Excerpt for Dance of Duty and Love by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Ikechukwu Stanislaus Onuora

Smashwords Edition

Copyright page

Copyright: 2017 Ikechukwu S. Onuora

Email: Ichaka2002@yahoo.com

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share it with another person, please buy an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Content

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

About the Author

Other Books by Ikechukwu Onuora

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Chapter One

As the long arm of the clock reached twelve to indicate 9 o’clock on a sunny Monday morning, Mr Tochukwu Ikenga entered his office and sank into his executive chair, and heaved a sigh of relief. He reached for his white handkerchief in his breast pocket, and with it, dabbed the sweat that has formed on his forehead and around his neck. The office was the only place in the school where he felt completely relaxed, not because it was plush, rather because it was the only place he could be all by himself free from the prying eyes of everybody and not having to see any anomaly to correct. He stretched out his hands on the arms of the chair and rolled his head back on the chair’s headrest, and heaved another sigh.

It was only 9.00am and he was already exhausted even before his first morning class. Since around 7.30am he came to the school, he had been standing, trying to streamline one thing or the other; he helped flog the latecomers, he chased in the straggling students after the assembly into their classes, and went round to make sure they were all settled down in their classes. This had become his daily morning routine. But what made the task tedious and annoying to him was that the other teachers hardly cared. They seemed content with doing their specific duties and didn’t bother whether the school was on fire or the students were wild.

‘But this is not the school I envisaged when coming here,’ he thought. He had been happy on hearing the news of his posting to the Umuene Comprehensive Secondary School (UCSS). It was a school with a good name, considered one of the best rural schools around, with a great population of students, excellent teachers, magnificent structures and facilities, and conducive environment for learning. But now that he was in it, he had come to realise how rotten the system was. Discipline was on an indefinite holiday here; the teachers were highly demobilised; the compound was unkempt, and the students were often as noisy as the bees. ‘If this is so with a reputable school,’ he wondered, ‘how much worse would it be with the other less reputable schools?’

‘Master, we have you now!’ Ikenga was brought back to reality by Ifeoma’s voice. She had been knocking at the door but Ikenga was so carried away by his thoughts that he didn’t hear the sound or notice her presence until she came in and almost shouted at him.

‘You were so far away, where were you... and who were you thinking of?’ Ifeoma teased him, smiling.

Ikenga smiled and stretched in his seat. He checked his wristwatch and noticed it was already some minutes past 9.30am. He got up immediately, gathered his instructional materials and handed them over to the girl and told her to move on ahead of him to the class. He waited for her to gain distance before following. As he waited, he observed her from behind. She was a graceful girl, short and well endowed with the feminine features. She was the only real friend Ikenga has so far made in the school. But he liked her more because of her intelligence, sharpness, joviality and constant concern. Her only apparent flaw was that she has a K-leg which slightly affected her gait. Finally, Ikenga picked up his cane and set out to the class.

He had to pass several classes including the usually noisy junior section before getting to the class S.S.1B. As he moved, the defaulting students came to order once they saw him. Those loitering outside rushed back to their classes and those making noise stopped it abruptly.

Ikenga was barely two weeks in the school but his presence had electrified it. He had become the centre of attraction and virtually of all discussions in the school. He was both feared and admired. To say that he was handsome was an understatement; he was damn beautiful, a young man in his late twenties but with the innocent face of a teenager. He stood slightly above average with an athletic body and a beautiful pair of hands. His skin was very fair, almost like a half-caste’s. But his crowning features were his pointed nose, red lips and charming smiles. The ladies especially the junior ones admired him openly while the mature ones were always uneasy around him. Indeed, it had become normal to catch people ogling at him.

But Ikenga appeared to be unmindful of all these. Even though he would always smile in his heart, he was fast building up a reputation as a no-nonsense man, a core disciplinarian who had zero tolerance for any misdemeanor. His cane was perpetually in his hand. He hardly stopped to exchange pleasantries and hardly overlooked any anomaly. Therefore it was becoming the case that the mere sight of him brought both joy and fear among the students, and instantly brought them to order.

Ikenga entered the classroom and the students stood up at the clap of the prefect, and chorused;

‘Good morning, Master!’

‘Good morning students, sit down.’

He quickly surveyed the classroom as he usually did. It was a square, spacious and airy classroom made to comfortably contain about thirty-five students but was currently housing nearly forty-five of them. The class was overcrowded, and so were the other ones. The junior section was even worse. There you had an average of fifty students in a class. This was inimical to learning, Ikenga admitted to himself, but there was nothing he could do about it.

‘I want to see your textbooks on your lockers now,’ he commanded. He was their Literature teacher, and it was his third teaching contact with them. When he first entered their class to teach, he had been shocked to notice that about seventy-five percent of them didn’t have the reading text. He had given them one week to get it and had even threatened to send out those who failed to comply. The one week had now elapsed; as he realised, about forty percent still didn’t have the novel. Many of those who didn’t buy their own had used the opportunity of his lateness to borrow from the neighboring classes. He considered them the serious ones and ordered the recalcitrant ones out of the class. He declared that it would continue so until they all had the text.

Their exit made the class scanty but Ikenga didn’t mind. At the end of the class, Ifeoma brought the attendance sheet for him to sign. This was one thing commendable he had so far seen in the system. At the end of every class, the teacher signed in the column of his subject and wrote the topic he had taught for the day. At the end of the week, the prefects submitted them to the dean of studies. That was to detect absentee teachers.

‘I never knew you would do it,’ said Ifeoma as Ikenga handed her back the attendance sheet.

‘Do what?’

