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Tomi
personals [ Journal ]
a short story

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by [words ]

2013-02-20  |     | 




Calmly the winds blew. And I felt the gentle breeze of refreshment brush across my face. I never really paid attention in my geography classes back in school, so I couldn’t in the least explain the trade winds gibberish that most geographers would deem responsible for it.
I was lost in my thoughts, a bit; head tilted back, eyes shut, as I let the warmth of the winds rest sweetly and gently on my wrinkled twenty-eight year old face.
It felt good.
However, what didn’t feel so good laid in piles and some spread untidily on top my little square table which was in my little square teachers rooming apartment. It was a bunch of examination answer sheets with as much scrawny handwriting as you could get. These exam sheets where the sole properties of my one hundred and six SS2 students. They were answer sheets to the subject in which I tutored them, ‘Further mathematics’; universally referred to as ‘Calculus’.
But not only were their handwriting's a mess, much to my dismay, so were their exam scores. So there I was, a twenty-eight year old secondary school teacher; unmarried, bearded beyond what seemed normal.It could be said that my life was already a mess, but the exam answer sheets to which I was marking, added ‘poo’ to my messed up life.
Unlike my students (most of them) who hated anything mathematics, I loved the subject. Anything mathematics excited me to the utmost, but that could not be said of the students I taught. And that truth was much more evident in their exam answer sheets and scores. Marking their answer sheets was less work for me, since virtually all of them wrote down the same thing, one copying from the other, and passing it to the next person to copy. But what made it even worse, was that what most of them copied was wrong.
I had graduated with a second class honorary bachelor’s degree majored in mathematics. Poor connections, both internally and externally in the corridors of power, coupled with the bad state of affairs of the country’s political system, more so toppled with terrible decision making on my path, made the job of a secondary school teacher the best opportunity my portfolio could afford.
Although I had the regular cliched poor background dilemma going for me, but I also had older siblings who were doing quite well and had achieved great heights in their domestic’s doings. But my pride planted a rift between me and any of them. For ever since I had left the four-walls of the varsity system, I had been on a self-proclaimed path to prove myself (not that my family needed it). And so, the job of a secondary school teacher was one of my many pit stops.
It was my second year on the job, and the frustrations it brought added to my very own drained system of regrets, had created early wrinkled lines on my presumed to be young face.
So it was on this day, in my second year as a teacher, with the wrinkled lines very much evident on my face, dealing with one of my many frustrations, in my little squared room, that my little rectangular door was in a swift instance, swung open. I was immensely startled and thrown aback, just as a little boy, presumably of about nine years old, adorned in clean but badly tattered clothes, paced slowly towards me. And after a brief moment, possibly to collect his words carefully, he spoke in shaky & stuttering, but pure pidgin-English,
“Teasha...abeg...tea-teash me h-howu to sp-spelling.”
A strange wind blew gently and warmly in the minutes of silence that followed the little boys’ request. But in those few minutes, he never broke my gaze, not even a flinch. We stared eye to eye for what seemed to me like ten minutes, before the silence spree was broken when we heard the scream of a name coming from some distance. I suspected the name that was screamed to be his, because his gaze was broken as he turned towards the sound of the voice and then again turned back to look at me. And as if dejected by my unresponsive look, he let his head drop to his chest slowly, as he turned to leave.
But then I stopped him. Calling out to him sharply,
“Heys!”
He turned sharply with eager eyes, and after swallowing a huge lump of saliva, I asked
“Wha-Wetin be your name?” making sure I had just the right pidgin accent. It flowed naturally.
“Tomi”, he replied sharply with a queer smile. I smiled back at him, but mine was more of a smirk. And then I said,
“You wan learn how to spell abi?”
He nodded in affirmation. Then with a deep breathe, and a slight stroke of my bearded chin, I said to him,
“Go house, you hear! And make you come tomorrow o!”
He beamed with a smile and said “thank you”, as he sped off almost immediately as he once again had heard the sound of what I now knew was his name ‘Tomi’.
I sunk backwards into my wooden chair, and sighed heavily, as I tried to paint a mental reconstruct of what had just happened. But then a thought hit me, the little boy wanted me to teach him how to spell…but I was just a maths teacher. I flinched and suddenly, my phone began to buzz heavily and somehow whilst receiving the call and after it, I had managed to forget about Tomi.
Tomi however, didn’t forget. The very next day, being a Saturday, he was at my door at about ten o’clock in the morning. I had just finished my laundry, and had also just munched down a breakfast meal of ‘akara’ and bread to keep my body in one piece.
He had knocked twice, and when I had asked him to come in, he’d hesitated a bit, but had then walked in looking neatly and sharply dressed. He greeted me with a smile, and a shy ‘good morning’, and I had also returned the gesture, and in turn had asked after the welfare of his parents, to which he had assured me that they were fine. It was a good enough answer for me.
I then brought out a little black board that I kept underneath my bed, went outside to get a little kitchen stool for him, and with a chalk in hand, our lessons began.
