Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Failure

.

“Who?” Her wide, eager eyes made me

flinch. By telling her the story of my life,

would I not be making a mistake? “Holding

back now, are you? Hey, I told you my story,

did I not? It’s not a story I share with

random people. But I told you because you

seemed genuinely interested in why I chose

to be a nurse instead of being like you said,

an English teacher.”

“You did it for your sister.” Now I saw why

she cared so much about my health.

Simpering, she nodded. “She wanted to be a

nurse. And besides, I don’t want what

happened twenty-one years ago to happen

ever again in this school. This is a great

school, and the people who work here need

to have the right motive. I don’t see anyone

else more qualified to be the school nurse.”

With a rather forced giggle, she went on,

“And about the English thing you mentioned,

I have always had an interest in English and

Literature. I have even published two books.

The first is a collection of poems. Most

nights, when I can’t sleep, I get up and light

a candle. And yes, I light a candle for real,

even if there is NEPA light. Writing by

candlelight has become my own personal

ritual. For this reason I named it ‘By

Candlelight’. Whatever is in my head at that

moment finds itself as another beautiful

work of literature in my collection of poems.

“And the second book is a novel called A

Robber’s Heart. It’s about a thief who jumps

over a fence to steal, but his landing is

pathetic and he ends up with a broken leg.

He is taken in by a teenage girl who hides

him in her room, and a father-daughter bond

blossoms between them. A bond that not

even her mother can sever.”

“Wow!” I said, mesmerized by her delight in

Literature. I also had a thing for Literature,

but had never reached the point of

developing a story. Maybe sometime I could

give it a try. I could write the story of my

life.

“Can I see your books sometime?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “But first, tell me

what I need to know. Why were you crying,

and who is bent on making your life

miserable?”

“Miserable?” Of course I lived a miserable

life and two people engineered this misery.

But when had I mentioned this to Stella?

“You mentioned that please, sorry and

forgive me were the only words they made

you say,” she clarified. “In other words,

some people are trying to make your life

miserable. So who are they?”

More than once I opened my mouth to

speak, but I could not find the words. If I

replied her strategic question, I would

directly be telling her my stepmother and

Cynthia were making my life miserable.

I could not say that. No, not now. What if

they found out somehow that I had spoken

about them? I would be dead in a split-

second.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But when you put it like

that, I don’t know how to answer.”

Stella rolled her eyes. “There you go again

with being sorry.”

“Sorry.” The moment the word left my lips, I

realized I had done it again. “Just pay no

mind to how pathetic I am.”

“So you were going to say something?” she

asked.

“I wasn’t crying because of my sickness,” I

said. “Well, not directly.”

“But it had something to do with it, yes?”

“You asked if I didn’t care at all about my

health.”

“Yes. And I’ll ask you again. You’ve been

sick for how long, two weeks and you just

do nothing about it? Who does that?”

“Actually, it’s been four years.”

“You have been sick for four years?” she

half-shrieked. “But why? I don’t get it.

You’ve been sick for four years and you

don’t do anything about it? Your mum and

your sister, do they not know this?”

“To understand the whole thing, you need to

know the story of my life.” I knew my

answers would lead me to tell the story I

had tried so hard to escape.

I led my mind away from frightening

thoughts and told myself I could do this. I

would tell Stella the story she craved to

hear. Perhaps after I did, I would feel the

weight of the world fall off my shoulders.

“I have time,” she said.

I squinted at my wristwatch. 11:18. Two

minutes into the forty-minute recess. I had

spent my entire morning in the sickbay and

had missed all four periods.

Shoving off these thoughts like unwanted

clothing, I willed my mind to focus on the

story I had to tell. “I never knew my mum.

She died a few hours after giving birth to

me. My father hired a nursing mother to

care for me. In no time, he saw the need to

marry her so she would legally be my

mother. And then they were wed.”

“I’ve always supported your father’s wise

decision,” Stella said. “This way, you won’t

know what it feels like not to have a

mother. It’s a horrible feeling.”

If only she knew. Soon enough, though, she

would.

“Four years ago, my life took a turn I hadn’t

seen coming,” I said. “The very day my

father resumed duties after his recovery

from an accident, the bank was robbed. And

he was shot to death.”

I could remember vividly. Cynthia and I had

only just returned from school to find two

policemen at our door, delivering the cold

news of father’s death. I could still

remember my stepmother holding Cynthia

and I comfortingly in her arms while we all

wept.

