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Nzo knew the dire consequences but he could not help himself. The concepts of multiplication, addition, and subtraction were extremely ...

Nzo knew the dire consequences but he could not help himself. The concepts of multiplication, addition, and subtraction were extremely alien to him. With shaky hands he picked up a cork and placed it apart from the rest, then another, and another. Through teary eyes, he looked up at Gorgi who was staring down at him. “You have no idea what you are doing, or do you?” She asked rather sarcastically. Nzo shook his head negatively. He was sobbing harder now. “O be akwa! Onye ujo akukwo!  Cry baby! School-averse fellow!” His classmates jeered. They were aching for Aunty Gorgi’s next action. The pattern of her treatment of Nzo was glaringly predictable. The next event in Gorgi’s repertoire was the pinnacle of her all too regular punishment to him; an honest attempt to drill some discipline and learning appetite into him. It entailed the active participation of nearly the entire pupils, neighbors and friends of the school.

His classmates were bristling impatiently with excitement at the prospect of Aunty Gorgi’s next action. They could sense what was coming next and they pressed for it. “He’s such a dullard” Udochi chipped in. “O maro akwukwo chaa chaa…He knows nothing”, added Onyenachi, while Chilee called him “Isi okpukpu (empty skull)”. The abuses stormed down, and as if on cue, Aunty Gorgi ordered “everyone go outside”.   Her pupils made a dash for the door yelling “Yea!” Nzo sat still. “Not again!” he thought. “How could anyone concoct such treatment? I am not going out there” he firmly assured himself. “What are you doing sitting there?” she yelled at him. She was clearly frustrated. “How come he learns nothing? What more do I have to do to make him learn? Somehow I have to propel him.  Scare him. Push him to learn. He has to be thought the consequences of refusing to learn,” she concluded, reassuring herself that the circumstance warranted a draconian measure. 

He was no longer crying. He had been there before. Crying delighted his tormentors, and he was not going to add to their satisfaction. He was resolute. It will take a bulldozer to move me outside, he assured himself once more. “Go outside now, Nzo!” “I will not,” he replied adamantly. She was shocked and further infuriated. “I si gini? (What did you just say?)” She was practically yelling. Nzo could lucidly see shock jotted all over her face and he loved it. She was rattled. Flustered. For once he had scored a point against her and everything in him was basking in the moment. He knew in a short while, the full weight of her anger would descend upon him, but it did not matter. He had rattled her and it felt great. He was ready for the worst. He had heard and seen pictures describing the devil, but none was as apt as Gorgi. From all he had suffered in her hands, she was no less than the devil prowling the streets of Asata, Enugu tormenting the soul of a poor defenseless toddler. 

Gorgi raced outside. Nzo sat still, leaning over his slate. He relished every second of this experience knowing full well that it was about to get worse for him. She returned a moment later with the rest of her pupils and those from other classes. Also with her were Nzekwe, Udenna and Amarachi. Nzekwe was a no nonsense teacher, who was dreaded by every pupil. He was said to have once whipped a student on his buttocks until he peed in his pants. His ana, a notorious flog made from a plant with a semi-stretchy stem was hardly far from him. His baritone voice alone instilled fear in pupils. Udenna was less fearsome but he would not hesitate to find an ana if he felt there was need for one, and if Gorgi, the proprietor of the school called for it, he would surely respond. He was a fair complexioned soft-spoken and funny young man. Nzo preferred him to the other teachers. Amarachi, one of the female teachers was caustic and spiteful. She was a beautiful young lady who seemed to confuse herself with a princess. 

She was slightly plump and her gap tooth gazed boldly at you when she spoke. Amarachi was in the habit of sending pupils on all sorts of errands. She had a reputation for sitting at her desk most of the day, barely getting up after she had sunk into it in the morning. Sometimes she wrote on the board during lessons while sitting. Once, she had asked Nzo to run to her house on a scorching hot afternoon to deliver a message to her mother, but Nzo refused. “Make sure you are back here before my saliva dries out,” she had ordered, spitting on bare ground. “It is too hot, Aunty Amarachi,” he protested. “I am too tired to run in the sun.” She looked him over condescendingly as though she could beat him into the ground with her stare. She grumbled disappointingly “Shhhhhh!” and ordered him to get out of her sight. She rarely called Nzo by his name. Instead, she preferred to call him onye ujo aknwukow. 

“Where is that stupid brat?” Nzekwe yelled as he stormed into the classroom. He was full of smarm as he strove to impress Gorgi. Nzo had committed ‘heresy’ so to speak, for disobeying a teacher, and talking back at her. Even worse, it was the proprietor whom everybody was all too eager to please. As soon as Nzo saw Nzekwe’s ana, a surge of fear crept up his throat. However, he was determined not to cave in. Nzekwe raised his ana and delivered a hard, fierce whip on Nzo’s back. He dropped his slate and slumped to his knees, yet he refused to cry. He let out a subdued wince. His back muscles tweaked, craving for a soothing touch, yet he hung on. The searing pain permeated his flesh. A rush of rage drifted through him violently. If only he could take on Nzekwe, he’d be a dead man. 

