One unbearable hour and fifteen minutes had slowly gone by and the classroom was still dead-silent. If you loathed Mathematics as much as more than half the boys of S.S 2C did, you would empathize with their predicament. What was the importance of learning Math when they had specifically chosen the Arts’ alm of the class? But it seemed some predestined Liberator would have to take up that battle with the Ministry of Education in the hopeful future.
Mr. Eboh was already getting restless sitting in one spot for almost an hour, invigilating this class. Not only did his skinny buttocks feel numb, but his empty stomach painfully craved food. In his rush to avoid getting late to work earlier that morning, Mr. Eboh had no choice but to painfully sacrifice skipping the pleasure that was boiled plantain, with scrambled eggs his ever patient wife had prepared for him. Mr. Eboh loved food almost as much as he adored his darling Orobosa; she always knew what he needed and when he needed it. Since she came into his life, he rarely imagined a life without her. But this morning’s happenstance was quite unfortunate because Mr. Eboh was close to collapsing from heavy hunger; and the scariest part of this torture was that these boys still had about an hour more to go.
Mr. Eboh’s options were really thin here; his phone battery was dead now, so calling Mama Kofo was out of it. She would easily had sent her daughter to his location with his steaming plate of jollof rice, fried plantain, two pieces of kpomo and a massive turkey lap to top it off. Then there was the chilled bottle of Coke and sachet of pure water. Both Mr. Eboh and the food vendor had shared this mutual relationship for the past six years he taught here at Saint Martins’ College.
Secondly, spotting the nearest student to send on this urgent mission seemed futile because every hallway on the college premises was empty and quiet, due to the ongoing second term examinations. And thirdly, excusing himself to curb his cravings was totally out of the question, because one could not be fooled by these students before him as they scribbled with such seriousness on their scripts. Mr. Eboh had been severely cautioned by his Head of Department about this particular class. Sighing to himself, Mr. Eboh knew he was trapped between a rock and several hard places. To feed or risk a query on his job? Which was it going to be?
Mr. Eboh made his choice.
Far back at the corner of the classroom, Chuma was most relieved to see the stern-faced invigilator finally stand and head for the door.
“Maintain perfect silence,” the man announced before stepping out.
Yes, sir! Chuma didn’t need to break silence to do what needed being done. Quietly unzipping his blue pants, he slowly pulled the folded foolscap paper with all the needed formulas. Unfortunately for the other boys in the class, Chuma had no plans on sharing. Chuma Akamobi’s stinginess was quite legendary amongst his peers in the hostel, which already bred so much resentment. They knew asking this “gum hands” for expo was futile. But revenge was imminent! Only if he knew what awaited him back in the dormitory later that day.
Onome never read. Not even to save his life. As far as he was concerned, it was too much stress for him. Despite his father dumping him in the boarding house with the hope of improving on his studying habits, Onome had only appreciated the freedom he needed to laze away without his strict father’s supervision. But some way, somehow, Lady Luck always found her way to Onome’s side in almost every test and examination. Seated right before him was none other than Somto, a natural “brainy” when it came to Math, or any other subject that entailed numbers and calculations. It was often speculated why such a wiz wasn’t in the science classes, but Somto already had a mind of his; knowing what he wanted and that was being a historian. His parents wouldn’t admit to supporting his dreams but they knew better not to dissuade him.
Turning, Somto smartly exchanged question papers with Onome, whose eyes instantly brightened with relief, gazing at the visibly ticked objective answers. Math was sure for him now as he shaded away on his answer sheet. Onome knew he owed Somto big time.
Seated at the first desk on the third row, Toye scribbled calculations on his answer sheet. As much as he loathed the subject, Toye knew he still had to be up to par, most especially with the fact that his father a.k.a “Black Dragon” was the school’s Principal.
“I have successfully run this prestigious college for almost two decades, and as my son, Toye – you have a standard to maintain! You can’t afford to make room for failure, understood?” His articulate father’s statement echoed in his head like a nursery rhyme now.