“It only took a few days for the people I

held dear to show their true colors.

Everything changed dramatically. When

someone shows you their true colors, don’t

try to repaint them, or you’ll be stabbing

yourself all over with many pains. Back then,

I was naïve, too innocent and inexperienced

to know that. I thought there was a mistake,

and that my family needed time to grieve,

after which the gap between us would

bridge. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.”

“I don’t understand,” Stella said.

“My stepmother and her daughter make the

whole world believe they love me,” I said.

“But they don’t. Cynthia has always seen me

as her biggest rival. I tried to make her

realize the loopholes in her reasoning, but

my efforts only filled her with untamed

aggression. But still, I believed her childish

jealousy would fade as she grew. I believed

she would grow into a reasonable person

and her love for me as a sister would

supersede all. But time laid my flawed

reasoning before me. In horror, I watched

my sister’s jealousy grow along with her.

Her love for me—or at least something close

to it—completely faded, replaced with an

intense hate I could not fathom. She regards

me no more than she would a maid.

“They have turned me into a servant in my

father’s own house. They make me do all

the work in the house all by myself. Every

day I wake up by 4:30 in the morning, but

they overwhelm me with chores and I

always end up late for school. And they

make me do all of these on an empty

stomach. I could go a whole day without

food and no one would care. They find fault

in everything I do. And even when there are

none, they fabricate faults and abuse me.”

At this point, relying on mere words to tell

the story would be a grave mistake. I undid

the buttons on my jacket and did the same

to my white shirt.

“What are you doing?” Stella asked.

“Allowing my scars tell a part of the story,” I

said. “They will speak to you and tell you

more than words ever could.”

Taking off my shirt, I let Stella’s unbelieving

eyes explore the length of my torso. My

body had become an art gallery on which

different work of arts were displayed. Some

of which were recent, stinging me when I

showered. Baring myself to her brought an

uneasy sensation to my stomach, but I

didn’t dwell on this.

“Oh my God!” she cried. “Such evil! Oh

heavens, no!”

I remained in position, giving her an

undisturbed view of my back, letting her

drink in the details of my abuse.

“I can’t believe your stepmother did this to

you!” The sympathy in her voice wounded

me. Once again, I burst into tears.

“She should be a mother to you! How could

she do this to you? You are like a child to

her! She should love you like her own!” My

grief intensified with every word she said.

Snuffling, I reached for my handkerchief and

brought it to my nose.

“That woman is evil!” Stella’s

straightforward remark startled me. Evil,

perhaps, but that woman remained my

mother.

Speaking about our broken relationship to

another person brought a cloud of guilt

resting upon me. In a way, I felt like a

traitor. Negative emotions fought to

overcome me. And to an extent, they won,

sagging my heart into dense darkness.

Weren’t family issues meant to remain in

the family? My stepmother had even said so

herself.

‘What happens in this house stays in this

house. Do you understand?’ She had pulled

my ears so hard I feared I would lose them.

And I had never dreamt of disclosing her

wrongdoings to anyone but Amarachi. If

mother learnt about this, I would not live to

see the next day.

Stella placed a comforting hand on my

shoulder. “I’m sorry about the things they

make you pass through. I thought these

things only happened in Nollywood. Oh

heavens! Whatever happened to humanity?

My God!”

I picked up my uniform and clothed myself.

“After my dad’s death, they made me stay

home. They told me to forget school. They

said school was not for everyone. And

whenever I told them I wanted to continue

my education, they would abuse me and tell

me I was cursed. They told me I was an evil

child, and for that reason my parents died.”

Stella’s brows furrowed. “They made you

leave school? I thought…but…I heard…” She

shook her head. “This is just evil. Pure evil.

During that period, news spread that you

quit school because you could not face the

world after your loss.”

“They made everyone believe I quit on my

own because I was too weak to get over my

father’s death. For almost a whole term I

stayed home, doing chores 24/7. And then

one day, Cynthia returned from school,

talking about an annual scholarship exam. It

would cover a student’s school fees till

graduation. To pick up the registration form

and the study materials, I needed to pay an

application fee. With tears in my eyes I

approached my stepmother. I begged her to

pick up the scholarship form and study

materials for me. I understood she didn’t

want to spend money on me, and with the

scholarship, it could be achieved. I believed

in myself. I knew I could pass the

scholarship exams. But she laughed at me.

She and her daughter.

