This was the sight that met my eyes: the two females who had just left my class were talking at the top of their voices, angrily pouring invectives in the perplexed face of the prophet who was making a very feeble attempt at defending himself in his pathetic treble voice. Rose simply stood by, blubbering in that near-incomprehensible speech of hers, sniffing and blinking eternally, while the rest of the class watched in dumb amazement.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” I interpolated, forcing myself between Mr. Ibe and the women. “In case you’ve forgotten, we are in a school!”
“Don’t mind dis yeye man,” Aunty Nene, the taller of the ladies spat, not taking her eyes off the object of her anger. “He tinks he can do anytin he likes in dis school and get away with it!”
“But what has he done?” I asked, a note of impatience in my voice. Rather than answer me, Aunty Nene went on fuming about irresponsible men who masqueraded as Men of God.
“You tink,” fumed Aunty Sandra, her black lips quivering, “you tink because she’s like dis, she doesn’t know anytin, ehn?”
“It’s only her words against mine,” sputtered the prophet, turning to me with outstretched palms and visible appeals for sympathy and support in his eyes.
“Of all de male teachers in dis school she mention oni your name and you want us to benieve it’s de ranting of an idiot!” Sandra’s bosom rose and fell heavily as she spoke.
“I was only helping her wit her mats—”
“Since when did you become her mass teacher?” both women retorted, showering me with spittle.
By now the doorway and the windows were crowded with both pupils and students—even some teacher stood, with their arms folded over their breasts, watching the unusual spectacle
“Can somebody tell me what’s going on?” I tried one last time, my voice rising.
The women turned on their heels and stomped down the long corridor, tugging the still sobbing Rose along. Some of the students went after them, but a few stayed back with us. Mr. Ibe watched them leave. I could not read the expression on his face. He turned to me, arms outstretched, with the back of one hand slapping into the open palm of the other in a well-known gesture of innocence and bewilderment.
“Why would dat girl want to tell such lies about me?” he began in a plaintive voice. “Dat’s wickedness—and I was only helping her. Is dis de way to say ‘tank you’?”
“Things do happen,” I commented, deliberately sounding ambiguous. He misinterpreted my remark and, believing I was an ally, launched into what he called “de actual ting dat transpired” that morning.
“Nobody has asked you for an explanation,” I snapped, mercilessly, turning to go.
“Sir Tee!” he appealed, reaching for my hand—He, apparently, didn’t get my message. However, he had to gulp down whatever he wanted to say, for at that moment one of the students came to tell him he was wanted by the proprietor.
Now Rose was one of those unfortunate children that are born with a little less iodine in their thyroid. Although she was almost fifteen, she had about as much wit as a child a third of that age. She had tiny beady eyes, chubby cheeks and very thick lips that were always puckered in a perpetual pout. Her kinky black hair was cut low and grew down to her brows and, plus her thick eyebrows, gave her a churlish look. When her mother had brought her at the beginning of the term, she had proposed that Rose be put in Primary Five, but, after the traditional evaluation, the proprietor had kicked against it and had advised that she be put in Nursery Three; and she had felt very much at home with the kids who were between the ages of four and five.
Rose was tall and dark and walked with the awkward lumbering gait of one who was carrying a heavy load on her and was being pushed from behind. Her movements were sluggish and unsteady, like she would pitch forward or topple over any minute. Almost all the teachers had grumbled about Rose harassing them, one time or another, with her incessant and annoying complaints. I had been a victim and, I assure you, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
I was in the middle of a lesson then when, without the customary “Good afternoon, Uncle!”, a tear-faced Rose writhed into my class. As always the case with Rose, the entire class braced itself for the drama that was sure to follow.
“Orcroo-Orcroo!” she garbled pathetically, “arteen you harve nar see Chi-Chirdirnmar?”
“I have not seen Chidinma,” I returned, flippantly. “Is she missing?”
The class sniggered and vibrated with suppressed laughter.
“Ars-ars Ar wars si-sittin’ in mar cheeyar,” she stuttered on, blinking, “she nar corm an’ march me in de lerg!” Her face reminded me of the face of a black pig.
“OK,” I said, pretending to be sympathetic, “I’m coming to your class right away.”
She waddled off, blinking and wiping her eyes as she went. I went back to my teaching, but was interrupted by Rose again.
“Orcroo!” she called, craining her neck in from the window, “ will you frog her?”
