Recap: “What you are doing to me, your children will do to you.” Sounds like a curse, doesn’t it? But it’s actually more of a promise – the type that people call Karma. In my case, the promise was fulfilled when I least expected it.
PART 10: College Days (contd)
Towards the end of 2015, my son came home from school one day with what I considered an exciting piece of news.
“Dad, we are going to a leadership camp,” he said.
“And what’s that about?” I asked.
“It’s a camp for the boys and girls nominated to be elected as members of the next ECL, the Executive Council of Learners,” he explained.
“So, what has that got to do with you?”
He looked at me with a mixture of surprise and disappointment on his face.
“Daddy!” he exclaimed in a manner that meant, ‘I thought you would be excited.’
Indeed I was excited, and even surprised. In South African high schools (secondary schools), the ECL is the students’ representative council made up of final year students elected as prefects by other students and endorsed by the teachers and the principal. Some of the criteria include good behavior, intelligence, respect for constituted authority, possession of leadership traits, and minimum number of demerit points. Demerit points are the points awarded against students for breaking school rules such as lateness to school, noisemaking in class, failure to do homework, use of the cell phone at unauthorized places and times, etc. As far as I knew, there was none of those rules that my son did not break, especially when he was in grade 9. My mail box would easily attest to that with the number of emails I received from Mrs. Lindique, his Math teacher who doubled as his high jump instructor, complaining about his attitude to school rules. The good lady sometimes called me to say the boy had potential and we should try and rescue him from himself.
That attitude did not begin in high school. Way back, when he was in Waterkloof Primary School, I got a call from the principal, Mr. Barker, one day asking me to come to the school with my wife immediately. To say that we were alarmed would be an understatement.
“What’s it about sir, if I may ask?” I asked without waiting for his permission.
“It’s about your son, Nicholas,” he said and dropped the phone.
My mind went topsy-turvy. Every year, primary and secondary schools make parents to complete ‘Indemnity Forms’; a kind of disclaimer extricating the school from liability in case of accidents, especially if the children are involved in sporting activities that make them travel for competitions outside the school. And my children were school athletes. My wife was in the room when the call came and she was obviously alarmed at the tone of my voice.
“Who was that?” she queried.
I explained and she rushed out with me to the car. As we drove out of the compound, I started laughing.
“Now, what’s funny?” she shot at me.
It was the first time in a long time that she did not ask, before going out with me, whether what she was wearing was okay and without taking out the ubiquitous mirror in her handbag to look at her face, like most women do. I told her so but she kept a straight face and ignored me. I had no doubt that her mind was in a labyrinth of possibilities during the eight minutes that it took me to drive to the school like a lawbreaker being pursued by cops. At the school, the receptionist put a call through to Mr. Barker’s office to announce our presence and we were immediately ushered into his presence.
“Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Ekata. Do sit down”
We thanked him and sat down.
“Is your son on any kind of medication?” he asked.
It was a good thing that he had told us to sit down because on hearing the question my legs began to shake.
“No, why!?” I asked; more like shouted actually.
“You see, Mr. Ekata, your son is hyperactive and we think you should do something about it. He’s never in one place, makes noise in class and today he did the unthinkable.”
He paused, perhaps expecting us to say something but as we said nothing he continued:
“Today, Nicholas jumped out of the classroom through the window. That is unprecedented and capable of setting a bad example for the other pupils,” he said, with the seriousness of a magistrate pronouncing judgment on a hardened criminal. Then addressing my wife, he added, “Please, Mrs. Ekata, reduce the amount of coke and other sweet things you give Nicholas and do take him to a doctor for an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) test.”
A feeling of relief and anger came over me all at once. I could see that my wife was struggling not to laugh.
‘So, you summoned us to tell us about coke and fanta,’ I thought but said, “Thank you sir. We’ll do exactly as you advised and we are very sorry for his misbehaviour,” and we left. Misbehaviour my foot! If only he knew what we used to do in class in the name of play.
As soon as we stepped outside the Reception, my wife said, “These oyinbo (white) people sef. Is it only coke, what of fanta?” and we started laughing. Back in the car, my wife said, “Enhen, what was it you were saying about my mirror?”
