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“Yes mom, I am all ears.” “Good. What matters in life is not what they think of you or where they place you. What really matters is whe...

“Yes mom, I am all ears.” “Good. What matters in life is not what they think of you or where they place you. What really matters is where you see yourself. You have to understand that you are a child of God, and no matter what you have or lack today, you are not here by accident. You belong to the universe. I saw the look on your face when my brother John was rude towards me the other day we visited with your grandmother. Do not let these things worry you too much. Do not see yourself as they see you; else they win over and over again. Strive to be the best you can and someday, those people will come saying, I knew you’d make something of yourself.” “But mom, sometimes it is so hard. I feel like something is wrong with us, maybe with me. I am constantly thinking about it and as more of these incidents occur, I feel like my thoughts are being validated. In addition, I cannot read well and my grades are poor. It makes me feel like I do not have a place in this world.”

Iheoma was shocked to hear him paint a picture of how beaten he was becoming, in light of the events of his life and their family at large. She desperately wanted to shake the negative seeds off her dear son’s head, but she did not know how to. She raised his head up and stared him in the eye. “Nzochukwu! A choghi m inu ka ikwuru udi okwua ozo…I do not what to hear you talk like this again. Did you hear me?” She was raising her voice by now out of frustration and sheer desperation. Out of love…raw undiluted love! He nodded affirmatively even though he had no idea how to make his fears go away. She hugged him so tightly and whispered in his ears “You are a beautiful boy. The day I gave birth to you, I held you for what seemed like eternity. Your scent was very refreshing. Different. Your eyes were filled with glitters of excitement. I had you with very little birth pains. You seemed very eager to come into the world and make a mark on our world. When I look at you now, I see those eyes burn with infernos of excitement and courage. You may not see them now, but I, your mother can see them. Do not let life beat you up. Promise me you will become a special boy someday.” Iheoma’s words were soothing. Even though he still did not know how to rid himself of his fears and worries, a mystic surge of relief and belief seemed to run through him. I was ‘beautiful’ at birth and jumped right into the world, eager to live, he thought to himself. The thought of that buoyed him even further. “I promise mom. I will be a very good boy at all that I do,” he promised with childish passion. “Good,” Iheoma whispered in his ears again.

The Ijedimmas returned to Enugu on the fourth of January. Uzodika, as with most parents struggled to buy new school uniforms for their children after the yuletide spree. “My shorts no longer look as nice daddy. I think I should get new pair for my new class,” Nzo requested. “I would like to get you and everyone else new ones my son, but I do not have the money. You will have to manage this for another year or two.” Manage! He had heard that word countless times. It had begun to stir disgust in him. Uzodika took the green pair of pants from him and scrutinized it. “They do not look bad actually. With some ironing, they will look new again,” he suggested. Nzo took the shorts from him and headed back into the bedroom, grudgingly. He had been wondering who his new teacher would be. Would she be as nice as Mrs. Amadife? He was consumed by the prospects of having a new teacher and seeing his friends again. He had seen Chisom and Ikemefuna the previous day and they both had new uniforms for school. Although he had already envisaged that his father would not buy him a new pair, he had been willing to try. He was happy to have new exercise books, a pencil, an eraser, sharpener, and two textbooks. He had looked through the English textbook severally, admiring the pictures. He wished he could read the stories, but his reading was still poor.

“All primary two pupils should follow me,” announced the teacher. She wore a frown on her face throughout the morning assembly as though she had fought all night long with her husband. She led them to the primary two section, which was divided into three classes A-C, as with primary one. Two other teachers were already there. “Pupils, this is Mrs. Emeghelu. She is the teacher in charge of primary two A,” she said pointing at a fair-skinned, younger lady who smiled broadly. “And, this is Mrs. Onyeka; she is the teacher in charge of primary two B.” Mrs. Onyeka wore a pair of glasses. She too smiled, revealing a beautiful set of teeth. She was shorter that the other two women, but her high-heeled shoes had offered her some help. “I am Mrs. Okeke. I am the teacher in charge of primary two C,” the oldest of the three women finally announced. She had yet to smile. Most of the pupils were already wishing they would not be placed in her class. Nzo said a quick prayer asking God not place him in Mrs. Okeke’s class.

“Now, if you hear your name, go to Mrs. Emeghelu over there. In the end you shall follow her to primary two A. The next batch will follow Mrs. Onyeka and the last will remain here in my class.” Nzo was disappointed to see Chisom join the smiling Mrs. Emeghelu in primary two A. His heart sank into his mouth when he saw Uzoamaka, Patience, Onwuchekwa and Muche all follow Mrs. Onyeka to primary two B. He wished somehow, that Mrs. Okeke would tell him there had been a mistake that he was meant to be in one of those classes. “So, the rest of you, you are here in my class,” he heard instead. The afternoon was baking hot. He sought refuge under a dogon yaro tree behind primary four block. The first two classes of the morning before recess had thrown him into a state of apprehension. It had been long since he was beaten or laughed at in class.

Mrs. Okeke had asked him to read a line in the English textbook, which he could not read. She wacked the back of his head a few times and picked on him for the rest of the class. His inability to neither read nor solve math problems made him the object of ridicule, an experience he had not had for over a year. A flood of fear, worthlessness and anxiety came crashing his self-image. Absentmindedly, he watched his classmates and other pupils playing football in the fields. His appetite for everything atrophied. The sun peeked through some bald sections of the trees around him and pounded exposed parts of his arms. He sat unperturbed and completely deflated. He had disappeared as soon as recreation time started just to be by himself. Now he did not want to return to class but he did not want to revert to his kindergarten strategy of absconding from school either. God, why on earth have placed me in this woman’s class, he thought. Thoughts of being made fun of and being whacked repeatedly stabbed at him relentlessly. “I have been looking for you all over the play grounds. Why are you here by yourself? And, that look on your face?” Uzoamaka finally found him.  Nzo tried to smile but instead the frown on his face grew rougher. Uzoamaka sat beside him. “Mrs. Okeke is wicked isn’t she?” she asked. “She treated me almost like my kindergarten teacher. I feel like I got thrown at the wolves again.” She looked at him with concern not knowing how to help her friend. “Maybe you should tell your father that she beat you real badly.” He said nothing in reply. He knew his father would not be pleased with his failure at reading and math.

“I have some bread and fried egg. You can share with me. Maybe that will brighten your day.” “Thanks Uzoamaka, but I do not have any appetite.” “I am so sorry that you are having to go through this again Nzo. I think you should tell your parents.” “I might,” he replied to end the discussion. He just wanted to be left alone. The bell went off as if on cue indicating the end of recess. They both walked back to their block in silence. “I will look for you after school, okay. Cheer up please, I do not think she will beat you again,” she said trying hard to ease the burdens of her friend. “Thanks Uzoamaka. I will probably see you after school.” She too had lost her appetite. She headed for her classroom with her sandwich in hand. “Where is that isi okpukpu (blockhead)? I hope you have learned how to read at recess,” Mrs. Okeke asked Nzo sarcastically. It was as though she knew him from a past sour experience and had been waiting to pour her rage on him. The other pupils stared at him laughing or smiling sneeringly.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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