We had always known Mr. Okariri was crazy.
I mean, anyone who suddenly appeared in a class –during another teacher’s period – and started lashing a koboko with reckless energy every which way at students, had to be. Crazy. Amana, she almost lost an eye that day to a flying splinter of fractured cane.
He habitually mismatched his socks; I’m talking bright colours – red and yellow or orange and light green. Perhaps it was true that he’d once taken a student to an empty Science lab and asked him to strip naked – to search his private regions for the mgbo that might have aided him in scoring 100% in that integrated science test. No one put it past him, although the student in question might not have confirmed the story.
Your outright thought on seeing the short lean man, maybe on your way to the school tuck-shop to get some rock buns and coke might be ‘this is a crazy but benign teacher’; the type you drew a caricature of on the blackboard to greet him when he came in for his class and who would spend the rest of the class shouting petty threats at the students in a high-pitched, uncertain voice. The kind of teacher you could maybe not greet although your instincts kept tugging an ear in warning (‘don’t say I didn’t tell you’ it’s at your peril, my dear) and you made to pass…
KPA!! The hot stinging slap at the back of my head literally careened me off my feet and I fell flat on my face, clutching at the talons of red pain that seemed to be ripping my neck skin to shreds.
He said something that had ‘idiot’ ‘greet’ and ‘next time’ in it, I don’t know, walked on.
Yeah, my first one to one experience with Mr. Okariri all out and fully accounted for.
How my neck swelled that day! Telling my mum that a teacher had slapped me for not greeting him would likely not solicit the kind of warm compassion and pampering that I would receive should I, for instance, tell a lie like: Two students were playing roughly around my desk while I was studying in class and I got hit mistakenly by one reckless fist.
My resentment for the man burned in my chest, the tiny sputtering flame in the nozzle of a flamethrower; waiting to be fuelled by just enough courage into a raging, bloody revenge when the opportunity presented itself in some way; you know, Hulk Hogan –at the moment he’s fed up and now charging up – about to pummel Macho man into surrender. Or Voltron after enduring fiery blows finally wields his great big sword in righteous indignation to rip the evil giant robot in two exploding halves… (Little boys with their amazingly irrepressible, disjointed fantasies only daydream things that never happen, kai!)
Yes, we’d always known what a mad devil Mr. Okariri was; the 22nd of June, 1996 was the day any illusion of doubt about that fact was brutally crushed.
It was a typical boring class; he spoke in an often inaudible monotone and one would be thoroughly spent by the middle of the class trying to follow his words. We didn’t dare ask him to repeat himself – especially if he’d already repeated himself that first time someone asked and you still didn’t get what he said. The lifesaver was the fact he wrote or sketched with chalk consistently on the black board, and one could infer the full meaning of his words from what he wrote. But then you often wondered how such teachers remained teachers, how a school could possibly keep such cheap apologies for staff under their employ – on a payroll, for Pete’s sake!
I mean, for crying out loud, this was a cranky, inept janitor who traded his mop for a cane and a chalk, who… well, never mind.
I was saying, we were completing a diagram of the Euglena in our notebooks when he pointed his cane at Peter. “Stand up and tell us its functions” His cane prodded impatiently at one part of the sketch on the blackboard.
Peter was the oldest and physically the biggest student in the class; yet he wasn’t necessarily a bully although he might enjoy using his strength and size to advantage whenever someone trod on his toes or a friend’s or had something he wanted. He always knew how to fling the branch or plank aright which brought down the biggest rain of juicy ripe mangoes or guavas in Mr. Aloysius’ back yard. He scored the highest in almost any football match we had on the expansive, unkempt school sports pitch. You could actually forget to buy your fish roll and Mirinda or read that Tin Tin comic you borrowed for break time or free period when he began to regale you with the most action-packed, and suspense filled Rambo movie he’d watched last week or two days ago. It was a good thing to always have Peter by your side.
He got up slowly and shook his head. “I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know?” Mr. Okariri’s eyes danced menacingly. “I just taught this now and you don’t know?” He pointed and crooked his index finger at Peter. “Come out here!”
Tanda! Someone was about to catch some hot cane!
The classroom became deathly still, no motion – except perhaps for the dozens of eyeballs tracking Peter’s movement from his seat.
Peter took his time to the front of the class, clearly not terrified of the crazy teacher whose core competence was wielding a dry, narrow dogon yaro branch. He towered about a foot above the teacher and he used his height to good advantage now, peering down with subtle contempt at the man.
“You don’t know” The man sneered. “Perhaps you’ve got a vacuole for a brain.”
That was meant to be funny, nobody laughed.
