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“Good afternoon Dee (Big brother) Jide,” he echoed exuberantly as he entered the living room. Jide was surprised at his exuberance. Nzo...

“Good afternoon Dee (Big brother) Jide,” he echoed exuberantly as he entered the living room. Jide was surprised at his exuberance. Nzo’s afternoons since he started teaching him were marked by a sluggish entry into the house, a frown on his face and a glaring lack of passion. He wondered what may have ignited such energy in him. He was convinced it would not last though. Without being prodded, he took a cold shower, devoured his lunch and appeared before his elder brother who was soaking in a series of Congo music. “I am ready,” he announced with an uncharacteristic glee. Still surprised, Jide uttered no word as he flipped through Nzo’s English text. “I think we stopped here last time, but before we go any further, I’d like to see if you still remember our previous lessons. So, can you spell Obi for me?” “No, I cannot. I have forgotten it, but if you teach me again, I promise, I will get it this time.” “What makes this time different from the previous sessions,” Jide inquired peevishly. Nzo ignored his countenance. “I promise you, I will get it this time around,” he repeated unfazed.  Jide could sense an unusual aura of determination about him. “Okay, we will see,” he answered sarcastically. O-b-I, Obi,” he said. O-b-I, Obi, replied Nzo. He traced the letters on the page as he answered. He stared at them repeatedly striving passionately to absorb the letters. He looked upwards to the ceiling as he tried even harder to memorize the letters and the pronunciation of the word they form.

Two weeks later, Nzo had mastered the English alphabets, and the spellings of dozens of words. Even he was surprised at the progress he had made. Buoyed by his improvement, he poured himself into learning, harassing Jide day and night to teach him more. Jide could not be more delighted at Nzo’s rather miraculous new-found yearning for learning. Midway through the term, Nzo was no longer the laughing stock of the class or the neighborhood. He had spent hours learning and reading everything that came his way. One afternoon, he had gone to buy peanuts from the market for his mother. As he returned home after making his purchase, he dragged his feet along the road as he read every signpost and billboard by the roadside. Now, he could truly see the printed world around him.

He picked pieces of papers on the road, unwrapped them out of curiosity and read every word scribbled on them. His elation was uncontainable. He would sit in front of the television and read every word that appeared on the screen. Gradually, he was beginning to make sense of the English news and programs both on radio and television. He no longer had to hide during reading sessions at school. While his friends chattered away after school, he would read his English text, defying the reflection of the sun as they walked home from school. He was not on the podium by the end of term, but he had moved from the bottom ten percent of his class to the top ten percent. He knew it was only a matter of time before he mounted the much elusive podium, which had seemed impossible only months ago.

Uzodika was seated by the door that led to the porch. The fan hovered to his left. He crossed his legs with his eyes glued to the television screen. Nzo was sitting on the cement floor, which proffered a level of the respite from the searing heat. The fan was beginning to blow hot. “Nigerian television authority, Enugu,” Nzo read out loud. Astounded, Uzodika stared at him. He had yet to take notice of Nzo’s improvement over the past term. “Who taught you that?” he asked. “I guess you have heard your brother Jide read that before,” he continued pointing at the screen. “I can read that Daddy,” he replied calmly. “Since when?” “Since last term.” “Go get your English text for me.” Nzo dashed into the bedroom and reappeared with the text. Uzodika paged through the book until he found what seemed like a bulky passage. He pulled the table loser and placed the text on it. “Now, read this for me.” He watched carefully as Nzo read through the passage word for word. He was pleasantly astonished. He hugged him, let go of him and hugged him again. Nzo was thrilled. “Iheoma!” Uzodika called to his wife. “Nzo has learned how to read,” he continued. Iheoma appeared at the door with an enchanting smile on her face.   “I know,” she replied. “How come nobody told me?” “You have been so busy with work lately.” He hugged Nzo again, pressing him against his chest for a prolonged length of time. He looked him in the eyes and hugged him yet again. “You can be anything you want to be my son,” he told him. “I will have your mom slaughter one of our chickens for you next weekend. I am very proud of you son. I knew you’d do it.”

Nzo could not believe the last sentence. Even he did not believe in himself to come this far. However, he was delighted to hear those words from his beloved father. Later that afternoon, Uzodika took Nzo for a rare walk. They made their way along Ogui road towards New Haven. Uzodika was deeply excited. His hands waved in the air as he told story after story, lavishing encomiums on Nzo. They passed the bridge over mmiri ani and turned right shortly afterwards. They stopped at a popular roasted chicken shop on No. 1 Chime Avenue in New Haven. The glistening roasted chickens turned on a grill inside specially built display glass boxes. He had passed by the shop before. He never thought he could ever taste those chickens. Once, Uzoamaka had told him that her father took her there every now and again. He had envied her for being so lucky. Today, he was the recipient of the hottest gift in town by his standards.

“Madam, please wrap one full roasted chicken for my son here,” Uzodika ordered, his eyes were oozing out pride in his son who clung tightly to his grip. “Or would you like to eat it here Nzo?” He asked. “I think you should have it here. Madam, please do not wrap it up, my son will eat in,” he concluded before Nzo could get a word in. Uzodika had figured that the treat would hardly fill Nzo should they take it home where everyone would want a piece of the chicken. Nzo was delighted. Dad must have read my thoughts, he said to himself. He could not wait to crush the entire chicken, and grind the tasty bone between his teeth and tell the story repeatedly to his siblings and friends.

“Nzochukwu!” Mrs. Okeke called to him. “Yes ma!” He answered boldly. “Can you read the passage for us please?” “Yes ma!” Nzo answered ebulliently. The walls of fear that had plagued him for several months had crumbled. He stood up with his shoulders high. His eyes glistened with excitement as he read through the passage flawlessly. “Mr. Bassey the bank manager was pleased that after a very difficult year, Mallam Sambo was able to pay back the loan the bank offered him for the farming season,” Nzo continued, his voice resonating through the entire building. “So do we all know what a loan is?” Mrs. Okeke asked. A shriek of “Yes ma!” followed her question as hands shot in the air.  Ikemefuna gave a correct description of the word ‘loan’. He was greeted by a round of applause at Mrs. Okeke’s behest. Nzo thrilled the class for the rest of the afternoon with his immaculate reading.

“Now, shall we say closing prayers before we disperse for the day?” Mrs. Okeke requested. “Nzo, I would like you to stay back for a brief discussion with me.” “Okay ma,” he answered demurely. He hugged his school box and stood by Mrs. Okeke’s desk as her classmates peeled away from the baking-hot classroom that had been their shelter all day. His heart was beating irregularly as he wondered what he might have done wrong this time. My reading was good I believe, he thought as he flickered through his mind in search of any infractions that he may have committed. Mrs. Okeke seemed to have forgotten that she had asked him to stay behind. She was engrossed in a discussion with her colleagues, Mrs. Emeghelu and Mrs. Onyeka. Obviously their gossip was luscious. They lowered their voices and snapped their fingers every now and again in a depiction of surprise or shock.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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