‘I never thought you would send those students out of the class.’

‘But I said I’d do it,’ replied Ikenga, surprised.

‘Yeah, but we thought it was an empty threat.’

‘Well, you now know better. I say what I’ll do and I do what I say.’

Ikenga sauntered into the staff room just as the bell for recreation rang. They had staff meeting then, the first for the term. The staff room was a big rectangular hall with one access door which made it easy to notice anyone coming in or going out. It was full of office tables arranged in lines to the shape of the hall itself leaving a big hollow in the centre of the hall. Each table was shared by two teachers. The hall was full of teachers who were excitedly chatting away their time. But as he entered, the noise lowered a bit as heads and eyes turned to meet him.

He shouted his greeting, ‘Good morning all!’ and waved his hand in the air.

They all responded, each in his own way. Some waved back their hands. Some nodded their heads. Some responded verbally and formally while some others went further to heap praise names on him, and he was full of smiles.

The teachers were generally happy with him. He was their vice-principal but they liked his frank approach to issues and so welcomed him as one of their own, though on individual basis most of them would still approach him with caution. It was Adanne, the Computer Studies teacher who particularly called him to her side for a chat.

‘Dear, how are you today?’ She asked.

‘I’m fine, thanks, and you?’

‘I can see that. I’m ok, I like your dress,’ she said feeling the texture of the dress with her fingers. It was a green-flowered caftan which Ikenga wore only occasionally.

‘It fits you perfectly, where did you get it?’

‘It is a gift from my girlfriend’ said Ikenga. And they burst into laughter.

Adanne was the most easygoing of all the teachers. She wasn’t particularly attractive except for her baby face. But she was beloved by all because she was homely, sincere and religious. She was one of the few young teachers that had the nerve to strike up frivolous discussions with Ikenga. She found him an interesting fellow not because of his beauty—she cared less about beauty—rather because of his carriage and apparent religious sense.

Few minutes to the end of recreation, the Principal, Chief Akunwata Obi, entered the hall and everybody stood to attention. He was a big man in every sense of the word: size, position, and carriage. And he tried always to make everybody feel it. All the teachers hated and feared him except perhaps Mrs Nkolika Obioma, the Physics teacher, who had no fear of any man, and then Ikenga himself who was still new and was his vice.

Ikenga became the vice principal because the position was vacant upon his arrival. None of the teachers was willing to occupy it, the main reason being that the two previous occupants died in the office, and the other—nobody wants to work closely with the principal. Nobody told Ikenga all these. He had thought he was given the post based on his qualification having bagged two degrees; a B.A in English Language and H.N.D in Journalism coupled with a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). It was later that he realised the truth though it didn’t perturb him.

The meeting finally kicked off with an opening prayer by the Principal himself. He came twenty-five minutes late, as the meeting was supposed to begin five minutes after the start of recreation. But he didn’t bother to offer any apology. This infuriated Ikenga but he kept his cool. He had decided earlier that as this was his first meeting, he would do more of observing than talking.

As he observed, the meeting really wasn’t much of a meeting. It was a one-man show, the principal’s show. None of the teachers argued or disputed any issue he raised. Even the main agenda of the meeting which was the coming inter-house sports competition was hardly debated. It was more like a boss dishing out instructions to his subjects and chiding them on their misdemeanors.

Even the dean of studies, Mr Chika Odo, who was the oldest of the staff and should have been speaking on their behalf, seemed to be in agreement with all the principal’s proposals. Ikenga’s mood flitted from resentment to amusement. He had never witnessed such a meeting and it was really funny seeing the teachers act like obedient and fearful children. They only argued when invited by the principal to defend themselves over some reports against them. The principal warned them against forcing the students to buy unauthorised books. He warned those extorting money from the students in place of punishment, those selling goods secretly in the school, and those coaxing the students to bring them gifts especially fruit. He also took the time to talk about the report he got, of teachers giving notes to the students to copy during their lessons while they signed the class attendance sheet and went about their other business. He said such teachers, together with those who always left the school without signing the movement book, were a disgrace to the teaching profession, and any of them he would catch henceforth would be dealt with severely.

At the end of the meeting, Ikenga was making his way out of the staff room when he found himself walking side by side with Mr Ifeanyi Okonkwo. The subject he handled, Igbo language, was evident from his traditional attire which had become his trademark.

‘T.I., how are you doing?’ he greeted the vice principal, smiling as they shook hands.

‘I’m ok, just amused.’

‘Amused at what? We had expected you to be a major contributor in the meeting but instead, you seemed content with smiling all the way.’

‘Well, sorry to disappoint you,’ said Ikenga, ‘I’m not the talking type, besides, I preferred to only observe today. But wait, is this how your meetings normally go? I mean, there was hardly any discussion or argument.’

‘Yeah, we are all tired of arguing with the man, to do that is to court trouble. Those who tried it in the past only had themselves to blame.’

‘What do you mean?’ Ikenga queried, becoming more interested.

‘What I mean is simply that your boss is a witch-hunter. To disagree with him is to become his enemy and face his wrath. For instance,’ Ifeanyi stopped as he turned to squarely face his interlocutor, ‘for openly telling him to always inform the staff on time about any change in the school program, Mrs Chioma Igwe, the French teacher, was stripped of her position as form teacher and moved from teaching the S.S.1 to J.S.2 class. For complaining over the non-availability of teaching aids, Mrs Chinwe Ike, the Chemistry teacher, was queried and since then has been denied every one of her requests for absence in the school. For telling him that as the principal he ought to be regular in the school, Mr Maduka Oli has been getting query every time he is late to school no matter his reason. The list is endless.’