The cane flashed at his neck; Peter ducked and the man overstepped, staggered and almost fell.
There was suppressed laughter and a scattering of cheers across the classroom.
“You rat!” Mr. Okariri grabbed the front of his shirt; a button popped and his shirt slipped out of his shorts in the process.
The cane swung viciously three times in rapid succession and caught Peter in the back, buttocks and both shins.
Peter suddenly grabbed the cane out of his hand and flung it behind him.
“Oho!!” Mr. Okariri sprang backwards dramatically on one foot, his face lighting with hellish glee. “You want to fight me?!”
He raised both fists and parted his feet in a boxing stance. “Oya, let’s fight!” He shouted.
There was a general yell of surprise, lockers, seats sliding restlessly, noisily on the floor as students scrambled to better appreciate the unbelievable drama unfolding on an ordinary “go to school, come back home” day.
Peter just stood, gazing without expression. Mr. Okariri advanced suddenly and shot two lightning fast, very calculated punches to his jaw and belly.
Peter fell, a sharp cracking sound as his head connected solidly with the concrete floor.
The class scattered.
Years ago we had this cat. Sumer – A beautiful, black creature that enjoyed padding around the house with that lazy, luxurious gait reserved for spoilt felines alone.
She was pretty much a member of the family who shared our meal times – and I’m not talking leftovers here; I’m talking bits of fried eggs, bits of corn beef, fish chunks me and my siblings would struggle for; she had her own rubber foam nest in the garage, made comfortable with a folded old blanket in an old Panasonic television carton but on some random night, she might snuggle up with one of us kids on our mattresses.
Dad had this coffee brown Peugeot 504 he parked in the garage. For the noise and exhaust fumes I guess, Sumer always exited the garage every morning whenever my dad came to take the car out to work or for washing. She would scurry into the house or fly to the small fruit garden by the driveway and when the car had driven off, saunter back with as much dignity as one could muster after fleeing so unceremoniously.
One day, dad backed out of the garage, and Sumer, for some odd reason, was right behind the left rear tire.
When almost 1400kg of metal and rubber weighs on particularly delicate bone, what you hear is an awful, muffled crunching sound, teeth crushing one end of the fried chicken bone, that sharp flat crushing sound that belonged to only Sunday or Christmas day afternoons. The sound is abrupt, not dragged out.
Relate that sharp, flat crunching sound with no impersonal fried chicken bone but with an object of familiarity, affection and care.
Perhaps, a beloved cat that often weaved between your shins, purring contentedly. Or a human, a friend, a class mate who filled your fun hour telling you how Loren Avedon dealt Billy Blanks a furious round house kick that drove him into protruding spikes
Simple. You can’t really imagine it till you’re there. Like an unplanned outcome, despite your elaborate desires or expectations, surprise seizing you by the lapel and rattling you viciously. Wake up! It’s life, baby!
Funke, who had always screamed “I will be a chemical engineer” in class ending up as a graduate in political science. Life.
High and mighty Jolomi, the indomitable Zeus of maths, who somehow failed 6 (6!!) subjects in WAEC (including the maths sef) and condensed to something of a non-entity from there. Life.
Okoi, the royal ‘jonser’ of the class, learning how to sing in college and suddenly, an album or two later, could afford to build a house for his parents in Ogbomosho and buy a brand new Toyota. Life.
Peter bleeding out on the concrete floor of a JSS 3 class; in Mr. Eke’s arms being rushed towards Mr. Oranusi’s Peugeot Station that would convey him to the hospital, the way his neck lolls boneless in the man’s arms as blood dribbles inexorably from his head despite his school shirt that has been bunched against the wound to staunch the blood flow. Life.
Peter died a day later.
Why would life greet tragedy cheerfully with sunlight and just a mild spatter of refreshing rain, the outré indifference of students filing through the school gate to and from classes, just another school day?
I was once told the fragrance of freshly cut grass we enjoy so much is a chemical grass releases when in fatal distress. Does nature then delight in pain?
I wish the principal had given a one-week break, while welcoming the police to stage to mete out a swift but excruciating retribution to Mr. Okariri – not only announce the tragic passing away of Peter like just another assembly ground announcement. I wish when Mr. Okariri went to prison, he was murdered during one of those five years he served for his crime of manslaughter. I wish they were only rumours, the stories that blossomed after I’d left school, of male and female students who were raped by a particular teacher and who left the school, scott-free, when he got a better paying job – as a bank manager.
But at times life crushes flowers with its perfumery – fresh, beautiful blossoms, fragrant with promises of a sunshine tomorrow- and presents vials of poisoned sorrows we must wear as memories forever.