I’d never seen a person in suit and tie before, except in pictures. So, it was quite an unexpected novelty when the man appeared in our classroom on our first day in form five. That was my final year in secondary school. The previous year we had classrooms for Forms 4A, 4B and 4C, but that year all of us were piled into a single classroom, due to a shortage of senior teachers. The noise was unbearable. It was like a poultry farm of demonic roosters. Only after the initial scramble for the broken down furniture that served as our chairs and desks, did the pandemonium slightly subside. No one immediately noticed when the Principal, Mr Stevens, entered the classroom with the immaculately dressed gentleman. But, even when we noticed, the noise-making and paper throwing did not stop. The two of them were such a contrast. The Principal wore a pair of three-quarter length Khaki shorts and brown leather sandals, the wiry hairs on his thin, crooked legs clearly visible from the distance. The visitor’s suit was dark blue, his shirt was blazing white and his tie had shinny, mesmerising, stripes of red, blue and green. Poor Mr Stevens; he looked like an underpaid district guard escorting an opulent bank manager around the premises, in the hope for a decent tip.
The racket did not fully abate until Mr Stevens raised his voice in a shrill demand for immediate attention. We complied, not sure about the stranger, or what repercussions might ensue from any further disobedience. Perhaps he was an inspector, or a government official from the Federal Ministry of Education. Judging from his dressing and his deportment, he would have to be a high ranking superintendent, probably the Commissioner himself.
When Mr Stevens announced that this was our new class teacher a shuddering gasp ran through the entire class of about 90 pupils, and then, pandemonium erupted once again.
After Mr Stevens left, the new teacher stood in front of the class. He did not say anything for a while; he just stood there smiling a somewhat benevolent smile. The class slowly quietened. Everyone now wanted to hear what he had to say. Some of the students were there only because it was the first day of term. They were often the ones who quickly got bored and became noisy and disruptive in class, but now, even they had fallen silent.
‘I want you all to join me in a little, preliminary, exercise’ he said in a deep, silky voice and polished accent that caused us to sit up and pay attention. ‘I need two volunteers, please.’
When nobody answered he pointed to Sule Abims, the tallest boy in the class, and then he pointed to me.
‘Yes, you’, he said, ‘the bespectacled young fellow’. But, they were not a proper pair glasses. It was just an old frame without any lenses. I found it on the waste tip, just outside the village, on the way to Grandpa’s cassava plot.
‘I want you both to cover this blackboard with these strips.’ He opened his black leather briefcase and took out several white cardboard strips, each measuring about 12 inches wide and 18 inches in length. Peeling off bits of tape at the corner of each strip, we found them to be sticky enough to bond with the wooden blackboard, in spite of the chalk and dust that coated the surface. In a short while, the class was staring at an entirely covered blackboard.
Once again, he opened his briefcase and took out what looked like a small digital camera, which he placed on the broken, dust-coated, teacher’s desk. He switched it on, but nothing happened immediately except for a tiny red light that flashed steadily at the corner of the device. Then he turned to face the class.
‘Okay, my dear ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, we have turned our blackboard into a whiteboard!’
Some of the students who thought it was some kind of joke laughed, but they quickly shut up when the whole class did not join in.
The new teacher put a notebook on the table beside the camera-like appliance, scribbled at the top of the open page, and then drew a small star. As he did so, his writing appeared, etched on the whiteboard in an intense purple streak.
‘Albert Oriola. That is my name and my sign. Now, I want you to come forward one by one, in an orderly fashion, to write down your name clearly, in your best possible hand writing, and draw your symbol. Don’t use my symbol or anybody else’s.’
Eze was the first to go forward, being one of the serious students whose notes others often borrowed after classes. He had an impressive hand-writing. His name stood out boldly underneath the teacher’s, followed by a box with a cross inside. Others had their turn and soon, the board was filled with names and symbols - simple shapes: circle, triangle, square, etc. Other, more complex ones: a hoe, a double-sided cutlass, a musket, several types of knives and guns. As for me, I opted for a crude sketch of a Honda 175 motorbike.