‘Hmmm,’ Ikenga was dumbfounded.

Mr Ifeanyi continued, ‘The only person who still has the stomach to challenge him is Mrs Obioma, but you can see she wasn’t at the meeting.’

‘So what makes her undaunted?’

‘I just don’t know, the principal has done everything he could to her including orchestrating her transfer twice. But each time she manages to work her way back to the school. The woman doesn’t care for anything. She has no fear, no ambition, nothing! You just don’t find her trouble. Even the principal cannot withstand her, but we like her for that.’

Ikenga was impressed. ‘Well, I guess in the next meeting I’ll be more active and make it a discursive one.’

‘And when do you think the next meeting will be?’ asked Mr Ifeanyi.

‘I don’t know, when?’

‘I tell you, it will be a great surprise if we have another meeting this term.’

‘Wow,’ exclaimed Ikenga. He then realised for the first time that the school had no calendar for the academic year or for the term. In his former school, they always had a school calendar where all the dates of every activity were specified including staff meetings which were normally once every month.

Chapter Two

‘Where is the chalk, Mr. Prefect?’ Ikenga surveyed the little extension beneath the blackboard for chalk and even the floor but found none.

‘Chalk, please! Mr. Prefect!’ He turned to see the prefect of the class S.S.1C scratching his head.

‘Master, there is no chalk,’ he said fearfully.

Ikenga became annoyed. ‘This is just the third period and you are telling me that the chalk has already finished?’

‘Master, the regulator didn’t bring any chalk this morning.’

Anger turned to confusion as the master asked why.

‘He said his stock has finished and the Bursar refused to replenish it.’

Ikenga couldn’t teach without chalk. He asked, ‘So how did the other teachers before me teach?’

‘They came with their chalk.’

More confusion. ‘How did they get it?’

The prefect began again to scratch his head. He was naughty and dirty but intelligent. Ikenga had already in the past cautioned him about his dirtiness. As the class leader, he ought to be a model of neatness and good behavior. But he refused to improve until the master made it a habit of flogging him on that. But today he has no time for that.

It was Ogechi Mgbo who offered an explanation. ‘Master, some of the teachers do go with the chalk after their lessons so that on a day like this they will use it.’

‘So what do we do? I can’t teach without chalk.’

Another student suggested a way out. She said, ‘Master, we can borrow from another class or better still, some of us do hoard chalk in their lockers, maybe we should all search our lockers.’

Ikenga immediately ordered that and promised not to punish anybody who brought out chalk. Soon, a number of small pieces of chalk materialized and the lesson began. The teacher really felt like flogging those hoarders but he kept to his promise and waited for another day.

A mistake in his writing and he decided to clean the board only to run into another shocker, ‘Oh for goodness sake, where is the duster?’

The prefect immediately ran outside to the neighboring class to get a duster. On his return and seeing the anger distorted face of the teacher, he quickly explained that the duster was theirs but was borrowed by the other class with a promise of immediate return after use which they failed to keep. Ikenga immediately called for the prefect of that other class. She came, it was Ifeoma of S.S.1B, and she flatly denied all that her opposite number said. She claimed that the duster belonged to her class; that it was the S.S.1C who borrowed it from them. The master, unable to get the truth, immediately gave them three days to produce a new duster each with their class names written on it and present same to him.

Later in the day, Ikenga summoned the bursar and the regulator to his office. There, the regulator explained that the bursar normally gave him three packets of chalk every week for all the classes but this week he gave him only two. And that was why it finished before the weekend.

The Bursar concurred with what the regulator said and added that there were only two packets of chalk remaining in his office, and he intended reserving them for the coming week in case the principal could not be gotten on time to approve of a new purchase.

‘But why didn’t you start on time to inform him that the chalk is about to finish?’ Ikenga queried.

‘Sir, I’ve been notifying him of this since three weeks ago but he kept postponing his approval up till now.’

Ikenga became tired, tired of everybody in the school, tired of the school itself and even tired of himself for his inability to cope with the anomalies around him. His problem was that he studied and had been teaching in a mission school where everything was a bit ordered and everybody was committed to his work. This was his first teaching experience in a secular public school and it was driving him crazy.

The principal was not around to issue the order for new chalk. Indeed, he was hardly around in the school, and often Ikenga had found himself running the school but without funds. In the past, he had used his money to supply certain urgent needs (against the advice of some of the teachers) in the hope of being reimbursed, but the principal has never done that though he would always promise to do so. So Ikenga had vowed never to put his personal money in any school project again. A few days back he had requested imprest from the principal with which to be solving these problems that come up. The man agreed to give him but never did so. Ikenga caught the picture of a frustrated man as he dismissed the two innocent fellows.

At the dismissal assembly that day, the vice principal made a rare appearance and rendered this short announcement, ‘We have noticed that the number of latecomers to the school has refused to go down despite all the flogging. In fact, it has kept increasing by the day. Therefore we have decided to add an extra measure to flogging.’

A murmur ran through the students as he took a breath and declared, ‘Henceforth, every latecomer to school will not only be flogged but must also pay N5.00.’

The assembly ground erupted in shouts of disapproval from the students but Ikenga simply smiled and exited immediately from the platform, pleased with himself. He didn’t expect anything different nor did he like the announcement. But he was determined to source fund to run the school, and there was no better way he could find, at least for now.

