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“And the second position goes to Nzochukwu Ijedimma,” the headmistress read out loud. Nzo barely heard his name. A rowdy war had been ra...

“And the second position goes to Nzochukwu Ijedimma,” the headmistress read out loud. Nzo barely heard his name. A rowdy war had been raging deep within him. He could hear clattering cymbals and jangling gongs as his heart slammed with unstoppable ferocity against his poor lungs. Ikem was broken at the mention of Nzo’s name. Chisom was far too strong to be dislodged. He knew he had blown it this year. Both boys looked towards Nzo as they congratulated him. “Nzoooo! My brilliant brother!” Ibekwe yelled reaching for him. Nzo sat still, bemused by the cacophony around him. He looked lost. He was not sure he had actually heard his name. Looking at the stage, he saw Mrs. Okeke smiling from ear to ear. “Is Nzochukwu Ijedimma, the second brightest student in the whole of primary two here with us?” Mrs. Edeatu inquired. So, it is not a prank, Nzo thought.

He tried to walk to the stage but his legs were frozen. They felt too thin to carry him. He was deluged with excitement and surprise. Ibekwe reached forward and yanked him to his feet. He nearly tore his shirt. He stood on his saggy, shaky legs and dragged himself slowly through the web of legs at his desk. He headed for the podium on reaching the aisle. His face was covered in sweat. Every step appeared to last a lifetime as he journeyed to the coveted stage. Mrs. Okeke hugged him tightly as he mounted the podium. Both were in tears by now. He could barely hold his prize of Longman exercise books, a Bic pen, HB pencils and a mathematical set. Moments later, Chisom joined him on the stage as expected having bagged the overall first position yet again. They were both delighted as they stood beside each other. “I nwa ka Nzo…you have been terrific Nzo,” Chisom congratulated him again. “Thanks. You have been immensely helpful.”

“We don’t normally do this, but due to the way Nzochukwu has gone from the dreg of the class to the podium in elementary 2, we feel we should ask him the secret of his meteoric success,” Mrs. Edeatu remarked. “I heard all about your growth and improvement in one year, Nzochukwu from your teacher. How did you do it?” He did not know how to answer. Chisom smiled at him, cheering him on. There was pin-drop silence in the hall as everyone wanted to hear from the new boy on the podium. Mrs. Okeke was wiping the tears that had continued to blur her vision. Nzo thought of how to start, but words eluded him. “Say something Nzo,” Chisom whispered. “Don’t be shy, Nzo. Please tell us.” “I…I…” he stammered as tears drenched his eyes and cascaded down his face. “I just want to thank my mom. It is all about my mom, my dad, brother Jide, my friends Chisom and Uzoamaka, and Mrs. Okeke, my teacher. I did not think I was going to be here…not in the overall second position. My mother told me that I was…That I was eager to come into the world to make a mark on it. Somehow, I believed her. My mother’s words have helped me to conquer my fears. And my dad…I…I can tell he really loves me. Even when he is not happy with me, I can see he still wants the best for me. I can’t wait to go home and share this moment with them.”

He wiped more tears off his face. “Everyone including myself said I could never read. For some time, I believed them, but my brother Jide did not. He taught me how to read. He gave me new eyes to see what I could not see before. He helped me enjoy the things around me…beautiful things. From the moment I learned how to read, everything changed. I really, really like my brother. He will be very happy when I tell him about this tonight. Chisom has been a wonderful friend. He has inspired me very much to be better in class. Thank you Chisom.” Chisom smiled at him while nodding. “I would like to thank Mrs. Okeke. One afternoon she said very nice things to me. That night I slept so well, and things have never been the same ever since. I like that she believes in me. It makes me want to…to do more to make her proud. Please let me say thank you to my other best friend, Uzoamaka Aguluchi. She has helped me a lot. She shares her lunch with me…” A loud laughter erupted in the hall. “She is Nzo’s wife,” someone yelled in the crowd. Nzo smiled blushingly and continued. Uzoamaka was seated near the front. She was smiling and crying happily for her friend. Their eyes met as Nzo spoke. She beamed with brilliant smiles. “She is a very wonderful friend and I am happy and blessed to have her as one of my best friends.”

 “Thank you!” Nzo said to Uzoamaka. “Look at you! You made it to the podium. I am very proud of you Nzochukwu…my best friend,” she replied gleefully. “You have helped me a lot Amaka. Thank you so much.” “I am your best friend Nzo. I always like to help you.” “I like to help you too.” “Next year, maybe you will help me with school work so I can get on the podium like you.” “I will do that for you Amaka.” “Promise?” She asked him. “Yes, I promise.” “We are going to be late Nzo. Let’s go!” Chisom and Ibekwe yelled towards him. They wanted to go home together to tell Nzo’s mom. Ikemefuna had left. He had been too devastated to hang around. “I am coming,” Nzo pleaded for more time. “Why don’t you go home with her?” Ibekwe asked sarcastically. “Yes Nzo; you should go home with your wife,” Chisom added jokingly. “I will, which means you should go home with Ngozi Udeh as well. I think she is over there waiting for you,” Nzo fired back at him. “Don’t mind them. I hope to be in the same class as you next year,” Uzoamaka said.

“And if we are not in the same class, you’d still be my best friend.” “You mean one of your best friends?” “Yes…but you come first,” he remarked with a smirk on his face. He had spotted Uzoamaka’s father’s car coming up the hill. “Bye Amaka.” “I am really proud of you Nzo. Bye!” He ran towards Chisom and Ibekwe as Amaka hopped into her father’s car. They ran home. Nzo was feeling as though he had grown four feet taller in a few hours. He could not wait to show his report booklet to his parents and brother, Jide. Panting, he raced into the kitchen and hugged Iheoma. Tears dripped down his cheeks again as he tried to break the news to her. Bemused, she took the report card he was holding toward her. Her hands shook as she paged through the booklet. “So, did you pass?” she queried, still confused. Nzo could barely contain his emotions. “I did not just pass mom, I finished overall second in the whole of elementary two,” he announced through teary eyes. That was all she needed to hear. The booklet fell off her hands as she reached out and hugged him yet again. Nzo’s lunch was exceptionally big. He was filled with excitement such that his appetite grew thin.

He nibbled at his lunch and passed it to Ibekwe and Uzor. They wished he would finish second every year so they could be treated to his massive lunch. Nzo continued to replay the events of the afternoon in his head. He literally flew off his seat to give his father a hug the moment he walked through the backdoor. “I finished second in the whole of elementary 2 daddy,” he yelled for the umpteenth time. “Really?” “Yes daddy,” echoed Nzo, Uzo and Ibekwe. Nzo dashed into the bedroom and reappeared with his report booklet, which Uzodika studied intensely. I cannot believe this, he thought to himself. I almost wrote him off. This is unreal! Thank you God for helping my son achieve such feat after a horrible start to his educational career, he muttered deep within.

“Nzo has great potential. He is a symbol of hard work, change and passion. If he keeps at it, he will get even better in the years ahead,” Uzodika read Mrs. Okeke’s remark out loud. “This goes to show you all that if you work hard, you will reap the rewards of your labor; O kwa unu na anu? I hope you can all hear me?” Uzodika enjoined his other children. “Yes daddy,” answered Ibekwe and Uzor. “Nzo has transformed himself over the past several months through the help of your elder brother Jide. I am proud of you all. And you Nzo, I am delighted for you. You heard what the teacher said, right?” Nzo nodded in the affirmative. “Keep up the good work. You can only get better if you do not get lazy and arrogant,” “I will keep working hard daddy.” I trust you will.”

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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