When Nicholas returned from school that day, I taught him a bitter lesson for misbehaving in class – the type of lesson we were taught in primary school for coming late to school and warned him never to mention it to anybody, knowing that if the principal knew about it, we would receive another summons.
“Daddy, what are you smiling at?” Nicholas’ voice brought me back to the present.
“I’m thinking how much you’ve changed,” I said.
Indeed, he had. He managed to clear his demerit points through a series of detentions and his reports began to come with comments such as, ‘Nicholas is a very helpful and considerate student.’
“We are to pay 800 rands for the camp and I need to buy a sleeping bag and some provisions,” he announced. “Oh, I almost forgot, we are also required to design campaign posters so I’d need to buy cardboard paper and markers,” he added.
That part of the news was not exciting at all but I resisted the urge to complain. He came out successful at the election that followed and it was a very proud me that attended the inauguration ceremony. Like other parents whose children were made prefects, I recorded and took photographs of the ceremony with my cell phone. Then the demands began to pour in. Among them was that prefects needed to buy at least two sets of pants that were different from the other students’; a specially decorated blazer; at least three white long sleeve shirts with a special kind of collar for the tie to fit properly; tie clips; and a special pair of lace-up shoes different from the regular school shoes. I had seen on the inauguration day that the pants (trousers) of the outgoing prefects were indeed different but I hadn’t taken any notice of the shoes. I reasoned that if the pants were different, the shoes probably would also have to be different. But then he spoiled everything by saying that all the prefects were told to buy Green Cross shoes that cost 550 rands (about 11,000 naira). I wasn’t going to settle for that, and I told him so.
“If you want lace-up shoes I’ll buy you lace-up shoes but I’m not buying any Green Cross or Red Cross. What makes them think everybody can cough out 550 rands just for shoes?”
Sometimes, I’m forced to think that my son would make a good diplomat. He immediately recognized that I was bitter. To assuage my bitterness he rationalized with me, pointing out that the shoes were also ‘dress’ shoes which he would still use at university and even beyond. That made me laugh and I said sarcastically, ‘And your grandchildren will even use them if they have big feet like you’
He showed me a photo of the shoes on his phone and I told him we could get something very close to them in Marabastad, a downtown part of Pretoria where there are a lot of Indian shops with much more affordable fashion items and where some of the so-called boutiques in the CBD buy their stock. That was on the evening before the day the ECLs were to resume school from the summer holiday, a week ahead of the others, to receive the fresh incoming grade 8 students.
The next day, I took him to Marabastad. I saw quite a number of shoes that I thought were close to what he wanted. He always pointed out how the shape was not exactly the same and did not even bother to look at some that I pointed to. When I began to feel dizzy from moving round and round Marabastad I decided to leave after buying two white long sleeve shirts that he agreed met the specification. He always prefers to sit at the back of the car. I used to complain that I was not his driver so he should sit in front with me but when he persisted I let him be. As I drove out of Marabastad that day, I could see in the driving mirror that he was smiling.
“So dad, are you going to buy me Green Cross shoes?” he asked in his baritone.
“Do I have a choice?” I replied.
“Thank you daddy,” he said.
I did not respond.
By the time we got to Pretoria East, it was just about twenty minutes to the time he was expected to report at school. We decided that he should go to school while I would go and buy the shoes. He gave me a description of the particular shop in Menlyn shopping mall where I would get them. As I was stepping into the shop I got a Whatsapp message from him asking whether I had succeeded in locating it and I replied in the affirmative. On enquiry, the shop attendant told me they had the shoes in only sizes 8, 9 and 11. Knowing his size to be 10, I sent him a message explaining the situation.
“Please, buy size 11,” was the immediate response.
“Wouldn’t that be too big?” I sent back.
“I’ll put shoe fillers to make them fit.”
He had a point there. I remembered how I filled my first ever pair of shoes with paper to make them fit. We knew nothing about shoe fillers then. On my way out of the shop my phone beeped. It was another message from him.
“Could you please take a photo of them and Whatsapp to me?”
I did just that.
