In Nigerian private schools everything is possible. If you can spare some minutes, I shall justify the validity of this assertion by telling you the histrionic things that happened in the private school where I was teaching–or pretending to be teaching–before I put some naira notes into the deep pockets of some obese people under the table in the State Government House and they helped me land a well-paid job in the university, where I drink beer and bonk my students.
Mr Amuchechi. That’s my name. Amu, for short. The mischievous secondary school students whom I taught English and literature, or whom I thought I was teaching English and literature, preferred to call me the abridged version because in Igbo “amu” means “penis”.
“Mr Amu, we have English,” the students would say. “Mr Amu, how can a noun phrase function as the object of a verb? You don’t know it, Mr Amu? Oh, I see you are reading an academic article your phone?”
“No, Mr Amu’s watching a blue film on his phone. Let’s go and tell Proprietor.”
So, my brothers and sisters, Amu was my name oooo. I preferred beer to those nasty grasshoppers of students. Who in private school would not prefer a chilled bottle of beer over his students? Especially a fridged Gulder beer? Nobody!
After breakfast, I’d gulp Heineken beer or Gulder beer or Life beer, if it was cold and drink the red wine my uncle brought from Portugal and then mix it with whisky and then stagger to school, smelling of alcohol and beans and pepper soup. I was punctuality-personified–I give myself that. See, it’s not that I relished supervising the students as they swept the school compound and dusted the lockers. No!
I only relished coming to school early so I could exchange blue films with my dear students before the Proprietor would come. And so that Mrs Okoye, who was habitually punctual like me, could breastfeed me in the staffroom. She taught Biology, but she could not explain the life cycle of a cockroach to a layman. The only thing she was good at was breastfeeding. That term she came to the school we became secret lovers. And by the end of that term my mouth was filled with milk. I sucked her breast for 194 times. September: 27. October: 42. November:50 December: 77. If you have a calculator, please sum these figures. You’ll see that I am accurate. And if you doubt that I didn’t suck her breasts for 194 times come to my house and see my diary. Everything’s chronicled, except this: the Proprietor of the school remarked that I was the best English teacher of the month of December. And so he bought me a shovel for Christmas.
Mr Titus. This half-crazed creature taught CRS, but he did not know Jesus–if you know what I mean. Titus was a very fat pig. The students always debated that Titus was bigger than a Coca-Cola refrigerator and I drubbed them. But behind Titus’ back, I told the students that they were right to say that the Mr Titus was bigger than a Coca-Cola fridge and we would laugh together in the unswept class, forgetting noun phrases and clauses and other tedious rubbish topics. Titus’ ugliness became more hilarious the day he lost one of his ears, an ear that looked like a hand fan. He lost it while fighting Proprietor in the school compound. They were fighting with planks and buckets while the students flogged them to stop, but they didn’t. They were fighting because Titus accidentally fell on the school flower and killed it and Proprietor seized his salary. Proprietor finally pinned Titus on the mud and bit off Titus left ear. Later, after a one-month suspension, Titus came back, promised some students A’s and they put money into the pockets of his dirty trousers. With the money, Titus bought a bouquet of pink roses and Proprietor gave him his salary andthey hugged. Wait ooo. Did I just say salary? Well, you can call 9,350 naira salary. Behind Titus’ back, I told the students that Titus’ salary was only 9,350 naira and some wanted to cry. But most of them laughed and said the salary was funny. I also laughed: “Ho-ho-ho-ho!” as if my salary was one million US dollars. My salary was 12,000, but Proprietor usually gave me 8,500 just because I did not wear any singlet. But to return to Titus, who also did not have singlets. Or so he said. He would come to school in an ancient suit that was so stained with beer and food to ask the students to give their lives to Christ, but during Break Period, he would put Chioma, the SS1 girl with the largest breasts, on the back of his ancient motorcycle and sped off, his eyes looking back surreptitiously, as if Proprietor was pursuing him with a shovel. I discovered that Titus was fucking more than one student, the day I spotted Chioma his sweetheart and student behind the school banana. She was dragging Mr Titus by his extraordinarily long tie as if Titus was a sacrificial lamb and shouting at Mr Titus. “I know CRS, the subject you teach is not important–in fact it is useless–but you must follow me to your so-called office and write 99 or 100 on my result. You gave Jane an A only because she kissed your neck. Or nose? I forget which. But me, I kissed both your neck and nose and I also sucked that your small penis. Yet you did not give me…Look, Master Titus, I swear, I will tell everybody that I’ve seen your dick if you don’t write 100\100 on my booklet! Okay, okay, pen only 99\100 and sign…Look, you must give me an A because you sucked my breasts…”