By the time we were all done, it was almost afternoon the break. ‘That will be all for today. Now, with introductions safely out of the way, I look forward to seeing you all here tomorrow when we will begin, in earnest, with some English and Mathematics.’ Those words would naturally guarantee that the class would be almost empty the following day, but, somehow, I guessed that every one of us would be there.
I couldn’t wait to tell Grandpa all about the new teacher. But when I got home I found that Baba Jegede was sitting in front of the house with him, and they were discussing the very person I'd been so excited to talk to him about.
Baba Jegede was one of the few educated old men in the village. He’d worked as a steward in the house of a very influential politician in the city. His son lived in America, and he stocked his dad with regular supplements of the latest issues in current affairs. Baba could read and write expertly in English, and has even claimed to be equally proficient in French. Although the latter had not been fully verified, I suspected that a day would come when it would finally be disproved.
‘...yes, he arrived from England a few months ago. Jerome says that his farewell ceremony was covered on radio, television and satellite, and broadcasted throughout America and Europe. ...He’d received many awards for his achievements in Science and Technology...’ Baba Jegede was telling Grandpa who gawked at him in unabashed admiration.
‘..But when he arrived at Alawada Airport, there was no one there to welcome him home - Not a single government official, ministry representative or journalist. He and his wife had to make their way to Karogo in a mammy wagon.’
‘Hmm... What a shame.’ Grandpa commiserated quietly, ‘You’d at least expect that such a person would get some recognition in his own country.’
‘Sure. The man sent 20 thousand pounds to his brothers to have their father’s old house - his family home - refurbished, but they spent all the money among themselves. They did nothing to improve the house which has been in ruins for many years. He and his wife moved in as it was. But by the end of the week, his wife had had enough. She packed up her luggage, and fled back to UK to live with her children.’
‘Who would blame her, eh, who would blame her?’ muttered Gradpa. ‘I’m sure he will soon follow. It’s only a matter of time.’
‘He’s been pretty rugged so far. He offered to work with the government, to advise them on matters of education, health, science and such like. But they didn’t want anything to do with him. They told him to get lost. You know what they called him?’
Grandpa shook his head sadly.
Baba Jegede went on, 'What does he have to offer, anyway? He does not know that here in Banania, we don't do things the same way as they do things abroad. When he offered to teach in some of the Universities they turned him away like a leper. Nobody wants him here.’
I'd always marvelled at Baba Jegede's omniscience. He spoke of these things as if he was there when the transpired.
‘Even here in the South-West district, they cocked their ears when he proposed some ideas about improving the lives of people in the community. Water, electricity, health, better roads... They firmly shut the door in his face.
‘...The village elders and chiefs will have nothing to do with him. They’re afraid that they may be denied their share of the allocation of the district funds from the regional Councillor.
'...Anyway, they don’t need him to tell them what to do. They’ve issued contracts to refurbish the palace, and they’ve set aside funds to cover the Councillor’s annual visit to the village.’
Baba Jegede finally turned to me, ‘Sorry, young man, it seems that your school is the only place left for our British Professor; a place where he can't possibly do any damage. The only ones to suffer will be you poor brats who will have to endure it until he shuffles back to join his family in England.’
One day during Maths lessons, Mr Albert called out each of the students in the class. We were astonished that he knew every single student by name. None of the other teachers, most of whom had been seeing the students for more than four years, knew the names of as many as ten students. When they wanted to refer to a student in the class, it was ‘You... yes, you, there!’ As far as they were conveniently concerned, we were all from one big Chinese family, with the same first name - 'Hey' and surname ‘You’.
‘Ayo Daramola!’ the new teacher called out, starting straight at me, ‘From now on, your new name is Pythagoras.’
Some of the students mumbled, others laughed because they thought that ‘Pythagoras’ was some Latin derogatory word - ‘Ignoramus’ would have prompted a similar response among them. They didn’t know what it meant, but it definitely sounded like a dreadful insult.
‘You, Pythagoras of Samos, are the great, ancient philosopher and mathematician who invented one of the most significant formulae in Geometry. You propounded many remarkable theories, and brought about a clearer understanding of nature. The whole world owes you an enormous debt.’ He bowed in my direction and clapped, and the rest of the class joined in the ovation.
