“The Lord sent Jonah to Nineveh to the…the lord sent Jonah to the people of….the lord sent…aaargh!”
I groaned in frustration. This just wasn’t working. I wasn’t cut out for any kind of reading. If it came to looking cool hanging out with chicks, just looking fly with the guys then I’m your guy any day. But having to read? And memorise? Hmm, that was transformer hugging stuff right there. Yet here I was, trying to cram a summary of the book of Jonah, thirty minutes before the CRS paper was about to start.
It wasn’t as if this was one paper I absolutely had to pass. In fact, back in secondary school, I had failed CRS so woefully from Jss1 to ss3 that our CRS teacher was convinced I was from a strongly pagan family and we spent our weekends in offering sacrifice to the gods. The man even predicted (correctly) my WAEC result for CRS.
“If you don’t get an f9, then I will become a Buddhist!” he declared after trying (and failing) to make me understand that Jesus turned water to wine at a wedding at Cana and not a bar in Syria. I decided right there and then that I would surprise him with my result. By the time the results were released, he had better have bought his Buddhist habit and be prepared to relocate to a monastery in Tibet.
I failed the paper, of course; f9 being the particular score.
He was not surprised.
So no, I wasn’t preparing for the CRS WAEC paper, but the third GCE I was writing in a row.
I didn’t care if I failed CRS of course. It wasn’t as if I was planning to open a church any time soon (though that was definitely part of my long term plans). My problem was that I had failed to make any other paper as well in spite of my dashing good looks and smooth talk. How was I to know that I would be bedevilled with deeper life invigilators for each of the examinations I would write? Besides, my brain is too filled with cool stuff to accumulate boring stuff like how to solve quadratic equations or dealing with set theorems. Infact, the first time we were taught set theorem, it had gone like this;
Teacher: Today we will be dealing with sets…
Teacher (fair complexioned woman, blushing visibly): No! Sets!
Me: But what does sex have to do with mathematics?
Teacher: SETS, SETS, SETS, OLODO, SETS!!!!
So you see, I’m really not cut out for all that caper. I was looking forward to a career in modelling. This fine face would be a waste behind a counter in a bank. I would dazzle the world with my million dollar smile and the ladies would just die when I walked into rooms.
My father wasn’t thinking along those lines when he saw my WAEC result:
“CHAIII!!!” the man screamed, giving my mother the impression that his long awaited cardiac arrest had finally happened and the poor woman dashed over from the kitchen to see if she could still save his life.
“What’s the problem?” she asked, partially worried at his scream at that time of the day and partially relieved that he was not writhing in pains on the ground.
“The problem? The problem?” he shouted. “There are nine problems!” He roared holding my result aloft. “F9 in nine subjects…..oh and look, he got an A…..in Yoruba!”
I didn’t even pass that Yoruba on my own effort, anyways. The invigilator had slept off after a large mug of hot cocoa our school principal had served her, leaving the path clear for all kinds of malpractice. Of course, the woman subsequently turned down all food offers thereafter. If she hadn’t, I would probably have made all my papers.
Anyways, that was my WAEC result from secondary school. After the traditional thrashing for failing a major examination, I was enrolled in a summer coaching programme in preparation for the GCE my parents had had me registered for.
Need I tell you that I failed that one as well?
“HA!” my father screamed. “He couldn’t even make Yoruba this time. Yoruba!!!”
Again, the customary thrashing was dished out and I collected it in good faith, afterall, it wasn’t the first time. Afterwards, my father called me into his room, asked me to sit in a chair opposite him and spoke in a calm, clear voice.”
“I will register you for the next GCE. It will be the last one I will register you for. I have also acquired a large metal basin for you, so that when you fail that one, you can go and start hawking pure water in traffic. Your mates are married with children,” I wondered which of my irresponsible mates would already have kids at nineteen “and you are still here, failing examination after examination. I’ve had enough. If you fail this one, get ready to join those boys we see in traffic running after cars, okay?”
Whenever my father did this (call you into his room, sit you opposite him and talk in a calm, clear frank voice) he meant every word of what he said. I had also spotted a gleaming, large metal basin propped up under the stairs.
