THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - EPISODE 4

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The laughter was loud, resonating through the building and around it. “Hahaha! My goodness, Z...




The laughter was loud, resonating through the building and around it. “Hahaha! My goodness, Zebrudaya is super funny!” A voice said in the living room. Nzo had been up for a while, relishing the quiet solace offered by the bed. He was wondering if it was morning but he realized what time it was as soon as he heard the mention of Zebrudaya. The entire neighborhood was watching the new masquerade, one of the biggest and finest shows on the Nigerian television Authority. The characters, Zebrudaya, Jegede, Akpino, Ovuleria, Gringory, and Clarus among others entertained the entire country every Tuesday night with their displays of raw artistic talent and comic ingenuity. He hated missing the show, but he would trade the peace of the bedroom for nothing else tonight. Another round of laughter echoed from the living room. His siblings and parents were really enjoying the night’s show.


He could here laughter and chattering from their neighbors’ apartments too. As if on cue, the power company NEPA struck. “Ooooooh!!!!” “Ayiiiiii!!!” “Not now!” “Does it mean the person on duty at the power station has no idea what show is on TV now?”  The entire neighborhood vented its frustration. Minutes later, people began to head outside to escape the intense heat inside their apartments. Entire families spread mats outside and lay down until much later in the night, having been robbed of the luxury of electric fans by the power outage. Buildings in Atiza quarters had been built by the British during the colonial era. The thick stony walls mimicked bricks that characterize British architecture designed mainly for the winter. In south east Nigeria were temperatures soared as high as thirty eight degrees Celsius during the dry season, living in those building was akin to calling a furnace home.

Residents flung open their windows and doors to cool down their apartments. Nzo lay quietly in the dark, only getting up to open the backdoor in the bedroom in the hope that some air would sneak in. Her sister, Onyeoma came in. She had been asked to wake him up so he could have dinner. “Nzo!” she called, but he refused to answer. She left and returned shortly with a kerosene-powered lantern. He shut his eyes pretending to be in deep sleep. Dinner was not on his agenda. She shook him a few times. “You have to come and have dinner Nzo. Your food has gone cold. Wake up Nzo!” He declined the invitation to wake up. He tightened his eye lids as much as he could. Onyeoma persisted. “If you don’t come and eat, Ibekwe and I will eat your portion,” she threatened. “You can eat it all if you want. Leave me alone, I am not hungry,” he said in a half whisper, still feigning sleep and tiredness.

Onyeoma went outside and reported to their mom. “Nzo said he is not hungry mom,” Onyeoma said. “He must be very angry at your dad for the spanking earlier today. I cannot find another explanation, as he hardly skips a meal. Have you dished his soup?” “No, mom”. “Okay, cover his garri and leave it for tomorrow. Garri was Nzo’s favorite dish with either ogbono soup or ede soup, garnished with oha leaves. “Did you tell him I made oha soup?” Iheoma asked Onyeoma. “No ma.” “Go and tell him.” “Onyeoma returned to the bedroom, this time she was followed by Ibekwe. “”Nzo, are you sure you do not want to eat? Mom made oha soup tonight”. “Can I have yours Nzo?” Ibekwe chipped in. “Leave me alone, I am not hungry,” he replied curtly. They returned to the kitchen and put Nzo’s bowl of garri away.

“Nzo!” “Yes dad”. “I reckon you understand that you have to stay in School today”. “Yes, daddy.” “Good. Let me know when you are ready for school. I’d like to take you to school myself.” “Okay dad.” A few minutes later, Nzo returned to the living room wiping his lips. He had devoured a bowl of jollof rice in an attempt to make up for missed dinner. “I am ready dad”. “Okay,” His dad replied. Uzodika took him by his right arm and Uzor by his left arm as they walked to school. Uzodika was making painstaking efforts to instill the relevance of school in his boys especially Nzo, whose fear of school was becoming increasingly worrisome. He took them to Mama Thankgod’s shop and bought a ball of kpof-kpof for each of them.  He gave them fifty kobo each to buy an extra ball of kpof-kpof later at break time. This was a rare treat from their dad, who was often burdened financially, given the barrage of needs in their family. Nzo knew dad was making far-reaching efforts to make him happy and hopefully willing to stay in school and learn. They shuffled to school after the generous treat of kpof-kpof and fifty kobo each. “Thanks dad!” echoed Nzo and Uzor. “You are welcome boys,” Uzodika replied with a big smile. “Stay in school and learn okay!” He added. “Yes dad,” they echoed, although Nzo understood that comment was directed to him.

