I was top of my class in English, you see, and got bored very easily in lesson; in all my lessons, as a matter of fact but it was only in my English class that I could get away with being unruly.
With some members of the class being too slow to figure things out, I would shout out the answers without being asked; I was particularly worse during ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons. ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons were the most boring lessons and slowcoaches like Marshal Dike – the Blockhead – could never tell the difference between ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’. To make matters worse, he pronounced them as ‘rihime’ and ‘rihithim.’
“It is rhyme! R…ai…m! The ‘h’ and the ‘e’ are silent!” I would yell into his stupid-looking face.
“Blessing, please be quiet and let him work it out,” my hapless English teacher, Miss Obed would plead with me.
“Blessing, just keep that your big mouth shut!”
“ITK! I Too Know!”
“Your name shouldn’t be ‘Blessing’; you’re anything but…”
From their babbling and baying, it was evident that most of my classmates didn’t like me but I didn’t care. If they chose to waste their parent or parents’ money, being stupid in lesson, I did not. My mother worked very hard to ensure that I had a good education. I wasn’t going to let some do-gooders and their slow, bumbling blockhead friends stop me from getting one.
The ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons were so elementary anyway. I mean, how difficult was it to tell the difference between ‘similes’ and ‘metaphors’, ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’, ‘alliteration’ and ‘assonance’?
I ignored Miss Obed, the Limp Lettuce, turned back to my classmates and shouted them down.
“You don’t pay my school fees, so you shut up!”
“No, you shut up!” It was Nkechi Mgb’orie, my former good friend and the only one in the class bold enough to stand up to me. “Whoever named you ‘Blessing’ must have been half drunk or half asleep ‘cuz you’re no blessing, more a ‘Cursing’!”
It was the ‘whoever named you’ that did it. Say what you like to me, do what you like, I couldn’t care less but mention or even hint at my parentage, particularly my mother, in any negative way, shape or form and you’re dead meat!
On the same row as mine, two desks away, sat Nkechi Mgb’orie but that proved no hindrance. I twisted round, threw my hard-back English exercise book at her and it caught her neatly above her eyebrow, the left one.
The whole class erupted!
Amazie, my only friend in the class, and in our whole year group for that matter, ran to my side. She always stuck up for me in public and reprimanded me later in private.
Following closely behind her, was another stupid classmate, Simon-Peter Njoku. He marched purposefully towards my desk; whatever his purpose was, only God knew. Perhaps he thought being named after the first Apostle, old name and new, gave him some insight into divine acts of justice and retribution. I didn’t wait to find out. I remained unmoving till the obsequious toad got close enough, then I stuck my foot out. In his over-zealous, righteous indignation, he didn’t expect any underhandedness. He tripped and fell flat on his face – from grace to, well… a concrete floor.
This time the uproar was felt across the whole Form Four corridor!
In my peripheral vision, I saw Miss Obed gesturing to Marshall ‘Blockhead’ Dike, who dashed out of the class; I had no idea he could move so fast, considering how slowly the wheels of his brain usually turned. In minutes, he was back with Mr Kalu, the head of PE, a hulking brute of a man.
Mr James Kalu towered above all the members of staff in the school and was called in when students needed to be physically restrained. I expected a meaty paw to clamp round my upper arm and drag me to the Head’s office ‘cuz that was what he would have to do – drag me. I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
There was none of that.
Instead it was Limp Lettuce Obed putting out her hand like some kind of stop signal; none of the usual stepping back timidly and letting the man take over.
“Mr Kalu, please keep an eye on my class,” she said rather sharply, “I’ll be right back.”
Not waiting to see his response or reaction, she turned to me, “Right, Miss Blessing Mark-Tambo, to the Head, NOW!”
Because it was so unexpected, coming from Limp Lettuce Obed, I found myself obeying without the usual contentions, arguments or ‘assertions’ as I termed them.
She sat me outside the Head’s office, on one of those uncomfortable, cold, metal chairs meant for the ‘worst offenders’, as she went into the outer office that housed the Head’s personal staff. With the door ajar, I saw the Head’s secretary-cum-personal assistant nodding and signalling that she could go in while the two copy typists turned to look at me through the open door, giving me pitying looks, the kind adults give to children who they consider past redemption. I gave them filthy looks in return; I was already in trouble anyway, what more could they do?