Now this is one thing you’ve got to know about me. I can take a whipping, shouting, punching, head butting, electric shocking, choke slamming, groin kneeing, bi**h slapping, the people’s elbow, The Undertaker’s smack-down, ear twisting, listening to Justin Beiber for nine hours straight and a beat down from a permanently high tout at Oshodi but one thing I can’t take is embarrassment. The very thought of hawking pure water in traffic while the hot sun (that sun God must have specially made for Lagos traffic and nowhere else) bore down on me, then being spotted by the guys or one of my numerous girlfriends was just pure torture. It was time for me to sit up.
No, no, I didn’t fail that examination as well. I haven’t even written it yet, take a chill pill!
Actually, it was why I was here trying to memorize a summary of the book of Jonah, whose story I was quite sure I would have known if I hadn’t spent Sunday school classes pouring powdered chalk in girls’ hair and planting twigs (always with an impressive number of branches) in boys’ back pockets. But all around me was noise. Nobody in the GCE center seemed to be even bothered that in thirty minutes, we would be starting the examinations with CRS as our first paper. Over there, a girl was describing a particularly hot mini skirt she purchased the previous weekend. From what I could gather from her description, it was only two inches longer than the thickness of a piece of rope. And it still had a slit at the back. And right beside me, a guy was narrating to the small crowd he had somehow gathered how the last party he attended went down;
“Omo, una for come dat parti! Chei, see as girls just dey twist, dey bend, chai! E be like say I go heaven come back. E come get one girl wey I dey rock, chei! If you see as she just dey twist body…” he attempted a mime of how she was twisting and I was convinced that she must have been a particularly stiff girl. If his demonstration was anything to go by, she was more in need of medical attention than a groove at a party.
Still, it made pretty good listening to but my mind bugged me. These guys had probably not been threatened with metal bowls and pure water hawking so they could afford to make all that noise. Besides, they were probably depending on the N5,000 they had all “willingly donated” to the woman who was in charge of the centre where we were writing the exams, of course, at the woman’s behest.
“It’s not by force o!” she had declared. “I’m not forcing you to give me anything, but if you don’t pay up, I’m not sure the result you’ll end up with will get you into any university.”
The rush to give her money was overwhelming.
Still, I didn’t want to take chances so I continued cramming what I could of the summary. Meanwhile, everyone else felt there was nothing to worry about, that everything had been “taken care of”. What they did not bank on, however, was the deeper Life invigilator that walked into the examination hall thirty minutes later.
“Please remove anything that might implicate you in the examination,” woman said. Have you ever heard anybody with a Christian accent? This woman had it, and it was obvious that no amount of bribing would work with her. Her long, billowing white skirt and shining white head-tie/turban was testament to that fact. The previously noisy hall fell silent. “Hey, you,” she pointed to a guy seated on a desk. “Go and wash your hands and by the time you are back here, everything you wrote on your palms must be gone. That girl,” she pointed at a girl at the back. “If I see that paper sticking out of your hair when this paper starts, I will tear your answer sheet. And you,” a boy, also at the back. “You think I can’t see that Gideon’s Bible you are hiding under your thigh. Keep it well o, because if I see it when this paper starts, you might need it for prayers when you see your result.”
People began exchanging glances and plan Bs were discussed in whispers. Those without a plan B started chewing the caps of their pens before the paper started. I prayed a silent prayer. Lord please; let me see Jonah in this exam. If I don’t see Jonah in this examination, then I’m in trouble.
“Be seated!” snapped the invigilator. “And I want total silence in this hall.” Obedience was absolute and immediate. She immediately began handing out the scripts; question and answer booklets, assisted by other invigilators who looked like they were in awe of her mighty turban. After all the papers had been distributed, she glanced at the wall clock, cross checked it with her wrist watch, then declared “You have two hours and thirty minutes for this paper.” A low moan began to rise “Silence!” she snapped. I kill you! I couldn’t help thinking in my head. The moan died to its roots. “Start. I will be collecting your scripts in two hours and thirty minutes on the dot. May God be your help.”
I immediately skipped the objective part to the theory. Everyone knows the theory part is much more difficult than the objective so I decided to get that one out of the way. There were ten questions and we had to answer five, the first question being compulsory. It read; “Narrate the story of Jonah and God’s mission for him to Nineveh.”
I almost stood up to begin dancing azonto.