Days later, as the morning assembly was about to begin, Ikenga stood under the mango tree near the entrance gate and watched his students running swiftly to beat the time. He hated the idea of running because it made the students sweat and smell, and thus making their neighbors uncomfortable. He knew they were running not mainly because of the added fine for lateness but because of his presence. It had become agreed that the worst punishment to befall a student was to be caned by the vice principal. Ikenga flogged in no other part of the body but the hand, and every stroke was aimed at the tips of the fingers where it hurt most. The usual number he flogged people was five strokes. Some he flogged more depending on the offense. And he had a special big and long cane cello-taped all round which he perpetually carried.

The students would have gladly paid any amount to escape his cane. The mere sight of him standing under the tree had quickened the steps of virtually all of them. Ikenga was amused inside but kept a straight face as he watched them. At the same time, he was really worried at the number of latecomers every day; at times so big that attending to all of them took some chunk of the period for the first morning class; hence he often came around to help the disciplinarians. However, he had noticed that majority of the regular latecomers were people from the neighboring towns who had to board commercial bus or buses to make it to the school. Often they were delayed by these buses despite their early set-off to school. Of course, the school has a school bus which ought to be ferrying the students from far areas to and fro every day at a reduced price. But it was never functional; either it broke down, or there was no fuel, or the driver was ill disposed; there must be one hitch or the other. Something had to be done about the situation, Ikenga thought.

As he mulled over this, Ikenga saw Miss Ifunanya Afoma, the Home-Economics teacher, striding up the avenue. He became a little tense as he always was whenever he saw her and wondered if she would greet him this time around. Now, Miss Afoma was undisputedly the most beautiful lady in the school and one of the youngest teachers, in her mid-twenties. That alone made her one of the well-known teachers in the school.

Her beauty didn’t lie so much on her face. Her face was quite beautiful but there were prettier ones. It was her shape. She had a voluptuous figure, a perfect example of what was called ‘figure eight.’ She was a bit short and chocolate skinned lady with a well-developed chest accentuated by her flat tummy, and such big and curvy hips that would turn the head of even a monk. Upon these, she was a dresser. She knew fashion. Not that she wore expensive attire; rather she made sure that everything she put on matched her to perfection. That day, she dressed her thick black hairs flowing downwards and caressing her shoulders, giving her the look of a mermaid queen. She wore a V-necked violet blouse that clung to her body exposing a little cleavage of her boobs, and a knee-length black skirt that swung as she walked.

‘Good morning, Sir,’ she greeted as she passed Ikenga without even casting a glance at him.

‘Morning,’ Ikenga responded with a little smile on his lips. He could smell her unique and sexy perfume that always put him in the temptation to touch...

It was a great relief to him that she greeted him that day. She hardly did. Indeed she was the only teacher in the school that was not on speaking terms with Ikenga. Not that they were enemies, rather, from the day Ikenga entered the school, the lady had refused to give him even the slightest attention. Ikenga initially thought it was because she was the reserved type as was Mrs. Ngozi Igbo, but on the contrary, she had proven to be a social mixer in her relationship with others. This puzzle had made Ikenga to always keep an eye on her.

After helping to administer justice quickly to the latecomers, the vice principal went straight to his office for a moment of rest. Then as it clocked 9.am, he got up for his first period of the day and entered class S.S.1B. As he walked in and was responding to the greeting of the class, he tripped over a big pothole in front of the class and fell flat with a heavy thud, spilling on the floor his teaching aids. The whole class burst into irresistible laughter even as some of them rushed and gathered his scattered books and pens. Ikenga got up, thoroughly embarrassed but also laughing. His beautiful yellow packet shirt was stained by the fall but he couldn’t blame anybody.

The students began to say sorry to him. It was then that he took the time to survey the whole classroom well. He observed that the whole floor was full of potholes. He looked sideways to see that many of the windows were out, while others were broken. None of them was in good order. He looked up to the ceiling to see a great network of cobwebs, and holes also. He couldn’t believe it had to take the fall for him to notice the state of dilapidation. And he wondered how it would have been if this had happened to a female teacher. It would have created an obscene scene. In the coming days, Ikenga was to observe that this was the situation of virtually all the classes and offices and even passages in the school. He was shocked at such a state of disrepair which had appeared normal to everybody.

As he was about to begin his lesson, the vice principal noticed one hefty boy moving up and down when others had settled down. The boy was so hefty that if not for his school uniform, the teacher wouldn’t have believed he was a student.

‘Who are you, young man?’ the class erupted in laughter.

The boy stopped and introduced himself. ‘I’m Chuka Ide, Sir, the class prefect.’ More laughter from the class.

Ikenga was confused. Ifeoma sensed that and quickly stood up and helped him out. ‘Master, he is the class prefect and I’m his assistant. He just came back from suspension.’

Ikenga then turned and asked the boy, ‘Why were you suspended?’

Chuka kept silent, his head bowed down, obviously embarrassed by the question. Ikenga saw his discomfort and decided to ease him. ‘Are you now fully back and ready to face your studies?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

He was later to learn from Ifeoma that the boy was suspended because he beat up one of the female students in the class. The girl reported him to the senior prefect (S.P) but he resisted punishment from the S.P. and even threatened to beat him also. It was the S.P. who then reported the case to the principal, and he was suspended. All these happened before the arrival of Ikenga. Ifeoma was, however, quick to add also that the boy, Kodo, as was his moniker, was really not the troublesome type. His only problem was his close friend; a boy in the class called Razor but whose real name is Onyedika Okafo. He was the troublesome one who always spurred Kodo into trouble but was often too clever to avoid being caught. The vice principal decided then to separate the two completely by sending Razor to another class.

As he left the class at the end of his lesson, Ifeoma followed him to show him the new class duster. ‘I asked you to do it within three days. Now it’s almost a week, why the delay?’ Ikenga asked.

