They say that no truer love exists than a man lays his life down for his brother; in other words a love without conditions. As we go through these phases we call life, we all encounter different people with whom we develop relationships and affiliations on various grounds and levels.
In one way or the other these people influence our lives in ways that affect us either positively or negatively, but in all, our general make up would not be totally complete without them. It begins as early as when we are babies, our parentage and families are first; as we grow older we begin to mix up more with other people.
Some of our earlier encounters would be with baby sitters or daycare, and as we progress into kindergarten and grade school, we begin to form bonds with teachers or classmates or even general workers or staff in the schools or institutions. They say these are the things that help us develop socially, and from these we are able to form perceptions and opinion.
Personally my earliest memory of my favourite persons and least liked ones goes back to about the age of five; my siblings find it incredible that I remember things about that early in life, but my mother has confirmed many of my memories. I remember a particular house help we had who was very loving and kind, Angela was her name and like her name she looked like an angel. As an adult now, I often think about her and what circumstances in her family life that must have led her to becoming a maid at such an early age. Now I know that the economic situation of the world often leaves many of us in places we just never imagined we would be. On the same note, I remember another maid we had, Cecelia who was the devils’ hand maid. She was employed by my stepmother, and somehow got it into her young mind that we were second class citizens in our own home….. I was about 8 at this time.
There was a steward who used to come at night by our semi open bedroom window to peep at us; I was about 11 at the time. One day when we fell asleep in the family room watching television late into the night, I kept dreaming that someone was pulling at my shorts and trying to touch my private part. I would move subconsciously and it would stop, but after a while it would continue… I felt like peeing, so as I got up to use the toilet, I saw a figure dash into the corridor….it was the steward.
He was a pervert and the following day, I told my stepmom about it. He was summoned to the living room for questioning, and as expected he denied everything. So an 11 year old girl was branded a liar, and all I did was cry and made sure I never fell asleep in the family room ever again. Karma is a very determined master and not too long after my accusations, the same steward was caught by the night watchman trying to break into our bedroom through the window. He was dismissed the next day; the amazing thing was that he still kept denying it.
I later went on to boarding school and life was just wonderful; boarding school was not the best, but it was not too bad either. It was here that I actually encountered my first love: literature. I was one of those people who conventional education was a little too much for me to grasp, but knowing that I had no choice but go to school else my father would murder me: I just about managed to cope. Everything was a drag for me; the only things I enjoyed about the academic aspects of school were subjects like English literature, Economics, English Language, History and Geography. All other subjects not only did not make much sense to me, but I was totally clueless at especially mathematics. I had a very unpleasant relationship with my maths teacher. In fact with all my science orientated subject teachers.
The non academic aspects of school and boarding school was the best; especially sports, drama society and the school paper. Unfortunately the academic and non academic worked hand in hand; if your fail, you just don’t play period. So you can see my predicament….I had to work really hard and many times I resorted to begging class mates into helping me until I somehow grasped what the whole thing was about. In my areas of interests, I was just brilliant; go figure.
So like a good trooper I went along with school and days when I had my subjects, I had a smile on all day, in fact I could hardly wait to get to class. I started my love affair with literature really back in elementary school, I began with all the Secret Seven, Famous five, Adventurous Four series, and gradually graduated to C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Dickens Oliver Twist, and books like Great expectations and Mayor of Casterbridge, Little Women, Twain’s Tom Sawyer and adventures of Huckleberry Finn and many more. I loved African literature as well…..writers like Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa to name a few. I relished every piece and by age11 I started to develop an interest in poetry and the rest as they say is truly history.
I can honestly tell you that I never fully appreciated the pleasure of this awesome art until the first day I met my literature teacher Mr Andy Chukwujukwu, but he was fondly called Mr Andy. That day was like any other, the bell went for a change of lesson, and the class waited for our regular teacher Mrs… I don’t even remember her name now, that’s how boring and numbing she had turned my beloved literature. Instead of her, in walks this little man. He was about 5’4 and was stoutly built. He had very broad shoulders like someone who lifted weights, and he was strangely very good looking. Something semi teenage girls noticed immediately and the crushing I must say started instantly.
Mr Andy walked straight to the blackboard, picked up the chalk and wrote on it “ANDY CHUKWUJEKWU”…….The class was quiet and he placed the chalk back on the table, faced the class and began to speak. His voice was loud! It sounded like thunder, and that startled the entire class. It was incredible to believe that such vocals belonged to a man his stature, broad shoulders or not. That voice was what got us all; he began to read from the book in his hands, a book all too familiar to me, Dickens’ Oliver twist.
“Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.
Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,–a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter.
Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.
As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, ‘Let me see the child, and die.’
The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to the bed’s head, said, with more kindness than might have been expected of him:
‘Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.’
‘Lor bless her dear heart, no!’ interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.
‘Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on ’em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she’ll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there’s a dear young lamb do.’
Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother’s prospects failed in producing its due effect. The patient shook her head, and stretched out her hand towards the child.
The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back–and died. They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been strangers too long.
‘It’s all over, Mrs. Thingummy!’ said the surgeon at last.
‘Ah, poor dear, so it is!’ said the nurse, picking up the cork of the green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she stooped to take up the child. ‘Poor dear!”
The class was dead quiet! A few of us we were familiar with those verses; to others, they were hearing them for the first time there and then. The thing was his voice….it started off loud and thunderous and as he progressed into the description of the birth of this poor character, his voice softened at times in certain areas, and would suddenly grow louder in others. It was an amazing crescendo. Almost like listening to an orchestra but telling a story with song. His face twisted with emotion and feelings, and his body moved and he gestured and moved with every word.
“I want you to read the first four chapters and write me a summary of your understanding …our next meeting is on Thursday, double period boys and girls……ha ha ha! He chuckled,…this ought to be fun!”
He picked up his case and just as swiftly as he had walked into class, this mysterious but incredibly intriguing stranger, left our lives. Wow! I shouted and the whole class went into a frenzy of discussions; who is that man? He is the new teacher they have been talking about who transferred from F.G.C. Kano (Federal Government College). Rumour had it that he was very controversial because his teaching methods were somewhat unconventional. I was in class 2 and as far as I was concerned, this man was goddddd! He blew me away.