“Will you go outside right now?” he queried scornfully. Nzo ignored his question, staring straight at him. “Don’t look at me like that rude boy.  And you know nothing. The brightest students conduct themselves well, and you, the very dreg of the lot, you are very impudent. Anu ofia! (Wild animal).” He was almost shaking with rage. In his searing pain, Nzo relished working him up. He whipped him again, this time even harder, but Nzo would not cry. He reached for his back. He could feel the bulge of the scar left by the whip. It hurt deeply but he fought back tears even harder. “Obi okwute…his heart is made of stone,” shouted Amarachi.  Gorgi would have no more of this. She ordered the pupils to lift him up and drag him outside. Nzo’s younger brother, Uzor joined the commotion as Udochi, Abuchi, Chuka, Dubem and the rest of the boys in Nzo’s class stepped up to drag him outside. “Live him alone,” Uzor shouted. Gorgi shoved him out of the class and ordered him to shut up. 

Udochi was ahead of everyone else. When he got close enough, Nzo lunged briskly at him head-on. In a flash, Nzo head-butted him. “Ayooo!” he yelled painfully, holding his bleeding nose. Nzo tackled Dubem down, sat over him and pummeled him with venom. Fear engulfed the other students who ran backwards, drifting away almost in unison like a swarm of bees. Nzekwe and Udenna came to Dubem’s rescue and yanked Nzo off him. They dragged him outside and had the entire pupils of the nursery school stand in a circle around him. They called him names as they sang and danced contemptuously in a circular formation around him. “Nzo, Onye ujo akwukwo! Nzo, iti mpataka! .Nzo, iti akwuri! …Nzo, the study-averse one! Nzo the dunce!” As usual, the neighbors joined as soon as they heard the chanting. 

It had become a regular hit on their chart. Gorgi allowed everyone to join in the entertainment, which was believed to be the antidote to Nzo’s stubbornness and inability to learn. “Dance to your music isi okwute (block head),” Nzekwe yelled at him. He had taken the whipping, so he was determined to take the show of shame too. He adamantly refused to dance. He was not going to feed their gratification by dancing to the insults and abuse being poured out on him. He stood still, almost oblivious to the dancing and chanting around him. He sighted his brother Uzor in the background. He stood a distance from the chanting pack. He was distraught about what they were doing to his brother. Let them sing. I will never dance to this, Nzo insisted to himself. Udenna broke from the circle and walked up to Nzo. He whipped him at the ankles repeatedly in an attempt to coerce a dance out of him. “Dance iti. Dance! You must dance or learn…empty head,” he muttered as he flogged him.      

He stepped backwards to fend off some of the whipping as he obstinately refused to dance. Udenna got tired of whipping him and headed for the circle once more. The chanting continued. “Onye ujo akwukwo! Nzo, iti akwuri! Nzo, isi okpukpu!” The pupils relished every moment of Nzo’s humiliation. “That boy will not amount to much in life,” one of the neighbors concluded. “I think so too,” replied another. “He is very stubborn too, for a child his age,” he continued. “Flog him more,” Amarachi shouted. “Onye ka oche na obu? Who does he think he is?” Ifeyinwa was becoming tired from the chanting and dancing. She moved a bit slower than the others. Her sluggish response to the concentric flow created a hole in the circle every few seconds. Nzo could see that. He waited until the flow brought Ifeyinwa just beside him in the circle. When she delayed in closing the gap, Nzo broke through and showed them a clean pair of heels. “Get that idiot,” Gorgi shouted. Students and some of the teachers chased after him. It was not the first time they had to chase him. 

He knew the area by heart, and he was lightning-quick. He got to the end of the street and swerved sharply to his right. A few seconds later, he cut into another street to his left. He lost them in under a minute. He could hear their confused efforts far behind him. “This way.” “No, that way.” “I think he has run home, let’s go and check his house.” They had no idea where to look. He could see them from his hiding spot.  It was a vantage point. They may beat him at learning but they could never catch him. “I did not cry for them. I refused to dance for them,” he said gently to himself. He was pleased with himself. When the students and their teachers headed back to school, he slipped from his hideout, an aperture between two buildings and walked casually towards the China Town Primary school, looking over his shoulder every few seconds to make sure he was not being followed. 

He relished his freedom. It did not matter how his parents would react, he had escaped the snare of the evil ones. He loved the free will of doing as he chose without Gorgi breathing down his neck. From what he had gathered from his brothers Chukwuma and Ibekwe, and sister, Onyeoma who were pupils at China Town Primary school, the sort of experiences he had had at Aunty Gorgi’s was unheard of at their school. He always wanted to go to the same school as his older siblings.  His instincts told him he would fare better there. Nzo was on time for the break period at China Town Primary School. He loved to watch the football games whenever he ran away from school. He needed to avoid being seen by any of their neighbors or family friends. The area where they lived, Atiza quarters which belonged to the Nigerian Railway Corporation, where his father worked was a close-knit community - everyone knew everyone. He did his best to look relaxed as he ambled his way towards the farms that stood between the primary school and the line of blocks where they lived. 

He picked his way to the far left of the street because their apartment was on the far right. Neither his mother nor the twins must spot him. Before crossing the empty space between their block of buildings and the farms, which stretched from the right end to the left end, he stuck out his neck and peeked down the street. There was no sign of his mother. He crossed the empty street and leapt into the farm opposite block 56. He quickly meandered his way through the thick web of cassava, yam and corn stems. He was pinched a few times by the thorns on yam stems, but he was barely bothered. The prospect of seeing an afternoon game was exhilarating. The best position from which one could get a good view of the football field was in front of block 58, their apartment block. He scaled mounds and ridges until he found his spot. He knew his mother might be home with the girls, so he moved as slowly and as carefully as he possibly could.  
This story was written by:
Victor Chinoo

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