‘But I’ve been trying to reach you for some days now without success,’ Ifeoma explained.

‘So tell me,’ Ikenga continued, ‘which class actually owned the duster you were struggling over the other time?’

‘Master, to tell you the truth, the two classes have been sharing that duster for a long time even before I became the prefect. So we can’t say for sure the original owners, but I believe it’s our class,’ she concluded with a little laugh.

Chapter Three

Ikenga entered his office and briefly surveyed it. He smiled as he was pleased with its new look. It had now been painted blue and floored with a beautiful blue carpet. The old hard surface of the office table at the center had now been upholstered black. He had also decorated the wall with two beautiful calendars and a wall clock at the back of his desk facing the entrance door. What more, the office smelled pleasant as he had installed an air freshener in it. The only thing he felt still needed was to replace the old shelf at the edge of his desk with a bigger and modern one, and then perhaps bring in some comfortable chairs for visitors in place of the bench there at the time.

The renovation was surprisingly suggested by the principal who as usual promised to foot the bill but had characteristically not done so. Mr. Ikenga undertook it because he saw the need for it. He began to open the sliding alumaco-glass windows for fresh air. As he did that, he felt more convinced that he had made the right decision not to curtain the office. Though that would have completed the beauty, however, he reasoned that the curtain would have, first of all, limited fresh air into the office. Secondly, it would have obstructed his view of the compound; his office stood at a vantage position where he could see anybody entering or leaving the school through the gate. The school had only one entrance gate. Thirdly and most importantly, though a curtain would have given him more privacy as it would have blocked people outside from seeing the inside of the office, he thought it would certainly have encouraged bad rumors and malicious imaginations of evils going on inside there. Besides, he didn’t want to put himself in the temptations that came with privacy.

As he settled down in his chair, he heard a knock at the door. It was Angela, the Social Studies teacher.

‘Good morning, T.I.,’ she greeted excitedly as she walked in and surveyed the office. ‘Wow! This is wonderful; I can’t believe it is the same office I’m used to. Congratulations!’

‘Thank you,’ replied Ikenga. He was smiling but inwardly he was furious. Furious because he needed time alone to rest, and then, he hated the teacher. Angela was tall but not elegant. She was a lady in need of recognition but hardly deserving of such. Her heavy makeup always gave her the appearance of an illiterate new prostitute, and her carriage—she swaggered like a slender tree being tossed sideways by a strong wind. She was one of those teachers Ikenga couldn’t understand how they passed their exams in school. She spoke Igbo all the time because she could hardly make a single correct sentence in English. Even the J.S.S. classes she handled found faults with her expressions. But Ikenga had to be polite and play the good host.

‘You are supposed to be in class now or don’t you have a lesson now?’ he asked.

‘No, today is my semi-free day. I have only two periods today and they are both after recreation.’

‘And it seems you don’t like staying in the staff room?’ Ikenga said as he sat down and waved her to do same.

‘Well, yes they are always gossiping there.’

Ikenga broke into a wide smile. He knew there couldn’t be a better lie. If there was any chronic gossip in the school, it’s Angela. She actually ran away from the staff room because she was a hated figure there. They didn’t usually have good words for her.

‘And besides,’ she continued, ‘I always feel you’d be lonely here.’

Ikenga didn’t like this one, and he was quick to reply, ‘No, actually I like it more here when I’m alone. This is the only place I come in to rest.’

He knew the lady was visiting not out of any sympathy but to create a bond of friendship between them. But he would have nothing to do with her. Though not a womanizer, Ikenga enjoyed the company of women because he had a natural likeness and respect for them. But he felt none of these for Angela, rather he viewed her as a player who ran after men not out of affection rather because she saw them as catches to be made for utilitarian motives, and clung unto any of them she could. For this, the vice principal detested her though he had to endure her for now. One good thing though, about her visits was that Ikenga used the opportunity to learn a lot about clandestine happenings in the school. They continued their chat until it was time for Ikenga’s lesson, and he gladly rose to dismiss the lady.

As Ikenga made his way to the classroom still accompanied by Angela, at the long corridor, he looked up and saw Ifunanya in full embrace in the open with Ifeanyi. He smiled wryly. He had seen that before. And the first time he saw it he thought Ifunanya was Ifeanyi’s mistress. But he was wrong. The lady actually belonged to Mr. Ikechukwu Ojoto, the handsome but crooked Mathematics teacher who called himself “Engineer” but knew nothing of science. Angela quickly told him that ‘the embrace’ was the young teachers’ traditional way of greeting the opposite sex within their circle. They called the full embrace three-sixty degrees and the half embrace one-eighty degrees. According to her, the principal had tried to stop it but failed. Ikenga didn’t like it, especially when it was done in the open where the students could see them, besides it gave a false sense of affection between the teachers. Ifunanya and Ifeanyi, he had learned from Angela, were virtual enemies because they never agree on any issue. But being extroverts, seeing them embrace and chat excitedly, one would think they were actually intimate friends. Ironically, as they held each other for some brief seconds, Ifeanyi was staring at Ikenga, a mocking smile on his face saying to him wordlessly that this sweet damsel with an hourglass figure who despises you, likes me, and is mine. Ikenga felt not jealousy but pity for his colleague who was deceiving himself. He smiled wryly and moved on to his class.

‘Good morning, Master.’

‘Good morning students, sit down.’

