A Chance For Love Episode 3
“Who?” Her wide, eager eyes made me flinch. By telling her the story of my life, would I not be making a mistake? “Holding back now, are you? Hey, I told you my story, did I not? It’s not a story I share with random people. But I told you because you seemed genuinely interested in why I chose to be a nurse instead of being like you said, an English teacher.”
“You did it for your sister.” Now I saw why she cared so much about my health.
Simpering, she nodded. “She wanted to be a nurse. And besides, I don’t want what happened twenty-one years ago to happen ever again in this school. This is a great school, and the people who work here need to have the right motive. I don’t see anyone else more qualified to be the school nurse.”
With a rather forced giggle, she went on, “And about the English thing you mentioned, I have always had an interest in English and Literature. I have even published two books. The first is a collection of poems. Most nights, when I can’t sleep, I get up and light a candle. And yes, I light a candle for real, even if there is NEPA light. Writing by candlelight has become my own personal ritual. For this reason I named it ‘By Candlelight’. Whatever is in my head at that moment finds itself as another beautiful work of literature in my collection of poems.
“And the second book is a novel called A Robber’s Heart. It’s about a thief who jumps over a fence to steal, but his landing is pathetic and he ends up with a broken leg. He is taken in by a teenage girl who hides him in her room, and a father-daughter bond blossoms between them. A bond that not even her mother can sever.”
“Wow!” I said, mesmerized by her delight in Literature. I also had a thing for Literature, but had never reached the point of developing a story. Maybe sometime I could give it a try. I could write the story of my life.
“Can I see your books sometime?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “But first, tell me what I need to know. Why were you crying, and who is bent on making your life miserable?”
“Miserable?” Of course I lived a miserable life and two people engineered this misery. But when had I mentioned this to Stella?
“You mentioned that please, sorry and forgive me were the only words they made you say,” she clarified. “In other words, some people are trying to make your life miserable. So who are they?”
More than once I opened my mouth to speak, but I could not find the words. If I replied her strategic question, I would directly be telling her my stepmother and Cynthia were making my life miserable.
I could not say that. No, not now. What if they found out somehow that I had spoken about them? I would be dead in a split-second.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But when you put it like that, I don’t know how to answer.”
Stella rolled her eyes. “There you go again with being sorry.”
“Sorry.” The moment the word left my lips, I realized I had done it again. “Just pay no mind to how pathetic I am.”
“So you were going to say something?” she asked.
“I wasn’t crying because of my sickness,” I said. “Well, not directly.”
“But it had something to do with it, yes?”
“You asked if I didn’t care at all about my health.”
“Yes. And I’ll ask you again. You’ve been sick for how long, two weeks and you just do nothing about it? Who does that?”
“Actually, it’s been four years.”
“You have been sick for four years?” she half-shrieked. “But why? I don’t get it. You’ve been sick for four years and you don’t do anything about it? Your mum and your sister, do they not know this?”
“To understand the whole thing, you need to know the story of my life.” I knew my answers would lead me to tell the story I had tried so hard to escape.
I led my mind away from frightening thoughts and told myself I could do this. I would tell Stella the story she craved to hear. Perhaps after I did, I would feel the weight of the world fall off my shoulders.
“I have time,” she said.
I squinted at my wristwatch. 11:18. Two minutes into the forty-minute recess. I had spent my entire morning in the sickbay and had missed all four periods.
Shoving off these thoughts like unwanted clothing, I willed my mind to focus on the story I had to tell. “I never knew my mum. She died a few hours after giving birth to me. My father hired a nursing mother to care for me. In no time, he saw the need to marry her so she would legally be my mother. And then they were wed.”
“I’ve always supported your father’s wise decision,” Stella said. “This way, you won’t know what it feels like not to have a mother. It’s a horrible feeling.”
If only she knew. Soon enough, though, she would.
“Four years ago, my life took a turn I hadn’t seen coming,” I said. “The very day my father resumed duties after his recovery from an accident, the bank was robbed. And he was shot to death.”
I could remember vividly. Cynthia and I had only just returned from school to find two policemen at our door, delivering the cold news of father’s death. I could still remember my stepmother holding Cynthia and I comfortingly in her arms while we all wept.
“It only took a few days for the people I held dear to show their true colors. Everything changed dramatically. When someone shows you their true colors, don’t try to repaint them, or you’ll be stabbing yourself all over with many pains. Back then, I was naïve, too innocent and inexperienced to know that. I thought there was a mistake, and that my family needed time to grieve, after which the gap between us would bridge. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.”
“I don’t understand,” Stella said.
