“Again, they would insult us; they would say all sort of things about your late father, they would make reference to your elder brother who followed the tomato wagon to the city at age 14 and never returned. They would remember how Nnenna,
your younger sister died of a mysterious illness because hunger made her eat the food left for Ngoala, the god of anger, at the shrine. Your colleagues would mock your tattered shirt, they would laugh at the numerous stitches I made on the holes on your shorts. Look at your shoes; they were the prize your brother won as the school’s best athlete before his dreams got shattered. You wore the shoes last year and the year before; the shoes were too big for you but for the rags we stuffed inside them to make them firm. Now, wearing it is like dipping one’s leg in a container of broken bottles. They are too tight and uncomfortable for you. Ikenna, you don’t need to complain, I am your mother and I feel it. Please save me from this mess. Do not go for that exam, they would chase you like a dog. They chased your brother on a day like this because he could not pay.” She pleaded in a shaky voice before her son with teary eyes.
Visibly disturbed by his mother’s ocean of tears that was about to erode the nest of determination he had woven on his frayed mat over the night, Ikenna moved closer to his mother and knelt before her. For a moment, his gaze strayed towards the assembly of palm trees by the side of the dusty road taken by the wagon that zoomed away with his brother hiding in it, then back to his mother. Right in her eyes, 15 year – old Ikenna saw many reasons never to quit but why did it seem Mama’s words betrayed what he saw? After several minutes of deep thought, he had this message for his mother:
“Nne, seeing me as a boy of 15 this moment will cause more havoc than good. The only good may be that you would be compelled by your desire to have me bound by anything you say like I have been for 15 good years. That good is fleeting, it will surely birth an ancestral evil – the inevitable conclusion that our lineage is married to failure. If you insist, I will get back into this hut and wait patiently for death to kill the bigger man in me, but before then I plead that you hear me out.
“Nne, papa’s greatest wish was to see us become men but he never got to see that. Something tells me that he wished for us to be more than men with the ability to carry spear and hunt down tigers and wolves. After all, he sold the bicycle he laboured all his life to buy in a bid to sponsor Ibe to school. Mama, when Ibe followed the wagon to the city, he did not want to hunt wolves. I may not have been aware of his reasons, but I am sure they did’t include a hunting spree. There are enough wolves and tigers here.
“Nne, you said things would be said about my late father if I go for this exam? Is that why I should grow to be a dead man living just because I can’t live my dream? You mentioned that they would refer to Ibe’s unknown destination? You want my brother’s fate to truncate my zeal? You believe in Ngoala, the god of fury? How many deaths will it take till we know that an enlightened mind is all we need to stop appeasing gods at the expense of our health? Yes, my colleagues will mock my tattered shirt like they always do but don’t you see the hidden prospect hiding under this tattered shirt? Ibe won the pair of shoes as a prize, I am wearing it. Mama, let me win a prize that can be a path for generations to walk. People keep telling us what we can’t do it, why must we be cowed into accepting that? They said papa couldn’t pay his debt; he was cowed into committing suicide. They said Nnenna’s illness was caused by the gods, you were cowed not to touch her till death… Nne, tell me to enter and I would obey but remember, your names will be missing from the list of mothers of great men. Nne, look at me and tell me we were created to watch others perform on the platform of successful men and I would make haste to enter this hut with the dream in my heart and come out with no iota of hope.”
Ikenna stood still and watched his mother who kept weeping uncontrollably by the door of the dilapidating hut. Then, he heard the bell at the school and ran towards the footpath. Nne, kept staring till she could no longer see him. There was no better consent than conceding silence. Ikenna entered the school through the rattan fence and headed for the exam hall. The moment he stepped into the hall, all his colleagues went silent. Seconds later, they started forming groups to discuss the observation they made about Ikenna – his tattered shirt, his stitched shorts, the “ancestral” pair of shoes and his obvious perpetual inability to pay any fee. A few minutes later, three teachers entered and started giving out the examination materials. One thing was obvious; nobody wanted to miss the next thing. Those seated in front of Ikenna turned back to have a live account of the fate that would befall Ikenna like his brother, while those seated behind him had their eyes on the boy in expectation of the usual scene of embarrassment on anything “fee.”
The teacher eventually got to Ikenna and adjusted his glasses. “Ikenna, you can’t write this exam! Didn’t your mother tell you Ibe was sent away because he could not pay?” Ikenna stood up in an attempt to address the teacher, but like a coup well planned, the entire members of the class chorused, “Please pay for me, I would pay you back.” That had been Ikenna’s mantra during all internal exams for 6 years . “No way!” The teacher shouted, as he pushed Ikenna through the door.
Ikenna knew another noble dream would die the moment he stepped outside that hall. He knew his brother’s dream of becoming a medical doctor died in the same fashion. The external invigilator entered and noticed the poor boy being pushed towards the exit door. “Hey, did he cheat?” Ikenna turned back and ran towards the external invigilator with these words “Nne is waiting by the door to hear that I won. Please pay for me, I will pay you back.
Ikenna is a colleague in the legal profession. He is in his twenties. He is keeping to his words because he is earnestly PAYING BACK through his sound advocacy on the rights of children and the less privileged.
NOTE: this is not a fiction.
Please pay for somebody or pay people back positively. The world is counting on you
The author of this piece? Not necessary.