Miss Oge. This one-eyed bitch was thirty-five years old and she taught Igbo and her salary was 7, 500 naira. And one of the things she hated and despised was Igbo. She told the students that Igbo language was useless. She told the students that she wanted to read English or Law, not “inelegant” Igbo, but WAEC seized her Literature and that broke her heart. And the mischievous boys in the class would produce their filthy handkerchiefs and old socks and ask her to come and wipe her tears and cry no more, that everything gonna be all right. Then the boys began to sing Bob Marley’s “Everything gonna be all right” and Miss Oge picked her things and marched out of the classroom and banged the door–or plywood–shut. She usually lumbered to school with a mighty handbag, but you couldn’t see Igbo textbooks and lesson plans in it. you would only see things like mirrors, eye pencils, Baby powder, lipstick, and a book titled How To Get A Man In Ten Minutes And Make Him Marry You. One day, she went to the class to “teach”, and I tiptoed to her desk, took the book and escaped. I scurried to the school toilet and flushed the book down. That day, Miss Oge and I searched all the students’ lockers for the book. “God will kill the person that stole that wise book,” I said, as we madly turned lockers and chairs upside down. Later, I laughed with the with the students, and they said that Miss Oge’s armpits smelt of stale onions and kola nuts. Did I smell her armpits? No, God forbid!
Her only ambition was to get married to a man, any man, short or tall. Rich or poor. A phony pastor or a militant, a one-eyed criminal, anybody. One Monday morning, when Proprietor went to the Ministry of Education, Awka to bribe some men, we lied to the students. We told them that we were sick(typhoid and acute malaria) so that they would buy us vitamin C and orange juice and malt and doughnuts and stop asking us to come and teach them. This one-eyed woman applied red lipstick and powdered her nose so that I would fancy her, but that powdered nose angered me. She took my hand and we went under the whistling frangipani tree with our rickety chairs. She told me about her friend whose husband flew her to Los Angeles for their honeymoon.
She told me about a boy my age who married a woman her age. I told her about a woman her age who did not marry a boy my age. I told her about a poor wrestler in my village who lent his wife to Chief Egoamaka. I told her about a man who exchanged his son with a bag of rice and threw the blame at Nigeria’s president. I told her the history of Cabin biscuits, boring her to tears. Her ugly face creased like an old leather shoe. A hush descended. Then she rearranged her face into a smile, caressed my soft neck with her rough hand and asked me to marry her in a roundabout way. I said,” Unless you’ll repaint my one-room apartment, buy me two cartons of Indomie noodles(The biggest size), Harry Potter eyeglasses, a bow tie(colour: navy blue or sky blue),fourteen pairs of Turkish blue jeans, and a red face-cap. I don’t know why I like red face-caps so much!” Her mouth hung open, forming the letter O. I wished, fleetingly, that some of the flies from the school reeking toilet would soar into this open mouth of hers and hide there. When she withdrew her rough hand from my soft neck I mentally made the sign of the cross. She did not beg me to marry her again. That week, she begged fat Titus to be her love and Titus agreed. Titus told me that he only agreed to be her boyfriend because he had not fucked any woman from Miss Oge’s local government. Titus wanted to fuck at least one woman from all the local governments in the state. He said he did that in Akwa-ibom state when he was a Corps Member, but I didn’t believe him. Well, Miss Oge and Titus became, in the words of the students, obese Romeo and heinous one-eyed Juliet. We later heard that Titus asked her to always wear a long gown to school, a gown that could hide her offensive yam legs, to stop disgracing him with those legs, and she hit him with a fish. The affair lasted for two days…almost. Before Midterm Break, Proprietor divorced his wife for an obscure reason and married one-eyed Oge. The female teachers gossiped that she put a love portion in an apple and gave it to Proprietor, but I did not believe them. God eventually blessed the union with an imbecile. His name was Darlington. The students said the imbecile baby was not darling at all. “Why can’t Proprietor and his bloody wife call a spade a spade?” they would complain. In Proprietor’s office, I would tickle the imbecile’s cheek and call him Pretty Darling so that Proprietor would increase my salary, but outside the office I would bit my lips because Proprietor didn’t hint at raising my salary. And I would shout that their imbecile must be called Imbecile, for Christ’s sake! When Proprietor heard this from the students, he hit the flat of his hand on the peeling wall of his office vehemently and swore that he would “eat” both my February and March salaries. And he did. That term, I was so broke and hungry that I almost fucked my landlady, Old Mrs Dorothy, for a mere cup of tea and buttered bread.
