I handed the cheque given to me to Modupe’s mother as I have taken her to be my Guardian, she would put the money into her business and train me and her children with it.
It was in 1985 that I was admitted into Apata Grammar School in Ibadan as a boarding student. I was sixteen years old and in form one, Modupe was fifteen years and in form four, she would graduate the next year. It was not easy trying to cope at school, my age mates were in form three and above, I had already sprouted a moustache, and my legs were hairy, this made me become a subject of discussion in the school, I clearly stood out amongst my classmates, and sometimes they mischievously refer to me as uncle Bolaji.
I was made the class prefect on the first day at school, it was on the assembly ground that the school principal spotted me lined up with form one students, he shouted on top of his voice at me, he said I should leave the line and go to join my mates, he was pointing at the senior students line. The whole assembly rocked with laughter until a teacher went and whispered something to the principal, he then waved the students to a silence and apologized to me publicly, he then asked me the alphabet of my class. Class one B sir I replied. Good! From today, you are the class monitor! He announced and there were shouts of uncle ‘B’ everywhere.
Life in boarding school was totally different for me. I had being a free bird all my life, I had lived without bounds or rules and regulations, it was a different ball game here as I was made to wake up at 5.30pm every morning. I was forced to observe afternoon rest daily at 3pm; I was to go to Sunday church service at the school chapel. I had never attended a church or mosque in my sixteen years of existence. We were given portions of food without caring if the ration will satisfy you or not and you cannot ask for more food if you are not satisfied else they tag you ‘Oliver twist’
Another challenge I had was that I was too crude and uncivilized, my ways were strange to my fellow students, I was a raw village boy who not speak good English and when I try to speak English my accent made it sound as if I was speaking Jamaican ‘patua’, people laugh whenever I open my mouth to speak and I always had reasons to speak because I was the class monitor.
Mr Adegoke was my English teacher and he took special interest in my reformation, he does not laugh when I commit blunders while speaking, he was quick to correct my errors and made me to correct my self by repeating the words correctly, he personally gave me a book titled”Common errors in English” and gave me home work on it daily. Once he called me into his office and encouraged me to be focused and positive, he said I was catching up fast and I should not take any of the aspersions being cast on me seriously. He said he believed in me. He was the first human being to challenge me and dared me to succeed if I can, he told me that age was just a number and that once I am out of secondary school I will realized that age means nothing at the university or the larger world, he asked after my parent and I told him my story. He then told me that I could rewrite my story if I try, he said he was an orphan too. His words of encouragement moved me and I secretly vowed to succeed in life by becoming more serious and determined
Kareem was nine years old and in the same class with me, he calls me ‘egbon’ meaning ‘elder one’. I told him severally to stop calling egbon but he refused. He said he could not bring himself to calling me by my first name because I happen to be the same age with his eldest brother, his father’s first born who was a first year student at the University of Ife, his brother is older than three other persons before him and he reveres his eldest brother. He finally agreed to be calling me ‘Uncle B’ since that has been like a nick name.
He was the smallest and smartest in the class and he helped me a lot and in return I protected him from bullies. Every potential bully in the school left him alone the day I slapped Joseph for beating up Kareem at the school farm during Agric practical.
Joseph returned to school the next day with a swollen face and people thought it was because of the slap I had used to send him out of the school farm the previous day. The students had formed a circle with Joseph and Kareem at the centre while they cheered the duo to fight. Kareem was never a match for Joseph or anyone in the class. Kareem was lanky and feeble by stature while Joseph was an Igbo boy that eats fufu three times daily without drinking much water! He was very stout with a barrel like chest. He was sitting on Kareem’s stomach and stuffing dried grass into the poor boys mouth when I came into the farm. I broke the chain formed by the students, lifted Joseph off Kareem and dealt him a blinding slap over his eyes, it was someone else that shouted in pain instead of Joseph himself for he ran blindly out of the farm stumbling and shouting ‘anya m o! (My eyes!)
The Joseph incident increased my fame in the school and another ‘alias’ was added to my name ‘Ifoti to gbona’ (hot slap) so the senior students called me ‘ifoti’ while my mates called me ‘Uncle B’ and all these happened in the first term of my first year in school.
At the end of the second term in form one my grade was better than the first term. My total average score went up from 53 to 76 percent. I got a ‘C’ in English language and an ‘A’ in mathematics.
Kareem was a wiz kid! His average was 98 percent, he got an A in all subjects but Yoruba language where he got a ‘B’. I got a ‘C; in Yoruba language even though I spoke the thickest Yoruba in class and knew every adage in the language even more than my teacher.
We went for the long vacation of 1986. Modupe and I rarely saw at school because I did not like to be in her company due to inferiority complex. I could not bring myself to call Modupe ‘senior Dupe’ as every junior does. We were from the same Village and I was older than her.
