This is something that should probably make it as an episode in the Eze Goes To School series – and it probably still will. But I’m penning it down as a pseudo-birthday wish in arrears to a woman who played a very important role in my early years as a teenager.
I became very popular in secondary school by a singular incident that occurred in my SS2. Before then, I was just another student whose only claim to exultation was as a class captain. And then came SS2, and I was catapulted into international renown.
Here’s how it all happened.
In my secondary school, back when I attended it anyway, whatever class you got into in JSS1 would remain your class till SS1. By SS2, you’d get to choose the class which suited the career path you intended to take in the university. A and F were the medical sciences classes; B was the arts class; C and E were the economics and commerce classes; and D was the engineering class.
On that day in the third term of SS1, a bunch of us in my class were conversing about which classes we’d pick come next term. I was in the sciences and quite brilliant, and so, my classmates expected that I’d naturally want to be in SS2A. But you see, SS2A was exactly where every brilliant science student in my set wanted to be in. Every one of them, from SS1A to SS1F, science students at the top of their classes. And I could hear the voice of my father in my head severely telling me on my first day of school way back in JSS1: “Better don’t come back to this house with any result that is below the fifth position. If you fall below fifth position, don’t bother coming home for the holiday.”
I took my father’s threat very seriously, and for four years, I’d steadfastly worked to be at the top of my class, never falling below the third position.
So the idea of working even harder against the hot heads of the other classes and not even be guaranteed the top five was just too nerve-wracking.
So when a classmate made the passing remark about how she expected I’d go to SS2A, I demurred. “I’m not going to A. I’m going to F.”
“Really?” she said, her eyes suddenly taking on a shine that I didn’t understand.
“Yes, really,” I said.
“Wow, me too,” she enthused. “I’m going to F. Hey, maybe we can sit together.”
Every one of us in that conversation laughed at the absurdity of her words. There were two reasons we were amused by what she said. Firstly, in the history of the school, never had it been seen or heard that a boy and a girl shared the same classroom seat. For a mixed school, the segregation was never questioned. It was just so. Boys sat with boys and girls sat with girls.
Secondly, even if by some twist of fate, boys began sitting with girls in the classrooms, this particular girl was just NOT the kind of girl who’d sit with me. For one, I was nerdish and she was WAY out of my league. If we had prom nights in Nigerian secondary schools, this girl would be a strong contender for the prom queen.
Her name is Nkiru.
Now, the topic never came up again until we graduated from SS1. We vacationed from school. The holidays sped by, and before I knew it, the start of a new school session was right around the corner. Resumption date was on a Friday, and usually, students liked to return either on the Friday or the weekend, mainly for one purpose – to hustle for a good classroom seat. You see, none of the classrooms had locks, and so you don’t expect to return at the beginning of a new term to find the seats situated just as you left them at the end of the previous term. Students returned and scavenged the classrooms for good seats, or reclaimed the old ones they’d been taking lessons from.
I knew this and for four years, I’d been part of that system. However, I couldn’t make it back to school on Friday or Saturday, because I was recuperating from malaria, and my mother insisted on a couple more days of motherly care per the doctor’s instructions. I got back to school on Sunday evening, well and truly aware that I’d be in for a trying first week of locating a good seat. I nursed the hope however that perhaps one of the boys who’d be in my new class would have gotten a seat and be wanting a seatmate.
I remember the day the words that changed my life were said to me. It was on the following Monday morning. The assembly had just ended, and there was an exodus of students from the assembly ground to the classroom area. It was a seat of whites and blues nearly iridescent under the morning sun.
As I moved toward the SS2 block, I was feeling slightly apprehensive about my brand new class, brand new classmates and nonexistent seat.
“Hey, Uchenna Ude!” someone hailed me from behind.
I knew my caller was female even before I made out the timbre of her voice. That was another thing about my secondary school dynamics: for some weird reason, girls always called boys by their full names, and vice versa. It didn’t matter that we’d been set-mates for long, when a girl wanted to call the attention of a boy or a boy was talking about a girl, the first name and surname would almost always be used.
Unless the two sexes were close friends – as me and this female caller were about to get.
So I turned, and there was Nkiru, brimming with all her new term freshness, sauntering over to me. She was smiling, an expression so infectious, I found myself smiling back.
“Welcome to SS2,” she singsonged.
“Same to you,” I said with a laugh.
“How does it feel being a senior boy?” she asked.
“I’ll let you know when we’re in that class,” I replied, nodding at the SS3 classroom block behind us.
We exchanged a laugh at that.
“I noticed earlier on,” she said, “that you weren’t looking happy. Why, what was the reason?”
I sighed. “I was just thinking about how I haven’t gotten a seat, and how I’ll manage this week.”
Her brows furrowed. “But you don’t have to worry about getting a seat. I’ve already gotten one for us.”
I stared my incomprehension at her. What do you mean ‘for us’? I seemed to be silently asking.
She stared back at me. What do you mean what do I mean ‘for us’? she seemed to be silently answering.
“I don’t understand…” I stammered.
“What don’t you understand? I told you now, how you and I should be seatmates in SS2.”
In a flash, that SS1 conversation came back to me, and my eyes bugged at her. “Wait…you were serious? Are you serious?”
“Yes, of course I’m serious,” she said with another smile. “We are about to become seatmates.”
I stood there, in total shock. I was hyperventilating. Seatmates! Me and a girl! A girl and me! Seatmates! Jesus, deliver me from this alien planet I’ve woken up into!
Apparently enjoying my astonishment, Nkiru took my hand in hers, still smiling and said, “Oya, come let’s go to our new class.”
All the time I had to enjoy anonymity was twenty-four hours. All of that first day. By the next day, word had spread like wildfire that there was a boy sitting with a girl. Actually, scratch that. The breaking news was that there was a boy sitting with Nkiru. Students wanted to know who this boy was – perhaps Nkiru’s boyfriend? For a full week, our classroom was a museum, and Nkiru and I the works of art on display. Students thronged past our classroom windows, their curious stares avidly sizing us up. Teachers came into the class and did a double take when they glanced in our direction.
I was acutely uncomfortable under all that scrutiny, and for a few days, I always sat with one leg tucked under the locker and the other placed outside the seat, as though I was constantly bracing myself to bolt from the seat at the slightest prompting.
I’d leave the class and return to the hostel to the frank admiration and lecherous cheering of both SS2s and SS3s in my hostel, all of who wanted salacious details of what was going on between Nkiru and I. For a long time, I protested that nothing out of the ordinary was going on between us. When these boys finally heard me, I was moved from Ultimate Loverboy to Ultimate Matchmaker, with a number of boys seeking to use me as a conduit to get to Nkiru’s, and indeed her friends’, hearts. I was suddenly the Truth, the Way and the Life. Incentives were given to me to oil the wheels of my Cupid’s vehicle – a bowl of cabin flakes, money for meat pie and Fanta during break time, a little of this and a little of that.
And that, dear diary, was how I found fame.
And then, the unthinkable happened –
But you’d have to stay tuned for all those details when all new episodes of Eze goes To School returns on MyMindSnaps from next week Monday 🙂
Meanwhile, here’s to Nkiru – a very belated Happy Birthday to you, dear seatmate. 😀
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