Did you remember that day, in class, when we exchanged glances? Mallam Musa, the teacher with long, dry beards hanging from his jaw, was in class. Sometimes I would flip a note across to you. The first time you read it out loud, and the ears of every student stood at attention. Other times you chewed up its content with joy and a smile curves in your lips.
” I love you Cynthia and I want to marry You,” it read. And I almost tore my skin out, crunching at my sleeves to suppress the twinge of fear. My head buried under my locker; Trying to wave off the embarrassment. But I could see it rising, raising those bushy eyebrows, flick an ugly stare from the corner of his eyes- I mean Emeka’s. Suddenly, the embarrassment grows into thousands of eyes, taking a glance. Mallam Musa who was facing the black board, not totally black; the board had lost it’s beauty, after a meritorious service of twenty years in a dilapidated structure, called a classroom. Even after we had graduated, several years later, that classroom remained as old as man; living in its former glory.
And this mathematics teacher with a weird beard would turn towards the class. The murmuring of students echoing all over the classroom. Then he would demand for the whole essence of the rumbling, yet, no student dared to speak. Not even a sound would escape their vocal chords. Silence would fall on everyone as if a ghost was in town.
You slip the note under your sit, and wondered if he didn’t hear you read it aloud. I also wondered. Some wondered. It was clear. But It felt safer that way, I had thought.
Suddenly, his voice thunders.
‘What’s that nonsense?’
‘All these urchins…’
He inquires the second time – something he rarely does. And when he does, it didn’t go well with any of us. His big eyeballs began to rummage over every terrified face in class. He continues, holding firmly unto a long stick, slightly curved at the tip, almost like the blade of a hoe. And a fragment of kolanut at the corner of his mouth, restlessly gnawing at it like a goat. Then he wipes his cane over Chima’s desk; it felt like thunder choking our ears. Chima, the poor thing, flared to his feet, urine began to trickle down his tiny legs festooned in branches of red veins. Within a twinkle of an eye, my guy’s short was drenched in a fowl smelling urine. You remember now! Everyone laughed hysterically. I couldn’t contain the emotions, I burst out hilariously, although I knew my turn was probably on its way too. The whole class was soon immersed in a thunderous guffaw. Mallam Musa who had been laughing, stopped. His face painted in a big scowl and silence resumed it’s position among us.
‘So, where was I?’ His question was not directed to anyone.
‘What happened that all of you were laughing like mad people?’ He said in a relaxed state, stroking his beard which smelled of senescence.
‘Sir, it was Cynthia and Osondu. They were playing love in class.’ Uche, the gawky looking fellow, who had lost all his hairs at a tender age; they said he suffered a fungal infection. He stood on short legs, big head like lemons, too big for his neck and body to carry. But who asked him.
‘Sir, Cynthia is hiding something.’ The boy with the lemon head added.
The murmuring would begin again.
‘And where’s Cynthia and Oso…’ The whole class chuckled at the difficulty he encountered while trying to pronounce my name. Coughing and stamping his large foot, against the dusty, cemented ground. He was a stutter. Unlike Ochei our class prefect, he was able to bring his under reasonable control. Somehow, I thought he called me Osawe or something. In a class, more than fifty, (we were packed like sardines) my name struck him a great deal to pronounce.
He would call both of us out. Then demanded for the note. You placed it in his hand, completely soiled with sweat. It hung loosely between his thumb and an index finger. He wears a frame less glasses, picks the top of his nose and reads it silently, to himself before reading aloud.
Everyone gave an awed look, like they were not aware.
Did you remember that he flogged me that day after doling out two heavy slaps on my face that hurtled me to the ground. He called me a spoilt brat and said if I continued like that, I won’t amount to anything worthwhile.
And he vowed to make my life in that school a living hell if I didn’t come with my parents. In deed he did. But I couldn’t summon the courage to tell mama about it. She wouldn’t waste a second to double the strokes Mallam Musa had lashed against my back. Neither could such a news greet papa’s ears. That would mean challenging death to a physical combat.