However, to our lessons, there were a few limitations. The first was the fact that I had no teaching experience in the field of English studies, and was not quite skilled to handle a Child's tutoring. I found myself relying solely on what little I could remember when I was being schooled in the same path. Occasionally I found myself inadvertently either digressing to illogical matters, or even worse, escalating so much to using vocabularies that sent the youngster in a mild confusion tour.
Another limitation was, more apparently, Tomi’s slow learning capabilities. It was something I got wind of when I had asked him to repeat the first three letters of the alphabet which we had just in a few minutes before recited together. He had stopped short at the letter ‘B’, barely pronouncing the word correctly.
More to the limitations was Tomi’s pronunciation accent. It was terrible.
“Now say ‘aah’”
“Yaah”
“No no no no. Say ‘aah’”
“Yaah”
“Not ‘yaah’, ‘aah’”
“…yaah”
“Tomi!” I yelled out of quick disgust, but was quick also to refrain myself as I cleared my throat. I thought to myself for some minutes, pacing around to and fro as Tomi’s eyes followed me dejectedly.
Getting through the alphabets hadn’t been much of a problem as I might have expected for Tomi. The lad had only taken a week to brush through those, but was still a work in progress as regards reciting them off-hand. He could very well identify them, and also in his scrawny childish handwriting, he could as well trace out the forms of the alphabets from A to Z. the hiccup to the whole affair at that time however, was his pronunciation of the basic alphabetical sounds.
I continued to pace to and fro; my mind trying hard to scheme up methods to get that ‘aah’ out of Tomi instead of the ‘yaah’ his trying efforts was returning. Then all too sudden I heard a smack.
It had come from outside my room, and I could hear the clear but muffled voice of a mother rigorously scolding her child. The child was in tears and was screaming all over the place, but that was not what caught my attention. It was the sound the child had made when his mother’s hand had landed heavily on him. And just as that switch of discovery was flicked in my head, I turned sharply to look at Tomi, and to my utmost surprise; even a bit puzzled himself, he greeted my stare with the sound,
“Aah”
At first, I was shocked. But then he did something that surprised me even more. He lifted up his left arm, folded his hands to a fist, and in an instant let the folded fist fall heavily on his head. And out came the exclamation
“Aah!”
I was surprised, and in all amazed. Tomi had not only been conscious of what was around him, but his ears had perked up to the sounds he had heard. As if he couldn’t contain the little victory he himself had discovered, he continued to knock himself hard on the head and at every instance exclaimed the sound “aah!” with a beaming smile. I was amazed, and I smiled too, that however, was after I had told him to stop hitting himself.
That sip of victory was a stepping stone for our lessons, for instead of taking lessons in the solace of my little squared room, we found ourselves gathering objects of whatever sorts that had a semblance to any of the alphabetical sounds. And all too soon, our lessons became an expedition, as I began to open up Tomi’s mind to things around him that his senses weren’t aware of before; all the while spelling words bit by bit as we ‘explored’.
For instance, to pronounce the word, ‘go’, we only needed to hear the sneeze of a goat and then added a little exclamation of disappointment ‘oh’, and the two combined in a precisely engineered way and manner would produce the required sound.
The holidays was a month long, and at the end of three weeks, Tomi could spell five lettered words of pronunciation with ease, which also meant an improvement in his writing skills. At the end of every day, he had exercises to take home, but for some reason I couldn’t quite understand, he preferred to do those exercises before he left for the day. As the days passed, he began attempting to spell the names of the objects from which we obtained the sounds, and for a nine year old late bloomer, he was doing great.
I began to grow very fond of Tomi. Sometimes he even had his meal in my room before he left for home, and he also grew better and stronger in his spelling and pronunciation and also in his speech and accents. And with this improvement, I began to see that there was more to Tomi than just being a nine year old who wanted to learn to spell. Tomi was motivated.
In those weeks, I grew happier. I began to feel some sense of fulfillment. But I had one lapse: I had become a good teacher, I also had a good student, we had a great relationship, but I knew virtually nothing of my student’s background.
See, Tomi came early to his lessons, say, 10 p.m. in the morning, and he always left by 4.30 p.m. at the least. And this was his routine during the holidays, so when the new session began, I was swamped with school work, and so we scheduled a time to meet at 2.30 p.m. during the week. The meet, however, never exceeded 4.45p.m. Because at about that very time, Tomi would suddenly bring up an excuse to leave and head home, and even before I could ask for reasons, he would have scrammed.
We were making progress; good progress on his pronunciation and spellings, and we had even begun to delve into the consonant and vowel sounds. Watching Tomi begin to spell words with ease, I felt his parents would be very proud –whoever they were. But I didn’t want their showers of praise for being seen as the one that helped their son get to where he was. I felt that maybe, in the spirit of thanking me, they might get me a wife and all that, so I kept to myself, and I was very much convinced that my humility was considerate. Hence I didn’t go anywhere near his family, although I knew where he lived, I also presumed he had a family, but, I kept my distance. And Tomi did well not to bring them cramming to my front yard.
However, looking back now, I really wished I hadn’t kept my distance. Maybe then I would’ve known…and the shock would have been more subtle.
