The sun that afternoon was burning with the fierceness of an angry deity. On such afternoons, taxi drivers were usually compelled to remain under it and work because that was when commuters cannot bear to trek even the shortest distance or even use motor bikes to their destinations. They preferred the taxis at such times to shield them from the direct blast of the sun.
Mr Odeki, Oreva’s father was sweating it out in his taxi. He had just dropped off a set of passengers at the Enerhen Motor Park. He was trying to position his cab in the queue of taxis waiting for their turns to board passengers. Just before he entered the queue, he noticed a well dressed young man beckoning at him from across the road to come. The man appeared to be in haste. He turned the cab and drove to him.
The man immediately opened the rear door and jumped in.
‘Chatter please.’ The man requested.
‘Six thousand naira.’
Mr Odeki started to move the taxi in the direction of New Port. He was happy that the young man had agreed to pay that amount. He was just trying his luck but it turned out that it worked out for him. He was saying to himself that once he dropped him off he would close for the day. To him he had got a bonus for the day. He did not see why he should keep punishing himself in the hot mid day sun. The money was enough for him to buy his fuel for the next day’s job and to put good meal on their table for at least two days.
There was still a long way left to get to the New Port which was at the other end of Warri. Mr Odeki drove patiently with a happy song in his heart.
From his rear view mirror, he saw that besides the briefcase the passenger had placed on the seat next to him, there was a folder on the young man’s lap. In a short while, he opened the folder and began perusing the documents therein. He was intermittently throwing up his head, the way ducks do when drinking water, to grasp whatever it was he was reading. Sometimes he muttered some things faintly like a man in meditation. He appeared to be late for a meeting. Mr Odeki did well to accelerate the taxi a little faster. He was gawping at the young man through the rear view mirror all of the time. His expensive suit and wristwatch, crew cut and clean shave even the perfume he was wearing spoke volume of his social class. He was a rich boy. But why use a cab the taxi driver was wondering. Perhaps he was a stranger in town.
The young man was oblivious of the gawking the taxi driver was doing via the rearview mirror because he was totally lost in the content of the folder which he was working on.
** ** **
Oreva was home all along. She had been preparing lunch of beans porridge and dodo which she had just finished eating. Usually, after a meal of beans porridge, she would feel sleepy. But she was not ready for a siesta that afternoon. She had planned to visit Tejiri, one of her friends who was going to have her birthday party that weekend; who had invited Oreva to join her in shopping toward the event.
Oreva was having a hard time picking what dress to wear to her friend’s place. She had searched her clothes box for something befitting to wear to her friend’s place at Edjeba.
Tejiri’s father was a senior staff of Shell Nigeria. That was besides the fact that he had two well known companies with which he obtained contracts from other major oil companies and the state government. These companies were ran by his wife. They lived in an exotic duplex in Edjeba community. So Tejiri was invariably of a far different social class from Oreva but it was something unique that had brought the two friends together. It had to do with the saying that diamond cuts diamond.
For whatever reason, even though the money was readily available for all of his children to attend any of the costliest schools in the world, Tejiri’s father had ensured that all of his children passed through the Nigerian public school system just so they can have that peculiar firsthand experience he had in his days in Agbassa Primary School and Nana College both in Warri. He believed the public schools were where a child can actually be endowed with the gift of work which was about the most vital of the ultimate gifts in life. The pupils and students of such public schools were being indirectly thought to embrace work when the system made them pass through such difficulties in school even at their tender age.
The man derived joy in gathering his family together to recount his primary and secondary school experiences.
How pupils were delegated by the class teacher or class monitor, to darken the blackboard using charcoal or wasted batteries in those days. How pupils were delegated to go and fetch the class drinking water in a plastic bucket which must be kept very neat together with the plastic cups used by the class. He cherished telling them how they used to have weekly labour days when every pupil will come out to clear grass and pick dirty pieces of paper and dirt with their hands to keep the school compound clean.
He would tell them of their school farm; how they would cultivate crops and took care of the poultry birds without having to ever eat from the produce. They used to wonder in those days where the produce went after every harvest.
The part he loved talking most about his school days was the modes of punishment. He had a description for most of his teachers; their mode of teaching and punishment. He always remembered when he beat up a female student in his secondary school and the punishment that followed. His parents were invited to collect his expulsion letter. But after hours of pleading, the punishment was reduced to clearing of a portion of grass that would take five men a week to clear. He was given only break periods and closing hours to accomplish the task. After weeks of work, he discovered that the portions he had cleared were getting bushy again. He only managed to complete the tasked with the assistance of his mum and other relatives after school hours. He never raised his hands against any female student again. He learned to smile whenever a girl insulted him.
Mundane as those experiences may sound, he believed they were the elements that had shaped him into an achiever today.
It was this choice of Tejiri’s father to pass all of his children through public school that led to a girl from a poor background as Oreva meeting with a girl like Tejiri, who was born with a silver spoon. They were classmates in secondary school from SSS1.
Tejiri was such a girl that ensured she beat everyone in her class through hard work and she had always succeeded until she fell into the same class with Oreva. When the results for their first term examination were published, Tejiri discovered she came second. She got devastated when she discovered the person that had beaten her to second position was a girl. She had managed to play it calm; secretly working on returning to her first position by the end of the second term. When that time came, Oreva beat her again with even a wider margin.
Third term in that class was a tug of war. Tejiri had used every influence she had on most of the students in the class intimidate her contender. She made sure Oreva was alone during break periods. Any classmate who associated with her became enemy to Tejiri. And that meant verbal intimidation and rejection by her fans which comprised of more than two-third of the class.
Oreva would suffer alone because much as the students respected her for her brilliance, they dared not stand against the almighty Tejiri.
Oreva in herself would not lose a battle to any girl just because that girl was from a wealthy home. She designed a plan on how to pay Tejiri back for luring every classmate away from her.
She secretly visited a few classmates who she believed also desired to come top in the class academic calendar. She discussed some difficult topics they had treated in class with them to expand their understanding of the topics. She further made room for them to secretly visit her at home with any difficulty they may have with their lessons. Oreva’s house became a kind of secret centre for extra mural studies for classmates who truly desired to do better in their studies.
When the third term results were published, Tejiri found herself in the ninth position in the class, not that her grades went down; whereas Oreva retained her first position with even higher grades in the subjects. In between the two titans were those boys and girls that secretly followed Oreva.
The following year in SSS two, it was no longer difficult for the class to know who to follow. They then knew exactly who the best in the class was. Tejiri was smart enough to quickly join the flow of students to Oreva’s side. Somehow, she recovered her number two position and made sure everybody got to Oreva through her. According to her, the class no. 1 was too studious to be disturbed just anyhow by every Tom Dicken Harry in the class. So everyone must obtain permission to see her.
Those were their days in school. Now they had become close friends in spite of the huge social gap between them. Tejiri was already studying in one of the federal universities and had promised her friend that she would talk to her mum about talking to her dad about helping with the fund for her to go to the university. Oreva had appreciated her friend’s kind gesture but she was shrewd enough to know Tejiri’s parents may simply wave it off as a childish request. It didn’t matter how wealthy they were.
She got a dress from her box that could pass for the best she had. She ironed it. She carried a bucket of water to the general bathroom to bathe that afternoon.
Soon she was dressed up ready to go out. Switched off the bulbs and fan, threw the curtain at the doorpost in, locked the door throwing the key in a potable handbag she was holding. Her father had his own key. Besides she would be back before he returned.