“Bye daddy!” they waved as Uzodika increased his pace, heading to work. “Good bye boys!” He replied. The boys walked into school and parted ways as they made for their various classes. Nzo found his slate, placed it by his seat and went outside to devour his kpof-kpof before the morning assembly. “You are in early today,” remarked Ikem, one of Nzo’s classmates. “Yes, my dad brought us earlier this morning.” Nzo unwrapped his kpof-kpof and took a big bite. “Your dad bought you that?” Ikem asked. “Yes” Nzo answered, his words were slightly muffled as he munched away. “Can I have a piece please?” Why on earth did I come out here to be hassled over this rare ball of kpof-kpof? A rare gift from my dad, Nzo wondered to himself.   “No. You were among those calling me names yesterday,” Nzo responded matter-of-factly. He took another bite trying desperately to finish his kpof-kpof before another pupil joined the pestering. The aroma was torturous to Ikem who salivated as he watched Nzo gobbled down the luscious-looking kpof-kpof. “Just a small piece Nzo, please. I did not call you names yesterday. I joined in the singing because aunt Gorgi said we should,” Ikem pleaded desperately for a small piece. “You did call me names and this kpof-kpof is all mine. Leave me alone.” He was beginning to get angry as memories of the previous day’s events flashed back. He walked further away from Ikem trying to keep his cool.

“Pupils, it is important that you keep quiet in  class when you don't have a lesson in progress. It has come to my notice that the noise levels are becoming increasingly high and we will not tolerate that. Have I made myself clear?” “Yes, Aunty Gorgi,” echoed her pupils. “Now, let me see your fingers and toe nails,” she continued. There were inspections every Tuesday to make sure that the pupils maintained high levels of hygiene. The students stretched forth their hands displaying their nails. “Ifeyinwa!” “Yes, Aunty.” “Do you realize your fingernails are overgrown?” “Yes, Aunty.” “So, did you bother to show them to your mother for a trim?” “I forgot Aunty Gorgi.” Make sure you do not forget when you get home today. I do not want to see those long nails with dirt sitting underneath them tomorrow.” “Yes, Aunty.” Nzo’s nails were always sparkling neat. His mother hardly missed any opportunity to give her children a trim of the finger. He was relaxed knowing that he had not broken any rules in this regard. He wondered how other pupils like Udochi and Ifeyinwa rarely got flogged for anything. Having thought about this in the past, he had concluded that if he had been as smart as they were, perhaps, no one would lift a finger against him.

His thoughts were interrupted by a tap on the back. It was Amarachi. She looked down on him with sheer contempt that contorted her face into an ugly frown. “Ogba oso! (runner), how come you are here today? You should be competing for Anambra state in track and field tournaments.” Nearly everyone turned in Nzo’s direction. Gorgi joined Amarachi beside Nzo. She too was wearing a horrid scowl that reeked of anger and contempt. She pulled him by the ear and twisted hard. The pain was intense. That was enough to have him plotting an exit route from school for the day, but he wanted to do his dad proud by sticking out the censure.  He clutched his ear and rubbed gently in an effort to soothe the pain. “So you thought you could run away at will to eschew punishment after an unruly behavior?” She knocked him in the head. The ache sank in swiftly.  Nzo was getting agitated.  “Isi okpukpu…stubborn fellow, you have to face the consequences of your actions. Children, form a big circle around him!” she commanded her pupils. Obviously, she was still sulking over Nzo’s response to her the previous day and she was not in mood to let him off the hook.

The pupils quickly formed another agonizing circle around Nzo. Gorgi gave him one more knock in the head as she directed the students to sing for Nzo. “Nzo iti akwuri! Nzo onye ujo akwukwo! Nzo isi okwute! Nzo nnukwu iti!” The grueling taunting appeared to last for eternity. Nzekwe, Udenna and Chiazo, the male teachers at Aunt Gorgi’s nursery school stood guard this time ready to pounce on Nzo, should he try to escape. Ikem was jumping and dancing ebulliently in the circle of calamity that was attempting to stifle life out of poor Nzo. Ikem relished every moment the experience proffered to grab a pound of flesh off Nzo for refusing to share his enticing kpof-kpof earlier.

He assumed the role of the lead singer, nearly shouting himself hoarse. He made sure that Nzo noticed his exuberance. He was the least of Nzo’s worries. Even if he had passed his entire ball of kpof-kpof to Ikem that would not have stopped him from basking in the taunting game and Nzo knew it. He was glad he had enjoyed every piece of it alone. Again, he refused to satisfy his tormentors. Despite receiving several knocks and flogging, he stood adamant showing no sign of swaying to their malevolent lyrics. His only way of paying them back was by absconding when the opportunity presented itself but the gnawing desire to please his father was strong. He stuck out the first torture of the day. When they had exhausted themselves, the session was declared over by Gorgi. Most of the pupils were sweating, totally fagged out by the morning dance.