Mr Obika. This dude taught Maths and Basic Science. He was good at mathematics, I must concede, but he smoked marijuana before and after school. Sometimes I saw him speaking to the trees. One day, he penned a letter of permission to Proprietor. In the letter, he said he was going to the bedsheet to buy a market, that he would be in the students the following day to teach the school. He ended the letter with “Yours faith-fool” and signed his name with an eye pencil. After the exams, Proprietor heard that Obika took the students on an excursion to his ganja farm, and sacked him. Obika collected all the Maths scripts and hopped over the fence. The next day, Proprietor and I entered his office, locked the door, and we entered random scores into the students’ result booklets and assured them that the police rescued their Maths scripts from “that lunatic rastafarian” and everything was fine. That term the boy who always came first saw 30 OUT OF 36 in his report booklet and went mad. He hollered that something was fishy and then took his angry friends and invaded Proprietors farm. They pulled down his banana trees, squashed his plum tomatoes and pineapples with their boots and sandals, ate all his garden eggs and urinated on the vegetables. They also ran to his poultry and stabbed some fowls to death. Obika sent a letter to Proprietor, promising that he had forgiven him, that although Proprietor disposed him like expired bread they could drink beer and smoke wee-wee as friends, if Proprietor liked, but his angry guys must burn down the school gate and the signpost. But they didn’t do it. That riled me up. I wanted that gate burnt!
Mr Jude. This thing taught—sorry, this guy taught Basic Technology and Physics. And he’s the best teacher in the world, according to Proprietor. But to me, this guy was an arse. Nothing, but an arse. He was full of petty ambitions. One of his ambitions was to be a principal in this bush-surrounded private school, or any other bush-surrounded private school that was keen to offer him a small stove, pots,one or two kettles and a big bedroom or a small bedroom, any accommodation. This pretentious nonentity would sneak into the office and tell Proprietor which teacher was incompetent and which teacher was a habitual latecomer. He didn’t flog students so that they would love him. He didn’t argue with Proprietor so that he would love him and increase his salary. Whenever he saw Proprietor he would raise his coarse voice in the class so that Proprietor could hear him. He told Proprietor that every teacher ought to emulate him, ought to be coming to school by 6: 40 am. I frowned and stomped out of the meeting. One day, we heard that Jude was coming to school by 6: 30 and a bicycle knocked him into a gutter and he lost seven or eight teeth.
It was dark that time, you see. That morning, I danced in the rain and told my landlady that I would go to church for the first time in two years and give God two fowls. I didn’t tell her that it’s because my colleague had a bicycle accident and lost seven or eight teeth. The next day, at the assembly, I urged the students to remember Mr Jude’s teeth in their prayers, but when I got into my small office, I laughed like a hyena and breakdanced. Jude did not return to the school again.
Miss Maryann. This animal—I mean, lady. Well, animal, if you like. She taught Economics, Commerce and Business Studies. She was hated by most of the students because she hated examination malpractice and she always reminded them of hellfire. During the WAEC examination, Proprietor asked her to take the economic question paper, which he had smuggled out of the windowless hall, and hurry to the banana tree near the school toilet and answer the questions for the students. She told Proprietor that Jesus was watching from above and Proprietor kicked her round arse and dragged her out of the school. That was the last time I saw her.