“Yes,” I said, praying for her to leave. She slugged off with an expression of glee on her face, happy that her tormentor, Chidinma, was going to be punished. I didn’t go and, for the next one week, Rose came to remind me, everyday, that I was yet to redress the wrong done her by her classmate. For my own peace of mind, I had to oblige her!
The Senior pastor, who was also the proprietor of the school, stared me in the eye for several seconds and sighed. It was the afternoon of that same day and two of us were seated in his office.
“The mother of the girl is in my house,” he began, in a tight voice. “She’s been fuming since she came.”
“And what about Mr. Ibe?” I asked, returning his stare.
“He’s in there, too. I had to leave them for a while.” I recalled that Rose’s mother was big and matronly. I would be shocked if she hadn’t torn Mr. Ibe to pieces by the time we got there.
“What are you going to do?”
He scratched his head. “What do you advise?”
I had it all thought out : I told the proprietor to, first of all, placate the aggrieved woman and send her away with the assurance that the teacher concerned would be properly dealt with; next, he should give the man the boot after a public condemnation of his action. I am one of those who believe that justice should be seen as well as heard.
The proprietor did as was advised, but he quietly sacked the prophet. Afterwards, he told me he didn’t want to humiliate the Man of God anymore than he’d been humiliated. That Ibe was a good man who’d given in to temptation.
In the following couple of days, I spoke with some of the students and discovered that Mr. Ibe was a pedophile and had abused several of the female students in J.S.S 1 and 2, in the past term.
His usual strategy was to declare to two or three of the girls that they were possessed of evil spirits and to order them to wait after school, for special deliverance prayers. The girls, innocent and naïve, would comply. But all refused to disclosed whatever he did to them. In fact, all, but one Rita, denied Mr. Ibe had ever asked them to stay back after school.
I called Rita into the staff room, the next morning, and, after some sly coaxing and cajoling, I was able to squeeze out something from her.
“You’re one of those Mr. Ibe prayed for?”
She nodded bashfully, her right fore-finger in her mouth.
“So what happened the day he prayed for you?”
Rita twiddled her fingers and stared at the floor. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“Go on, speak,” I smiled, trying not to seem too serious.
“He…he put his hand on my head and-and started praying….”
“Mmmm…” I urged, avoiding the girl’s eyes.
“He asked me to shut my eyes—”
I interrupted, “Were you two alone?”
She shook her head, “We were three, but he sent the others home.”
“Continue…” I said, pretending to be busy with a book before me.
“He started pushing me on the head; we went round and round until I tripped and fell.” She paused and I raised my head, with a questioning look in my eyes. “Then he put his hand on-on my-my chest and started praying and speaking in tongues. Then he-he opened my legs and put his hand in my-my pants.”
“He did that?”
“Mmm,” she murmured, looking away. It sounded very much like Rose’s story. Rose’s mother had reported that Rose had complained about pains in her genital area and with, gentle prodding, had revealed that one of the “orncroos” in her school had put his hands in her pants.
I had gone to the proprietor immediately to impress upon him why Mr. Ibe should, as a matter of urgency, be kicked out of the church as well. I explained that the man’s presence in the church was enough for members to leave and parents to withdraw their female children from the school. And what is a school without students or a church without members?
That was how I engineered the sack of the man who considered me an ally. On the night his crime was being read to the church, he was calm and put on the appearance of Jesus when he was before Pilate. He kept directing his gaze at me. Maybe he knew the part I played in his current afflictions. But I couldn’t care less He was a depraved man, for all I cared.
As he left the church building, he kept on insisting on his innocence, stressing that he was called of God and saying that his treatment was only a setback designed by God to catapult him to his destiny. We, who knew him inside-out, laughed in our teeth.
Not surprisingly, he had a few sympathizers who accused the senior pastor, behind his back, of being too hasty in his decision.
Mr. Ibe left with his family—a wife and six children—for an undisclosed location. It’s been almost two years now, since he’s been gone and we’ve not seen him. One day, I stumbled into him on a bus, but he turned his gaze the other way and wouldn’t look in my direction until he got off. Only last month, a new pastor joined the church—and school. He looks and talks so much like Mr. Ibe and is trying hard to win the approval and confidence of everybody, including mine.
There’s nothing to worry about. I’m not called Woman Rights Activist for nothing. My eyes are on him.