THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO
The principal didn’t know the best way to appease the extremely angered man standing before her. From the rigorous repeated wriggling of his hands and stamping of his feet hard against the rugged floor, even the blind would see that this man is greatly enraged. He had been raking right from the classroom and when the teachers around couldn’t curtail it anymore, they had to gently talk him into coming to the principal’s office to iron out issues.
The office, averagely spacious and coloured with lots of awards hanging on the walls, so much so that one would wonder how the barely twelve-year old school had achieved so much magnificent feat within that little space of time. Truly, it has. Owned by a British woman, the sophisticated Aleka Academy, Ankpa run with internationally standardized scheme of studies. A perfect blend of a white man’s idea with Africa’s beautiful and serene environment.
“You don’t tell me to be calm young woman!” Matthew yelled, pointing his first finger at the principal, Aunty Theresa, popularly called Aunty Tee “…Wait a minute! Is this how you let children bully one another under your watch? I am very, very disappointed in you all, very very.”
He pointed from the principal in front of him, to the teacher on duty and the form teacher of Laibe’s class standing behind him as he said the last part of ‘very, very disappointed in you all’. The other teachers courteously dropped their head to face the ground as he turned to point at them. Apart from his height and stature which is already intimidating enough as it were, the thunderous voice he yelled out with made shudders run down everyone’s spine.
“We sincerely apologise sir. It is their break time and students should normally not be left in class, same applies to teachers. We, however, take it as a little act of negligence on our own part and we promise it won’t repeat itself ever again” Aunty Tee voiced with the little more confidence she could mutter. Her voice was unusually as calm as a still stream and even if a pin fell while she spoke, everyone would still hear it. At the same time, anyone listening to her would know she isn’t threatened, instead, she is being polite. What more is expected from the principal of such a large school?
The plight of the man that had bluntly refused to take the seat offered him in front of her was quite understandable and there was no sense in her trying to be defensive or playing the blame game at this point. Not with the type of tensed atmosphere the man had successfully created in the administrative block thus far, his voice literally shaking the foundations of the building. If truly what this guardian met today had been happening all along, she expected the poor girl who is the victim to come report. That’s how it is done. The school is very large, no doubt, but students had good rapport with their teachers including herself, in spite of her elevated position as the principal. The management board and staff try as much as it depends on them to create a homely and friendly atmosphere especially for the ‘Johnny Just comes’ – JJC, as the freshmen are fondly referred. Maybe the girl who is standing at the entrance to her office, looking as timid as a snail withdrawn into its shell, wasn’t in the know of all of this; which is close to impossible. The deed is done anyways and she should be humble and wise enough to clean the mess. Of course that was why the proprietress put her there as the overall eye.
“This poor girl was brought from the village barely a week ago. I was rest assured of the discipline and principled tenets of this particular school when my wife messaged me about it. I didn’t find it reasonable objecting to it, I still haven’t replied her messages. I’m just coming back from Lokoja for the first time in the last week and felt like dropping by to check how she is fairing in school, only to see this horrible sight. Her classmates ridiculing and making mockery of her…” he voice rose higher with every new word.
“We apologise deeply sir for the embarrassment. We are very sorr…”
“Sorry for yourself Young woman!” Matthew snapped, “…I’ll take my daughter away from here if this happens again.”
Laibe’s heart missed a beat when he heard her uncle’s statement. ‘Daughter?’ Did he just call her his daughter? Is her uncle accepting her stay in his house finally? Has he adopted her as daughter as her aunty Udale had always wanted him to? She smiled as those thoughts made her mouth feel as if it was filled with sugar. She crave for the love of at least a foster father in her life. She had only had a grandfather all along. Her father died when she was barely three in a ghastly motor accident on one of his trips to oba, a very large market where people from all over the state come to sell and buy things at cheaper prices. She remembered hugging him that morning and he promised to buy her usual – cheese balls, whenever he is returning. She stayed anticipating and waiting for her father in vain. It was the next day that an ambulance drove into Baba’s compound and some men requesting to see her mother and Baba. Laibe really didn’t understand much but seeing tears dropping down Baba’s face, she knew something horrible had happened. Her mother cried her eyes out, rolled on the mud floor as sympathisers tried to hold her down and stop her from injuring herself in the process. She was only three, all she did was hold on to her mother’s wrapper as if so as to prevent the older woman from leaving her too. A week passed and only then did she realise that her father was never going to come back with her snacks. She didn’t cry, maybe because she was a child, no one knows. She only jerks up whenever she closed her eyes to sleep; she would see her father’s ‘pick-up van’ over thrown and summersaulting at an extremely high speed into the bush. From that time onward, she dreaded cars of any form. For months she battled with sleep and fell ill over and over again as a result. Something inside her scares her. It scared her that cars would always kill one when people are at home waiting for you. In fact, only God can fathom the fear lit in her heart everyday she is being driven down to and back from school since Monday. Her heartbeat only normalizes when she steps down from the car. She had gone the past ten years without a father and if only her uncle can assume a father figure in her life henceforth she would be most grateful.
“The Js1 class is filled with children with different manners from their diverse primary schools, Sir. We are committed to instilling discipline, knowledge and culture into them within the shortest possible time Sir. We apologise for this particular event, Sir. It’s the first of its kind, I can assure you. We guarantee her of the best in this place, Sir. ‘For a better tomorrow’ is our motto.” Aunty Tee assured him, ensuring that the repeated ‘Sirs’ was heard clearly
Matthew didn’t loosen his face. He left it that way – tied, angry, and unwelcoming.
