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“Well,” answered Chukwuma , “the results don’t lie. He must have performed better than everyone else to retain his top spot in your cla...

“Well,” answered Chukwuma, “the results don’t lie. He must have performed better than everyone else to retain his top spot in your class.” “Iti…dunce, you should be concerned that you did not get on the podium, after all those who were out there today receiving all that recognition are not superhuman,” Onyeoma said, referring to Ibekwe. “Yes,” added Chukwuma, “I am surprised you are not concerned that you have never been on that stage, instead you expect Ikenna to do the hard work.”  “You sound like you have been on the podium before.” Ibekwe retorted. “Well we are not the ones complaining, at least.” “That means you do not even expect to ever be out there on the podium.” “Ibekwe we are more realistic than you are. By the way what is your position in class this term? I hope you have not finished near the bottom of your class again, else dad will be furious. Can I see your report book?” “You are not having a look at it.” “I think he has scraped by once again,” Onyeoma chipped in. “I am sure I did better than you did. You have never performed better than me, so I think you should shut your mouth.” He shot back at Onyeoma.

Tempers were beginning to flare by now, so Chukwuma tried to calm the situation. “Well, you can hide your class position for as long as you wish. We’ll find out when we get home. I am sure mom will announce the top secret to us,” he concluded. “I do not expect her to keep yours a secret either.” It was obvious Ibekwe had not performed as well as he would have liked. Although Onyeoma may have fared even worse, she cared very little about it. She only wished that somehow, she would receive the same recognition and adulation as the top students without posting the same performance. “So Nzo, can I look at your report book?” Chukwuma asked. He had been tagging along behind them, engrossed in a chat with his friends. He handed Chukwuma his report booklet absentmindedly. “You passed Nzo! You finished twenty eighth out of thirty nine students, but what matters is that you passed!” He smiled broadly and replied, “Yes, my teacher said I passed and that I should keep working hard. I am excited. Dad and mom will be happy.” “You best friend finished top of the class Nzo.

“I think you could have done better,” Onyeoma mocked him. “I think I may have done better than you. I am sure I will be on the podium someday, perhaps when I am as old as you are. I wonder when you will get to finish in the top three of your class, perhaps when you are as old as grandma,” Nzo shot back at her scathingly. “How dare you talk to your senior like that?” She yelled. “You started it.” She reached for him in a bid to whack him in the head but he ducked swiftly and ran further away from her. “You should leave him alone. You would do yourself a favor by not being impudent at others if you want to be respected ‘big sister’,” Ibekwe reminded her. “And you, if you do not watch your mouth, I will shut it for you with a dirty slap.” “If you try it, I will not hesitate to slap you back; with every strength in me.” “Stop it!” Chukwuma yelled. “Shut your mouth, all of you. The best pupils have walked home with prizes and here you are raining insults on one another.” They grudgingly acquiesced and walked home in silence.

The power company struck after dinner, so in their usual manner, the entire family headed outside in search of fresh air. “Nzochukwu!” His father called to him. “Sir.” “Can I look at your report book please?” “Yes dad.” He rushed into the bedroom to dig out his report book. “Ibekwe!” “Yes daddy.” “Go get me yours too.” “Okay daddy.” “Can I see your report books too, Chukwuma and Onyeoma?” “Yes daddy.” “Your mother tells me you passed Nzo.” “Yes daddy. I passed.  You see, I promised you I’d stay in school,” he announced gleefully. Uzodika positioned the lantern to see well. “I am proud of you Nzochukwu,” he replied. He glanced through his report book with keen attention. “Hmm! You need to work on your math Nzo. Your worst performance was in math. It looks like you enjoy current affairs. You posted your best score in current affairs.” “Yes! Mrs. Amadife said I could use some extra work in math.” “I am glad she pointed that out to you. I like her remarks though. It says you enjoy class work and get along well with your classmates, but your reading and math need quite some work. So, will you work on those over the holidays?” “I will try daddy.” “Good. We can walk through some exercises that will help you over the holidays.” “Okay. Daddy!” “Good.”

