If you interviewed me seven years ago, I might have asked the government to ban love and rather grant freedom of movement to cocaine and its siblings. I mean, I have seen the height of drug-driven decadence in people and even though I don’t support its illegal usage, I knew that the effect was not as gruesome as Love’s.
For real, what made Jack Dawson give up his not-a-cat-type life for Rose DeWitt Bukater in the movie, Titanic? I remember telling myself that I will never be possessed by the love demon. Never! Until slowly and subtly.
I sincerely can’t recall. But I knew it was sometime around May, maybe, but certainly in 2016. She was a devil to many – she could flog, all right – but I didn’t understand why I like her kind of devil. She had this small face, cheek not so high, smile divine, a smart figure, and short brown hair which was well curled. I doubt if God used the same mud he used to make the rest of us in moulding her teeth – she could be the gold standard in any dentistry department.
I don’t know why, but I saw Miss Lauretta as a perfect model and teacher and I secretly wondered why I wasn’t born in her generation.
I know, I’m sounding crazy. But I have already warned you of what I think love can do.
When she flogged me, I smiled; I convinced my confused pain receptors that a whole five strokes of the cane were a slip of her hand. Today I now know I was mad. Very! But out of the madness and foolish past-me was born something that I will forever be grateful for.
Crushing on Miss. Lauretta, our English teacher for SS2 then, made me gradually bud an equal affection for the English language. I wanted to show her that I was her most-understanding student and I was a solid learner of anything she ever taught us. I started paying attention in English class. Active voices, passive voices. I understood them finally in her class.
Somehow, maybe only in the universe of my mind, she liked me, too, as the good and loyal student that I have been trying to be with so much effort.
I was beginning to get into the competitive circle of the English superstars. I was literarily leaving my role as a king in the biology kingdom and a prince in the Physics kingdom, to conquer a kingdom where “I be common person” (LOL, I’m thinking Burna Boy, now).
Things moved smoothly until I heard the news – she would be leaving us.
I could have fought the school authority, maybe. However, her reason was justifiable; she was a Youth Corp member and had just completed her one-year National service at our school.
I remember how I felt: my fingers would dive through the blackness on my scalp and would not come out without uprooting some strands. Painful, but incomparable to the pain in my ears knowing she wasn’t going to be around in the next two weeks.
I remember gardening the foolish idea of telling her I would follow her to whatever state she was going to move to. But then God permitted a drop of sense to crash-land on my head so I could see some alternate possibilities. She could slap me and punish me by assigning me to write a 1000-word essay on “my most memorable day in school” and submitting it before the closing bell would jingle. Torture.
I wanted to give her something tangible but I barely even had up to twenty Naira in my leaking-to-my-favour saving box. Buying any gift item that would last beyond the day I present it to her would be self-deception. So for the first time, I wrote a farewell letter drenched in emotion and stabbed with thanksgiving.
Before I continue, I’d love to ask a highly personal question: can you remember that moment when you’ve held your urine so long and then you finally get to take it easy with your bladder? Picture that rush of amber fluid. Relive that sensation of freedom. Relaxation. Dropped burden. You get my description now, right? That feeling of accomplishment was exactly how I felt when she collected the letter, plastered the paper to where her beating heart should be naturally, smiled and said, “I will miss you, Ebube.”
I was a Nigerian superman. In fact, I could jump from a two-storey building and not even bend a joint. I was standing tall. “Ah ya ya!”
But in my over-500-word description of the tale of my stupidity, a belief was born: I could write. And I just needed to write and be better at it.
Before a new session began, Mr Ofili replaced her. Truly, as my classmates have cried, his level of English was hard. Very. Well, obviously, why shouldn’t it be? He was a retired lecturer at the University of Lagos. His concrete passion for teaching made him come to our school. Both the school authority and Mr Ofili knew our school could not pay a salary that was even up to half of what he was worth, but he came, anyway (truly, some passionate teachers are not first pulled to work by the thickness of the bundle of one thousand naira notes, Mr Ofili proved to be one).
Day one – we had a sample test. Expectedly, the failure was massive and evenly distributed.
Some repelled him. Maybe, I should have, too, but it was too late. My love for the English language was already a young adult – it couldn’t squeeze back into a figurative womb of disinterest with ease. The more people had something terrible to say about him, the more I loved English – and whoever had the responsibility to teach it. Somehow, I, with a few classmates, began to understand him. He groomed us like university graduates – if not for the secondary school syllabus he was made to follow, he might have given us an over-three-thousand-word research paper to submit before 9 am the following Monday. His marking scheme was tough as well. Regardless, I loved him. And because he was such a gallon of wisdom, I yearned to be better.
After our final examination, my English exam score alone was forty-two out of sixty. I remember praying to God that I should not get below twenty-five. People failed that year. I happened to have the highest score then. The second best ranked at a score of thirty-four or so. Truly, there’s nothing to brag about but that incident confirmed something: push it till it pushes you. I started seeing myself as a lover of words and I could pour a selection of them into my blender to make creative smoothies on paper.
I had, prior, believed writing was never for me. I saw writing as something only those beautiful neat-uniformed girls who sat at the front row inherited. Not someone like me, never! Maybe I could excel at drawing comics with Superman that wore blue ties. It was not until I decided to give writing some time and attention that I saw a substantial result.