That day, every student in the class got a new name, and they were similarly lauded and applauded. Eze was given Isaac Newton. My friend, Kayode, who was often considered to be dense and short of gumption, became Michael Faraday. His sister Dorcas, who was also in our class, got Marie Curie. Sule Abims was called Thomas Edison. He grinned pretentiously, like someone who had just been appointed as the grand elder's totem bearer.
At the end of the class Mr Albert awarded each student a piece of paper. ‘I’ve taken the liberty of producing a brief biography and resume - a list of your various outstanding achievements. Read yours and discuss among yourselves. Special credit will go to anyone who can find additional information. At some point, each of you will be invited to enlighten us about your area of excellence. We will hold a contest to decide who is the greatest among you all.’
One of the girls, now called Ada Lovelace, raised her hand to ask a question.
‘But, Sir, why is it that among all these names of famous inventors and scientists, there isn’t a single name from our country, not even from Africa?’
A unanimous murmur of consent rippled through the class, and then there was silence, while they waited for the teacher to reply. He smiled, but it was not his usual happy smile. ‘That’s a jolly good question, Jumoke. It’s not to say that Africans have not contributed to science, or that there have been no great Africans. There are just not many of them in recorded history, especially around the times of the ones whose names you now bear.' He sighed, 'You guys can change that, especially if your parents, your councillors and your politicians give you the chance. I have no doubt that an outstanding engineer, or an exemplary doctor, or an illustrious scholar, or a visionary leader could be sitting among you right now.’ He switched back on his usual smile, ‘Perhaps, Ada, you could be that great leader. Maybe you ought to ask your politicians and your government officials who are in charge, why they don’t think any of you deserve that opportunity.’
The entire village was awash with rumours revolving around the person of Mr Albert Oriola. He lived in his father’s old house at the outskirts of the village. No one visited him there, not even his brothers who had their own houses in the village. He’d refused to pay homage to the Grand elder and was shunned by all the local chiefs. He was even out of favour with the Catechist after he’d refused to attend the local church fund raising event.
Tongues were wagging vigorously over Mr Albert’s eccentric character. Weird noises were heard coming from his house, and strange glows were thought to be emanating from his rooftop late in the night. In the day time, it was claimed that cats and dogs went berserk when they went too close to his house.
All these rumours invariably crystallised into the inescapable conclusion that he’d been dabbling in wizardry and black magic. The whole house was buzzing with ghosts and daemons that carried out the new teacher’s bidding and catered to his every whim, otherwise, how did he manage to keep his clothes so pristine? Who fetched his water and cooked his food? How did he get those shoes to glister like the twinkle in the devil’s eye?
Obi (AKA Blaise Pascal), Kayode (Michael Faraday) and I, often argued among ourselves about the rumours and, one day, decided to investigate. So we skipped the Thursday afternoon assembly and went to Mr Albert’s house, fully assured that he was going to remain in the school premises for some time, as was his habit.
The windows and doors had been recently replaced since he got there. The surrounding’s hedges were immaculate, and the garden at the back of the house was swept clean. There was an orange tree and two mango trees, the fruits were large but had not yet ripened. The back door was ajar, and we went in quietly. We found the interior to be well lit, despite the closed windows. The source of light was a resplendent set of wall-mounted fixtures. In the city, some houses got their electricity from diesel powered generators that made a lot of noise and puffed out a constant plume of nasty, foul-smelling, smoke, but here in the new teacher’s house, there was electricity, but the generator was nowhere to be seen, heard or smelt.
The walls were painted white, and the wooden floor was smooth and dust-free. There was a strange but pleasant smell throughout the whole place. In the sitting room, there was a lounge chair covered with soft brown leather and a low, wide centre stool that appeared to be made of polished white rock. The bedroom was the tidiest, most beautiful room I’d ever seen. The walls were also white, and the floor was covered with a plastic carpet with wavy line and rainbow patterns. So far there were no signs of any ghosts or daemons, or any of the nonsense the people were talking about. There was another door to the left, which was locked.
I heard Kayode calling from the kitchen in a hoarse whisper. The panic in his voice told me at once that something had gone amiss. I leapt across the sitting room and was in the kitchen in a flash.