The few times we encountered at the school sports arena, she had tormented me by speaking to me in good English instead of using the ekiti dialect that we were both brought up with, of course she got the good laugh she wanted when I attempted to speak with her in good English also. She even had the audacity to refer to me as her school son once. I warned her in a language only the two of us understood and walked out on her.
Our relationship at school affected our closeness when we went home on holiday. I did not return to her house. I went to my grandma’s house and cleaned it up. I went and met Modupe’s mother to give me some of my money for my upkeep, she refused, and she said I should e coming to her house to eat daily. I was about seventeen years old and a boy of my age needs some change in his pocket. She said she had put all of my money in a fixed deposit account at the bank and was not due for withdrawal. I was happy.
Modupe has a boy friend. The boy was already in the university, he is from our village and my age mate. He is the son of the ‘Balogun’ a high chief of our village.
Akindele drives his father’s Peugeot 504 Salon Car whenever he is at home and he comes to take Modupe out daily.
I used the holiday period to develop the two plots of land given to me by the community. I planted maize. I was on my way home from the farm one evening when Akindele drove by and stopped to give me a lift home as the farm was about one hour trekking distance from the Village. Modupe was in the car with him and she prevented me from entering the car, she said I was sweating and smelling. She said I was half way home already and would be better I continued trekking. She told Akindele to drive on. I saw the look of confusion on the face of Akindele but I thanked him for his gesture and I continue to walk home with my hoe on the shoulder and my Cutlass swinging in my hands. She was right! I was sweating and smelling, and I was actually half way home
We resumed school in October 1986 for the transitional term in preparation for the new 6334 academic system promulgated by the federal ministry of education. This implied that we would be staying 6 years in secondary school instead of the former 5 years but those students already in forms 4 and 5 would graduate after five years. Modupe would graduate this session.
Modupe was appointed the Girls senior prefect of the school and my friends were congratulating because of my supposed affiliation with her. I could not really tell what I did to Modupe that made her change towards me, I have thought it over without any clue so I decided to keep my distance from her to avoid further embarrassment.
There was a day Modupe was going from classroom to classroom with her cane in hand looking for noise makers or any non conformer. She entered my class, I was discussing an assignment with Kazeem but we all stood up and greeted her. She waved the class to sit down and she pointed the cane at Kazeem and I.
You two! Stand up! Come out here! She commanded
We went to the front of the class
Why were you two disturbing the class? She asked
Senior, we were not disturbing, we were working on an assignment! Kazeem replied.
Shut up! Big head! She barked. Do you do assignments with hands or your mouth? Oya, the two of you, go and kneel in the sun kia! Kia! (Quickly) she commanded.
There was a soft wave of murmuring in the class room.
What is it? She asked the class; or do you all want to go outside and kneel with them? She asked
Yes! Yes! The class chorused. Uncle is our Class Monitor and he does not make noise! Someone dare to say amongst the students.
Who is talking? Come outside this minute! Modupe commanded angrily.
It was Joseph that came out, the boy I slapped sometime ago.
Oh! You have the guts to talk any how to me abi? Modupe queried.
But senior, the class was quiet when you came in, and even if uncle B was talking, it was on a low tone and moreover, he is our class captain! Joseph explained.
By the way, who is uncle B? Modupe asked him, though she knew he was referring to me.
Uncle B! Uncle! The class chorused, pointing at me.
Modupe turned to face me; she poked my chest with her cane.
Hey! They say you are uncle B! Are you not ashamed of your self? Your age mates are in the university and here you are with the age mates of your children! And you are happy that they call you uncle! Agbaya lasan lasan! (Old fool) my friend, go out! Go out and kneel in the sun with your hands up in the sky! She screamed as she flogged every part of my body with the cane. We ran out of the class onto the open field and quickly knelt down. Hands up! Hand up! She was upon us flogging frantically. We obeyed even as we tried to block the canes with our outstretched arms.
Where is that other foolish one that has a big mouth to talk to me any how? She screamed as she charged back into out class room. She flogged Joseph out of the class to out kneeling position.
Common kneel down! Kneel down! You know how to talk abi?
Joseph joined us weeping and writhing in pain.
She did not come back to release us until the close of school when students were rushing to the assembly ground that my English language teacher saw us and told us to stand up and proceed to the assembly ground.
There was another instance when some of us came to class in the morning. The school’s time regulator was the duty prefect and she told us to kneel down as punishment for coming late. Modupe came around and saw that I was amongst the kneeling students: she immediately summoned the Labour prefect and instructed him to take us to the school football field with our Langalanga (long flexible cutlass) to cut grass through out the day. We missed classes that day.
Severally I contemplated confronting Modupe to ask her to forgive me in whatever form I have wronged her but anytime I see her, my heark beat skips and I scurry away before she sees me. My social life in class 2 was very poor and bitter because of my fear for Modupe.
I also recall the day she disgraced me in the presence of the whole school during our monthly “social night” gathering that holds in the school hall every last Saturday of the month. I was representing class 2 in the “Mr. Macho” competition and have scaled two rounds of screening already.
