26th August, 2014.
Lagos, Western Nigeria.
It was early Tuesday morning in mad-traffic Lagos. Eneh was racing off the Third Mainland Bridge for Obalende in Lagos Island. Sprawled on the bridge ahead of him was a parade of cars caught in the traffic jam. An announcement on Rhythm 96.5 fm had earlier warned about that unending jam, which was paradoxically caused by LASTMA– the city’s traffic monitoring agency tasked with preventing such gridlocks. It was senseless coming that close, knowing he could easily be consumed by the hold-up and that would be the end of a workday; but he had to, for Carter street- the shortcut he was heading towards lay at the foot of the bridge.
He momentarily gazed at the digital quartz piece on the dashboard of the 2005 model Honda Civic he was driving. It was a minute to eight. He would have been driving calmly to wherever he was going to, were it to be in other Nigerian cities, but this was Lagos. Here, you couldn’t beat the traffic if you came out by seven in the morning; by eight, you were thoroughly done. He sighed as he negotiated a bend into Broad street and sped away. He had to reach Obalende High School, meet the management, settle whatever issue Toby might have been involved in this time and head back- before eight-thirty, if he was to arrive at work early that morning.
Work started by nine at the beverage processing plant where he worked. What would’ve been a thirty-five minute drive from his home in mainland Surulere to the plant in Victoria Island usually took him one to two hours as a result of the traffic jams. “Something must be done about this city and the traffic lock- downs”, he thought as he honked ceaselessly to alert pedestrians darting across the street. As he negotiated the last bend by the prestigious King’s College, Eneh wondered what could be the reason for his summon by the school authority. This was the third time in a semester, he had been invited over concerning Toby; and he was not even his biological child.
His real name was Otobong Bassey. He had started calling him Toby from when they came to Lagos. Eneh could not deny the fact that he was the boy’s legitimate guardian. He had been, for eight years since the boy’s father died. Bassey Abang- the boy’s father had suffered from a terminal psychosis, for many years before he eventually died. Nobody knew the whereabouts of the boy’s mother. Monica Abang had left immediately after her husband lost his sanity. She couldn’t bear to be called the wife of the village madman.
As Eneh approached the school gate, the gate man peeped out of the security post, scribbled something on a notepad- probably his car plate-number, before proceeding to open the gate for him. Eneh drove in, parked and strode towards the principal’s office.
“I think your son deserves some place better than here, Mr Bassey”, the principal had said as soon as Eneh had settled into a seat in her modestly furnished office.
She was a buxom woman, who wore a plaid jacket over a flowered gown. Her hair was done in neat plaits- in the manner of the Deeper Life Church born-agains and the rims of an ornate framed spectacle rested on her broad nose.
“We moved him up by two classes as we had recommended and you agreed to the last time we invited you here”, she continued.
“And?” Eneh asked, impatiently.
“Not only are his cognitive skills very high and impressive, Mr Bassey; but recently we’ve discovered a shocking and dangerous edge to it”, the principal said cocking her head sideways.
“Madam, I must be frank with you. I’m not Otobong’s biological father, neither is my name Mr Bassey which you call me. I am Eneh Etteh. As it is, the boy is bereft of both parents and my taking responsibility of him is an act of charity. Moreover, I don’t understand what you mean by a ‘shocking and dangerous edge’. If he has done something bad, go ahead and tell. It is better to observe and correct a child while he is still young”, Eneh had replied her. He was displeased by the principal’s mode of address. Toby was a brilliant boy. He could be a scamp at times, but Eneh saw nothing wrong in the boy’s character that would warrant dragging him out from Surulere to Obalende all the time. Obalende High School was a boarding school and that was the reason he sent the boy there in the first place. He kept a very demanding job and living in Lagos was equally stressful. He couldn’t spare the time to cook and carter for the boy; neither was there time to drop him off nor pick him up from school. Boarding was the best option and he had chosen well.
“Yes sir, you’ve spoken well. It’s quite a revelation about his paternity, though”, she had said, shifting closer to the table and dropping her voice lower as if she wanted to say something no one else needed to hear.
“You see, we’re actually saying the same thing. A child must be carefully observed and corrected”. She moved even closer, leaning on her side of the table. Her voice had dropped to a mere whisper.
“At first, we thought it was just about his acute arithmetic quotient. His teacher accidentally found a Durer’s Square composed on the back page of his assignment book; did I tell you about that, sir? I’ve got a PhD, but I cannot make a Durer’s Square. Besides, he has taught the students in the whole section Sudoku- a kind of number game I didn’t even know exists; but all of these, none as bone-chilling as our recent findings”, she breathed out heavily, looking ruffled with all the gesticulation.
Eneh had felt pride leap into his chest. His god-son was the talk of the school, and in a positive light. He had felt pity for the woman. Her generation had passed and living in today’s computer age was enough to turned her into a paranoiac. Sudoku is a widely known number game. Durer’s Square is a tricky thing, though. It is a mathematical square where the numbers are arranged in such a way that all the rows, columns and diagonals add up to the same thing. The sixteenth century German mathematician and painter Albrecht Durer was the first to complete it and embed such in his paintings. The American mathematician and mystic, Benjamin Franklin had completed a bigger 8 by 8 square. It was for geniuses and they had already agreed that Toby was one. The woman had tapped on the table to draw his attention.
“Last weekend, we had scheduled football matches between the senior secondary graduating class and the class below them; same for their junior secondary counterparts and the class below them. At the end, both senior and junior graduating classes emerged winners with different score-lines. Instead of celebrating with the winners, the whole students were jubilating with Otobong carried high in the air”, she had paused, looked around for a brief moment and continued.
“Do you believe that your boy had predicted the scores ahead of the matches correctly? He even went ahead to write them on each of the classroom blackboards that afternoon. Now, that is where the problem is Mr Etteh, for both staff and students have started saying funny things about that boy”, she said, thumping the large table with her calloused knuckles when she got to the end of her narrative.
*The Madman’s Recompense will be continued*