God help me, I prayed silently as I looked at the faces of the nearly sixty students facing me.
“Stress,” I reiterated. “Has anyone of you heard of the word stress before?”
My eyes swept the rows. No hand went up, no mouth moved.
“Stress. Who has ever heard of stress? No one?”
No one moved.
My gaze fell on a girl seated in the third seat of the middle row. “You, stand up.”
“Stand up. What is stress?”
She rose clumsily to her feet, her eyes on her dirty fingernails.
“So no one has ever heard of stress?” The disappointment in my voice was acute.
I looked at a boy in a back seat, raising his unwashed hand. At last. “Tell me, what does stress mean?”
“Stress is when you carry load your head come paining you.”
I began to bleed inside of me. “Is that what you understand by stress?”
He nodded his uncombed head.
“You are wrong.”
“Ahhh!” the boy exclaimed as though I had cursed him.
A few of them chuckled.
I held my temper with both hands. “Stress,” I began slowly, “is the force you place on a particular syllable of a word.” Then I calmly proceeded to explain to them that a syllable is the unit of word that can be pronounced in one breath. “For example the word ‘again’ has two syllables. ‘A’ and ‘gain’.” I wrote the word in the board and marked the syllabic division with a stroke. “If you pronounce ‘gain’ stronger than ‘a’, then your stress is in ‘gain’. For example, a-GAIN. Do you understand?”
I began to repeat myself. But someone interrupted me. “Uncle, uncle, you dint write date.”
I sighed. “What is today’s date?”
“Twenty-two,” they chorused.
“Say twenty-second. We don’t use cardinal numbers for date. We use ordinal numbers like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 25th etc. So what’s today’s date?”
Half of the class chorused 22nd; the other half shouted 22! At least, someone had learnt something today. I proceeded to the board and wrote the date. Ten days to alert. God, help Your son.
When I turned my face to the class, I saw a boy walking out. “Hey, where are you going to?”
“I wan hease myself!”
“Without permission! Is this your father’s house? Go back to your seat!”
“Ahhh!” The class was shocked.
“I said, get back to your fu—your seat!” I seethed.
The boy said something in Yoruba as he made for his seat and the class roared with laughter.
“Get out of my class!” I roared.
Happily, the boy began to leave the class. When he reached the door, he said something in Yoruba and the class roared again. I lifted a brick that supported a desk and rushed towards him. The boy flew away.
“Hey!” I shouted. “If I ever see you in my class, I am going to kill you and your government won’t do anything.” I wouldn’t even recognise the boy tomorrow.
I dropped the brick on the floor. The class was buzzing like a circus.
“Uncle, if you kill somebody, police—“
“Sharrap! I say sharrap! Are you stupid? Am I your mate? If you don’t wanna learn, you gerrout and stay out. I’m not forcing any bagger to learn.”
A graveyard silence greeted me.
My breathing was now out of proportion.
“Nonsense,” I hissed. “Now, what is stress?”
No one answered.
Hold yourself, man, hold yourself, I cautioned myself desperately. “But I just defined stress now, didn’t I? W-h-a-t is s-t-r-e-s-s?” Now I hated this graveyard. I sighed. “At least, who knows what a syllable is?” No one budged. We were back to square one. “Stress,” I began real slowly as though talking to a group of idiot children, “is the force, force, force or energy, energy, that you place, put on a….?”
I waited. No one completed the sentence for me.
“On a syllable, you fools!” I fumed.
The class laughed.
Just then, I saw Micah’s sad face by the window. I went out of the class to meet him. “How far?”
Micah nodded. Since that snake incident four days back, he had been cold toward me. Of course Fisayo didn’t die, but the quack corper gave her bed rest for ‘close monitoring’. Yet at night, he went home to his cozy bed while I and Fatima slept in Fisayo’s ward. Fatima slept on the bed with her friend; I shared the hard wood bench with the mosquitoes. For two nights. For these nights, Micah snored away in his bed. Now here he was, giving me righteous shoulders… for something we planned together!
“What is it?”
“I have been thinking,” Micah said. “My conscience is judging me. I want to confess our crime.”
“What crime?” I asked hotly.
“The snake crime that nearly killed Fisayo.”
My nose twitched with anger. This is why I hate doing things with people with water-hearts, I said to myself. And he is even calling it a crime!
“I will confess this afternoon,” Micah said.
“You can’t do that, Micah.”
“Because… can’t you see it is still early. Confessing now may trigger the spinal mechanism in Fisayo and cause a relapse. Don’t you know this simple fact?”
“You are talking grammar,” Micah said, but there was doubt in his eyes.
So I sharpened my offensive. “Although Fisayo is safe now, but the danger hasn’t passed. Her brain is still yet to recover from its oblong tumour. If you want to aggravate it with your holy-holy, good luck!”
“Uncle! Bolaji and Yinka is fighting!” shouted a student at me.
“Micah, of course, what we did is bad, it must be confessed, but not now. Use your sense.”
“So when do we confess?”
Who is ‘we’? I breathed a secret sigh of relief. “I don’t know. We’ll be watching Fisayo closely.” I saw Agu and Edwin approaching us, and added hastily, “Micah, forget it… for now!”
“Guys, wahala dey o,” Agu reported when they walked up to us. “I wan make we do emergency meeting, now-now.”
“I have a class now-now,” I said.
“Me too,” said Micah.
“After school then,” Edwin said. “We really need to talk guys.”
I nodded and turned to my class. At the door, I stopped. To stress or not to stress? I was really tired of the whole thing. Why don’t you just go to the staff room and read a novel? But as the noble teacher that I am, I took courage; I carried my cross and entered the classroom.
Edwin and Agu sat with me on my mattress. Micah still resented me too much to sit down on my bed. So the fool remained standing. Agu told us his emergency. His chick had just informed him that she had missed her period. He’d consulted someone and was told to bring eight thousand naira to get a quick abortion. The chick was a nineteen-year-old girl learning tailoring at the junction. A sturdy thing who cannot say her left from her right. I know her father. The poor man runs a mechanic workshop. He has five children, all daughters; now the first daughter was pregnant for Agu (of all corpers!).
“I have four thousand,” Agu was saying. “I want you guys to help me raise the other dough.”
“I will give you two thousand naira,” Edwin said proudly.
Agu looked at me. I looked away.
“Micah?” Edwin said.
“I don’t have money for now, but I gave Madrid two handicap against Elche, and gave Cardiff two and Southampton to win. The matches take place tonight. All my picks have gone well, if Madrid and Southampton win well, I will make 16 thousand naira.”
What was the fool talking about?
Edwin sighed. “You and Kings should help raise the remaining two thousand. Will tomorrow be okay?”
Micah nodded. Agu thanked us all, and they left.
I was hurt. There were five guys in this lodge, but Agu called only four of us to this meeting. He didn’t invite Dayo because Dayo would never participate in such evil conspiracy. Dayo was a man of God. Everyone knows that. But they invited me. That they found me good enough for this meeting told me that they considered me a fellow sinner like them. A whole me. It is bad to suspect that your name is not in the Book of Life. It hurts more to know that your neighbours know.
I would teach Agu to respect my kingdom personality. So I tore a piece of paper and wrote this:
‘How is your daughter, Jumoke? She has been acting strangely of recent. Why don’t you take her to the hospital and check her thoroughly. Do all manner of tests including pregnancy test on her. Thanks.
‘From a Christian brother who doesn’t approve of abortions.’
I put the paper under my pillow and placed my head on the pillow. I would mail the letter tonight. But first, let me get a well-earned sleep.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu, and blogs at kingkingsley.wordpress.com