When he returned home and saw the shoes, he thanked me again and went on about how he would have been the only one among the prefects wearing a different type of shoes. The next day he dressed up in his ECL uniform and I must confess he looked really smart except for the shoes that were on the long side. As I turned my car to return home after dropping him off at school, another prefect, judging by his uniform, was stepping on the Zebra crossing right in front of their school gate so I had to stop for him. That gave me time to admire his nice fitting uniform. Then something caught my eyes – his shoes. Behold, they were not Green Cross shoes! My son had conned me into buying him what he wanted. It was then I remembered how I had scammed my father to buy my boogie shoes several decades before.
It was in 1979. I was in my final year at St. John Bosco’s College. Boogie shoes were in vogue then and everybody who was anybody wanted to own a pair. My conscience would not allow me to ask my father for money to buy those shoes when I knew there were so many more important needs to be met. He was not only paying my school fees then but many of my younger siblings were also in school and we all depended largely on his meager earnings. But the same conscience did not nudge me when I decided on a clever, nay, devious plan to get the money from him. By then my father had managed to secure a job at the then Agbazilo Local Government Secretariat Ubiaja as a labourer, through the assistance of His Royal Majesty Eidenojie Okojie I, the Onojie (King) of Uromi, undoubtedly one of the nicest Enijie (kings) of Esanland at the time. My father used to travel the 10 kilometres or so from Uromi to Ubiaja on his bicycle. The route brought him close to my school every day. One morning, I ambushed him by the roundabout in front of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church to demand money for two literature books we were told to buy. I told him the books were called ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Caesar Julius’. My father did not go to school but he had a lot of native intelligence.
“Say the names of the books again,” he said.
“Julius Caesar and Caesar Julius,” I repeated.
“But they both sound the same,” he said.
I had it all planned out.
“Yes, they are both written by the same person called William Shakespeare and you use one to study in class and the other one to study for the exam,” I explained.
My father was passionate about my examination results and would proudly tell his friends about them whenever I did well. The mention of the word ‘exam’ was my magic wand, or so I thought at the time.
“So, how much are these twin books and when do they want you to buy them?”
The way he said the “twin books” made me think he suspected foul play but I had my answer ready.
“In a week’s time. You know, our final exam is drawing near.” That word ‘exam’ again. I had calculated that in a week’s time he would be getting his salary. It didn’t matter to me that he might have earmarked the money for something else or whether he had already borrowed the equivalent of the salary to be repaid at month end, as he so often did. All that mattered to me was boogie shoes and I had my final exams to bamboozle him with.
“Okay then, let the month complete.” That was his usual way of saying he would give you the money at the end of the month.
“Thank you Papa,” I said.
“I hear. Read very hard O,” he said as he climbed his bicycle and rode off to work.
“I will. Bye-bye Papa,” I responded.
The truth was that we were not using Julius Caesar at the time. Our drama text was Macbeth which my father had already bought for me. But who was going to tell him that?’ Definitely not me!
As I turned to go back to school, my eyes fell on the image of Jesus Christ on the cross which was painted on the wall of the church.
“Jesus was watching you all the time,” one small voice said inside of me.
I felt ashamed. But another voice came to my rescue.
“Jesus will understand. Did you kill somebody?” the voice said.
By the time I got my boogie shoes I had forgotten both inner voices. I still feel however that my father knew that the Julius Caesar story was a scam because of what he said one day when I was wearing them.
“Where did you get these ‘ogedege’ (storey building) shoes?”
The problem with lying is that you always have to manufacture one lie to cover another. I already had one in the warehouse for this question which I anticipated long before it came.
“My friend’s brother in America bought him two pairs because he was not sure of his size (Thank God there were no cell phones then). So, he gave me the pair that was not his size,” I lied again.
Ordinarily, my father would have asked, “Which of your friends?” But he didn’t. Instead, he just smiled. Papa, if you did understand, thank you and thanks again for the many sacrifices you made to see me through boarding school. But if not, please forgive me the same way I’ve already forgiven your grandson.
Indeed my dad made a lot of sacrifices for me and my siblings that make me wish he had tarried a little bit more to enjoy the fruits of his labour. For instance……
To be continued in Part 11.
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