“I snuck to school the next day to tell Sir

Amadi I wanted to sit for the exam. I

wanted him to help with the fee. But to my

surprise, he called my stepmother and told

her about my intention. Although he had

good intentions, that was the worst step

ever. I returned home only to receive the

beating of my life. Most of the scars you

saw, they came from that day.”

“So how did you register for the exams?”

Stella asked.

“I confided in Amarachi. I am forever

indebted to her. If God hadn’t intervened

through her, I would have been a school

drop-out. Do you see all the things I pass

through every day? They treat me like snot.

They always remind me I don’t belong in

their family. They tell me I’m an outcast,

and make me pass through unimaginable

pain.”

“This won’t go on like this, my dear.” Stella

rose to her feet, a fierce determination

written all over her face. And although I

knew she had my best intentions at heart, it

frightened me to watch her roam the room

with that look on her face. “It certainly

won’t go on.”

“What can be done?” I asked.

“You are going to have a blood test done, as

soon as today,” she said. “And your

stepmother will have to pay for the

expenses. I will make sure of this.”

“That’s not possible. She’d rather die than

take responsibility for me.”

Stella smirked. And I knew she had a

sinister plan. But what?

“Those wings you think you’ve grown…I’ll

cut them.”

***

Acknowledging my presence, my classmates

quieted as though a ghost had just walked

in. Had a pin dropped, it would not go

unnoticed. They no doubt stared at my

maladroit gait and how my arms didn’t

swing human enough when I walked.

Shaking off the thought, I advanced to the

seat I shared with Amarachi at the far end.

Sat quietly on the right side of the seat,

Amarachi flipped through the pages of the

textbook before her.

“Speak of the devil,” someone half-

whispered.

For fools like Adamu, silence remained the

best answer. Responding to his taunts

would only encourage him, and I didn’t want

that. Even worse, we could end up

exchanging words. I would rather play the

fool than stoop so low to exchange words

with the king of fools.

By ignoring him, he would eventually get the

message that I had more important things to

do than let his juvenile delinquency bother

me. I hoped sometime soon he would,

because I didn’t know for how long I could

contain my indignation.

He chuckled, his throaty voice an insult to

my ears. It didn’t take long before his fellow

fools joined in the chorus, banishing the pin-

drop silence. Amidst the laughter and

incoherent comments, a wolf-whistle pierced

through.

Amarachi’s eyes told me to ignore them.

Once I plopped down on our seat, she

slammed shut her textbook and shot me her

undivided attention. “Oh my God, Victoria!

You really killed it today! I had already given

up on seeing you!”

“Killed what?” I asked, my brows knitting.

“The late coming thing, stupid. This is the

latest you’ve ever been. This is just as good

as staying home.” Punctuating her words

with a giggle, she obviously hoped I would

laugh along and forget our classmates’

insensitivity.

There goes nothing. The realization that she

had failed at making me laugh stole away

the gleam in her eyes.

“I spent all morning in the sickbay,” I said.

“poo,” she muttered. Searching my face, she

shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even

notice. You really don’t look well. There’s

this look in your eyes. And stupid me, I

mistook it for that look you get when you

don’t have enough sleep.”

“Actually, that look is in there too,” I said.

“It’s a mix of both.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Do you feel

better now?”

I nodded, letting a stiff smile stretch my lips.

“I’m good as new. There’s nothing to worry

about.”

Once the words left my lips, my nose tickled

and I sneezed, killing the little conviction

Amarachi might have had. Just great.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.

“Yup.” I would hate it if I killed her mood for

good. Who said I had to afflict people with

melancholy everywhere I went?

“You did not go for lunch?” I asked.

“What’s the point? I’m not even hungry.”

“Look how proud she is,” I said. “You won’t

admit that you didn’t go to the canteen

because I wasn’t around and you would feel

awkward going there without me.”

Clicking her tongue, Amarachi glanced at

her wristwatch. “There’s not much time left

now. Break is almost over. Commerce test

is almost upon us now.”

I grimaced. “Sorry about that.”

“Now tell me. Why so late today? I need to

hear all of it. Did that witch of a stepmother

make you fight a bull or something?”

“Amarachi!” I warned, pressing a finger to

my lips to shush her.

“What? She’s a witch and you know it. I’m

sure she does that mirror mirror on the wall

thingy and the mirror for sure mentions you

as the fairest of them all. That’s why she

always gets up on the wrong side of bed

and tries to make your life miserable. That

evil wolf in woman’s clothing.”