“Thanks for having allowed to me enroll at China Town. I really like it there.” “I am glad you do my boy.” He placed Nzo’s report book beside him and began to devour Ibekwe’s. “Ibekwe, your teacher says you do not pay attention in class, and you finished thirtieth in your class out of thirty five. You passed but just narrowly.” Ibekwe said nothing. He was not too pleased with his result. “You will not be playing a lot of football in the holidays Ibekwe. I think you are straying too far.” “Okay daddy.” Onyeoma performed even worse, and Uzodika showed little restraint in pointing out to her that she had a long road of improvement ahead of her. Quintessentially, she did not take his reproach well. She frowned while her father espoused the essence of hard work, attentiveness and ambition.  “Onyeoma, if you keep looking in the opposite direction with that frown on your face while I am talking to you, I will have you thoroughly disciplined. I do not pay tuition for you to fail just about every term. Is that clear?” “Yes daddy.” “Good.”

The holidays were awash with news of economic difficulties. For weeks, the country had been rife with accusations and counter accusations of wanton corruption in government. Uzodika’s household was not shielded from the deteriorating state of the economy. Workers’ salaries at the Nigerian railway corporation, once the pearl of public service in the country had not been paid in months, and there were no indication that workers would be paid soon. Uzodika was fast becoming stressed. He took strong exception at any perceived act of waste in his household, lashing out at culprits with ruthless liberality.  Onyeoma had repeatedly found herself on the receiving end of her father’s war on waste. One day while she was doing laundry, Uzodika had screamed at her; “are you out of your mind? Do you want to rub the entire piece of soap away, just on one piece of cloth?” “It is not clean yet daddy.” “Apply soap sparingly, and then you do a lot of squeezing to remove the dirt. You have no idea how expensive things are lately. I do not want to see you rub an entire bar of soap away on a small section of a dress,” he exaggerated. The furor which was fast gripping the country was beginning to hit home for his children. They found themselves rudely beset by shrinking food portions. Other families were not invulnerable to the worsening difficult times across the country. Some children could not help wondering if their parents had connived to short-change them at the meal table.

Theresa Nnamdi the wife of Nzo’s neighbor, Mazi Nnamdi who was a train driver had extended her business to include selling akara; fried bean cake, at the weekends in addition to selling kpof-kpof all week long. Mrs. Nwanyawu, whose family was good friends of the Ijedimmas, having hailed from the same town had managed to rent a stall at the market where she sold fresh tomatoes and pepper.  She was a devout mother of eight children, so whatever she earned went a long way to supplement the husband, Nicodemus’ meager income from the corporation. One of Uzodika’s neighbors, Mama Ejima – mother of twins – who lived in a single room apartment with her husband, Sunny, two of her brothers and four children, took out a loan to expand her fish roasting business.

She was a rotund lady. Children in the neighborhood joked that her arms and legs bore striking semblance to the giant fish she sold of late. The stench from her fish roasting area in her back yard, which included a stove made of mud, molded into a miniature circular hut-like structure with an opening for loading fire wood on the side, and a metal gauze at the top on which fish were placed, was a torrid torment to her neighbors. They resisted every urge to complain considering that her livelihood was involved and every family was feeling the pinch. Children were not as considerate though. Mama Ejima’s children, Amaka, her twin brother Chuks, Ekene, and Idenna were referred to as stinky children by their peers.  It was usual for them to be left out games, as the whiff of fish never seemed to be far from them.

The recent economic woes in the country had begun to switch women’s role from Oriaku to Okpataku – the woman who works to help her husband.  Mazi Zurike’s first wife was no exception. His second wife Nnenna had always worked, but Adure, his first wife had been a stay-at-home mother until recently. Zurike took a second wife as Adure failed to conceive after several years of marriage. Just when it seemed implausible, as Adure was getting along in age, she conceived, and had a baby boy, exactly what Zurike wanted, a third son. She named her only son, Chimeremma - God has shown me favor. Her cold, sad and often hostile demeanor lit up in the wake of her son’s birth. She too had had to take up a trade, selling all kinds of cooking ingredients. She took her son with her to the market. Uzodika’s children had heard their parents discuss the possibility of their mother moving home to Ariam to take up a job there. They abhorred the likelihood of not having their mother around, so they hoped the plan would not get off the ground.
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Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - Episode 10 An African Literary Blog
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