‘The door has shut. I can’t open it for us to get out.’
‘Step aside’ said Obi, emerging from a side room next to the kitchen. He was a broad shouldered lad who was usually sure of himself. But in just one minute I saw the most dejected and uncertain expression I’d ever seen on his face as it downed on us that the door had no handle or keyhole. The front door was exactly the same, and none of the windows could be opened since they had no handles or latches. There was no question that we were trapped in the new teacher’s house.
My stomach churned like the grain thresher in the district plantation farm. Kayode began to sob. His dad used to be a soldier, and was reputed for his love of discipline. He’d take a dim view of anyone who would break into another person’s property, and if the perpetrator should happen to be his own son, then the poor fellow was bound to face the grimmest possible punishment. Obi and I were not as unlucky; our guardians probably had such high expectations about our behaviour, but not the same appetite for meting out punishment.
‘Hey’, I said, ‘I’ve got an idea.’
Kayode’s glistering eyes lit up with hope.
‘Let’s hide in the hallway. The moment he opens the door, we’ll jump him and then run like hell.’
From Obi’s still frightened expression, I could tell that he did not consider it a particularly sound idea. We waited in the sitting room for several minutes. It was so quiet; we could hear sounds from outside. There was a constant rustling as goats scampered about on the dry leaves under the trees and the random cracking of braking twigs as rodents rampaged in the desiccated foliage. A male pigeon was cooing a romantic appeal to a reluctant female, his entreaties becoming more desperate and erratic as frustration gradually set in. We even could hear ourselves breathing.
Obi’s deep brown eyes darted from side to side like squirrels in a wire cage, and then suddenly he stiffened, and his eyes widened. I heard it too. First, a low wheeze, like forced breathing of a bull after a lengthy chase, and then much louder, sounding like some strange, wild animal in an absolute fit of rage. It was coming from the locked room. I shivered with fright. The thing in the room had woken up and was clamouring for its dinner, and we were there in the house. We were all looking around desperately, once again, for a way out. So it turned out that the rumours of evil ghosts and daemons were all true, after all. Now we knew, but we’d never get to give an eyewitness account.
‘Ayo, Obi and Kayode, what are you boys doing in my house?’
None of us had seen or heard the teacher come in through the back door. We were hurdled in the corner of the living room, staring with fearful, pleading eyes at the locked door behind which the strange sounds emanated. But the teacher ignored our pleading eyes, and he went straight ahead and opened that locked door. We expected an evil monster to leap out of the room and rip us into shreds, but nothing happened. Instead, more light spilled out of the room, and as our eye adjusted, we saw that it was a sort of workroom, filled with all sorts of curious contraptions. The thing that was making the noise was a huge barrel mounted on a metal frame so that it spun and twisted vigorously, which was why it made such a racket.
‘That’s my washing machine’ announced the teacher smiling. Then he chuckled. It must have been hilarious to see the panic on our faces quickly turning into relief.
I was the first to find my voice. ‘We’re terribly sorry sir. We didn’t come to steal, we were just curious.’
He sighed. ‘You guys must learn to respect other people. Respect is not only about saying “Yes, sir”, it is about having consideration for the property and possessions and space of other people, and thinking carefully about what might offend them, and desisting from doing just that.’
We put on our most sober and contrite expressions, Kayode, crouching and bowing his head, for maximum effect. ‘We’re sorry, sir’, we said in a discordant chorus.
‘Okay, I will make a deal with you. If you score over 70 in the maths test next Monday, then I will forget about this whole silly incident. If not, then I will report it to the Mr Stevens, who will ensure that you are duly disciplined.’
‘Thank you, Sir’ we chorused, although we weren’t entirely confident about our maths. In prior tests, I, at least, had consistently flunked outright.
‘Now run along and get back to your homes. Remember, maths test on Monday!’
Six months after the new teacher first arrived at the school, he was seen walking up the main road that led from the school gate right up to the old assembly hall. Mr Albert was not wearing his normal suit and tie. Instead, he wore an old costume that looked like something I’d seen in a picture the men going to the moon, except that his was stained and crumpled, and it was very much out of line with the new teacher’s normally pristine image. He was also carrying a large bucket containing some white liquid and he had an enormous jute bag slung over his other shoulder.