Miss Obed came out of the office, unaccompanied by the Head, another surprise. With the ramifications of my actions, you would have thought that I would get a stiff talking to from the Head or even a phone call to my mum’s office but there was none of that. Instead, it was a book in her hand and a resolute expression on her face that Limp Lettuce Obed, who was looking, not so limp anymore, came out with.
“Thank your stars that your virtuous mother is a former classmate of our beloved Head teacher.” She said without preamble. “She has promised to give Nkechi’s mother a call and speak to her personally; soothe ruffled feathers, as it were. This could have gone really badly for you Blessing Mark-Tambo, really badly.”
Carefully schooling my expression into a bland, featureless façade, I looked up from the uncomfortable chair she made me sit on, and stared at her, ready to tune her out if she began one of those long, boring speeches teachers were wont to give about your future and how it is going to be bleaker that the ruins of the Ancient Benin Empire, after the British invasion, if you don’t do so and so, blah, blah, blah…but I guess not-so-limp Obed knew me better than I gave her credit for because she didn’t.
No speech, no lecture, no harangue.
She just thrust this dog-eared book into my hands and said “Here, our beloved Head teacher has asked that you read this and return it to her with a summary of what you’ve learnt from it.” With that and a swish of her long skirt, she went back to her ‘Figures of Speech’ lesson.
Beloved Head Teacher my foot! How is she beloved anyway, I thought angrily to myself. I didn’t know whether or not to follow her so I sat there scowling darkly, until the next bell went. When no one came to fetch me and the Head’s office staff didn’t as much as look my way after the cutting looks I gave them, I got up and headed back to class. Thankfully, Amazie met me halfway with the instrument of the bodily harm I meted out to Nkechi and my school satchel.
“We have Mathematics next and I do not want to be late for Dr Jayah’s lesson – BODMAS,” she said gloomily.
I’m not sure Amazie noticed that I hadn’t spoken a word to her since she handed me my satchel and English exercise book. I really didn’t have anything to say anyway; I was still trying to figure out where the backbone, Limp Lettuce Obed grew in the last twenty or so minutes, came from and what to do with the stupid book I was expected to read.
The daze remained throughout Dr Jayah’s lesson. Thankfully, I was just as good with numbers as I was with words, so he didn’t notice that anything was amiss; I answered all questions effortlessly and completed all tasks within the lesson.
“I wish I was like you,” Amazie muttered wistfully, as the final bell went and she returned her pencil and eraser to her Oxford Maths set, “You’re good in every subject…”
“…but not good with people,” I reminded her, cutting off her rose-spectacled view of me.
“That’s because everything comes so easily to you so you don’t understand how others struggle and it makes you impatient with them.”
I smiled at my friend.
Amazie should have been a wise, old owl, sitting on a giant Iroko or Udala tree, dishing out words of wisdom and prudence. She did look a little owlish with her horn-rimmed glasses and her hair tied in two Afro puffs.
The smile departed swiftly from my face, when I thought of how my mum would react when she learnt that I threw a book at a classmate. I wasn’t looking forward to her picking us up after school.
“Blessing, are you alright?” Amazie finally noticed. “You’re usually back to your old self after a fi…a quarrel.” My smile returned at her clumsy attempt to paint today’s event in a favourable light. My old self wasn’t any more favourable than my ‘this’ self. Slow, unintelligent people still annoyed me. People who couldn’t spell, catch on quick or do simple arithmetic, still made me feel like ripping my hair out and stuffing down their slow throats, and I still told them off for it, in no uncertain terms.
Our conversation, well, her observations and my musings took us to the school gate where my mother was waiting at her usual spot, parked under a mango tree laden with green, unripe mangoes.
“Good afternoon Auntie Mark-Tambo.”
“Good afternoon Amazie.”
I muttered my own greetings and received a curt nod in response.
The Head Teacher had phoned her at work then. I bit down my pointless rage, Had I not let this same rage and impatience get the better of me, I would have cut Nkechi open with words and not the edge of my hard-back English exercise book.
It was a quiet drive home – first to Amazie’s, then ours. Even the radio presenter on my mum’s favourite station sounded subdued as if she knew and shared in my mother’s disappointment of my actions.
The traffic on Kingsway road was light. We arrived home in no time.
It was worse than I feared.