I remember one faithful day when I was doing my usual sin – using my mum’s phone to log in to my own Facebook account to see if any single person had yet sent me a single message. And as expected, I was disappointed, but I saw something: a quote or so that went thus: “writing can only be improved by writing!” It struck me so strongly that day that the motivation to write surpassed the disappointment of not seeing a single message. So I logged out and hid my mum’s phone under the pillow so the heat it had developed would quickly cool off – my strategy to conceal the thermal betrayal that I had recently used her phone. Then I picked up a red pen from her handbag. And wrote this:
The sun is too hot
Chicken in the pot
I’m hungry, you’re not
Put sugar, no salt.
(I know; it can be a cringe-worthy piece. And seems kind of a waste of my mum’s red pen now, but when I first wrote it, I was Soyinka without white hairs).
I wrote my name below and for the first time in secondary school, except when we had a Christmas party, I was excited to go to school. I wanted to show my friends: Dominic, Bayo and maybe some girls that would blow my brain with the “Aww-you’re-so-smart” exclamation.
I went to school, late as usual. I did my regular frog jump till I was a sweaty slender pig by the oven. My blue uniform had grown some dark green line under my armpit but what did I care? I was not ever going to hug anyone nor was I ever expecting a hug – hugs were acts we only watched in movies.
I had done my over 20 reps of frog jump – school gate to the junction (yep, and I never improved my punctuality, I only adapted. Maybe that’s why some lanky girls joke that I should cut some of my huge thigh muscles for them. I mean, instead of me losing flesh and my precious blood, they should just do frog jump, too).
I got back inside the building – the assembly ground – and all that mattered to me was that I finally revealed the 4-lined masterpiece I had written to Dominic. I did not notice that Dominic was happy to see me yet silent for a reason until I heard it.
“That tall boy that is sweating like a Christmas goat, come out.”
Dominic was tall, too, but he was not sweaty. I looked behind in the vain hope that it could be someone else, but there wasn’t anyone with such a description. I was the Christmas goat, obviously.
Mr Seyi spotted the piece of paper in my hand as well. He opened it and scanned through it. He immediately called it the worse love letter he had ever seen. I wanted to tell him that it was a poem. He asked for my buttocks instead
“Never. Make. A Noise. When. I’m. Talking.” Each pause was interrupted by the lashes of the cane popularly known as Mr Do-Good. That moment of labour-like pain made me remember the passion of Christ. It was as if a million brain cells became an activated grenade, exploding with each lash on my buttocks.
You see; I should not have been late to class at least but after about six strokes of the cane from Mr Seyi on my sore buttocks, I knew that paralysis does not only come from village people and witchcraft attacks. You see, that day, I sat on the floor watching girls sway their tiny waists to the marching-in song. I wish I could sway mine effortlessly, too. That would only mean reversing the flogging I earned and the frog jump I had done. Impossible, I imagine too much. I also noticed those guys who had sneaked into the assembly ground without wearing white socks – the punctual-for-a-reason guys.
It was still Dominic, the indirect cause of my whipping, that helped me to my feet as I limped to the class (actually, he was a good guy, however, he should have told me that a teacher’s eyes were suddenly fixed on our side. Maybe he gave a signal but I was too carried away with my poem to observe).
I wrote more rhyming words and Dominic was inspired to write his as well. The guy is good. I wonder if he still wrote stuff like that now.
I wrote when my mother made me angry.
I wrote when a girl I kind of liked was telling me about a guy she kind of liked.
I wrote when I wrote and my writing voice was yet to be found.
I wrote when I felt Nigeria would somehow become better.
I wrote when NEPA disrespectfully took the light even when I was watching a Jesus movie – the passion of Christ.
Even when I was in the bathroom, I scribed down some ideas – only for the biro ink to be washed out of my skin by the time I finished bathing.
I got into the habit of writing down ideas, points, story blocks and possible dialogue in a pocketbook I carried around until my preparation for JAMB made me stop.
After two attempts, I finally got admitted to the university.
My passion for writing helped me tilt more towards other writers as I got into the University of Ibadan. And they taught me a lot. I was introduced to the Grammarly software in 2019. And even though I have been stuck in the free plan for so long (pss… I still am), I have enjoyed the editing aid it brings. I have also, by a writing circle, been introduced to books like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Element of style by William Struck Jr. So far so good, I have been a sine wave in terms of my writing. Some days, I forgot what writing is, other times, I feel like an author – one who is yet to publish any book.
Just as I have sincerely realized, laziness visits once in a while. Sometimes, in the form of a single sleepover. Other times, in the form of a visitor that wants to spend months of unwanted vacation with you. The truth is, at times like this, what keeps us going is either of internal or external motivation. Cmonionline.com, which has been a timely external motivation, has somehow found a way to keep my fingers busy. This platform has proven to be an effective nuisance in driving the lazy-me-in-me writer nuts. And through regular and varied exercises I have come a long way in getting closer to being the author I have only dreamt of becoming.
So as you can see, love make us do or be something we ordinarily would not. It would be funny or embarrassing to say that my writing journey began from a strange affection I had for my English teacher. An affection that made me seriously want to improve my skills for her and now share it with the whole world – somehow I hope she is proud of me, for my writing speaks proud of her.
About the Writer