It was my third and last round of flexing muscles and posing amidst cheers and cat cries from the students. I was sure of victory as my shiny body glistered under the florescent bulbs that laminate the hall. We had rubbed our bodies with Vaseline jelly. After my act, I got a resounding ovation and I was all smiles until it was time for the oral interview. The judges of course were a selection of school prefects. I was given a wireless micro phone to answer questions directed at me.
It was the social prefect that asked me the first and only question that shattered my night.
Bolaji! Aka uncle B! He called and the hall went agog again chanting uncle B!
He gestured for the students to calm down and he continued; if you win the 1000 naira prize for this competition and you are told to give it to any girl of your choice in this school, who would be?
It was a simple question and I answered quickly;
Of course I would give it to my sister the SP girls!
Modupe got up from her seat and walked briskly to snatch the microphone from the social prefect.
Who is your sister? She asked me: are you okay?
SP! I said calmly, are you no longer my sister? Are we not from the same village?
Look! Look! Look! She countered, pointing at me; I know where I am from o! I know my village very well. My father told me everything about my lineage before he died and you or your family was not mention by my father! Look! I know my father and I know my mother! Do you know yours? Answer me! She challenged, do you know your father or your mother?
I was answering her but the words did not come out as I took the microphone to my mouth to speak. My tongue felt glued to roof of my mouth. I desperately struggled to say something but the words weren’t coming out.
Oh you can’t talk abi? She continued; please for your information and to set the records straight, I am not from the same town with you! You were brought from Lagos at birth by your prostitute mother and dumped with your retired prostitute grand mother before your mother ran back to Lagos to continue her profession! True or false?
The whole hall went wild with laughter. She handed the microphone back to the stunned social prefect. I wished for the earth to open up and swallow me as I stood there in shame wearing only a boxer and crying with my glistering face. It was Kazeem that came from the crowd and pulled me back stage. Once back stage I broke down and wept like a hungry baby
You brought this upon your self uncle B! Kazeem said.
How? I asked crying
You know this girl does not like you! Couldn’t you have called any other girl in the school or any of our class girls? Why someone whom you and I know hates your guts? Kazeem asked
Kazeem, how am I to know she resents me that much? I did not do anything to Modupe that would make her humiliate me so badly. Do you know that the fortune my retired prostitute grand mother left for me is with Modupe’s mother? She invested it in her business. I gave her my everything so she could be a mother to her children and me. Her mother and mine were child hood friends.
I also gave Modupe’s mother the reward our state government gave me for helping to recover some stolen bank money. During the last holiday, I asked her mother for some money but she told me my money was put in a fixed deposit and was not mature for withdrawal. She said she put my two hundred thousand naira in a fixed deposit account! What about the raw cash my granny left for me that she invested into her business? Couldn’t she spare me some pocket money while I was on holiday? I did not pry further because I felt she may not have physical cash with her. I had to work as a hired labourer in other people’s farms in other to have some pocket money while on holiday. I wailed as I explained all these to Kazeem. Ha! See how Modupe finished me publicly in my unclothedness!
I did not return to the stage, I wiped my body dry with a towel and went into my class room to think about certain facts about my life. Like, who is my real father? What is my real surname? Where is my mother? What does she even look like? Why did she not look back and come for me after all these years even after being told that her mother had died? What does she think had become of me? Does she have other children? Who really am I?
Those were the questions I asked Mr. Adegoke my English language teacher when I narrated my experience on the social night to him in his office on Monday morning during recess.
He felt so sad and expressed his disappointment at modupe’s attitude towards me. However, he gave me some words of encouragement. He told me not to focus on all the negative issues in my life, he mentioned some notable citizens of the world and Nigeria in particle who had very terrible childhood. He encouraged me to try and re-write my story so that my children will not go through what I have gone through in life. He said to me “Bolaji, you do not have any one in this world except your self” the only way you can change your story is to be the best in all that you do! “failure is a bastard but success has many relatives” you must succeed! You must pass your WAEC in flying colours! You must go to the university! You must graduate with first class honours! With these, you will get a good job! When you get a good job and you are comfortable then you will see another face of the human specie! Once you are successful, you will realize how important you will be! Every one that has mocked you will swallow their words shamelessly! Even the so called Modupe will worship you and she will apologize for all she has done to you. She will try to justify all the wrong she did you. That is human being for you. But do not allow Modupe to shatter your dream rather let it challenge you. I bet you Bolaji, when you become someone in life, your elusive mother will go through the desert to reach you! Bet with me! He gave me his right little finger, I gave him mine and we betted. He gave me a pat on the back as he stood up and walked out of his office. I have a class to teach after the recess, he said.
Mr. Adegoke’s words were like the balm I needed to heal up. I made up my mind then to be more close to Kazeem so he could help me to improve in my academics.
By the end of class 2 I passed with an overall average of 88%. I got an A in English language and a B in mathematics
…To be continued