He had the feeling he was the winner of the morning’s contest. He did not dance, which was to their displeasure. On the contrary, they were absolutely done in, reeking of salty sweat. He took his usual position in class, hugging his slate. The first lesson was English language. Gorgi passed the text for the day’s reading session round the class. Nzo gaped at the pictures without the vaguest inkling as to what the texts were all about. “Turn to page twenty seven,” Gorgi instructed. There was a hurried scramble as her pupils leafed through the pages. Nzo peeked into Nzube’s textbook. He could only trace page 27 by the picture he had seen in her text. He quickly opened his text to the page with the same image he had seen in Nzube’s copy of the textbook.

“So, today we are going to read about Ali and Simbi,” Gorgi continued. “Ali and Simbi were once pupils like you in the city of Kaduna.” Kaduna is in ugwu awusa (Northern Nigeria), isn’t it Aunty?” asked Onyenachi, who could hardly resist any prospects to annex some attention. “Yes, it is,” replied Gorgi. “Ali and Simbi were bright students who obeyed their teachers, unlike some of you.” There was an outburst of giggling. Everyone knew who the joke was directed at. Nzo was determined to sit the day out. He was going to take it all today just to make his father happy. Perhaps, that way, he could repay his father’s beautiful gesture this morning, which fetched him a fine ball of kpof-kpof with fifty kobo sitting in his pocket for another ball. There was a chance that if he survived more days at school, he could enjoy more of such treats and he liked the prospect.

“Who will read for us today?” Fingers sprang up in the air sending Nzo into a manacling fear. “Aunty I. Aunty I. Aunty I.” As always,   Udochi, Chilee, Abuchi, Ifeyinwa, and Onyenahi were among those jostling to impress Gorgi. He was an easy prey. With his hand down, it was obvious he was clueless. Gorgi was not the type to forgive that easily. She was keen to pile more bowls of salt onto Nzo’s wounds. She stared at him for a few seconds. Nzo was convinced he had seen a smirk on her face.

He knew for sure she could not resist the opportunity to heap further humiliation on him, but he had resolved to tough it out somehow. “Read for us Nzo,” she said, almost laughing. The rest of the class burst into an uproar of laughter. “Na uwa nke a! (not in this lifetime!),” Chilee shouted. There was an echo of “iya! (never!),” by more than half of the class.  Ikem had his hand on his face. His eyes were tearing profusely in an uncontrollable laughter. Even Gorgi could not hold back. She was giggling hysterically. Inexplicably, Nzo was not half as afraid as he would normally be. Perhaps the acceptance that he could neither read nor write had defused the bulk of his fear. Perhaps he was becoming numb to the torment that school symbolized to him. He stood up nevertheless. Gazing at the page, he stood motionless hardly uttering a word. “Ewoo! Nwa anuwa bu ezigbo iti…he is such a terrible dullard,” said Ikem. The laughter continued. Gorgi stood beside him staring as though he was some alien who had just dropped into our planet from outer space. His inability to learn at all was incomprehensible to her and the rest of the class.

When she could no longer bear it, Gorgi whacked the back of his head repeatedly. “Read, before I slap that massive ball of idiocy out of your head.” He continued to gape at the page. He stared hard at the texts but he could not make out anything. Frustration began to well up inside of him. “You are such an idiot. I cannot understand why you have to come to school at all. Your parents can save their money by keeping you at home,” she yelled at him. It appeared both his inability to learn and the events of the previous day had heightened Gorgi’s frustration. She slapped him in the mouth back and forth. “Just make an effort moron!” she yelled at him. His eyes were tear-drenched by now. His hands could barely hold onto the textbook. He quivered with hurt and frustration.

Although he hated shedding tears in the face of his dilemmas at school, it was extremely difficult to stave off the tears that were storming inside him. He was overcome by a raging desire to make a mad dash for the door. The desire to make his dad proud was fading fast. “You can cry for as long as you want but you can’t sit down.” Gorgi ordered. “Read for us please, Nzube. You idiot watch her read. You should be ashamed of yourself. You are older than she is but she can read.” “Ali is a boy. Simbi is a girl. They live in Kaduna.” Nzube was reading effortlessly to Nzo’s awe. “Who can spell Ali for us?” Gorgi interrupted. There was the usual response…“Aunty I. Aunty I. Aunty I,” as fingers waved in the air. “Spell Ali, Nzo”. He squinted up at her through teary eyes and responded, “I don’t know how to spell Ali.” “You are looking at the answer right in front of you. Now, look at the page we are reading from and make a simple attempt iti (dunce).”
STORY CONTINUES...
            
This story was written by:      
Victor Chinoo


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Moofyme.com: An African Literary Blog: THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - EPISODE 4
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