A month into the new academic session, and all was going fine. Tomi advanced brilliantly in all of his lessons, and as a gift, I bought him a dictionary. But I was only getting to see him for not more than two hours every day, except on the weekends. And although I never said much, I craved the little boy’s companionship. For in a solemn way…I saw him as a friend.
Then one day passed, and Tomi did not show up for lessons. I felt uneasy and uncomfortable. And then another day passed…and another…and another…and then a whole week, and Tomi hadn’t come for any lessons.
Something ticked painfully in me, and I dropped my feigned pride, which I termed humility, and on a cool Monday evening after a week of Tomi’s no-show, I stepped out of my comfort zone, and headed for his house.
……..
He laid down pale…breathing heavily…and painfully. His eyes were blood shut red. His temperature raging, Tomi was the ugly sight of all ailments in one little fragile body.
I was in deep shock and couldn’t speak. Dumbfounded with pain, a tear rolled down my eyes. All the while I had been blind.
“Eh emm…emm emm”, his uncle Pa Ajonu cleared his throat, as he began to explain the whole ordeal to me, slowly.
“Tomi’s late father had gone to the city in search of riches, my young Teasha. And over there, he had been hopping from one woman’s bed to the other. When finally he had returned home more wretched than he had left, he had brought with him just one gift to give to his dear wife.”
“Eh emm”, Pa Ajonu had cleared his throat once again, as he adjusted his sitting position and had leaned towards me with his snuff box in his hands, and had continued.
“It was an evil gift that he had brought to his wife; a gift we only got to know about after his sudden death, months after his return. As the doctor in the general hospital had explained to me during my brother’s wife complicated pregnancy, my brother, Tomi’s father, had this disease…emm, what do they call it o…H-I…H-I…”
“HIV?” I completed for him with a puzzled stare, as he continued.
“Yes, that’s the one…H.I.V. According to the doctor, that was what he had died from, and worst of all, he had gifted it to his lovely wife. Believe me, Teasha, it was only the grace of God that had helped the poor woman up until the point of delivery. She had been ill all through the nine months of her pregnancy, but by some miracle, she had scaled through…but it came at a price…no, two price.
“Two prices”, I corrected awkwardly, as I rebuked myself in my thoughts. I couldn’t understand why I would be playing English teacher to an old man who was only trying to explain a situation. But not minding the awkward correction, Pa Ajonu went on.
“Her body became too weak to withstand the labour of child birth, and so it was while giving birth to Tomi, that she had died. That was the first price. The second was…” he sighed heavily.
“…it was that her beautiful new born child was also caught in this evil web. Tomi also had the disease. And according to the supervising doctor at that time, the survival of an infant Tomi, weighed on the balance.
But my nephew was a strong child. He pulled through, but not without complications. He fell ill in and out, and his illness was so unpredictable, so much so I decided not to let him go to school, just so I could at least monitor him. And I didn’t want any stigma to be associated with him at school. I felt he was safer with me.
He was okay with it; he played around with his mates, made a lot of friends. But then one day he was challenged to spell the word ‘car’. As you would expect, he couldn’t. He was laughed to scorn. I saw everything, and I also saw the pain in his eyes as he ran away from their presence. But then he got to know that you were a teasha, and it brought relief to him and in it he also saw an opportunity.”
“Well, you know the rest then.” Pa Ajonu concluded, as he rested back in his arm chair and took another snuff to the nose. And in his eyes, I saw tears, not sure whether it came from the snuff or from him witnessing the pain of his dear little nephew, Tomi.
Quietly, I wept.
During the day, Tomi was a healthy child, but the setting of the sun and the coolness of the evening had him swimming in a whirlpool of fever. And this explained the reasons for his sudden urge to get up and leave whenever he saw the sun was about to come down. He never wanted me to see him sick, and in my blinded sense of pride, I ignored all the signs.
But the week when he missed his lessons, was as a result of the fact that his fever strikes no longer discriminated at what time of the day to arrive anymore. So, like a tsunami, they flooded his tender body eating through his entire fibre and life source.
His fate had been sealed when a doctor from a nearby general hospital had given an ultimatum. After administering pain killers to the dying lad, he had discretely told Pa Ajonu that all that was left to be done was to wait. The old man had broken down in tears as he watched his nephew gasps for what seemed to be his last breathe…
…a day later, Tomi died, two months to his tenth birthday.
On my recommendation, a funeral service was held by all my students to honour him. I had lost a good student; I had lost my closest friend. But he had taught me one valuable lesson in exchange for the little I did for him.
He taught me, that whenever one needs help, forget pride…just ask for it.
Tomi had regained his playmates respect before his death. A grown up had once gathered them together and had promised to give a ₦50 note to anyone who could spell the word ‘Happiness’. To everyone’s surprise, and their amazed stare as it fell on him, Tomi had begun to spell the word
“H…A…P…P…I…N…E…S…S”
That was what he had brought to my life.
A week later, I quit my job as a teacher, and marred my useless pride as I asked for help from one of my sibling. With his help I was able to secure another job, not very much different, but better pay and better opportunity. I began teaching spelling and vocabulary studies at a top notch private school in the city.
“How’s that for a mathematician?”





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