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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

School Life Is Pretty Though

It was in the wake of the early 90's. The day was bright, gay and promising. But for two things in particular nothing else worried Chikatara. About a month past when it became clear that he was due for the secondary school, he had arranged and covered some casual farewell visits to his relatives, friends and well wishers.

When he returned home at the end of the first term his mother had called him into the kitchen one day to enquire from him who gave him such a good idea.
She has ever been highly impressed by the way people talked about Chikatara's wisdom. That a small boy of his age could go about telling people that he was about to enter the secondary school, and not only that, but they should not allow his father and mother to make any case, that they should pray for him, was indeed a thing of wonder. 

He did all that without any discreet advice from his parents. And this was how he initially proved himself as the proverbial small child who washed his hands clean and so was fit to eat with the elders. 

Chikatara's parents therfore thought it wise that they had no good reason to spare even their last Kobo. Every Kobo they had must be spent on Chikatara's education. If they hadn't any they could go borrowing to see that he was not withdrawn from the school. There was no doubt that his parents were extremely poor. But they held out that their poverty could not interfere with the training of such a potential intellectual as Chikatara. Instead they would not hesitate to let all their property stand surety to whoever could lend them money if the need arose. 

It was six weeks later in the school that Chikatara openly confessed to Emeka his most intimate friend about the mixed feelings of joy and sorry on the eve of the D-day. That was the day he was to leave home for his new school. Many people had gathered at his compound that evening to say "Hello!" to him and to his parents in particular for shouldering such a huge responsibility even though they were not financially well-off. 

Among them was Chikatara's nephew, Joseph Obi who came in the company of his mother. The relationship that had grown between Joseph and Chikatara was so intimate that one could not easily bear the other's separation from him. But Chikatara could not help going to the school. Who could do otherwise! 

It was this inevitable separation from Joe (as he usually called Joseph) that constituted the sorrowful aspect of Chikatara's mixed feelings. The other was also a separation from his maternal grandmother. The lovely aged woman did not quite understand what it meant to go to the secondary school then. 

A week before Chikatara left for his school she called him into her thatched house, "the son of my daughter" she had called Chikatara, "I hear people say that you are preparing to go somewhere, is that true?" When he replied in the affirmative, she shuddered despondently. It was one of those things she failed to understand about the modern world. How could a small boy like Chikatara, only twelve years old be snatched from his mother into the distant unknown place. Granted that his mother could bear that, was she going to bear it too? Only God knows. 

Earlier on she had been told by one of those pig-headed rascals who purposely wanted to taunt her that the distance from Chikatara's hometown to his school was comparable to that between Abakaliki and Lagos. Obviously the old woman did not know Lagos. But what perturbed her most was the fact that her grandson would be kidnapped, as she put it, from her and carried to that spirit world called Lagos. It was alleged that the sun appeared there only once in a blue moon. It was also believed that Lagos was just a miniature of islands surrounded by a huge and formidable expanse of water. Nevertheless, it was assumed that the water could flood and engulf the whole Islands within a few minutes. 

As that affectionate grandmother pondered all these distorted information in her head it became unmistakable that she must naturally be apprehensive of what might happen to Chikatara in his school. This then, had a double effect. It was hard to tell who of the two was worried more than the other. 

Chikatara could well remember how many times he had gone to his grandmother's house to eat either on his way to or from the school. In particular, one day was very vivid in his memory. That was the day they regarded as the hottest of the year. It was so hot that Joe swore profusely he would not attend school again any day he was sure that such a thing could repeat itself. 

There was no bottled water in the school they could buy as usual. Even if there had been Chikatara and Joe had no piece of chalk that day which they would have bartered for it. And so by the time they reached Chikatara grandmother's house, they were already sunken with hunger and thirst. 

No sooner had she seen them on the way than she brought out a mound of pounded yam, foo-foo with dried okro soup. But the intensity of both the hunger and thirst coupled with the scorching heat of the sun had combined to weaken their nerves out of proportion. As a result they could not eat much. They slept off after eating, resting on their wooden boxes. 

It was purely in the evening that they arrived at home. On their way, Joe praised Chikatara's grandmother for her hospitality but bemoaned the loss of his son who died when he was six months old. 

Chikatara reflected upon all this and at last came to the conclusion that nobody else could treat him like his grandmother. He had the conviction that there would be no such a godly woman in his new school. All the same, the die was cast. He would go to school to see his grandmother again and eat from her dish when he came back on holidays. 

On the other hand, she thought that if God spared her life she would see Chikatara again when he must have become a full grown adult. Because of the distance of his school she was told that Chikatara would very rarely return home. Frequent going and coming would entail a superfluous waste of money of which not even a millionaire would approve.

All these not withstanding, it was quite evident that Chikatara's joy overwhelmed his sorrow. If not for anything else he was happy because he was the third person in the whole village to have secondary education. There were actually three of them who sat for the entrance examination that year. One failed, Joe was not accepted while Chikatara got admitted. There was no gain saying that he had a covert self-exultation to the effect that he alone passed the examination. 

When Mr Ekuma arrived at Okeke's compound to take Chikatara to his school everything was ready. All things written in the prospectus were bought. Mr Ekeima was Chikatara's teacher in elementary six. He came to like the latter because of his exceptional intelligence. When he suggested that only the essential items in the prospectus should be purchased Chikatara's parents objected vehemently. In their opinion there was no reason for such brutality. They had provided the money. Chikatara was their only son, a good one for that. For whom should they reserve the extra at the expense of Chikatara? Nobody. 

Nwafor, Chikatara's mother escorted him to the main road eight miles away from their home. From there Mr Ekuma and Chikatara boarded "Future Hope", an open-topped seven-tone lorry that took them to their destination. He committed Chikatara to the case of Emeka, because in the school only two of them came from the same community. He only did that out of necessity. In addition to the fact that both were beginners one could hardly tell either of them that could look after the other. The only noticeable difference between them was that Emeka was physically more resolute than Chikatara. The relationship that later existed between them did prove Mr Ekuma's judgement right. 

By the time he became three weeks old in the school Chikatara had been able to make a comparative assessment of the life in the school and that lived at home. 

One day he called Emeka to hostel A where he lived. He had looked around to ascertain that there was no intruder before he whispered into his ears: "Emeka, my brother school life is pretty though. I thought that reopening days bitter experience would be the first and last. But from all indications it seems we have too great a task ahead of us". 

Indeed his first experience was bitter. He always remembered how Emeka saved him from a fierce-looking student who wanted to carry the locker given to him by the senior prefect. "That student is terrific" he always insisted, "I pray God not to allow such a person to confront me again in life. If I should have anything in common with such let him have the greater share. God forbid!" 

This actually happened some years ago. By then Chikatara was just a small boy. Many people kept on wondering then had such a small rat could go into the secondary school to read. At least by the time Eze and Ogena went to school they had become mature enough.
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Item Reviewed: School Life Is Pretty Though Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Joseph Etim