I immediately began writing down what I had crammed before it would escape my brain (which, by now, you know can be quite porous when it wants to be). Meanwhile, beside me, party goer (the guy who had been demonstrating what I still wasn’t quite sure if it was a girl dancing or an accident victim trying to walk) scanned his paper and let out a sigh. Then looked at the invigilator. Then at the ceiling. Then back at the invigilator. Then at me. Then started chewing the cap of his pen. Then looked at the invigilator who was now filling something in a form of some kind. Then back at me .
“Pssst. Psssst. Guy!” he whispered. I glanced at him.
“Which one you dey do?” he asked. I paused. Now I didn’t know what to do. It was almost traditional for me to help guys and ladies out in exam halls (yes, I know, I’ve only helped someone with an answer once in all the examinations I’ve written but that’s beside the point. It’s not my fault I didn’t know the other answers. A guy has to help another bro out) but with this turbaned woman looming large at the front of the hall, I wasn’t quite so sure if I was willing to take the risk.
“Pssst,” he came again. “Which one you dey do na?”
“Theory,” I whispered back, an eye on the invigilator. “Number one.”
He flipped pages to get to the theory section and read number one over.
“Pssst. Psst. Guy.” He hissed. “Guy, wetin do…..” he snapped back and pretended to be muttering to himself as the invigilator looked up to peer at us. “Wetin do Jonah?” he resumed after she continued her form filling.
O ga o! I thought. There I was thinking I was the biggest pagan in the world and here was this guy with no knowledge of Jonah. At least I had been familiar with the name Jonah, even if I hadn’t read the story but this guy didn’t even have an idea. Jonah could have been a wrestler for all he knew.
“You dey go church?” I asked.
“Ehn, I dey go church wella na, na wa for you o,” he replied.
“And you no sabi wetin do Jonah?” I asked.
“Eh guy….see ehn…..for awa church, we no read bible reach da side.”
I shook my head. This was going to be hard.
“Okay,” I started. “God send Jonah make im go preach for one place dem call Nineveh. Jonah no wan go so God send fish make im swallow am. For the fish belle im come pray make God forgive am. The fish come vomit am. Im come go preach for Nineveh. You get dat wan?”
“I get am,” He replied, nodding his head vigorously, like an agama lizard.
“Ehen, so just find as you go take write am make im long, ehn?”
He nodded his head vigorously again, then opened his answer sheet and started writing. After covering a line and half, he stopped. Then again:
“Psss. Pssst. Guy!”
I turned again.
“Er, shay Jonah na fish?”
I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or start crying for this guy. His case was worse than I thought.
“No,” I whispered back. “Jonah na prophet. Fish swallow am. Im come pray….you no remember wetin I talk before?”
“I remember, I remember” he said, nodding vigorously again. Then:
“Psst! Pssst! Guy! Guy!”
This was getting rather tiring.
“Guy, you sure say you no make mistake? How fish go swallow pesin na? Dat wan no fit happen na. You sure say Jonah no be de fish? Or no be Jonah swallow fish?”
I shook my head in exasperation, my voice now becoming squeaky.
“No, no, na fish swallow Jonah, Jonah be…”
“Okay!” he exclaimed the light of realization dawning on him. I was relieved. Finally, he gets the plot and will leave me alone. “I don get am now. The fish na shark. You for don talk am since na, you just dey here dey tell me fish.” Having said this, he turned away to resume writing.
I ws quite speechless.
He had covered another line when he suddenly stopped again.
“Pssst! Pssst! Guy no vex but no be chop shark dey chop person? How person wey dem don chop go dey shark belle dey pray. No be die im don die be dat?”
I was beginning to see myself jabbing my pen in his left eye.
“Okay, wetin happen be dis” I said, calming myself as much as possible. “Jonah na fish. Biiiig fish. One fisherman from Nineveh come catch am carry am go house. And hunger been dey catch dem bad bad for Nineveh. Na so as the man reach house everybody gather. Na im the man start preach to dem say dem if dem wan catch fish, dem suppose first consult am. Na im the man open church, become daddy G.O. You get dat wan?”
“Ehen,” he replied. “Na now you come. Why you come dey tell me long story say fish dey swallow person, say person dey pray for fish belle. Ehen, I for talk am!”
He returned to writing again. After covering like, six – seven lines, he stopped to survey his work and he saw it was good. And he did give praise to whomever it was that he worshipped and promised gifts of thanksgiving. Then he turned to thank me as well for the help I had rendered.
“Pssst. Psst. Guy, number two!”
Does murder in exam hall count as a charge in court?