“Stop, please. She’s still family. It’s not right

to talk about her like this.”

Disbelieving, she shook her head. “Doesn’t

she remind you of those really evil fairy tale

witches?”

Of course she did. But it didn’t feel right

speaking about my stepmother in that

manner. And besides, walls have ears.

“She’s the evilest of them all, that woman,”

Amarachi said. “She and that daughter of

hers.”

Without thinking it, I conjured an image of

my stepmother in my mind’s eye and placed

it beside a mental image of the Evil Queen.

Similar cat eyeliners stretched along their

eyelids, delivering the perfect dramatic look.

Taking my hand in hers, Amarachi said,

“You, my Cinderella, are going to make it in

life, trust me. You will find your fairy

godmother, and then your glass slipper will

lead you to your Prince Charming who will

take you to his castle, and wedding bells will

ring.”

I felt heat rush to my cheeks at the mention

of my Prince Charming. “Oh stop it.”

In a way, Amarachi’s words made sense. My

life fit the bill as a modern day Cinderella. I

had lost my parents, and had a stepmother

and a step-sister who saw me as nothing

but a maid, making me scrub floors day and

night, just like Cinderella. In my case,

though, we had no Lucifee. Thank God for

that.

I thought back to Stella, her warmth and her

sweet smile. Had I found myself a fairy

godmother?

I mused over her reaction to the story of my

life and her determination to help me. We

had agreed to meet after school. Questions

crowded my mind. But try as I might, I could

never decipher the plan she had so tactfully

constructed. I just had to wait and let time

unravel it.

My classmates had delved back to their

various pointless conversations. A few boys

argued about a football match they had

watched the previous night, and how

Christiano Ronaldo missed a penalty. Some

girls discussed fashion and other irrelevant

things like entertainment and crushes.

Although I didn’t plan to listen, my ears

picked up some lines from their

conversations.

Pleased that they had more important—

although totally worthless—things to do than

mock me, a lazy smile crept to my face.

“You’re not going to believe this!” Amarachi

squealed, cutting off my line of thoughts.

Her eyes twinkled like stars in the midnight

sky.

“Tell me already,” I said.

An ear-to-ear grin stretched her lips. “Well,

uhm…I came to school this morning to find

this really cute guy in class.”

Taking a breather, she bit her lips to keep

from squealing. “When I say cute I mean

super cute! He’s really cute, like the cutest

I’ve seen off TV. He’s like a hot celebrity

step out of TV or a fashion magazine.”

“That’s it?” My interest had given way to

indifference, killing Amarachi’s excitement.

But it only took a moment for the gleam in

her eyes to return.

“He’s white!” Slamming her palms into each

other, she squeezed them and let a beam

spread over her face.

White? Mr. White and I were classmates?

My heart sank. I did not want to be in the

same class with that boy. Something about

him gave me the creeps. Did he stare at

everyone else the way he stared at me?

It stunned me how my best friend drooled

over a guy she barely even knew. I couldn’t

picture myself doing that. Totally gross. I

could imagine how that pompous white guy

felt at the moment, having every girl in

school on full crush mode.

With folded hands, I shook my head.

“Pathetic. He’s not the first foreigner here,

is he?”

Amarachi pouted. “Look at you acting all

indifferent. Every girl in school is talking

about just how cute he is.”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t include me.”

“Trust me, you’re only like this because you

haven’t seen him. I mean, wow. Victoria,

that guy is a stunner! Have you ever seen

such brilliant green eyes?”

It stunned me how she believed I would

hurriedly activate crush mode once I saw

him. I had already crossed paths with him,

and although for a moment I’d stared, it had

triggered nothing in me.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about that

guy,” I said.

She giggled at my indifference. “Just wait

till you see him. He’ll knock the air out of

your lungs. Oh, I haven’t even told you.

Guess where he sat when he walked in?

Right here, on our seat. To be precise, he

sat on your side of the seat. I told him the

seat was already taken. He just turned and

gave me this weird look as though I’d

spoken to him in Swahili. Even though the

look he shot me totally weirded me out, it

was really amazing staring into those

emerald green eyes. You know, Eddie

Redmayne kind of eyes.” Her eyes burned

with desire.

“Goodness, Amarachi!” I chided, my voice

dropping to a near-whisper. “I can’t believe

you’re like this over some guy. It’s not like

he’s the only white guy in this school. We

already have a number of them in class.”