Everyone watched as he briskly made his way up the road, not knowing what he was planning to do. When he reached the old assembly building he took out a brush and began painting the walls with the white stuff. Obi and I went up to give him a hand.
‘Thanks, gentlemen’, he smiled and produced more brushes from the sack. ‘I made the paint out of finely ground dry maize and a special fixing ingredient which gives it the gloss. It’s the same stuff I painted my house with.’
Before long, we were joined by more students and later by some of the teachers. We made several trips to the teacher’s house for more of the seemingly endless supply of paint. Before sundown, all the school buildings had been painted white. It was astonishing how much difference it made. The school had a new, resplendent, look, and when the hedges were trimmed and the roads were lined on both sides with large, painted boulders, the whole place truly came alive.
In the weeks that followed many houses in the village were painted, some of them in other colours, having tweaked Mr Oriola’s original recipe to get purple, and green and yellow.
Another day, after teaching the junior classes about water treatment and supply, he unveiled his new invention. A large steel tank installed beside the community stream, behind the school compound. No one knew how he’d managed to get the tank there and set up the hand-wound pump and the pipes that conveyed water to the tank.
‘The thing is filled with sand; several layers of coarse and fine sand.’ he explained to the bemused students who watched as water spurted out from a bank of taps at the bottom of the tank.
At first, most of the villagers refused to use the filter. The teacher was summoned by the Grand elder and made to explain why he’d installed an abomination at the site of the sacred stream. The chiefs asked who gave him the permission, and insisted that he’d displeased the gods. But when they found that the water in the filter was free of the tiny dancing insects that were believed to cause yellow fever, the filtered water soon became popular among the villagers.
Another time, the new teacher got some of the students to line the school paths with poles, atop which he’d installed special electric globes that automatically came on at nightfall. The whole village marvelled at his ingenious use of ‘black magic’. It had to be black magic, of course, otherwise how would the thing have worked when there was no generator, no batteries and no wires? Others averred that it was a miracle, and the teacher was some sort of prophet. Forget about Cerullo or Bonnke, this guy was the real deal. Some even, it was rumoured, had been miraculously cured by drinking water from his filter tank or just touching one of his lamp posts while it was aglow.
‘No, dear students. It’s not black magic’, he explained in the class. ‘You guys need to stop relying too much on black magic and miracles. They don’t work, and they get you nowhere. The only people who benefit are those who continue to deceive you with fake miracles. This is not a miracle, this is science. If you concentrate on your studies, you will learn how it all works and you will be able to put your knowledge to practical use.’
That was the same day he distributed some papers among all the students to give to our parents and guardians. ‘Yes, I know that most of them can’t read, but I am relying on you to read it to them.’
Baba Jegede was with Grandpa when I arrived at home with the note from the teacher, so I quickly pocketed the folded piece of paper. Baba was always criticizing me and pointing out all my mistakes every time I attempted to read a letter to Grandpa. But it was too late, Baba Jegede saw the paper and out sparked his interest.
‘Come on, read it to us, then.’ He said, once I’d explained about the source note. Grandpa’s wiry brows were raised expectantly, and Baba crossed his legs and rearranged his copious robe.
I cleared my throat like a dignitary about to make a momentous speech,
‘You are cordially invited to a general community meeting taking place in the newly refurbished hall of the Missionary Secondary School where we will be discussing various ideas about improving our community. We will talk about Water supply, electricity, the communal clinic, our schools and many more.
'What can we do to make our village better for us and for our children?
‘I trust that you will attend and% look forward to contribute to this worthwhile event.
‘The day of the meeting is 14th October 1983 and it will start at 4:30pm
‘Signed, Albert T Oriola.’
‘Hmmm...; Baba Jegede mused, stroking his patchy beard, for once he had not stopped me during a reading. I felt rather pleased, although I could not help noting the frown that had suddenly clouded his aged face.
‘But that is the same day as the Regional Councillor’s visit. Not a single person will be at that meeting, everyone will be busy attending to his Excellency.’
