Lola Opatayo

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Tales of a year: Chalkdust

Short Story

Dear reader, I have begun another series. This however is unlike the previous one (Glimmer) because each post tells a different story about a different character (or characters as the case may be). These stories are inspired by my experiences during my service year in a village in the north central part of Nigeria.

Mr James Obe the principal of the Government Secondary School, Igodo (popularly known as GSS) stepped down from his green golf car onto the red earth. The dry season was his least favourite of all the seasons. He had slept fitfully throughout the hot night, even the cement floor offered no relief. The mosquitoes streaming in from the torn window net into his stuffy bedroom had also tormented him endlessly. The weather only became tolerable around a quarter to six and he had slept peacefully for the next three hours.

He got into his musty office and sat down looking blankly at all the dusty old files and books that surrounded him. The lone trophy that the school had won for the state’s sports competition in 1979, and the three plaques he had received in the eighteen years of his career as a teacher which had been placed on an insect-riddled deteriorating shelve in front of him seemed to ask the question: “what next?” What a life! He had spent three years in this office upon the death of the former principal, and although he had looked forward to occupying this office for fifteen years, he now dreaded coming to it. There was a heavy burden of stagnancy and disillusionment that constantly weighed on his mind, sucking out his zest for life. Each time he came into his office he felt trapped; the brown bat urine stained ceiling on top of him like clouds of impending doom that were gradually gathering. He lifted up his eyes to the framed fading pictures of his predecessors and wondered what hopes and dreams they had had. Suddenly, he saw their mouths begin to call out to him: “James, James, it is time!”
He stared in horror and then promptly reached for his bag, searching for his bottle of gin. Where was the damned bottle? He found it and greedily gulped down its content. He looked back up at the pictures, they were silent. He sighed in relief and laughed maniacally. “You crazy fools! Why are you silent?” he said to them. His eye caught a letter-headed paper he had stuck under a file. He pulled it out and read it, then sat up in a bolt. The Inspection Committee was coming in today! How could he have forgotten? He glanced at his peeling leather watch, (it was half past ten) and walked briskly out of his office towards the block of classrooms.
He walked into the first class where the students were learning English.
“I will now reads the comprehension, listen carefully because I will ask question!” the teacher was telling the students who listened half-heartedly; it was almost time for the short break. They got up when they saw the principal and chorused: “Good morning sir! God bless you sir!”
“Yes, sit down… sit down” Mr Obe said in a slur looking around the classroom. “Who is this fat girl here? Ehn, what is your name?” he said laughingly as he swaggered towards her.
“My name na Martha Inla sir” she said quietly, visibly embarrassed by the principal’s alcohol induced rude behaviour.
He stared at her for a while then said suddenly “Ah! I came here for a reason. Some people are coming here today. They call themselves the Inspection Committee, so boys tuck in your shirts and you girls, tuck in your skirts,…er… shirts… that’s right…yes…” he said waving his cane randomly at the students. “Ok! Carry on Mr Ibu!” he said again and swaggered out of the class whistling the tune of “row, row, row your boat”.
The students burst into laughter, mimicking the principal as the teacher tried in vain to restore order to the class.
Mr Obe walked on towards the block of the senior classes and saw a group of boys playing a game of draught and bobbing their heads to P-Square’s “Do Me” which was playing on one of their China phones.
“Hey you there!… all of you…come back here, come back!” he shouted as the students ran away into their various classrooms and he ran after them. He did not see the big stone ahead of him. He tripped and fell prostrate, his face in the sand. He pulled himself up slowly, spitting out the sand in his mouth and dusting off the ones on his cream shirt, he had bruised his left big toe and it was bleeding.
“Useless children!” he cried, “I will find all of you, bastards!” he cursed as he limped back towards his haunted office.

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