“Four in class,” she counted. “Now five.”

I continued as though she’d never

interrupted, “And we have them littered all

over our school.”

“Twenty five,” she said. “You call that

littering?”

Once again, I ignored her counting. “What’s

so special about some lanky, green eyed

white guy?”

Her eyes widened. “What? You saw him?”

“Mh-hmm.” When would this end? I did not

want to be a part of this conversation.

“Oh my God!” Grinning from ear-to-ear, she

rubbed her palms together like a fat cop

would at the sight of free burger. To paint

the complete picture, lips licking would be in

order. “Tell me everything! Look at you,

letting me do the whole talking while you

have some story to tell. Out with it. Did he

speak to you?”

“If he spoke to me, would it help with the

problems I face at home?”

“Yes.” She stuck out her tongue. “I haven’t

heard his voice but I can only imagine how

beautiful it sounds. I mean, with a face like

that. Good heavens.”

“His voice is nothing special.”

“Oh my God!” she said. Heads turned in our

direction and while this made me slightly

uneasy, Amarachi didn’t seem to care. “He

spoke to you? I need to hear it. Tell it and

tell it all!”

“It’s just the pretty face. His personality is

crap. We met on the stairs and he said I

was a sleepwalking zombie. Can you beat

how lame he is?” A transitory silence fell

upon us. Amarachi gazed at me, wordlessly

demanding the untold story.

“There’s nothing to tell,” I said.

“I can’t believe he’s an a-s,” she said, her

voice tinged with uncertainty.

“Yeah, they come in different sizes and

colors.”

“No. I mean I can’t believe he’s an a-s like

for real. Maybe he has some twisted sense

of humor and you understood it all wrong?”

“Yeah right,” I said, rolling my eyes. I didn’t

care about his sense of humor. He had hurt

me with his unseasoned words, and that

said a lot.

The rest of our classmates hustled into the

classroom, feet shuffling as they headed for

their seats. Waking over to our seat, a girl

waved at me.

“Vicky, so you’re in school,” she said.

“Hello yourself, Confidence.” I slid

Amarachi’s textbook to my side of the desk

and buried my face in it, warding off more

comments from Confidence. I knew though

that it would be impossible to read.

Wherever she went, quiet left.

Casting me into her abyss of non-existence,

she rested her full attention on Amarachi.

“That new guy probably doesn’t like this

school.”

“That’s the new guy’s loss.” Amarachi

feigned nonchalance. Or had she suddenly

lost interest for real?

“Didn’t you see the look on his face,” an

Ethiopian girl named Rose cut in. “The way

he grimaced like he’d been placed in a

sewer.”

“He only sat down for five minutes,”

Confidence said. “And then he just got up,

grabbed his bag and was gone.”

Rose chuckled. “You’re saying five minutes?

Two minutes at most.”

“The look on Sir Thomas’ face though,”

Confidence said. These girls shamed me. So

much fuss over some white guy, as though

he had fallen from the sky. Pathetic.

“Maybe this was the wrong class and he

figured out only after Sir Thomas had

already begun his boring lesson on

simultaneous equation,” Amarachi said.

“Who knows, maybe he’s a junior.”

“Today’s math lesson alone was strong

enough to make him say ‘oh no no no,

wrong class.’” Confidence ended her

statement with an overdone American

accent.

 

More stories @ www.chorusman.com

 

I tried to focus on the book before me, but

every line I read disappeared into an

unknown chamber in my head. I needed a

little bit of silence but the girls’ stupid talk

about some white guy didn’t give me a

chance. They needed to take their hopeless

desperation to another corner. My stomach

churned with every word they spat out. I

didn’t know for how long I would be able to

contain the rage burning so intensely within

me. I glared at the book, unleashing my

aggression upon it.

“Are you girls seriously stressing over that

guy?” a boy asked. I made no attempt to

bring his name to mind. “I saw him drive out

of school.”

“He drives to school?” a girl asked. I found

myself awaiting an answer. No student

drove to school. Over here, 18 stood as the

legal driving age, and I doubted Mr. White

had crossed over to adulthood. It wouldn’t

surprise me if an exception had been made

for him though. This country, after all, is

characterized by bribery and corruption. The

authorities would sure give special

treatment to the angel who had fallen from

the sky.