‘True’, Grandpa agreed, ‘Everyone has been preparing for the Councillor’s visit. Haruna and his apprentices are busy tapping the palm wine and filling up the gourds even as we speak... The cows have already been purchased, fat cows, they are, lounging unwary in the Elders’ yard, awaiting the slaughter knife. ...and the women, they have been practicing the traditional welcome dance...have you seen the town hall? The place has been swept and decorated; maybe it will even be painted to make it more presentable...
I’d forgotten all about the annual visit of the Regional Councillor. It was often the most festive time in the village, something I used to, always, look forward to. I’d even been involved in the acrobatic dance performance which we did on the day, and I’d collected some new buttons to sew into my Egugu costume. But now, of course, I had some misgivings about the whole thing. For all the entertainment and hospitality over the councillor, it was difficult to see what the community got back in return. Yes, the ‘big man’ would come with his entourage, and he would be escorted through the village to the communal hall where he’d make his customary pompous speech. He’d be wined, dined, feted and conferred with yet another honorary chieftaincy award – a real miracle it was that they had not run out of chieftaincy titles. And then he would go back, never to be heard or seen again until the next campaign rally.
In the days that followed, we all learnt a lot from Mr Oriola, many of those things I would probably never have learnt from anyone else. Previously, I’d carried in my head an inordinate fear of grownups. I never questioned things; I just did as I was told - most of the time, at least.
‘When you talk to people...’ the new teacher said while in the class, one day. ‘...anyone, at all, try to make proper eye contact. It will show that you are sincere and confident, and it will often get you what you want’. Before that time, I’d never look a grownup in the eye. It was an unspoken taboo. A show of disrespect. Moreover, up till then, I had no idea what it meant to be confident, or whatever use it was, but once I’d had some practice of making eye contact with the new teacher, I soon got the hang of the whole thing, and I was all the better for it.
Also, I never had any real ideas about planning ahead and I rarely thought things through.
‘You must constantly interrogate the material of your life’, Mr Oriola, would often say, to the befuddlement of the entire class who had no idea what he was talking about until he’d explained, ‘You must always think about where you are going with your life.’
I was over 17, and I’d never seriously thought of what I wanted to do in the future. I simply hoped that things would eventually work out. As far as I was concerned, my impending final year examination did not have a jot of relevance. I’d probably work on the farm and save up for a second hand motorbike and then go to the city and make a living as motorbike taxi rider.
I was utterly unprepared for the new teacher’s next question. ‘Ayo Daramola! When you are older, what is your profession going to be?’
My reply was automatic, ‘A medical doctor’, although I couldn’t possibly explain why I’d given that reply.
A raucous peel of laughter coursed through the class, but the teacher did not laugh.
‘Good!’ he exclaimed, ‘An excellent choice indeed. Now, sit down and close your eyes for a moment.’
The rest of the class was quiet; each one wondering what was coming next.
‘Now, Ayo, imagine yourself in your doctor’s coat, your stethoscope hanging from your neck and your spectacles mounted intelligently on the bridge of your nose. You are sitting at your desk in your office where there are several certificates on the wall showing some of your magnificent achievements.
‘An elderly man is sitting in front of you smiling. He says “Doctor Ayo, I cannot thank you enough for saving the life of my only son.” Everybody in town is praising you for all the fantastic work you have been doing, making people well and saving their lives. Congratulation Dr Ayo Pythagoras Daramola. You are one of the greatest doctors in the world!
Several minutes after I opened my eyes, I was still smiling. I was going to be a doctor, a great doctor.
‘You all have the potential to be Doctors, Engineers, and Accountants - anything you want to be. It’s going to be hard work, and yes, I know that you are at a great disadvantage because of the extremely poor standard of your school.
‘Do you guys realize that your school is one of the worst in the country? No student from this school has gained admission to a good university in the past 15 years.’
There was a disgruntled murmur from the class, and then a girl held up her hand,
‘My brother attended this school, and he gained admission to The Faith and Glory University in the township’, she asserted proudly.
The teacher stared at the girl briefly; a fleeting sad expression crossed his face. All the students stared back at him, eye brows raised at various degrees of elevation.