Maybe, he couldn’t. Since, three days later, the principal announced at the assembly ground that he was dead. They said he slept one night and never got up. Death had sneaked into his house that night and had made away with his breath. But I couldn’t really feel pity for him. His seven wifes all windowed at once. I only pity them for the many troubles that would visit them, for the huge debts he had left behind. Not a single property worth, maybe a thousand was left.
Did you remember the times we spent together in school, during recess. The first time I held your hands and you told me that my smile was that of an angel. I tried to hide my face, because I was shy of looking into those gorgeous eyes of yours. You placed your head on my small chest, and it felt warm and strange as the students would turn to stare at us like actors in a movie scene.
Then you would seize my lips and steal a quick kiss. It felt like heaven; your breath tasted like strawberry. I was lost in your charm. We would do it again and again, during recess and after school.
Did you remember that I came over to your place that night, during our vacation? Despite your refusal. But your mother just hurled at me and lied that you were not in. But you were behind closed doors. I saw you faintly, peering through the window curtain. Then I would come over again, this time during the day.
It was drizzling and your father would sit in front of your house, feeding his eyes with the latest headlines from the Vanguard. It was the first time I would encounter him. I wondered if he would probably chase me off with a broom, a knife or a gun, like your mother almost bathed me sometime ago, with a bowl full of hot dirty water. Thank God I escaped.
But he wasn’t anything like her. Surprisingly, he was calm and his gaze relaxed at me, yet, I was scared. He asked who I wanted to see and I told him. Just as he was about to call you out, she comes out with naked feet. Her wrapper almost slipping off her fat waist. So she held unto it, then scolds her husband to silence.
‘So what are you looking for here?’
‘Haven’t I warned you enough. Stay clear of my daughter.’
‘Do you want to deflower her at this age?’
I didn’t understand what she meant by ‘deflower’ but I sensed it was a cruel and funny thing too. Chioma your elder sister – the one who attends the University was back from school. She perched like a bird at a corner behind her, giggling.
Your father would try to rise to my defense, but she was obviously stronger when it came to exercising her vocal powers. Her voice drowned his nearly effeminate voice. Then she would chase me off with large stones, while I scurried away like a rat for my dear life.
The vacation had come to a close and school was here. During classes, I would search for you, asking every student if they had seen you that day. Even Glory your friend had no idea.
Then I would walk home all by myself, wishing you were there with me. Maybe you would come out of the bush to scare me. But it never happened.
The next day, I would come expecting to see you, in your beauty and radiance. But you were not there.
Did you know that I sent volumes of letters to you through your brother, Nnamdi. He was in school, only for a brief moment and when I asked him how you were, he said you were doing great. And I inquired the reason behind your absence, he wouldn’t divulge. He just shrugged and disappeared into the crowd of students at the car park.
Did you know I didn’t get feedbacks to those letters. So, I decided to visit your place one last time.
There was something odd about the whole compound upon my arrival. The gates were locked with heavy chains and a rusty padlock. I was perplexed. Iuckily, I met a passerby along the road and he told me that there was no one in the compound. Yes, it’s obvious. ‘But where have they gone to?’ was my question. Then he said that something tragic happened. That you had died several weeks ago. He was in a haste to continue his story before I cut in.
‘What killed her?’
‘I hear say, she be sickler sir.’
‘You mean sickle cell anemia!’I guess that was what they called it. I stumbled upon it while at the library. I was flipping through the pages of some big biology textbook. I hadn’t come to read. Just trying to escape some seniors who were not prefects. They would go from class to class trying to fish out junior students to sweep their class. Any student caught, would be turned into a servant.
‘Abi, nah wetin dem dey call am,’ the fellow with a chewing stick in his mouth replied that morning.
I held my chest, and tears would roll down my eyes inevitably.
But how come? You didn’t disclose this to me. So you had been living and struggling with this alone. And you made me believe in love, in us.
What about the promises we made to each other? To be there for each other.
But you are gone now. All I have is a shattered box of memories.