THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - Episode 1

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Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - late for school children, catalogue of praises, kindergarten pupils printed, moistened charcoal, the classroom, giggled derisively, school, pressure for special recognition.



He could hear his dad calling at them, “You are going to be late for school children. You don’t want me by your bedside. Get up and prepare for school before I get there”. The thought of school dulled his senses. He could use more sleep. He lay still, pretending to be in a deep slumber. If only dad would let me off school today, he thought to himself, just like he did every other day. As if on cue, his dad was heading for his bed. Nzo could make out the characteristic heavy pounding of his footsteps. He must have figured I am still in bed, Nzo thought. In a last-ditch effort to avoid school, he let himself drop slowly off the bed, and onto the ground. No sooner had he touched the ground than he rolled under the bed. He had taken his blanket with him on the drop. He wrapped himself as quickly as he could in the blanket and held his breathe.

“Nzo!” his dad yelled. “Is he already up?” he asked Iheoma, his wife who was in the adjoining living room. “I have not seen him this morning” she replied. “He has got to be in that room”. Within minutes, a search team was organized to find him.  Ibekwe, his immediate elder brother was the leader of the team.  Nzo imagined the grin strolling across Ibekwe’s face as he led Uzor, Mma and Orjiugo to fish him out. They had done this over a dozen times already this term. Nzo had a chronic fear of school; an aversion to school, which they could not understand, but they enjoyed unraveling his hiding spots. By now, there were few places left in their one bedroom apartment for a family of ten (five boys, three girls, and their parents) that Nzo had not exploited as a hideout.

Their eldest brother Jide was still lying in bed in the living room. He rarely got involved in the morning search teams that ransacked the small apartment at least once a week each term in an effort to get Nzo to go to school. Chukwuma, the second eldest was carrying out his morning chore of sweeping the front yard. Onyeoma, the eldest of the girls was making breakfast with mom as usual. The twins, Mma and Orjiugo were too young to be in school. They could not wait to join their older siblings in school though. It seemed unfair to sit at home with mom everyday while the others enjoyed the excitements of school. It was incomprehensible to them that Nzo or anybody would go to such great length to eschew school, which in their two and a half-year-old mind offered a glut of fun.

By now, Uzor, Nzo’s immediate younger brother who had been recently enlisted at Nzo’s kindergarten was bristling with excitement. He relished the catalogue of praises that preceded demystifying Nzo’s hiding posts. He started with the spot he had come to know as Nzo’s favorite hiding place, mkpukuru. It was a big basket-like container made from raffia, woven into assorted patterns and colors. It was the family’s main storage container for the children’s clothes. Nzo had been known to hide under the pile of clothes, evading virtually every attempt at being found. “Not today” Uzor said, as he dug through the enormous pile of clothes hoping to feel his brother’s skin coiled up at the bottom of mkpukuru. “He is smarter than that”, said Ibekwe, who was practically salivating, determined to beat Uzor to the day’s recognition for the big find. He was under one of the beds feeling and touching literally every object. “No luck, but he is in this room for sure. Check under the next bed Uzor”, he ordered his young brother who obsequiously crept under the second bed beside mkpukuru.

“It looks like someone is under the blanket Ibe”, he yelled. He reached further to get a better feel. Nzo lay still as though the reality of being at school had snuffed life out of him. In a sense, he dreaded school so much that he would consider having a shot at the option of death, just on a trial basis, in comparison to the gruesome experience of being in school. As he felt his younger brother’s hand on his leg, his heart sank into his stomach, racing as fast as an airplane. His legs went numb, but he managed to snap out of the numbness and landed a kick on his brother’s forehead in frustration. “Oohhh!” Uzor cried, trying to smother the tinge of pain stemming from the kick. He was far more excited to have made the find of the day.   “Is it him?” asked Orjiugo, who was on her knees squinting, in an effort to catch glimpse of her elusive big brother. “We found him, onye ujo akwukwo…the one who is scared of school”, Ibekwe yelled to get their father’s attention, but Uzor would have none of it. “I found him”, he retorted. “I told you where to look. We both found him!” Ibekwe shrieked harder trying to subdue Uzor into letting him in on the glory.

“Good job folks”, their father, Uzodika Ijedimma praised his search team for a mission accomplished. “I found him again dad” Uzor insisted, determined to keep the day’s encomiums to himself. “Well done Uzor. You have an eagle eye that can spot a prey from atop an iroko tree. Keep it up”. Uzodika finally gave in to his son’s pressure for special recognition of his glowing attention to details.  “I told him where to look dad”, Ibekwe mumbled, eager to get a slice of the praise, the motivating reward that galvanized their spirits to conduct a search whenever Nzo initiated an unsolicited hide and seek game, by hiding from school. “You did well Ibe”, Uzodika replied in an effort to keep the team happy.  The girls, Mma and Orjiugo had gotten a good dose of the morning’s excitement. “Now, you have to go to school Nzo” the little girls advised, wishing they could take Nzo’ place. “You heard them right?” Uzodika asked Nzo. “Even your little sisters can see the essence of education,” he continued. This was hardly the path he had envisioned for any of his children. He had to impress it clearly on Nzo’s mind that school was paramount to his future well being. “If you want to be anything in life, you have to go to school and become a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, or a government worker of some sort”, he lectured his fourth son, whose fear of school was becoming increasingly worrying. “And today, you will not run away from school. You must sit at your desk, learn and carry out your assignments like everyone else. Your shot at life starts here and you should be grateful you can go to school Nzochukwu”.