“We are deeply sorry sir!” The three teachers behind him apologised as well and at this point Matthew cautioned himself and heaved a sigh of relief.
“That would be all for now.” He said and got up. Laibe could not look up at her uncle in the eye. Apart from her small stature, she was burning with fear on the inside. She kept her face down and clung onto the door frame like she would penetrate it.
As her uncle moved towards the door, she didn’t know what to expect. Her heart was anticipating a hug. Like a father would embrace a long lost but found daughter. Would that be so much? OK, a smile at least. She had never seen a smile dance around his lips before. A smile should do. But she got none. None whatsoever. She only felt her uncle dash out of the office in a flash like a wave that almost swept her off her feet. She didn’t know if she felt like crying, after he left her standing there like that without a word, or not. She didn’t understand; the man never say anything to her, and right here that he is passionately defending her before her teachers, he still said nothing to her.
“Laibe… Lai…” The principal screamed from her seat.
“Ma!” Laibe jerked back from her thoughts.
“I have been calling you. What is on your mind?” Aunty Tee paused as though she needed a response and on a second thought continued, “…Who were the students mocking you in the class?”
Laibe kept staring blankly at her principal. Was she supposed to know the names of those students? Even if she did, would she implicate some other people’s children? She has always gotten used to taking blames, accepting others peoples’ faults and even going ahead to receive punishments on their behalves. She doubt if she would be able to point out any of them.
“Alright, you don’t know their names? Uncle Jibrin, lead us to her class, she would surely know their faces when we get there. Those students must receive ample doses of punishment for bullying their new classmate.” Aunty Tee stood up, rearranged her dress and walked out of the office after Uncle Jibrin. Laibe was the last to step out and if given the opportunity to say anything, she would beg Aunty Tee not to punish anyone on her behalf.
“Baba, number le le no” Omachoko told Baba that ‘the phone number he was dialling wasn’t connecting’ while handing back Baba’s handset to him. Due to the last scenario that almost rose Baba’s blood pressure – the rampant kidnap mantra- aunty Udale gave the old man some money while they were leaving to buy a phone no matter how small. Baba later sent Omachoko to go get him a handset, portable and affordable from Aloma. Because Omachoko had to use his old rickety motorcycle to get down there (and the motorcycle really showed how old it is by breaking down nothing less than three times), Baba could have easily sent Edogbanya since the latter worked there, but as it’s characteristics of the old man, his spirit seem to click with some particular people. Reasons best known to him as he never discloses. The Nokia3310 has been Baba’s saving grace for a week now, at least he gets to know the wellbeing of his granddaughter by calling Udale. Laibe’s voice over the phone sends shudders down his spine. His spirit is not at rest with Laibe’s stay at Ankpa yet he couldn’t raise any alarm. Udale is his only child left for Christ’s sake, she couldn’t harm her own little niece, would she? It didn’t seem so, at least up until yesterday morning when he last spoke with them. Udale said she was taking Laibe to school and that was a thing of joy to the old man. He had always known how Laibe wanted to go to school and be truly education. The number isn’t going through now, he may have to try later in the evening. The thought didn’t comfort him though. Omachoko followed the elderly man as he walked into the house from under the mango tree they have been standing. The strength of the network inside the house is always weak so one needed to step outside like this to get better and clearer reception.
Omachoko quietly took his seat on one of the old armed chairs beside Baba and just watched with astonishment how the old man effortlessly found his way around the house, considering that his vision grew dimmer by the day. Baba took his bowl of ofofolo and drank passionately from it before offering it to Omachoko. The young man collected it courteously and gulped some quantity down his throat before returning it onto the stool. One may not be able to categorically pinpoint why Baba liked the young man Omachoko, but this must surely be one of the reasons. Baba always see him as hard working – trying to maintain the legacy his father had left behind. Baba also see his younger version in Omachoko, except of course for the dreadlocks, and so accord him an undeserved level of respect.
“Baba, na lo t’Ankpa” Omachoko finally spoke up after minutes of deafening silence. He said ‘Baba, I’ll be going to Ankpa”. His fingers has been stroking his little chunk of beards tenderly all along as his mind ran over the best way to present this to Baba. He tried also to imagine Baba’s possible response and some likely questions he would ask.
Baba didn’t know if those words sank well in him or if his ears were deceiving him again. He sat up and turned in Omachoko’s direction. His eyes were blood shot and that somehow scared Omachoko. All the while the young man had been contemplating this decision, the only thing that worried him was how Baba was going to take it. They have grown closer in the past week and as its said that the aged gets to a point they become kids again wanting love, acceptance and availability, it wouldn’t be nice to get this close to his heart and dash off all of a sudden. Still, he wasn’t sure if that is the real problem. He waited till Baba gave a response which was a deep question, asking what his reason for deciding to go to Ankpa is. Omachoko tried in futility to enumerate cogent reasons that informed this decision to leave the village. He thought of using his new business idea as a reason but the fact is his large farm would suffer in his absence. Eventhough he had asked one of his cousins to look after it, everyone, however, know that none can take care of a property as good as its owner. Especially a skilled owner like Omachoko. That farm is his and family’s only source of livelihood. Why then is he contemplating abandoning it? Perhaps what he was going to do in Ankpa would improve the state of the farm… or would turn his whole life’s boat from the farming business altogether. He wasn’t sure. He had much plans as it were and the last statement of the old man that threw him off guard was when he asked if his decision to go to Ankpa had Laibe as its precursor. Omachoko swallowed deeply as he looked on at Baba. He didn’t know the best answer to give but surely, Laibe couldn’t have gone scot free after all.
To be continued.