“My stepmother and her daughter make the whole world believe they love me,” I said. “But they don’t. Cynthia has always seen me as her biggest rival. I tried to make her realize the loopholes in her reasoning, but my efforts only filled her with untamed aggression. But still, I believed her childish jealousy would fade as she grew. I believed she would grow into a reasonable person and her love for me as a sister would supersede all. But time laid my flawed reasoning before me. In horror, I watched my sister’s jealousy grow along with her. Her love for me—or at least something close to it—completely faded, replaced with an intense hate I could not fathom. She regards me no more than she would a maid.
“They have turned me into a servant in my father’s own house. They make me do all the work in the house all by myself. Every day I wake up by 4:30 in the morning, but they overwhelm me with chores and I always end up late for school. And they make me do all of these on an empty stomach. I could go a whole day without food and no one would care. They find fault in everything I do. And even when there are none, they fabricate faults and abuse me.”
At this point, relying on mere words to tell the story would be a grave mistake. I undid the buttons on my jacket and did the same to my white shirt.
“What are you doing?” Stella asked.
“Allowing my scars tell a part of the story,” I said. “They will speak to you and tell you more than words ever could.”
Taking off my shirt, I let Stella’s unbelieving eyes explore the length of my torso. My body had become an art gallery on which different work of arts were displayed. Some of which were recent, stinging me when I showered. Baring myself to her brought an uneasy sensation to my stomach, but I didn’t dwell on this.
“Oh my God!” she cried. “Such evil! Oh heavens, no!”
I remained in position, giving her an undisturbed view of my back, letting her drink in the details of my abuse.
“I can’t believe your stepmother did this to you!” The sympathy in her voice wounded me. Once again, I burst into tears.
“She should be a mother to you! How could she do this to you? You are like a child to her! She should love you like her own!” My grief intensified with every word she said. Snuffling, I reached for my handkerchief and brought it to my nose.
“That woman is evil!” Stella’s straightforward remark startled me. Evil, perhaps, but that woman remained my mother.
Speaking about our broken relationship to another person brought a cloud of guilt resting upon me. In a way, I felt like a traitor. Negative emotions fought to overcome me. And to an extent, they won, sagging my heart into dense darkness. Weren’t family issues meant to remain in the family? My stepmother had even said so herself.
‘What happens in this house stays in this house. Do you understand?’ She had pulled my ears so hard I feared I would lose them. And I had never dreamt of disclosing her wrongdoings to anyone but Amarachi. If mother learnt about this, I would not live to see the next day.
Stella placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry about the things they make you pass through. I thought these things only happened in Nollywood. Oh heavens! Whatever happened to humanity? My God!”
I picked up my uniform and clothed myself. “After my dad’s death, they made me stay home. They told me to forget school. They said school was not for everyone. And whenever I told them I wanted to continue my education, they would abuse me and tell me I was cursed. They told me I was an evil child, and for that reason my parents died.”
Stella’s brows furrowed. “They made you leave school? I thought…but…I heard…” She shook her head. “This is just evil. Pure evil. During that period, news spread that you quit school because you could not face the world after your loss.”
“They made everyone believe I quit on my own because I was too weak to get over my father’s death. For almost a whole term I stayed home, doing chores 24/7. And then one day, Cynthia returned from school, talking about an annual scholarship exam. It would cover a student’s school fees till graduation. To pick up the registration form and the study materials, I needed to pay an application fee. With tears in my eyes I approached my stepmother. I begged her to pick up the scholarship form and study materials for me. I understood she didn’t want to spend money on me, and with the scholarship, it could be achieved. I believed in myself. I knew I could pass the scholarship exams. But she laughed at me. She and her daughter.
“I snuck to school the next day to tell Sir Amadi I wanted to sit for the exam. I wanted him to help with the fee. But to my surprise, he called my stepmother and told her about my intention. Although he had good intentions, that was the worst step ever. I returned home only to receive the beating of my life. Most of the scars you saw, they came from that day.”
“So how did you register for the exams?” Stella asked.
“I confided in Amarachi. I am forever indebted to her. If God hadn’t intervened through her, I would have been a school drop-out. Do you see all the things I pass through every day? They treat me like snot. They always remind me I don’t belong in their family. They tell me I’m an outcast, and make me pass through unimaginable pain.”
“This won’t go on like this, my dear.” Stella rose to her feet, a fierce determination written all over her face. And although I knew she had my best intentions at heart, it frightened me to watch her roam the room with that look on her face. “It certainly won’t go on.”
“What can be done?” I asked.
“You are going to have a blood test done, as soon as today,” she said. “And your stepmother will have to pay for the expenses. I will make sure of this.”
