for choosing to give birth the Friday before, which had necessitated mum’s absence from home that Friday. She had gone for the naming ceremony. My other siblings, an elder sister, already in her first year in the university, and a younger one, had disappeared into their rooms. They knew I was in for a long evening, they had no result issues. I was the only dull one. Unfortunately.
“Lie down!” he barked as I handed him the pipe. I was half way through the process when the first blow of the pipe hit me. Before the first cry could escape my mouth, a second blow quickly sent the initial cry back to the pits of my stomach. I swallowed hard as the first tear crept down my cheeks.
“I sent you to school,” he paused as he adjusted the right sleeve of his shirt, “paid your school fees without fail,” he turned to the other sleeve, “yet you have the audacity to repeat!”
“I I I I …,” I stammered in a vain effort at saying sorry. The words failed me as I choked back the tears that were beginning to turn my face to a rookie artist’s impression of the tributaries of some drying river.
Whack! Whack! Whack!
The blows stopped suddenly, just as I braced myself for another one.
It was our Pastor, the venerable Pastor Momoh, who had rushed in to save me from further blows. He had heard the blows from the gate and had quickened his steps to rescue me.
“Mr Ajala! Why now? Ehn, it’s ok.” The pastor had pleaded with my dad and tacitly collected the pipe from him.
Dad had calmed down, to my dismay. Looking back now, I guess it was the miracle God wanted to afford me.
“Oya, Tunji, get up,” Pastor Momoh ordered.
I surprised myself by finding it easy to get up. I stood by the door; palms tucked in between my thighs, and shook with tears. After some words of admonition which dad sat through without saying a word, Pastor Momoh ordered me out of the room. I came away from the experience with mental stripes that won’t heal and the punishment didn’t end there.
While the others, who had done well in their studies, went to my Uncle’s place inLagosfor the usually fun–filled holidays, I was enrolled at a holiday coaching class.
I detested the classes, much for the disaster of going through those difficult subjects again and as much as being the reason my holidays were cancelled.
I laboured through the tutorials, and unbelievably, got better at some of the subjects. Logarithms became easier andNewtonbecame more of a friend than the enemy I thought he was. When school resumed, I was more confident and more assured. My grades soared and I was comfortably seated amongst the top half of the class by the end of the first term. This time, I went on holidays with the rest of them. But my joy and improvement was short lived.