He never left my imagination even after these long years.
Or more aptly put, Mr. Tombolo called so because of his pet name for the cane and his ingenuity in administering it.
But Mr Henry was not greatly loved because he could wield the cane with herculean and near godlike strength but he was revered because he embodied the essence of a quintessential teacher. From his Denzel Washington saunter to his Mark Walberg wit and more remarkably his Tyrese Gibson fore head, he always seems to be in haste and never spoke slowly, he had an enthusiasm about him that was contagious one that he transferred to his teaching style making him understandable by both the dense and the smart.
He was always kept in a pedestal by his pupils one that he never came down from and what he lacked in poise and style he over compensated for in uniqueness and magnetism.
I still remember my first external exams written when I was in primary 6. Despite the fact that he had overfilled our minds with all the likely questions and answers during revision, Mr Henry still could not bear the idea of any one failing in his watch, so like an imperfect human that he is, he opted to give us a little illegal aid.
It was more of how he did it and not what he did that has kept the memory fresh.
We started the exams normally with Mr Henry reading us the instructions in a very stern voice; one that we have come to understand means no nonsense
Of course there was no way our puerile mind could process that all his theatrics was for the mousy faced federal examination supervisor who had puritan and old fashion written all over him.
The man nodded in concurrence to Mr Henry’s apparent supervising quality and left us at his mercy.
The next moment saw Mr Henry’s expression metamorphose from stern to shifty. He looked like one of the characters in his the distorted Hadley Chase stories he usually entertains us with after school hours.
He shuffled towards the window with a shifty gait, when he had ascertained himself of the coast being clear; he turned to us and said:
“Listen very carefully”
The timbre in his voice resonated through our senses and in fleeting seconds, he had all our attention.
“I am going to read the answers to you little birds but you have to be smart and know how to re adjust once you see stone face coming close” he said to us
“Akpos you are seated next to the window so you will be in charge of giving us signal whenever he gets close”
The whole class came to a quiet consensus and Mr Henry in his usual ingenuity took us through an adventure of an adrenaline driven examination often punctuated by his uncanny wit and our fear of getting busted especially once when Akpos got carried away writing the answers for mathematics.
Eventually we finished successfully together and there was no recorded failure that year.
Years later after that remarkable day, it became clearer to me why the like of Mr Henry seems to walk in rosy carpets and defy natural set down laws.
Simply because they follow their heart above everything
He wasn’t being paid by any parents and he could have lost his job if caught, but still he risked it because he believed in his own misguided way that he was saving the lives of pupils he loves and cannot watch fail.
He was a teacher of no match…