“He drives a Range Rover Evoque

Convertible SUV,” Cynthia chimed in. I

hadn’t noticed her come in. Sat on a desk in

front, she faced the class. Her school

uniform, well-pressed by ‘yours faithfully’,

clung to her like a second skin. As typical of

her, the first three buttons were left undone,

flaunting the fullness of her cleavage. My

gaze darted to her crossed legs. She sure

enjoyed how her skirt showed radiant, fair

skin. It bothered me how teachers didn’t

speak to her concerning her dressing. In the

past, they had, but now they just paid no

attention to her as though they had been

spelled.

“Guys, please!” Amarachi snapped, startling

me. “No offense, but can you guys take your

conversation someplace else, or better still,

just drop this whole drama? It’s getting

really sickening. I’m trying to study for

Commerce test. I mean what’s the big deal

if he’s white? Does he have white blood?

Abeg I hate nonsense.”

Cynthia glowered at her. “Are you speaking

to me in that tone?”

“Last time I checked you weren’t my mum,”

Amarachi said. “So I can speak to you

however I please. Okay? And anyway, I

wasn’t even talking to you, so drop it.”

Springing to her feet, Cynthia stomped in

our direction. She had fire in her eyes. From

experience, I knew things would turn ugly.

Amarachi rose to her feet, her ferocity

matching Cynthia’s. I rose as well, ready to

sandwich myself between them if the need

arose. I looked to where Confidence had

been, but she had fled to a safe corner.

Coward with a confident letter C.

“Tell me to my face what you just said,”

Cynthia demanded, stepping in toward

Amarachi. How did we get into this mess?

Amarachi held no trace of fear, and it

bothered me, because she would not back

down. Cynthia wouldn’t either. Shoulders

squared, Amarachi held Cynthia with her

flaming gaze. A deafening silence had fallen

over the classroom. Everyone watched,

eager to see things get ugly.

Amarachi opened her mouth to speak, but I

cut her off before she even began. “Let it

go, please.”

Amarachi turned to me, and I seemed to be

the object of her aggression. But it only

took a moment and my pleading eyes

softened her gaze.

“I am not you,” she said, regarding me with

a sorry look in her eyes. “I will not let her

intimidate me. She pays school fees. I do

too.”

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” our classmates

chanted, rocking their fists in the air and

drumming their desks.

“Look here, girl” Cynthia said, jabbing her

pointer toward Amarachi. “I don’t know what

you think you are, but those wings you think

you’ve grown, just watch out, because if you

ever get on my nerves again, I’ll cut them.”

She moved her pointer and middle finger

like a pair of scissors. I could almost see

the rush of adrenaline filling her with

ruthless intensity.

Our classmates kept chanting. “Fight! Fight!

Fight!”

“I’d love to see you try,” Amarachi said, her

eyes trained on Cynthia in the most ominous

way. Malice crackled in the air around them.

Nancy and Precious had taken their position

beside Cynthia, ready to fight. Cynthia’s

crew no doubt viewed themselves as

invincible and too hot to handle, demanding

respect everywhere around school. Or at

least they hoped they did. They had even

gotten a name for their crew — the triple

goddess.

“Hey!” Nancy warned. She opened her

mouth to say more, but Cynthia held up her

hand to silence her.

“I can handle her just fine on my own,”

Cynthia said, her voice spiced with venom,

her eyes threatening harm.

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Amarachi stood at akimbo. “You’re all bark

and no bite.”

“Stop!” I begged, pressing my palms to my

ears. “Please stop!”

Everyone occupied their seats, filling the

room with hushed voices. Only one thing

could evoke such reaction from my

classmates — a teacher’s presence. I looked

toward the doorway and found Sir Aaron

walking in, his textbook and a bottle of

water in his hands. Simultaneously,

Amarachi and I sat down.

Giving us the middle finger, Cynthia returned

to her seat, Nancy and Precious with her.

Sometimes I wondered if those girls got paid

for being her bodyguards. Like maidens

serving a princess, they went everywhere

with her and did all her bidding.

The class prefect hammered his desk with

his fist — an order that we all stood up to

greet Sir Aaron. “Good morning, sir!” we

chorused.

Sir Aaron gestured for us to sit. Shuffling of

feet extinguished the silence as we returned

to our seats. But in the blink of an eye, it

passed away, restoring silence to its place.

Placing his textbook and water on Cynthia’s

desk, Sir Aaron walked to the board and

wrote a four-letter word that turned my

stomach to ice: TEST.