He had heard the same lecture several times in the past. He paid little attention anyway; instead, he was engrossed in deep thought rehearsing his next line of action, which entailed running away from the evil called school. With the morning’s cacophony over, Nzo got ready for school and lifted his slate for the day’s journey. Slate was a flat, square-shaped piece of plywood impregnated with ground, moistened charcoal to create a black contrast on which kindergarten pupils printed with white chalk. “Stay in school and be a good boy” his parents echoed as Nzo shuffled his way to school with his younger brother, Uzor. Chukwuma, Ibekwe and Onyeoma headed in the opposite direction to the elementary school, China Town primary school, directly opposite their apartment block.  Jide was preparing for the university entrance exam. He studied on his own schedule. As they walked to Aunty Gorgi’s nursery school, Nzo could not see the point in going to school, as he was going to run away, after all. Uzor was chattering away as usual, interrupting his train of thought. “I cannot wait to see my friend Ejike. He is bringing an exciting toy car his dad bought for him recently to school. He promised to let me play with it. That will be a lot of fun,” Uzor continued yapping exuberantly.

The sight of his school yet again, instilled sheer horror in him. He could feel his intestines tightening as his heart hammered fiercely against his ribs. His tongue seemed to grow thick and numb, and the rather exciting shouts of playing children were a colossal chaos to his ears. His legs appeared to gain weight with every step closer to the door. He barely noticed Uzor run hurriedly ahead to join Ejike and the rest of his friends for a quick morning game before classes commenced.   “Do not run away from school”, his parents words re-echoed in his head. Conflicting tunes were ringing through the corridors of his mind – “do not run away from school”, “run now, no one will notice”. The mental tug of war was driving him mad. Usually, the loudest tune won the day, which more often than not, culminated in a sprint away from school. He knew his parents were becoming increasingly annoyed by his peculiar loathing for school. He managed to lift himself up the steps to his classroom, as though he were climbing the steep slopes that led to the top of Kilimanjaro. He sat sullenly at the back of his class, avoiding eye contact with everyone. He was fully convinced that he was different, poor at learning and out of place.

 The math lesson being disgorged by Aunty Gorgi sounded like gibberish to him. He exerted his entire concentration in the hope and prayer that he would not be asked to solve a problem. As a result, he barely understood anything. He was bemused that most of the pupils followed Aunty Gorgi’s lessons. “So, if you take away seven from thirteen, you will be left with how many?” Aunty Gorgi’s question rang through the classroom, shooting arrows of sheer terror at Nzo. Hands sprouted into the air as Aunty Gorgi’s pupils clamored for attention to spew out the answer to her question. “Aunty I”… “Aunty I”… “Aunty I”, they yelled. Do they really know the answer to this conundrum? Nzo wondered painfully to himself. He could feel a deluge of sweat invade his palms. If he raised his hand, the laughter would be louder when he failed to produce any answer, let alone the incorrect answer. If he failed to raise his hand, Aunty Gorgi was more likely to hurl the question at him. Again, his worst nightmare was playing out. Frozen in fear he could hear the thumping of his heart as tears threatened to flood his eyes in anticipated another excruciating humiliation.

Aunty Gorgi looked around the class as she sought to decide the pupil to whom she would pass on the onus of deconvoluting her puzzle. She stared at Nzo. He stared back, feebly. This is it, he concluded. He hated that look. He hated her. He was convinced the feeling was mutual, so he felt justified in hating her. He wanted to think of some possible answer no matter how wrong, but he came up blank. He lowered his head in despair, expecting what he had imagined a million times since his last minute of school the previous day. He expected to hear his name the next second. Mustering every ounce of life left in him to safe face, he doodled on his slate aimlessly, pretending he was cracking the big jigsaw. He felt tears stealthily skulking up the corners of his eyes. It was a biological wonder to him that his heart could survive such relentless pummeling handed down to it nearly every day. "Tell us the answer Udochi", Aunty Gorgi finally decided, to Nzo's mammoth relief, momentarily. 