“Psst!” The whisper came. “Psst! Toye, how far?” It was Ali Muhammad calling; also a perpetual noisemaker. “Abeg, help me with objective answers; numbers fifteen to thirty!” Toye was almost done with his calculations now, so there was time to spare. He turned.
“Fifteen – B, sixteen – A, seventeen – D….”
Seated right behind Toye, Etim Obong’s super hearing caught word instantly, making him hastily erase his wrong options and begin shading the right ones. He trusted Toye’s judgment without question. Etim was done with shading and calculations that he could attempt and right now, he was at God’s good mercy. His twin sister, Eno, also presently wrote her Mathematics exams right on the other side of the school walls where Saint Marcella’s, their sister-college was situated. Unlike Etim, Eno was so far ahead of him in Math, she almost left him eating dust. And what could be worse than having choleric parents who never let him hear the end of it. But Etim was on a mission today: he would prove them all wrong! One way or another.
Throughout his Junior Secondary years, his skinny body frame and thin neck had always subjected him to a target of fun from his peers, sometimes moving him to tears. But Etim’s esteem had armoured up, and now was a very good time to exploit his past insecurity. He stretched out his long neck over Toye’s shoulder till his exam script was in full view. Then he went to work.
“CHAI!! See giraffing!
“Your father is the giraffe!” Etim instantly called back without pulling his eyes from the script.
The boys knew they needed to do what they had to pass this paper, for Mathematics was no subject to be trifled with. Well, except for Prosper, seated far on the second seat of the fourth and last row of the classroom. He moped into the air with his chin rested on his palm. If there was any possible means he could murder the “busybody” behind the concept of this subject, Prosper would have gladly taken up that mission without hesitation. Everyone in the classroom was busy making a try for it, but not Prosper. He had accepted his failure long before the paper even began.
As far back as he remembered, his family members and past teachers never made him forget his weakness, but in their ignorant and blinded adult minds, they were helping. Yes, that was the word – “helping” There was his Primary Four Math teacher, Mrs. Ekanem, whom had christened him “Chike Obi” to the humour of his peers. Prosper hadn’t grasped the joke until he discovered the personality behind the name years later. Prosper hates both she and the legendary Mathematician till this day. Then there was that dreadful night, years ago- that night when his frustrated single parent of a mother had grabbed him by the neck with both hands, shaking him back and forth over a “simple” fraction from his assignment he had been unable to solve. Prosper was still grateful for his grandmother’s intervention, or the story might have been different. Gazing at his paper below him still untouched, Prosper scoffed as he began shading the objectives with such nonchalance. What could he care? He still resents his mother for her actions that night.
“No side talks!” Mr. Eboh’s voice suddenly threw the class into the perfect silence as every student instantly comported themselves. He walked through the doorway with a bottle of Coke in hand, and he was accompanied by none other than Kofo, the busty teenage daughter of the highly patronized food vendor. Her physical appearance often got her misjudged to be more than fourteen years of age. And in a college of very observant pubescent boys, Kofo’s appearance was hard to miss. “Just place it there,” Mr. Eboh instructed, pointing to an unused desk nearby. Kofo obeyed, placing the covered plate of food and avoiding any form of eye-contact with the boys in the classroom. Then came the murmurs and giggles. “Quiet!” Mr. Eboh instructed. “Or do you want to be sent out?”
“Thank you, Kofo. Tell your Mummy I will balance her for yesterday’s food once I’m done here,”
“Yes, sir,” Kofo curtsied and then stepped out, but not before taking a brief glance at some of the faces in the class.
Now reclined, Mr. Eboh indulged himself, hopefully to the advantage of the boys as he stuffed his mouth.
