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                                              He eyes were fixated on the figure wearing a white shirt and green shorts in the mirror. ...


He eyes were fixated on the figure wearing a white shirt and green shorts in the mirror. He could barely believe it was himself. He turned his back to the mirror and stared back into the mirror over his shoulders. His uniform was fitting. His brown sandals complemented his green shorts. They were his first ever pair of scandals and he felt as though he was standing on top of the world in them.  A closer look at his arms revealed patches of rough skin devoid of cream. He could not bear to have his skin let him down today. He scooped a bit more cream and piled it onto his skin.

Nzo applied more cream on his arms, feet and face. Another look in the mirror convinced him he had covered his skin with the right amount of cream. “Are you still staring at yourself in the mirror?” Inquired Chukwuma as he walked into the bedroom after his morning shower. “It is not as if you are getting married at school today. Get out of the way, I need to use the mirror.” Nzo blushed fleetingly, stepped aside and took another look at his scandals. “I want to look my best on my first day at China Town,” he answered his older brother. “It won’t be long before you get tired of wearing that uniform. Soon you will start complaining of school and/or your teacher.” “I know that is what you all think. You just watch and see.” There was a touch of self-assurance to his tone. “You are right Nzo. We’ll watch and see…it won’t be long,” Chukwuma mocked.

Nzo ignored him and walked into the living room. “I am ready mom.” “You look fantastic my boy.” He let out an innocent, shy smile. “Come with me to the kitchen. Your breakfast is ready.” “Nzo is going to China Town today!” shouted Mma and Orjiugo as Nzo stepped outside the living room to the backyard and into the kitchen.  “Look at the smile on his face. I can’t believe you are this excited about school,” said Uzor. “Leave him alone,” Uzodika tried to get them off Nzo’s back. Nzo he was unperturbed. The yoke of Aunty Gorgi was no longer hanging around his neck. The taunts from his siblings were negligible compared to the misery that was now behind him.

He walked slowly behind his older siblings, Chukwuma, Ibekwe and Onyeoma, as they headed for school. Worried that his new pair of scandals might be dented by too much dust, he treaded cautiously, avoiding bumps and more dusty patches. “Come on Nzo, your new scandals will get old anyway. Besides, they will not break today; walk faster we are late. He wanted to pace up, but the fear of marring his new acquisition was overpowering.  He continued to drag his feet. “You know the way, so you can make it by yourself Nzo.” They left him behind. He made it in time for the morning assembly. Standing a distance from the queues at the assembly ground he wondered where to stand. “Are you in elementary one?” A reassuring motherly voice asked from behind him. “Yes ma.” “It is your first day here then?” “Yes it is ma.” “Okay, come with me.”

She took him into the headmistress’ office and looked through a long register. “What is your name?” “Nzochukwu Ijedimma,” He replied.  “You are in elementary one A. I will show you your queue in a minute. “He followed her back to the assembly ground. “Is Uzodika Ijedimma your father?” “Yes, he is.” “I know you father. He is a good man. I hope you are a good boy like your father?” He chuckled bashfully not knowing what to say in reply. “Join this queue. Here are you classmates,” she said with a reassuring smile. 

He stood behind the last student on the queue and joined in the song. , “Oh my home, oh my home! When shall I see my home? I will never forget my home!” The voices of the pupils resonated through the neighborhood. He had heard the song time and again from his house starting before he enrolled at Aunty Gorgi’s. It was enthralling to be partaking in the morning assembly. He wondered what it felt like to be one of the drummers. After the morning prayers, Mrs. Edeatu took the center stage. “Welcome back from the holidays.  I hope you all had a good Christmas?” She started. “Thank you ma, yes we did,” shouted her pupils. She quickly made all the necessary announcements before the next round of singing began as the pupils marched to their classes.

The students matched to their classrooms singing as the drummers slammed away. “Baba black sheep, have you any wool? Yes and yes….three bags full! One for the master, one for the day, and one for the little boy who lives down the hill!” They sang ebulliently. Nzo’s enthusiasm in the morning did little to relieve his parents’ apprehension. They had put up a happy demeanor beneath which their fears simmered.  Uzodika still had two days of vacation left after Christmas. He gave Iheoma some help with the twins at home. “I hope he likes elementary school,” Iheoma remarked. “I hope so too. I hope they do not beat him for any reason. That will put him off early on,” Uzodika replied. “I went as far as telling Mrs. Edeatu to tell Nzo’s teacher not to spank him. I hope she remembered to tell her and that she heeds the headmistress’ advice.” Every now and again Iheoma would step outside staring down towards the before to recreation time.

Meanwhile, it did not seem like anything could put a damper on Nzo’s fervor. He was anxious to know who his teacher was and to get to know his new classmates. “Stop there!” she ordered. “In which class are you?” “Elementary one A,” echoed the pupils. “Good. Come with me. Your class is at the end of the block.” It was a long block demarcated into smaller classrooms about twenty feet wide and thirty feet long by moveable wooden boards. The pupils eyed each room as they drifted towards theirs. Each room was almost a mirror image of the next one. Desks were arranged in rows in each classroom facing a chalkboard. There were posters depicting numerous drawings of the body organs and systems, towns and cities, rivers, forests and farms amongst others, hanging on either side of the demarcating boards between classrooms. The pupils speculated that the drawings were used for teaching purposes. Above the chalkboard in elementary 1A was a bold inscription in colored chalk. It read, ‘Apartheid is a crime against humanity.’

“Okay, stop here.” They stopped obediently. “You, you, you and you, go sit on the first desk.” “Thank you ma,” they replied submissively as they sat in the order she had instructed. Within minutes the entire pupils of elementary 1A were all seated. The pupils of elementary 1B were just marching in, stirring up a beehive of activity that easily permeated through the thin demarcations between both rooms. “You are all welcome to my class,” she said with an expansive smile that colonized her entire face. It was just what he had hoped. Nzo liked her smile. He could tell she smiled from her heart. It seemed highly unlikely to him that she would rain down torture on a poor defenseless boy. The early signs were good, and he hoped it was the beginning of a streak of positive events in his new world.


Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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