As they settled down, some who went out to borrow the textbook were rushing in while a good number were nonchalantly leaving the class. They hadn’t the textbook but they didn’t care. Obviously, they didn’t even want to be in the class. This pained Ikenga, and he wondered why some students were decidedly useless to themselves and their people, why some kids had to be begged or forced to go to school in this modern age. From their rumpled shirts and unkempt appearances, it was clear to him that coming to the school itself was a great burden to them not to talk of sitting in the class. It didn’t prick them that coming from poor families, their parents had to suffer to pay their school fees. Ikenga’s anger wasn’t that they couldn’t buy their own textbooks, but that they made no effort to borrow from others or look into their neighbors’ copy. They clearly preferred to while away their time outside the class. When this dawned on Ikenga, he decided that they must study, if not willingly, then, by force, as long as they were students of the school. He called them back to their seats and made this decree:

‘Starting from the next class, anyone who hasn’t our reading text will be severely flogged and anyone who absents from my class will receive an even greater punishment.’ The class murmured but no objection was raised.

At the end of the lesson, Ikenga asked Ifeoma the whereabouts of the prefect, Chuka, as he signed the attendance sheet.

‘Master, he has been sent home again.’

‘What? Why?’ asked Ikenga, startled.

Ifeoma explained that the principal had told him to report to his office with his parents at the end of his suspension but he ignored that and went straight to the class. When the principal discovered this, he sent him home again, this time on an indefinite suspension. The news pained Ikenga. He had taken a little liking for the boy and had decided to personally help him resettle down and focus on his studies. But as it stood now, that has become a pipe dream.

‘What about Razor his friend? I didn’t see him also in the class,’ said Ikenga.

‘Ah! Razor, the boy comes to school only when he feels like,’ she answered.

The report stung Ikenga like a bee, and he responded, ‘whenever he comes to school, tell him to see me before entering the class.’ He silently vowed to unleash the full force of his frustration on him. Woe to him if he ignored the order and entered the class without seeing him first, then he would teach him in cruel terms that there can’t be two captains in a ship; there can’t be two bosses in the school. He would not only punish him severely for truancy but would also make him sign an undertaking that any day he would absent himself from school again without prior excuse, that would be his last day as a student in the school.

Chapter Four

Ikenga was livid as he left the show. In the absence of the principal he had just superintended a cultural dance contest between his school and a neighboring one, and his school lost. All the schools in the local government were having a cultural dance competition. Each of the four zones that made up the local government was expected to produce their champion for the grand finale at the local government headquarters. So the zones had begun their elimination trials to produce their champions. Umuene Comprehensive Secondary School was lucky to host Holy Ghost College Umuene in their contest, yet they lost and Ikenga couldn’t take it. Not that he had much interest in cultural dance, rather it was his stand that a host school, especially his own, should not for any reason lose to a visiting school in any competition. The home was the last line of defense, once beaten at home, you were completely taken. But today, his school was clearly beaten in all departments of the contest.

He immediately summoned the teacher in charge of cultural dance, Miss Adanne, and queried her as to what went wrong. The teacher heaped the blame partly on the girls who didn’t take their practices seriously but mainly on the principal who refused to release money for the repair of their instruments and the purchase of some costumes. ‘As you must have observed, the sound production of our drums was very poor and our costumes weren’t uniform.’

‘And they were unkempt,’ added Ikenga, ‘and your girls were disorganised. They found it hard even to maintain a straight line.’

‘Yeah, I saw that but there was nothing I could do. The girls were much demobilised. They even nearly refused to turn up for the trial,’ Adanne said in disappointment.

‘So why did the principal refuse to give you the money for preparation?’ Ikenga asked cautiously, subtly admiring the teacher in her costume.

‘He said there was no money, that we had to make do with what we have.’

‘Why didn’t you come and tell me?’ Ikenga asked not knowing what else to say.

Adanne grinned and asked him rhetorically, ‘would you have given us money if we had approached you?’

‘Maybe or maybe not but at least I would have helped put pressure on the big man to release the fund.’ But even as Ikenga said this, he didn’t believe himself. He realised then that it might not have been a coincidence that the principal wasn’t around at the time of the trial. He may have conveniently left the school knowing fully well that his wards were ill prepared for the contest. Ikenga knew of the trial only when the two mean looking judges from the zonal headquarters arrived at the school and were ushered into his office in the absence of the school head. Earlier on, the visiting school had arrived and were quietly dotting the I's and crossing the T's of their preparation. The vice principal had tried to be as hospitable to the two women as possible, offering them drinks and taking them round the school as the students got the arena ready for the trial, all these in the hope of making them favorably disposed to the school in their judgment. But when the trial began, he saw clearly that their opponent was way off better than them, such that it would be a grave injustice should the judges deny them victory. So at the end, he had only the ignominy of congratulating the visitors on their deserved victory.

As he got near to his office, Ikenga saw a young boy being consoled by three of his colleagues, waiting for him. It was a case of bullying. Nothing annoyed Ikenga like bullying. As one of the youngest in his school days, he had endured a measure of such intimidation. But what pained him most in those days was that the authorities never cared. It was a boarding school, and they were just left on their own, after school hours, at the mercy of the seniors and prefects. It was just the norm that the elder intimidated the younger, and the stronger bullied the weaker while the junior slaved for the senior. The only thing that might ameliorate your suffering was if you had a ‘school father’, i.e., a particular senior, especially S.S.3 student whom you slaved for in exchange for protection. You would wash his clothes, fetch water for him, go to the market or canteen for him, get his food and wash his plates after a meal, and render him any other service he may require. For all these, you might only be rewarded with some of his cast off properties, some balance after buying things for him, and eating his left-over food.

