My class was not a big one, maybe about forty five pupils. But then, my school was not as big as Ijegbe Nursery & Primary School next door. The wooden desk and bench I shared with Bose my seatmate was in the middle row on the far left side of the classroom. I would have preferred the far right side, close to the window but I was not allowed to change seats. I had also carved my name on the wooden surface of my desk.
The brown rubber basket sandals and white socks I wore were slightly dusty from the walk to school. Mummy always scolded me for dragging my feet when I walked. However, she was not the reason my palms were sweaty that morning or my heart felt like it was about to beat a hole into my chest and run away. Mummy was not the reason I was afraid.
I was afraid because Mr. Kola had entered the class.
Mr. Kola was our Maths teacher and I did not think he liked me very much. He was always calling me to recite the times table and he never asked me to recite the easy ones like 2, 5, 10 or 11 times table. I could almost feel the sting of his yellow wooden ruler across my knuckles. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my dark blue pinafore and tugged on the collar of my white and red-checkered shirt in my nervousness. As he addressed the class in his stern voice and looked around the class, I silently prayed that I would become invisible and he would not notice me. I breathed a sigh of relief when his gaze passed over me.
My relief was short-lived as he zeroed in on me again.
“Dupe! Come out here and recite the 7 times table for the class”
“Huh?” I hated how mousy I sounded.
“Are you deaf? Come out here!” he bellowed.
I shuffled to my feet and dragged myself to the front of the class.
“Recite the 7 times table” he repeated.
“7 x 1 = 7” I started, staring nervously at his face.
“7 x 2 = 14”
“7 x 3 = 21”
“7 x 4 = …” My brain froze.
I tried to picture the back cover of my onward notebook where the timetable was printed. Nothing. I tried again and my voice dropped a few more decibels hoping he wouldn’t hear or ask me to repeat myself.
“7 x 4 = hwnnhwnn”
“7 x 5 = hmwn….”
“Henh?” Mr Kola snapped. “7 x 4 is what?”
My voice dropped even lower.
“7 x 4 = hwnnhwnn”
I began to shuffle away from him when I saw him reach for his ruler. I was already crying.
“Hold out your hand now”
My wailing got even louder. I heard some of my classmates laughing.
Olodo. Someone laughed.
I didn’t care about the name calling just then. I just didn’t want to be whacked across my knuckles.
“If you don’t hold out your hands now, I’ll get my koboko” Mr. Kola threatened.
After a few minutes of holding out my hands and snatching it back, he got in six good whacks. I went back to my seat sniffling, wiping the snot from my nose with the back of my hand. I sniffled throughout the class and did not learn a thing.
I hated that class and every other maths class because I came out feeling inadequate.
Many years down the line, I still get that feeling sometimes, as if the ghost of Mr. Kola and his class still haunts me.