He shook his head, ‘The Faith and Glory is not a real university.’
That provoked a scandalised gasp from the entire class. Faith and Glory was one of the most popular universities in the district. It was established by the founder of the Terbanacle Pentecostal church. Evangelism was probably the only thriving enterprise in the whole country, and small-time, self-styled pastors were making a killing, peddling faith and feel-good succour to ignorant people who saw no other way out of their poverty and misery. And the extremely successful ones among the evangelists got to establish their own universities.
‘I can assure you,’ the teacher continued, ‘nowhere else on this planet, apart from the Republic of Malaria, will any company or institution accept a certificate from a university like Faith and Glory.’
‘Well,’ another student asked, once the stunned class had recovered, ‘What about Aliyu Baba University?’
Mr. Oriola sighed and shook his head once again.
‘Real universities are never named after fraudulent politicians. Look, you guys need to think carefully about the universities you want to attend. Don’t limit your dreams to the garbage that is served by your incompetent leaders. I know that it is going to be very difficult, but if you guys are going to survive, you have to dream yourselves out of the bottomless pit of poverty that has been dug for you, and is still being dug for you, by your dear greedy and corrupt politicians and government officials. You must dream of international universities like Cambridge, Harvard, and Princeton. It’s just as much your entitlement as the children of the politicians who are regularly sent to study abroad.
Three days to the community meeting and the rumours mills were revolving at their most vigorous; the new teacher was going back to the UK. His wife had finally run out of patience and demanded that if he did not come at once, she would be serving him with an immediate divorce.
Also, preparations for the Councillor’s visit were at top gear, although many people were talking about the community meeting. The chiefs had joked about it in their gatherings and the elders had a hearty long laugh. Who did he think he was, calling a community meeting without involving them - and, of all days - on the same day as the regional councillor’s day?
Whispers and mutterings ricocheted along the village paths and house corridors. They’d all received Mr Oriola’s invitation, and some of the villagers thought the purpose was sound, and the course was just. It was for the good of the village.
Some of them tried to get the teacher to change the date of the meeting, saying that they’d be sure to attend if he did so. After all, the welcome gathering was going to be grander, and there’d be food and drink at the welcome fete, but he wasn’t going to provide any refreshments at his meeting.
‘It’s OK’, he replied, ‘of course, I will be hugely disappointed if no one attends, but that won’t be the end of the world. It will only teach me where your priorities lie and make it easier for me to decide whether to go back and live abroad.’
On the eve of the meeting day, in the assembly, Mr Stevens, the principal asked the pupils to remind their parents about the meeting. However, he also mentioned the councillor’s visit and advised the students to of be their best behaviour on the day.
I was one of the twelve ushers appointed by the new teacher to show the guests to the meeting hall. We all reported at the school premises at 3:30pm in our spritely, pressed school uniform, looking smarter than we’d ever looked. We could hear the buzz on the street as people moved around in their final preparation to receive the Regional Councillor. At 4:30pm, which was the time of the meeting, only three people had been ushered to the hall where the teacher was waiting. Grandpa was one of those early guests.
Mr Oriola had set up some displays with maps and drawings, showing some of his ideas. He paced up and down the back of the hall with a deep, contemplative, scowl.
At about 5pm, we heard cheering noises in the street, which meant that the councillor had arrived. By that time, it was almost obvious that the meeting was a resounding flop, and we were expecting soon that the teacher would tell us to go home. I felt terribly sorry for him and genuinely sad for my people.
But something strange began to happen. The noise grew louder, and an unexpected mob arrived at the school gate. Within a short time, an endless flow of babbling villagers proceeded up to the school hall. The entire assembly hall was packed to the rafters. People stood outside, listening to the proceedings of the meeting, bellowed out through a megaphone. All the old men and women had something to say, and each one was cheered loudly at the end their speech. The whole thing went on late into the night.
That event was a landmark in the history of the village. For me it was a day never to be forgotten, when the extraordinary man who put me on the path to a successful career as a doctor, unwittingly set himself on course to replace the Regional Councillor who had failed to turn up that day but sent his junior assistant instead.