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Nzo’s leg had been through a lot for one day. He had run all afternoon chasing the ball and hammering shots against the opposition goal...

Nzo’s leg had been through a lot for one day. He had run all afternoon chasing the ball and hammering shots against the opposition goalkeeper during the football game. Sensing that Mrs. Okeke was in no hurry to return to her desk, Nzo lowered his box. It was rectangular in shape and made of flat iron sheets. He still carried his primary one books in addition to those of the new academic year. Somehow, he harbored a lingering thought that they were still useful. More so, they were physical evidences of his first academic success. He sat on the front row of the class with his box beside him, laid his head on the arm rest and dozed off. “You must have run all afternoon on the football field Nzochukwu,” Mrs. Okeke teased him minutes later as she woke him up.

The reflection of the sun hit his eyes as they opened. Slowly, he regained his clarity. He looked Mrs. Okeke straight in the eye, waiting for her verdict. He hoped the punishment would not be too severe. “I cannot believe what you are becoming before my very eyes, Nzochukwu,” she began. Nzo sighed in relief and sat back. Months ago, you were the laughing stock of the class, and now, you are a shining star for all to see.” He could not believe his ears. He was pleasantly shocked by Mrs. Okeke’s words. They were some of the sweetest things anybody ever said to him. For that to have come from a very stern woman who rarely praised anybody, Nzo was left in awe.

“I am sorry for not seeing what was in you earlier,” she continued. He was on the brink of tears. He fought hard to keep tears at bay. “I could have been a better teacher. I could have helped you more and protected you better, but I championed your humiliation. I feel really ashamed of myself for such unprofessional behavior. Ndo…I am sorry.” He could no longer hold back the emotions that had been let lose within him.

Tears dripped down his cheeks. God has truly answered my prayers, he thought. For once, a tormentor or rather a former tormentor of his had apologized very sincerely to him. Like a baby, he found himself reaching beyond his chair to hug her teacher who was seated opposite him. She reached forward and held him. He pulled away slowly after a few seconds, looked her in the eyes and hugged her yet again. “I promise, that from this day on, I will no longer treat you or any other pupil in the manner I treated you in the past. You are such a wonderful boy. Please forgive my past behavior and be the best I know you can, okay?” “Yes ma. Thank you so much. I feel so much better now.” “I am the one to thank you Nzo.” “I hope you do not mind if I tell my father about this meeting?” “I do not mind at all.” “You see, I love my father so much. It was difficult for him all the while I performed poorly at school. Though he was mad many a time, I could tell he loved me very much all the same. I love to make him proud and happy. And my mom, she is the best. I do this for me and for them too. I love to see them smile…to know that they are happy. So, I’d like to share this experience with them.” “That is fine with me Nzo. I am sure your father will be very proud of you as I am.”

“Ikem, you have worked hard all year. I know you will finish on the podium today. I hope it is the first prize. I know you can beat your little friend, Chisom,” said Nkoli, Ikemefuna’s mother. She was an overly protective mother, who was somewhat blinded by her quest to see her youngest child excel at everything he did. Ikem smiled at her, masking his anxiety. Chisom had done well all year. In addition, the rise of Nzo, formerly an established minnow had taken everyone by surprise. He knew his position was under threat. His white shirt sparkled as he walked next door to Chisom’s house. Chisom appeared before Ikemefuna could reach the back door. He was neatly dressed as usual with hardly any sign of anxiety. He seemed assured that nobody could dislodge him from the summit of the entire elementary 2, from A to C. He was not as overly consumed by his position as Ikemefuna, nonetheless. They both headed for school.

“So, who do you think will take the overall first position in primary two this year?” Ikem asked. “I don’t know. May be you,” Chisom answered. You really think you can beat me? Chisom thought to himself. “Oh no, I think you’d take the prize again.” “A na amacha…you never know,” Chisom replied. By now, they were standing in front of Nzo’s building. “Good morning ma,” they greeted Iheoma who was washing clothes in the backyard. “Good morning boys, how are you?” “Fine, thank you,” they echoed. “Ready for the big day huh?” “Yes,” they replied. “Nzo should be out in any moment. He has been up since six in the morning,” Iheoma informed them. He exited the back door as his mother was talking. “Come here,” Iheoma said to him. He walked over to his mother who hugged him. “No matter what happens, be happy with whatever God offers today okay,” she whispered in his ears. “You have been wonderful all year, and so have other students. Enjoy today and see it as the beginning of better things to come rather than the last day of your life.” “Thank you mom. I really believe that somehow, I will be on the podium today. I don’t care what position I get. I just want to be up there.” I know you will, and with time, you will get to occupy the best slot on the podium. Today is just the beginning, so be happy and thankful in the end my son.” “Okay mom. I will.”

She had seen his anxiety since the previous night. She desperately wanted him on the podium, but she had no idea if he would make it. She hoped that whatever the outcome, it would not derail the unprecedented improvement he had made in the year. “See you later mom.” He said as the boys headed for school. “    Good bye mama Nzo,” Ikem and Chisom greeted. “Good bye good boys.” They chatted and played on their way to school. Nzo was the most nervous of the three. He had never been on the podium. He felt he had earned one with what turned to be a near-stellar performance after a rocky start to elementary two. He evaded discussions bordering on position. His stomach was a breeding ground for butterflies.

The three of them sat together. Ibekwe was seated behind them. Inexplicably, his heart was pounding too. He wished as he did every year that somehow, he would be up there with those brilliant pupils. He knew his younger brother had become such a bright student over the last year, so part of his anxiety hinged on his expectations for Nzo. The hall erupted moments later as the pupils blasted their lungs singing Christmas carols. The close of school officially marked the beginning of Christmas holiday. The frenzy in the hall was characteristically explosive. Despite the dry harmattan breeze, Nzo was sweating profusely. His heart was beating rapidly. Ikemefuna was equally anxious, while Chisom sat imperturbably. The applause for the overall first, second and third position students for primaries one A, B and C, went off like a canon with the usual cheering and yelling. The, there was the best overall students in primary one. Next was primary two. Neither Ikemefuna nor Nzo could hear a word around them except for the ferocious pounding of their hearts.

“Thank you pupils,” said Mrs. Edeatu. “Next is primary two. As usual, our able teachers have collated the results of the three classes in primary two and we have had a tough battle for the top three positions. By the time you collect your report cards later today, those of you in primary two will come to understand how close this battle was. You should be proud of yourself if you end up on the podium today. You should also be proud of yourself, if you came close enough. That, you can only find out later. For now, I’d like to start with the overall third position in primary two. The position goes to, Ngozi Udeh.  Chisom seemed to have expected that. He remained unruffled. Ikem and Nzo were close to fainting out of anxiety. Nzo’s heart sank. He did not see himself pushing all the way to second position. He had resolved within him that the third position would be a good start. Hopefully the next year would allow him to push the top two students. Having missed the third slot, the words of the headmistress rang in his ears. Perhaps I will understand later, he tried to encourage himself. I guess I came close enough. Ikem was likewise troubled. He had not performed as well as he would have liked. A part of him crashed having missed out on third position.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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