Mr Ayodele Kabir. This sissy was the only Yoruba teacher on the staff; he taught French and Music. He talked like a woman and walked like a woman and danced like a woman and chewed gum like a woman and the students liked his queer ways and prayed for him so that he would gravitate away from Islam and accept Christianity. Miss Maryann behaved like the students; she implored Ayodele to accept Jesus as his Lord and personal saviour so that he could go to heaven and Ayodele laughed and said that Allah’s his Lord. Miss Maryann shed melodramatic tears and paced up and down, speaking in tongues because, to her, when Ayodele died, Ayodele would go to hell and wail and roast in the inferno with the devil.
Mr Emeka. This moron was a bow-legged albino and Proprietor treated him like toilet paper. Emeka taught Social Studies and Chemistry with fake credentials. He was rusticated from the university because he raped the Vice Chancellor’s innocent fowl behind a banana tree. Do you want to know how this fowl-fucker got his B.SC? Good. He went to Photocopy Centre, Aba, and they gave him a degree certificate(Medical Laboratory, First Class Honours)and an NYSC discharge certificate. This albino could not spell “ice cream” let alone spell “carbon dioxide”. One day he did not wear his glasses to school and so he made a memorable mistake: he went to SS3 and taught them Social Studies and then went to JSS1 and taught them Chemistry. I rushed off to Proprietor’s office and told him so that he’d drag Emeka out of the class, herald my discerning eyes and increase my salary. But Proprietor hit me on the neck with a spanner and asked me why did I leave my own class. At the end of the month he surcharged me and paid Mr Emeka with counterfeit money and Mr Emeka thanked Proprietor and pocketed the money. The next term, the albino asked Proprietor to give him promotion and Oge, now the Proprietor’s wife, said no because Emeka had no respect and he did not call her Mummy. Emeka said over his dead body would he call a woman who was younger than himself Mummy and she said he won’t be promoted and then seized his salary. The next day, the albino didn’t show up and Proprietor hummed a song all day.
There were two or three more teachers, but I don’t want to bore you with their stories; those guys were so inconsequential.
The sunny afternoon some heavily perfumed men and women came from the Ministry of Education for inspection, we the teachers ran helter-skelter. None of us had a lesson plan let alone instructional materials. Our hearts jumped when they asked us to go to the class and teach so that they would evaluate us. I sneaked into the Principal’s office and opened the drawer in search of a lesson plan or something like that. But what I saw in this drawer fractured my heart: Empty cans of Gulder beer, empty cans of Star beer, two empty bottles of Life beer, Hero beer openers, a packet of Dorchester cigarettes, five crooked Benson and Hedges cigarettes, five cigarette lighters. Matches. Tomtom sweets. Banana chewing gum. Kola nuts. Dirty files. Feeding bottles. His wife’s purse. I opened the purse, poured their baby’s milk into my oversized mouth, stole her two hundred naira and scuttled off. Outside the school, I bought Alamo bitters. I was swallowing the alcoholic content and hoping that my thumping heart would calm down when my phone chirped. God, it was Proprietor. I picked the phone with a trembling hand and said, “Hello, this is Major General Gowon…Sorry, I mean, Major General Godwin. Who are you, please?” “Where are you, this stupid boy?” he thundered. “You are hiding, abi?
You know you are the only English teacher we have here…They only want to evaluate the teachers of the key subjects: English and Maths. Run back, or do you want them to shut down this my shop? School, not shop. I mean, my school. I know you call it a shop behind my back….True to God who made heaven and earth and the birds in the blue sky and all the fishes in the river, if I don’t see you in the office in the next ten seconds I will eat your salary and arrest you with Awkuzu SARS.”
“Sir, I have retired…resigned, I mean. I resigned three seconds ago”.
