I did pay a visit to my alma mater recently, a school located in Ibadan. Government-owned. Of course, I would have loved to reel out the name of the school but for the absence of usual alma mater pride following what I saw in the course of my visit. You know, when you finish from Harvard, you would without hesitation announce ‘I finished from Harvard’. You would even anticipate the question, won’t you? That is the chance to let everyone know you are not their mate.
But you do not even need to finish from Harvard, there are secondary schools in Ibadan, Oyo State that you would proudly announce you finished from and there are others, you shy away from the question wishing it never pops up. Yes, I went to one in the latter category. Do not expect a name.
I am unemployed. I have been unemployed for two years. You should understand why someone wakes one morning and decides to go to his alma mater without planning to make a donation. I just left a job interview at Molete and I felt I should not go home with this shirt starched and looking all good for the first time in a while. Should I just stroll in? I did.
I happened to have come in while they were on the short break. The thirty minutes break. In the commotion of ecstasy and joy, I could still remember myself in a group like this chasing balls and trying to get food or ‘base’. Those days, it was either you got food or you got ‘base’. Base is what happens when you get a plate regardless of the fact that you did not buy food. You go from one friend to the other with this plate asking for one spoon or base. On days when you were lucky or pestered enough, you ended up eating more food than those who even bought. Base, base, base, base and you are fed.
I could still remember the time-table. After break it was Mathematics on Mondays and Wednesdays and it was Physics on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The same teacher took us Mathematics and Physics so his face was the end of the joy of break. Mr. Waliyu we called him then. He was really the end of joy. Short and dark with sharp tribal marks. He looked like the overused simile — a man who had been in a fight with a lion.
But in addition to having looked like a man who had fought a lion, Mr. Waliyu must have also stolen the voice of the lion so he seemed to roar fright. Some evaded school for the entire day once they went for break and he had his way to get them punished. As heavy as the punishment was, we still dared it especially when we had not done his assignments.
I had not spent close to 15 minutes in the premises when a ball hit my starched shirt and this boy comes around. He picks the ball and runs back like nothing happened. Like he had simply hit a pole and it had bounced the ball back. I would call him and ask ‘did you not see you hit me?’ And he would reply ‘did you not see the ball coming?’. I decided to let it go. It must be the wages of my sin.
I roamed through the dormitory, classes and favourite spots of the past. They seemed more damaged than they were then. At least, we still had three or four louvres standing in the classes when I was in school. On that day, no semblance of a glass stood in the way of the foul air that came from the school toilet. It was a free access. The absence of a glass now helped the window to serve as another entrance for impatient students who could not use the door due to congestion or as the escape route for those who needed to leave the boring classes.
The ceilings had ended finally their indecision if to just open their mouth and stare at the floors. They had come down in embrace of their long lost friend Mr. Floor and the reunion left timber planks supporting leaking roofs open to view. The timber planks had all over them termites of various sizes whose goal is to send the entire roof down.
A bit of my wandering and the lab had torn diagrams which had been there since I finished 10 years ago. I remember the rest of those diagrams from what is left of them. I was laboratory prefect. The test tubes had all become broken. Broken such that they stood in the holds with more lost than what was left in them. The blackboard still stood well, I must speak the truth. It was in good condition. But a blackboard in this century?
I was done with my sightseeing. I would desire leaving. But on my way out, I noticed it seemed the break had not ended. The sight of students breaking melon shells, removing stems from pepper and one even operating a hand grinding machine brought back the familiar memory of female teachers and how they utilised the labour of their students. The staff room had not emptied yet to signify the end of the break. There was still an on-going discussion. It was heated. The teachers were passionate.
The last classroom that would attract my interest was that of my secondary school love. Her name is Bimpe. She is in Italy the last I heard of her. The last I saw of her was when she was leaving a popular abortion clinic at Iwo Road in the company of two other ladies. She was too tired to speak while I was too unemployed to greet her.
I just stared in the class for a quick look and I noticed a jubilant atmosphere. I did not want to be left out. So I asked for what was happening. They stared around and did not understand English. So they summoned this girl, whose name would interestingly turn out as Bimpe. ‘Bimpe, so eyinbo siwon pada. Awa o gbo eyinbo tin so‘. (Bimpe, reply his English. We cannot). I asked little Bimpe for what the cause of the joy was.
And she told me with a broad smile, revealing a bright set of teeth… “the mother of our teacher is died.”