Ikenga hated anything thing that subjugated him to another person, but he had to resign himself to enduring it. But there was a day, he remembered, he refused to endure it anymore; the day he fought his senior in the school to a standstill. That was in his S.S.1, and the boy was in S.S.2. They were corner mates, and the boy found a hobby in picking on him always. One day, Ikenga while in a hurry, mistakenly put on the boy’s sandals, and the boy slapped the hell out of him. The slap left some blood marks on his cheek. Unfortunately, Ikenga went home that day after school to pick up something. There he met his mother who saw the marks and inquired the cause. After Ikenga had narrated the story, the mum asked him to describe the boy, and from his description, the boy was about the same height and build with him. The mum became furious and slapped him all the more, querying why he allowed such a boy who was probably of the same age bracket with him to bully him like that simply because he was his senior. She ordered him to stand up to the boy and fight him if necessary, any other day he would try to bully him; that was what his senior brother would do in such a situation, she said.

Ikenga went back to school that day, greatly annoyed and spoiling for war. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself the next day when he woke up from siesta to discover that the same boy had used his bucket of water. Hell was let loose as he immediately grabbed the boy and delivered unto him a crunching punch that made him stagger backwards. The boy was shocked and angered both by the unexpected boldness of Ikenga and the force of his blow. But he won’t let that pass without a suitable response. So the two clashed, and a titanic battle ensued. Their hostel mates rushed to separate them, but the hostel prefect, a stocky bellicose boy, who had always observed the frosty relationship between the two boys, quickly intervened and ordered everybody to stay clear and allow them to fight off their grudges against each other. They formed a circle around the two warriors and refused them any weapon. The boys fought like mad, tearing into each other with body shots, tearing their shirts, and rolling over and over on the floor until their energy was spent and they sat gasping for breath; bruises, blood and sweat all over their body. That was the day the boy stopped harassing Ikenga. In retrospect now, Ikenga realised that was the day also he could say he became a man of his own, unafraid of any physical challenge from anybody.

When he became a senior himself, he refused to have a school son despite a number of junior students willing to be that to him. He hated acting the boss; rather, he opted for having a group of close junior friends that competed to do his biddings. He had resolved then that given any opportunity, he would stamp out bullying or at least reduce it to the barest minimum, and he had been doing just that since he entered the school. But this one is a bullying with a dangerous twist. According to the boy who was in J.S.S.1, he had been beaten by Chibuzo Udeozo in S.S.1. Now Chibuzo was the ward of the principal himself. He actually lived with the principal who paid his school fees. He was, therefore, one of the few untouchables in the school, as no teacher or prefect has had the gut to punish him. The news of the case had begun to spread like wildfire across the school, and they waited to see what would happen.

To be on a sure ground, Ikenga asked the boy why he was beaten. He explained that he had lost his stool and was searching for it in the classes when he sighted it with Chibuzo. He then approached him for it but he got offended and ordered him away. When he insisted and threatened to report him to the vice principal, Chibuzo struck him twice, goading him to go and report and see that nothing would come out of it. When the boy said this, Ikenga lost his cool.

‘Are you sure he said this to you?’

‘Yes, master, Okechukwu here will bear me witness,’ he said.

Ikenga ordered Okechukwu to go immediately and call Chibuzo.

When Chibuzo came, he admitted hitting the boy out of anger at the boy’s disrespectful manner of approach. But he denied claiming to be untouchable. However, striking the boy was enough for Ikenga to indict him, and he could see even in his denial that he was lying; and he had known him to be a chronic liar. He flogged the hell out of him to the consternation of the students who all trooped from nearby classes to the office to witness what was happening. Ikenga allowed them to see, to send a deterrent signal to them all. He flogged the boy until his fingers on both hands were swollen and he was almost rolling on the ground.

Ikenga knew that word about what happened would reach the principal in a matter of hours if not minutes, for he has many lackeys who give him up to the minute update on developments in the school, and he waited for his summon. In fact, he had been looking for an opportunity of a tete-a-tete with the principal, and he felt that was the time. But after a whole day, nothing happened. The principal neither called him nor mentioned it in passing to him. Ikenga was both relieved and disappointed.

Two days later, it was the turn of Chibuzo to report of being bullied by another student, Collins Oko in S.S.2. Collins was a Lagos boy whom circumstances led his father to send him to the village to finish his secondary school. His Igbo was still stuttering. Despite being hefty, he was a quiet boy loved by teachers and students alike. Ikenga knew that for him to have struck Chibuzo meant he had been severely provoked, and Chibuzo was known to be an impertinent boy. But having flogged him a few days back over bullying, Ikenga had to render him the same justice by flogging his bully. It was a hard decision for him but one he had to make. He asked Collins to kneel down. The boy tried to explain what led to the slap but Ikenga would hear none of that. For him, there could be no justification for a student to lay hands on another student. He told him that if at all there would be any explanation; it would come after the punishment for striking a fellow student.

Chapter Five

The bell rang signaling the end of classes, and the students began to pour out of their classes. It was still 10.am but they had decided to use the rest of the day to finish some of the inter-house sports eliminations and get the compound ready for the main event. As Ikenga left the class and meandered his way through the corridors, he met Mrs Ngozi Azuka, the Biology teacher who was also coming out of her class.

‘Hi, Ezenwanyi.’

‘Hello, T.I,’ she responded.

‘I’m so happy to meet you now, looking ever gorgeous.’

The lady let out a little laugh and replied ‘You yourself, you are looking cute as always.’

Ikenga was indeed always happy to be in the company of this lady. He called her Ezenwanyi (Queen) because of her size and gingerly carriage. She was an Amazon and a beauty, and the most refined of all the teachers. Sometimes Ikenga wondered what she was still doing in this village school. She was married to an overseas-based man and was still waiting for him to call her up, and that would happen at any time. Together they slowly navigated their way to the Biology laboratory where she normally stayed.