Udochi was one of the brightest pupils in class. He was big for a six-year-old. He took after his father, a heavyset man who took unusually high delight in food. Udochi ate double the size of food consumed by his peers. On a rare occasion when he played with his classmates, Nzo had once teased that Udochi’s intelligence was a function of his appetite, hence the more he ate, the brighter he was. He seemed to always have all the answers, and he did not disappoint Gorgi on this occasion.  Quivering with gusto, he dragged himself up and yelled, “Six”. “Correct!” Aunty Gorgi replied. There was a quick murmur in the class as other pupils strove to show off that they too had solved the problem correctly. “Well done. Good job”. Aunty Gorgi gave her recognition to those who had brandished the same answer on their slates. “Since we have covered addition and subtraction, let’s mix it up now children”, she continued. She spoke while she wrote on the board. “2 multiplied by (X) by 4 plus (+) 3 equals (=)?” Aunty Gorgi’s pupils scribbled away on their slates as they tackled the problem. Most of them were counting up pieces of stone in an effort to work out the answer. Others counted with bottle corks, while some counted with their fingers. “Ngwa ngwa! (fast!)”, Aunty Gorgi hushed them up. Nzo tried to blend in. He dug out bottle corks from his box and counted purposelessly. Aunty Gorgi slowly walked round the classroom observing her pupils’ different strategies to solving the problem.

Nzo counted furiously as soon as he saw Aunty Gorgi hovering over him. His hands shook. He shifted his bottle corks left, back right and left again. He fished out more corks out of his box. He had no inkling what he was doing.  Aunty Gorgi appeared to stand over him a bit longer than he had seen her stand over other pupils. When she finally walked away, he wanted to feel relieved but with the monstrous math problem still lurking in the classroom, there was an eeriness that haunted him. After a few minutes, some pupils raised their hands to indicate they had solved the problem. “I am done,” Chilee said holding her hand in the air.

“Me too!” “Me too!” “Me too!” Echoed Abuchi, Ifeyinwa, chuka, Dubem and Onyenachi. Within minutes, more hands were in the air. Aunty Gorgi delayed a bit longer, proffering more time to other pupils who were still counting painstakingly. Nzo was upset, first with Aunty Gorgi for bringing such difficulty upon him, and second with himself for his cluelessness.  “I know the answer, Aunty”. Onyenachi begged. She stood up with her hands held high, striving to wheedle Gorgi’s attention. She was dying to take the honor for solving the latest math problem.  Aunty Gorgi ignored her. She walked casually to her left drifting away from Nzo’s position. That gave him short-lived hope that she would pick someone else. Suddenly, the proverbial bombshell was dropped. “What is the answer Nzo?”  Aunty Gorgi asked. The door was directly opposite his row. He wondered if he could make a run for it before Aunty Gorgi headed rightwards, which would cut out his exit route, but his legs were weak. She had caught him off guard.
   
The entire class turned in Nzo’s direction. Ifeyinwa, Onyenachi and Amaka giggled derisively. Nzo was wrapped up in trepidation. He could barely hear anything except the scenarios playing out in his head. His apprehension was numbing. He managed to push his corks left and right as though he was rechecking an already worked out answer. He looked utterly morose. I ought to know thus. How come I don’t understand anything? My God! What do I say? They will laugh anyway. I do not belong with them. A torrent of thoughts wafted wildly through his mind. “Tell us the answer Nzo. Everyone is waiting. This is simple. You sat through the lesson, so tell us the answer fast, before I lose my temper with you”. “Forty seven”, Nzo muttered, wishing that somehow he had pulled off a miracle, but there was the usual roar of laughter that greeted most of his answers in class. He gaped at Aunty Gorgi. “What?” she asked in disbelief, stirring more laughter. “Iti…dunce”, Amaka, Onyenachi, Udochi, Abuchi, and Chuka echoed. “I daka ya bu ajuju Nzo…Not even close at all Nzo” Nzube remarked.

Nzo wished that somehow God would spare him the unfolding ordeal. Gorgi walked briskly to his desk with clenched fists. Her fury could be felt physically in the room, so much so that Nzo could sense a train of rage racing toward him. She landed a hard knock on Nzo’s head. Kpom! The sound reverberated through the classroom. The other pupils laughed harder, relishing every second of Nzo’s mortification. It was like a script, and they had seen it play out time and again, orchestrated by Nzo himself, whom they felt did himself little favor by not listening during lessons. Some of Aunty Gorgi’s pupils felt Nzo was possibly uneducable. It was baffling how just about every problem, even the least rattled the life out f him. “Oya guo okwuchi kalama a ofuma…You had better count those corks correctly” Gorgi warned him menacingly. She gave him another hard knock, which left tears in his eyes. He began to count the corks again with no particular coherence. He threw some clumsily  to his left and some to his right. His eyes were clouded by a sea of tears as Gorgi hovered over him like a jet fighter waiting to drop missiles on a vulnerable target below.    STORY CONTINUES...
LINK TO EPISODE 2: http://www.moofyme.com/2015/12/the-trials-of-nzochukwu-episode-2.html 

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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Moofyme.com: An African Literary Blog: THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - Episode 1
THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - Episode 1
Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - late for school children, catalogue of praises, kindergarten pupils printed, moistened charcoal, the classroom, giggled derisively, school, pressure for special recognition.
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Moofyme.com: An African Literary Blog
http://www.moofyme.com/2015/12/the-trials-of-nzochukwu-episode-1.html
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