“Mr. Eboh!” The voice alone announced itself as the larger-than-life figure suddenly emerged at the doorway, and it was none other than Mrs. Okolo, the Economics teacher and Year Tutor of the entire S.S 2 alm. “Hmm! I meet you well, Mr. Eboh.” She teased walking in, but Mr. Eboh’s mouth was too stuffed for a reply. “They have less than thirty minutes,” she said after glancing at her wristwatch Mr. Okolo had bought her two weeks ago for her birthday. “Be very alert with these boys in this class, Mr. Eboh. They can be very notorious,”
“They’ve been behaving themselves,” Mr. Eboh said, now dropping his plate, but Mrs. Okolo was far from convinced.
“Have you searched all of them?” She asked approaching the first desk without waiting for a reply, then she raised the exam sheets in search for any hidden nuggets. “Stand up and empty your pockets,” she ordered and the student complied. The rest of the students began getting restless. They were content with their present invigilator. As for Mr. Eboh, he just wanted this “busybody” out of the way so he could continue with his meal. He respected Mrs. Okolo a great deal; she was dedicated to her job, and everyone in the staff room knew how much she vied to win the award for “Most Effective Year Tutor” three years in a row. But to what end? The pay barely met all ends in this trying economy and Mr. Eboh could not be bothered over any unnecessary stress.
Clarence Adebisi was almost done with his paper now as he meticulously wrote on his sheet from the back seat of the first row. He hadn’t raised his head to speak to anyone since the start of the paper. “Clarince!” Mrs. Okolo always pronounced with her heavy “Igbotics” as the students called it. She finally reached his table, smiling down at his round form and cheeks. “You look very serious,” she teased. Clarence’s chubby stature always earned him a certain fondness from most teachers.
Without waiting to be told, Clarence confidently got to his feet and allowed his pockets be tugged inside-out. “Hmm! I can see you’ve been calculating. Good boy!” Her eyes fell on his answer sheet and she raised them to get a closer look. “Your mother called me this morning. She said you should take your exams seriously, and she’ll send you some pocket money and provisions tomorrow,”
“Yes, ma,” Clarence replied all studious. She raised his neatly pressed and folded white handkerchief. “Hmm! Clarince! See your handkerchief! So pure white and very.….EWOOO!” She suddenly cried out as the cloth unfolded. “My Jesus, my savior!”
“Madam Okolo?” A curious Mr. Eboh called now looking up. “What is it?”
“Mr. Eboh, look at this!” A shocked Mrs. Okolo called out, raising the handkerchief into view, revealing the numerous equations and formulas inscribed in blue ink allover.
“Aah!” Mr. Eboh called, stuck between surprise and humour. A part of him wondered why Mrs. Okolo made a mountain out of the issue; as far as he knew, there was nothing new under the sun. And boys would be boys after all.
There were giggles echoing around the class now.
Clarence Adebisi ruminated with regret now, but not for cheating – but for getting caught!
“Kai!” He muttered to himself as he bit his lip. “Why? Why? Why?” Clarence had no idea what fate awaited him now. Mrs. Okolo’s disciplinary reputation was quite legendary in the senior classes; but she was quite fond of him, and so was she on familiar terms with his mother. Maybe, that could be his saving grace. Maybe, just maybe.
“Clarince, Clarince!” A disappointed Mrs. Okolo muttered, shaking her head. “I never see dis kind boy before.” Then came the laughter from some of the students. “Come on, keep shut!” Mrs. Okolo let out. “Seriously, I don’t know what you students find in cheating. If you fail at something, at least fail with some dignity, instead of cheating your way through. Don’t you know success is best enjoyed when achieved with hard work and a clean conscience?”
“Aaah!” Almost the entire class erupted in objection at her statement. “Noo!”
“Story for the gods,” an unidentified student dared to call out.
“Keep shut! Exams are still going on!” Mrs. Okolo snapped back. Then she faced Clarence again whom had no idea what awaited him; while from his seat- with his plate of rice in hand, all Mr. Eboh could do was chuckle to himself. It was the little happenings as these that sometimes made his job fun.