“That’s not possible. She’d rather die than take responsibility for me.”
Stella smirked. And I knew she had a sinister plan. But what?
“Those wings you think you’ve grown…I’ll cut them.”
Acknowledging my presence, my classmates quieted as though a ghost had just walked in. Had a pin dropped, it would not go unnoticed. They no doubt stared at my maladroit gait and how my arms didn’t swing human enough when I walked. Shaking off the thought, I advanced to the seat I shared with Amarachi at the far end. Sat quietly on the right side of the seat, Amarachi flipped through the pages of the textbook before her.
“Speak of the devil,” someone half-whispered.
For fools like Adamu, silence remained the best answer. Responding to his taunts would only encourage him, and I didn’t want that. Even worse, we could end up exchanging words. I would rather play the fool than stoop so low to exchange words with the king of fools.
By ignoring him, he would eventually get the message that I had more important things to do than let his juvenile delinquency bother me. I hoped sometime soon he would, because I didn’t know for how long I could contain my indignation.
He chuckled, his throaty voice an insult to my ears. It didn’t take long before his fellow fools joined in the chorus, banishing the pin-drop silence. Amidst the laughter and incoherent comments, a wolf-whistle pierced through.
Amarachi’s eyes told me to ignore them. Once I plopped down on our seat, she slammed shut her textbook and shot me her undivided attention. “Oh my God, Victoria! You really killed it today! I had already given up on seeing you!”
“Killed what?” I asked, my brows knitting.
“The late coming thing, stupid. This is the latest you’ve ever been. This is just as good as staying home.” Punctuating her words with a giggle, she obviously hoped I would laugh along and forget our classmates’ insensitivity.
There goes nothing. The realization that she had failed at making me laugh stole away the gleam in her eyes.
“I spent all morning in the sickbay,” I said.
“poo,” she muttered. Searching my face, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even notice. You really don’t look well. There’s this look in your eyes. And stupid me, I mistook it for that look you get when you don’t have enough sleep.”
“Actually, that look is in there too,” I said. “It’s a mix of both.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Do you feel better now?”
I nodded, letting a stiff smile stretch my lips. “I’m good as new. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Once the words left my lips, my nose tickled and I sneezed, killing the little conviction Amarachi might have had. Just great.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“Yup.” I would hate it if I killed her mood for good. Who said I had to afflict people with melancholy everywhere I went?
“You did not go for lunch?” I asked.
“What’s the point? I’m not even hungry.”
“Look how proud she is,” I said. “You won’t admit that you didn’t go to the canteen because I wasn’t around and you would feel awkward going there without me.”
Clicking her tongue, Amarachi glanced at her wristwatch. “There’s not much time left now. Break is almost over. Commerce test is almost upon us now.”
I grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
“Now tell me. Why so late today? I need to hear all of it. Did that witch of a stepmother make you fight a bull or something?”
“Amarachi!” I warned, pressing a finger to my lips to shush her.
“What? She’s a witch and you know it. I’m sure she does that mirror mirror on the wall thingy and the mirror for sure mentions you as the fairest of them all. That’s why she always gets up on the wrong side of bed and tries to make your life miserable. That evil wolf in woman’s clothing.”
“Stop, please. She’s still family. It’s not right to talk about her like this.”
Disbelieving, she shook her head. “Doesn’t she remind you of those really evil fairy tale witches?”
Of course she did. But it didn’t feel right speaking about my stepmother in that manner. And besides, walls have ears.
“She’s the evilest of them all, that woman,” Amarachi said. “She and that daughter of hers.”
Without thinking it, I conjured an image of my stepmother in my mind’s eye and placed it beside a mental image of the Evil Queen. Similar cat eyeliners stretched along their eyelids, delivering the perfect dramatic look.
Taking my hand in hers, Amarachi said, “You, my Cinderella, are going to make it in life, trust me. You will find your fairy godmother, and then your glass slipper will lead you to your Prince Charming who will take you to his castle, and wedding bells will ring.”
I felt heat rush to my cheeks at the mention of my Prince Charming. “Oh stop it.”
In a way, Amarachi’s words made sense. My life fit the bill as a modern day Cinderella. I had lost my parents, and had a stepmother and a step-sister who saw me as nothing but a maid, making me scrub floors day and night, just like Cinderella. In my case, though, we had no Lucifee. Thank God for that.
I thought back to Stella, her warmth and her sweet smile. Had I found myself a fairy godmother?
I mused over her reaction to the story of my life and her determination to help me. We had agreed to meet after school. Questions crowded my mind. But try as I might, I could never decipher the plan she had so tactfully constructed. I just had to wait and let time unravel it.