‘So how are you adapting to our school life?’ she asked Ikenga. She was always concerned about his feelings; obviously, she liked him.

‘My sister,’ he replied, ‘I’m almost dying here. Imagine only myself taking the whole senior classes in Literature and combining it with the running of the school. I just thank God for today that is a bit free.’

Ezenwanyi felt for him and advised him to always take time off to rest, and push for a second Literature teacher. Then she changed the subject and asked him, ‘So how about our girls, I hope they are not disturbing you?’

Ikenga grinned, ‘No, no, they are kids you know.’

‘Hmmm, never take those girls for kids; most of them know far more than you about sex life. Just be very careful with them otherwise they’d mess you up.’

As she was saying this, they heard an unusual noise outside. The students were having their athletics heats but it appeared a misunderstanding had developed. Ikenga rushed out to see the teacher sports director, Mr Chinedu Agu almost dragging two of his colleagues, Ifunanya and the Youth Corps member, Mathias, to the staff room. The two were shouting on top of their voices, pouring vituperations on each other. Mathias was particularly calling Ifunanya a prostitute, a whore, a bitch, etc. Ikenga was thoroughly embarrassed to hear these. He wondered what bearing this had with the heats they were conducting. He went into the staff room to find out. When he got there, the place was rowdy as the teachers were trying to calm them down. But from what he gathered, the two were haggling over who came second and third in the last athletics heat. Ifunanya was meant to catch the runner-up and she did that, but Mathias felt she deliberately caught the wrong person, the second runner-up actually, hence the altercation.

Ikenga pulled aside Mathias and questioned him as to why he was openly abusing the Miss with such filthy names. He expected him to show some remorse but the boy who was still seething, insisted on his claims, explaining that the Miss was sleeping around with the students and granting them undue favors. Probably he meant that the boy the Miss named the runner-up was one of her boyfriends.

Ikenga left him and moved away. He didn’t want to hear more. He was thoroughly disappointed in both teachers. He was disappointed in the ‘Corper’ because he descended so low as to exchange words openly with a lady. Ikenga always believed that if a lady annoyed you, you beat her up, shut up or walked away, without exchange of words with her. He was equally disappointed with the beautiful Miss because of the damning allegation openly leveled against her. As he considered it, Ikenga felt there must be some truth in it for Mathias to insist on it even when he pulled him aside and questioned him on it. As he moved away, Ikenga saw Mr Ojoto coming from the opposite direction and heading towards the staff room. He wondered what his reaction would be when he got there and found out that his girlfriend was being demeaned. Probably, he would do nothing now but he might later. He was a well built bad boy with bad friends even though he tried to hide it with his amiability. But Ikenga had seen through him and knew what he was capable of.

Ikenga intuitively turned around to see the senior prefect stalking him. The boy then came up and said he wanted to give him a report.

‘You prefer it here or at the office?’ asked Ikenga.

‘At the office, Sir.’

At the office, the S.P. declared that he had been living in fear for some time now both in the school and at home. He explained that some students had come to his house and threatened to deal seriously with him.

‘So, who are the students?’ asked Ikenga.

‘They are three; Chuka Ide (Kodo), Onyedika Okafo (Razor), and Onyebuchi Dibua in S.S.2.’

Ikenga was surprised at the mention of Onyebuchi. He had been expecting such a report of threat from those thugs, but for Onyebuchi to be linked with them was something new to him. The boy was one of the active and likeable members of the science class. Why would he involve himself in such an activity meant for the ne’er-do-wells? The S.P. even explained further that it was Onyebuchi who led the others and almost hit him with a shovel if not for the intervention of some neighbors. According to him, they were blaming him for the school woes of Chuka.

‘So what did your parents do or are they not aware of the incident?’ asked Ikenga.

‘I don’t live with my parents. I live with my uncle but he has travelled to see his family.’

‘His family! Aren’t you from this town?’ Ikenga queried.

‘No, I’m from Okirikpa in Enummiri State.’

This was a revelation to the vice-principal. The boy was far from home. Probably that explained, he thought, why the boy wasn’t always assertive in dealing with the students, the majority of whom were children of the soil or neighboring towns.

‘What about the principal, why didn’t you report it to him?’

‘I’ve reported to the principal but I don’t think he has done anything about it.’

‘Ok, go and call Onyebuchi for me.’

When he left, Ikenga felt for him. He was a poor and frightened boy. His only claim to the office of the senior prefect was his intelligence. He wished he could help him more.

Onyebuchi came in a pacifying mood, trying to play down the seriousness of the matter. Ikenga himself found it hard to be in the military mood and tone he had intended. Onyebuchi explained that he became involved because Chuka was his cousin, and the mission wasn’t really planned. According to him, they were just by chance passing near the senior prefect’s house and Razor suggested that they branch in. They never meant any harm, it was an empty threat.

Ikenga controlled his rising anger. He took time to explain to the boy the gravity of the offence. To threaten the senior prefect or any school official was an affront on the school government itself. And as the school head, he was the custodian of all the students, so it was a direct affront to him in particular. He made it clear that he would not hesitate to hand them over to the police if he heard the slightest of complaints again from the S.P. He asked Onyebuchi to pass the message to his colleagues. Finally, he expressed his disappointment on the boy’s involvement. He had always seen him as a bright and focused boy, but now he had made him change his mind. Onyebuchi expressed regret over the incident and apologised to the vice-principal. He also promised to go and apologise to the S.P.

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