Eating the last loaf of stale bread you had, one you had frugally eaten for three days; a loaf, an evening, you wondered if things would continue the way they did. You, after your graduation from the university, sought after freedom not knowing the paradoxical nature of it. Captivity was locked in unripe freedom. There was no hiding your emaciation, but you would not ask your parents for help. Not even your uncles and aunts because you felt that your parents would discover this. Munching on the last crusty part which left flaky bits on the corners of your mouth, you decided to take up the offer of that teaching job in a private primary school which promised to pay eight thousand naira per month. At first, you were reluctant because you knew you were more than this. Stating this to the proprietress, she had pointed out the small number of pupils they had and tried to make you feel lucky she would be paying you this sum. According to her, the regular teachers got six thousand naira.
Notwithstanding the melancholy surrounding you, you decided to watch the TV. Oh, you could not afford to subscribe but you still had the DVD from back in your days at school. Then, your gadgets were still in vogue, and you were always proud to show it off to her, both of you huddled together with her form in the nook of your armpit. You both always pretended to be engrossed in the movie. She giggled loudly even when the scenes were not hilarious. She would say things like, “Can you hear what he/she is saying?” Then laugh more and push away strands of stubborn Bob Marley braids or twistings (those were her favorite hairstyles) that her hairband could not hold. Luckily for you, the strands continued to cascade so, you used this opportunity to tuck it back, your fingers leaving goosebumps in its wake because it lingered even beyond its point of need. You could not deny the raging hormones. How could you when her oranges which failed to defy gravity were pressed flat against your chest? How could she when you radiated enough heat to burn both of you? Remembering the good old days made you question what went wrong with you guys. Finding no definite answer, you tried to focus on a Yoruba movie you had seen a thousand times. Hyperbolic, of course, but at that point, you could recite many of the lines with them, though with not as much passion. Still befuddled by how the next day would be like, you did not know when sleep’s cold fingers closed your lids.
You knew when the power supply went off though, the whining of your ceiling fan was unmistakable as it decelerated in motion. Cockroaches also surfaced, they didn’t know how to be silent on carpets. Mosquitoes were the best singers at this time too but you made no effort to move from the only sofa you had to the more comfortable bed, both of which were in the same room as you stayed in a ‘selfcon’.
The alarm you had set for 6:00 am did its job, but you woke with a body ache. This was not surprising. Having no much work to do, you dressed up and packaged yourself. You had to look presentable. The creases on your trousers which you called gators stood out it almost looked stiff. On mornings like this, you fasted. Not out of your love for religious rites but because you saved it all up for the afternoon. You ate the most then. Since the school was not far from where you lived, you decided to trek, but you had second thoughts because your polished shoe shone that you almost saw your reflection in it. No speck of dust was allowed so when you moved on the streets to avoid a recurrence, it was stylish in nature, earning your glances.
The school did not have a gate, but it did have a low fence. You found the proprietress’s office quickly but realized that she had a secretary now. This development amused you because nothing seemed to have changed in the school. You were almost sure the proprietress was in her office alone because you had targeted the ‘after assembly time’ but was amazed, if not a bit annoyed to be told to wait because she had a visitor. With equanimity, you waited for forty-five minutes on a plastic chair which because of its dark color had not shown initial signs of harboring dirt until you sat and discovered it, with a silent curse.
“You can go in now.” The secretary informed with a smile as fake as her claws.
You waited for the visitor to come out but the secretary spoke again, “I said you can go in now.” Maybe the visitor is still inside, you concluded.
Turning the knob whose metallic nature left a coldness in your palm, you noticed the shards of light that must have been brought in by your entrance. Her office was a bit dim. You tried to get a hold of the visitor, but first greeted. “Good morning ma’am.”
“Good morning,” the proprietress singsonged, her air full of affectation and lacquered hands stretched over a mug of something that should have been coffee to a wooden seat that looked like the ones being used by the pupils except that it was higher and had a cushion where the buttocks would rest, “please have your seat.”
“Where is the visitor?”
Caught off guard, her demeanor changed, as it should. “What does that have to do with you, Mr…” She pretended not to remember your name, clicking her middle finger against her thumb repeatedly in an attempt to recall, but you could bet on your life that she did know what you answered to.
“Mr.Oyewole,” you supplied, dragging the seatback. It was sturdy, you noted as you sat. None of her new formality could intimidate you. “Ma’am, you had no visitor and delayed me like that because of this cubicle of a school,” you wanted to press but thought better of it. In fact, your mind continued: this cubicle of a school you are lobbying to get in.
Regaining her composure, she inquired in a way that said I-am-the-boss-here, “How may I help you?” That multifaceted agelong question that you had to be articulate in responding to especially when you knew the person had the capability of assisting.
You started to feel small and the words started to catch in your throat. In an ideal world of your own setting, you should have been the one asking that question and you almost bolted out of the door for the shame that accompanied such a request but remembering how close the day you had to pay your rent was, you said, in a very small voice, “I have…well, I have come to see if the job offer is still on.”
Her smile sprouted then grew so wide. Also, her fingers held each other across her table with her elbows as support, in that menacing way so that the mound rested beneath her chin. “Sorry Mister, but we have hired another teacher after you said what we had to offer you was too little.” She sipped that thing and slurped towards the end. “I was to offer you eight thousand, right?” She wanted to know, dropping the mug hard on the table that caused some of its liquid content to dance in the air, a minute portion leaped to the table. So, she remembered. “Well, this person is also a graduate and is taking six thousand.”
You started to get desperate. Not that there were no other private schools, they just were not of a trekking distance. Remove the transport fare from the meager you earned. Therefore, that school that belonged to the woman who had a shuku mounted on her head was just the best fit. In thinking this, you had not realized that you were an open read, making yourself vulnerable to the vultures.
“But, we are planning to divide primary five,” she informed you. Your face divulged your ecstasy. “Already, we have a teacher for them and so that we don’t ‘short’, we can only pay you six thousand too.”
The ringing in your ears started. “ That’s too low ma,” you stressed the ‘too’ and appealed, “we agreed on eight thousand naira the last time and I even tried to convince you to increase it. Please reconsider.”
“Well, I guess Mrs.Akinwumi will have to continue taking them alone.” Mrs.Akinwumi must have been the primary five teacher.
The proprietress started to ignore you, launching into whatever file she had to fill. Teacher’s attendance, maybe. Her next words cut straight. “You should excuse me.” In bargaining, when your sellers said a final no, it could either be because that was the lowest they could go for that ware or they had seen your need and would definitely prey on it.
“Okay, I will do it.” You surprised yourself and her. The pen fell from her hand, and this time, she was the open read as you got stoic. “I will do it,” you repeated, more to yourself, knowing she was the master player, and you had let yourself be defeated.