My classmates had delved back to their various pointless conversations. A few boys argued about a football match they had watched the previous night, and how Christiano Ronaldo missed a penalty. Some girls discussed fashion and other irrelevant things like entertainment and crushes. Although I didn’t plan to listen, my ears picked up some lines from their conversations.
Pleased that they had more important—although totally worthless—things to do than mock me, a lazy smile crept to my face.
“You’re not going to believe this!” Amarachi squealed, cutting off my line of thoughts. Her eyes twinkled like stars in the midnight sky.
“Tell me already,” I said.
An ear-to-ear grin stretched her lips. “Well, uhm…I came to school this morning to find this really cute guy in class.”
Taking a breather, she bit her lips to keep from squealing. “When I say cute I mean super cute! He’s really cute, like the cutest I’ve seen off TV. He’s like a hot celebrity step out of TV or a fashion magazine.”
“That’s it?” My interest had given way to indifference, killing Amarachi’s excitement. But it only took a moment for the gleam in her eyes to return.
“He’s white!” Slamming her palms into each other, she squeezed them and let a beam spread over her face.
White? Mr. White and I were classmates?
My heart sank. I did not want to be in the same class with that boy. Something about him gave me the creeps. Did he stare at everyone else the way he stared at me?
It stunned me how my best friend drooled over a guy she barely even knew. I couldn’t picture myself doing that. Totally gross. I could imagine how that pompous white guy felt at the moment, having every girl in school on full crush mode.
With folded hands, I shook my head. “Pathetic. He’s not the first foreigner here, is he?”
Amarachi pouted. “Look at you acting all indifferent. Every girl in school is talking about just how cute he is.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t include me.”
“Trust me, you’re only like this because you haven’t seen him. I mean, wow. Victoria, that guy is a stunner! Have you ever seen such brilliant green eyes?”
It stunned me how she believed I would hurriedly activate crush mode once I saw him. I had already crossed paths with him, and although for a moment I’d stared, it had triggered nothing in me.
“There’s nothing extraordinary about that guy,” I said.
She giggled at my indifference. “Just wait till you see him. He’ll knock the air out of your lungs. Oh, I haven’t even told you. Guess where he sat when he walked in? Right here, on our seat. To be precise, he sat on your side of the seat. I told him the seat was already taken. He just turned and gave me this weird look as though I’d spoken to him in Swahili. Even though the look he shot me totally weirded me out, it was really amazing staring into those emerald green eyes. You know, Eddie Redmayne kind of eyes.” Her eyes burned with desire.
“Goodness, Amarachi!” I chided, my voice dropping to a near-whisper. “I can’t believe you’re like this over some guy. It’s not like he’s the only white guy in this school. We already have a number of them in class.”
“Four in class,” she counted. “Now five.”
I continued as though she’d never interrupted, “And we have them littered all over our school.”
“Twenty five,” she said. “You call that littering?”
Once again, I ignored her counting. “What’s so special about some lanky, green eyed white guy?”
Her eyes widened. “What? You saw him?”
“Mh-hmm.” When would this end? I did not want to be a part of this conversation.
“Oh my God!” Grinning from ear-to-ear, she rubbed her palms together like a fat cop would at the sight of free burger. To paint the complete picture, lips licking would be in order. “Tell me everything! Look at you, letting me do the whole talking while you have some story to tell. Out with it. Did he speak to you?”
“If he spoke to me, would it help with the problems I face at home?”
“Yes.” She stuck out her tongue. “I haven’t heard his voice but I can only imagine how beautiful it sounds. I mean, with a face like that. Good heavens.”
“His voice is nothing special.”
“Oh my God!” she said. Heads turned in our direction and while this made me slightly uneasy, Amarachi didn’t seem to care. “He spoke to you? I need to hear it. Tell it and tell it all!”
“It’s just the pretty face. His personality is crap. We met on the stairs and he said I was a sleepwalking zombie. Can you beat how lame he is?” A transitory silence fell upon us. Amarachi gazed at me, wordlessly demanding the untold story.
“There’s nothing to tell,” I said.
“I can’t believe he’s an ass,” she said, her voice tinged with uncertainty.
“Yeah, they come in different sizes and colors.”
“No. I mean I can’t believe he’s an ass like for real. Maybe he has some twisted sense of humor and you understood it all wrong?”
“Yeah right,” I said, rolling my eyes. I didn’t care about his sense of humor. He had hurt me with his unseasoned words, and that said a lot.
The rest of our classmates hustled into the classroom, feet shuffling as they headed for their seats. Waking over to our seat, a girl waved at me.
“Vicky, so you’re in school,” she said.