“Tear out a sheet of paper and write your

name,” Sir Aaron said, turning to face us.

“Remove from your desks your books and

any incriminating material. If pen and paper

aren’t the only things on your desk, you’re

wrong.”

He swept his eyes around the classroom to

make sure we all complied. Returning to the

board, he dropped the bomb:

Write short notes on the three speculators in

the Nigerian Stock Exchange Market and

explain how they expect to profit from their

activities.

Indistinct chatters sailed around the

classroom as everyone tried to voice out

their hopelessness. Once Sir Aaron whirled

around to face us, the voices faded.

“You have twenty minutes or less,” he said.

“Time starts now. If you talk to your

neighbor, you’re wrong. If you turn your

neck, you’re wrong.”

I copied the questions into my paper and

stared at the board, blank faced. Answers

eluded me. I glanced around to find

everyone in a similar state.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Cynthia said.

Frantically, she raised her hand. “Sir!”

“Yes?” Sir Aaron said.

“I believe there has been a mistake. Is this

question ours like for real? I mean, when did

you teach us these things?”

“Did I not conclude our previous class by

asking you all to go home and read about

the Nigerian Stock Exchange market?” Sir

Aaron asked. “Here you all are, staring at

me like a bunch of idiots. Oh, and just for

the record, this test is no joke. It makes up

ten percent of your continuous assessment,

so you best give it your all.”

“All or nothing,” Amarachi said. We

exchanged hopeless gazes.

Shaking my head, I whispered, “We are so

dead.”

“Victoria!” Sir Aaron called.

My heart thumped wildly in response. Heads

turned in my direction. I could see the

mockery in their eyes. Sir Aaron had

apparently caught me speaking. That spelt

the end of my test. What difference would it

make anyway? Even if I had a whole day, my

paper would still be blank.

Sir Aaron picked up his table water and took

a sip. “How’s your health now?”

What? He had only called to ask about my

health? Unbelievable. Rubbing my forehead

for no reason, I stared at him, totally

forgetting the question before me. Amarachi

kicked my feet, jolting me back into reality.

“I’m fine, sir,” I said. My face paled as I

looked down at my paper. Failure stared

back at me.

Seconds stretched into minutes. Twenty

minutes passed with a hissing sound.

Sadness clouded my features as I submitted

my paper. I sat there on my seat, present

but absent. My mind wandered off into the

unknown. A feeling of nothingness had

taken dwelling in my heart.

Sir Aaron provided the answers to the

question on the board. “The three

spectators in the Nigerian Stock Exchange

Market are the bull, the bear and the stag…”

I watched him speak, but the noise in my

head tuned out the rest of his words. My

head swelled with too many thoughts,

tossing me into the deep dark sea of gloom.

I had never been this helpless concerning

my academics. I felt crippled. This didn’t

look good.

***

Twenty minutes into the next class and I

still couldn’t get over my failure in

Commerce test. What would Sir Aaron think

of me when he picked up my script and

found it blank?

“Tell me what I just said,” Madam Charity

said, her eyes trained on me. Holy cripes! I

hoped she’d spoken to the girl in front and

not me, but her eyes stayed locked on mine.

The girl in front turned to look at me. She

seemed just as confused as me. My

indifference toward Madam Charity’s

question forced her to her feet. “You were

talking about—”

“Not you, Flora,” Madam Charity said. “Yes,

Victoria? We don’t have all day.”

Words eluded me. My performance in Sir

Aaron’s test had filled me with rue-

cheerlessness, making it impossible to think

of anything else. And here I stood, about to

make another fool of myself. I would always

remember this day as my worst school day.

“Excuse me, madam Charity.” Cynthia’s

voice severed the silence. I glanced at her

seat and found it empty. I had been too

engrossed in thoughts to notice her

absence. With a smug smile, she stood in

the doorway. Folding her arms, she cast me

an unsettling glance. “But the principal

wants to have a word with her.”

“That should be after this class,” Madam

Charity said.

Cynthia stomped her feet. “It’s urgent!”

Sir Amadi’s voice screeched over the

intercom, “Victoria Brown. Report to my

office in one minute or less.”

Madam Charity gave me a subtle nod. “You

heard him.”

I had just been saved from Madam Charity’s

question. But the smug smile on Cynthia’s

face as I advanced toward her made me

shudder. Although I had no idea why I had

been summoned, I knew one thing. Trouble

had found me.

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