“Oh my God, Amu, Mr Amu, please don’t resign today. Resign tomorrow, pleeeeeeease…”
“Are those Ministry of Education people still there?…Yes? Oh, I’ve resigned.”
“I swear, if you resign I will run to your house and kill your girlfriend, kill all your dogs and burn down your house!”
“Sir, I don’t have dogs…”
“Amuchechi, please come. I will increase your salary and make you the principal. You know Chidi, the Principal, is obdurate. My
tired wife phoned him last evening and asked him to come to our house and wash our bedsheets and he said no. Imagine! I’ve kicked the bastard out. Please come. I’ll declare you the Principal and I’ll buy you a TV.”
“Plasma? Plasma TV?”
“And an umbrella and a frying pan and even a cupboard. Everything, in fact.”
I ordered another can of Alamo bitters, made the sign of the cross with a quivering finger and stumbled back to the school. At the gate, I said bye-bye to the sobbing 40-year old Principal, who was sacked because he refused to wash Proprietor’s wife’s bedsheets and then I blundered to the office. The Ministry of Education people were waiting for me.
Proprietor handed me an old English lesson plan, which he had ostensibly retrieved from the toilet. Ten minutes in the class, my voice began to come from the ceiling. The Alamo bitters, I thought. And nervousness, of course. My topic was PRONOUNS, but five minutes later I found myself explaining PROVERBS. “I’m awfully sorry, ladies and gentle boys,” I said to the Ministry of Education people.
“Gentlemen, I mean. I didn’t intent to call a pronoun a proverb, boys and girls…I mean, ladies and boys. Or gentlemen. ” The students stamped their sandals on the ground and laughed to the chagrin of Proprietor. He pounded on a locker and some semblance of order was restored. Then I spat on my thumb and flipped past some pages of my note, looking for…for what? The picture of a white woman in an alluring pink pantie and a pink bra leaning in a chair on a beach gripped my attention for a few seconds. I closed the book so that the titillating photo wouldn’t cause my dick to rise and kick off my trouser-fly, frightening the Ministry of Education people and exciting the bloody students. The classroom suddenly lifted and spun me round and round. I held a locker for support. The classroom descended. I looked up and saw Mr Titus videoing my embarrassment. No doubt the foe would ultimately upload the video on YouTube and Facebook to amuse his little girlfriends. The book dropped from my unsteady grip and landed on the littered floor and the students giggled. My chest was now on fire and my eyes were heavy. I grabbed Eva bottle water from one of the students in the front and began to drink noisily as the Ministry of Education people watched with popping eyes. I reckon I drank for five minutes, coughed for seven minutes, and then the lesson resumed.
In an attempt to sound impressive like the native speakers of the language, I took on a “British” accent until my voice sounded like one Jamaican imbecile with a hot potato in his mouth. I dropped the accent and drank water for another five minutes, playing for time, ignoring the laughter of the students and the red eyes of Proprietor. Then, quite suddenly, the Ministry of Education people shrieked, startling I relinquished the water bottle and swayed perilously forward, then backwards, then forward, then backwards against the blackboard and we both fell, making a lot of noise.
Afterwards, my students told me that I peed in my trousers in the class and fainted, that I was taken home on the crossbar of a JSS1 boy’s bicycle. And the Ministry of Education people threatened to shut down the school until Proprietor put fat envelopes into their bags and they left the school whistling excitedly. The students also told me that the Proprietor fired all of us and said that if he saw me near his school again, he would bust my empty head open with a shovel. And I told the students that Proprietor was a foolish school dropout who was fortunate to inherit his late brother’s school and we wrote “Mr Isaiah Okeke, the Proprietor of this Shop is a fool” on the wall with a permanent marker. We wrote “This School is for sale. Price 10 naira” on the gate. I trampled all the flowers that were planted round the school to death and urinated on the fence. Then I phoned my colleagues. They informed me that they moved to a neighbouring school and some of the teachers who were sacked from this neighbouring school moved into our erstwhile school and life continued. My colleagues beseeched me to join them in their new private school, but I was fed up with these mushroom schools. I pissed furiously on the school wall again and marched out smoking a cigarette for the first time in my miserable life.