“Hello yourself, Confidence.” I slid Amarachi’s textbook to my side of the desk and buried my face in it, warding off more comments from Confidence. I knew though that it would be impossible to read. Wherever she went, quiet left.
Casting me into her abyss of non-existence, she rested her full attention on Amarachi. “That new guy probably doesn’t like this school.”
“That’s the new guy’s loss.” Amarachi feigned nonchalance. Or had she suddenly lost interest for real?
“Didn’t you see the look on his face,” an Ethiopian girl named Rose cut in. “The way he grimaced like he’d been placed in a sewer.”
“He only sat down for five minutes,” Confidence said. “And then he just got up, grabbed his bag and was gone.”
Rose chuckled. “You’re saying five minutes? Two minutes at most.”
“The look on Sir Thomas’ face though,” Confidence said. These girls shamed me. So much fuss over some white guy, as though he had fallen from the sky. Pathetic.
“Maybe this was the wrong class and he figured out only after Sir Thomas had already begun his boring lesson on simultaneous equation,” Amarachi said. “Who knows, maybe he’s a junior.”
“Today’s math lesson alone was strong enough to make him say ‘oh no no no, wrong class.’” Confidence ended her statement with an overdone American accent.
I tried to focus on the book before me, but every line I read disappeared into an unknown chamber in my head. I needed a little bit of silence but the girls’ stupid talk about some white guy didn’t give me a chance. They needed to take their hopeless desperation to another corner. My stomach churned with every word they spat out. I didn’t know for how long I would be able to contain the rage burning so intensely within me. I glared at the book, unleashing my aggression upon it.
“Are you girls seriously stressing over that guy?” a boy asked. I made no attempt to bring his name to mind. “I saw him drive out of school.”
“He drives to school?” a girl asked. I found myself awaiting an answer. No student drove to school. Over here, 18 stood as the legal driving age, and I doubted Mr. White had crossed over to adulthood. It wouldn’t surprise me if an exception had been made for him though. This country, after all, is characterized by bribery and corruption. The authorities would sure give special treatment to the angel who had fallen from the sky.
“He drives a Range Rover Evoque Convertible SUV,” Cynthia chimed in. I hadn’t noticed her come in. Sat on a desk in front, she faced the class. Her school uniform, well-pressed by ‘yours faithfully’, clung to her like a second skin. As typical of her, the first three buttons were left undone, flaunting the fullness of her cleavage. My gaze darted to her crossed legs. She sure enjoyed how her skirt showed radiant, fair skin. It bothered me how teachers didn’t speak to her concerning her dressing. In the past, they had, but now they just paid no attention to her as though they had been spelled.
“Guys, please!” Amarachi snapped, startling me. “No offense, but can you guys take your conversation someplace else, or better still, just drop this whole drama? It’s getting really sickening. I’m trying to study for Commerce test. I mean what’s the big deal if he’s white? Does he have white blood? Abeg I hate nonsense.”
Cynthia glowered at her. “Are you speaking to me in that tone?”
“Last time I checked you weren’t my mum,” Amarachi said. “So I can speak to you however I please. Okay? And anyway, I wasn’t even talking to you, so drop it.”
Springing to her feet, Cynthia stomped in our direction. She had fire in her eyes. From experience, I knew things would turn ugly. Amarachi rose to her feet, her ferocity matching Cynthia’s. I rose as well, ready to sandwich myself between them if the need arose. I looked to where Confidence had been, but she had fled to a safe corner. Coward with a confident letter C.
“Tell me to my face what you just said,” Cynthia demanded, stepping in toward Amarachi. How did we get into this mess?
Amarachi held no trace of fear, and it bothered me, because she would not back down. Cynthia wouldn’t either. Shoulders squared, Amarachi held Cynthia with her flaming gaze. A deafening silence had fallen over the classroom. Everyone watched, eager to see things get ugly.
Amarachi opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off before she even began. “Let it go, please.”
Amarachi turned to me, and I seemed to be the object of her aggression. But it only took a moment and my pleading eyes softened her gaze.
“I am not you,” she said, regarding me with a sorry look in her eyes. “I will not let her intimidate me. She pays school fees. I do too.”
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” our classmates chanted, rocking their fists in the air and drumming their desks.
“Look here, girl” Cynthia said, jabbing her pointer toward Amarachi. “I don’t know what you think you are, but those wings you think you’ve grown, just watch out, because if you ever get on my nerves again, I’ll cut them.” She moved her pointer and middle finger like a pair of scissors. I could almost see the rush of adrenaline filling her with ruthless intensity.
Our classmates kept chanting. “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
“I’d love to see you try,” Amarachi said, her eyes trained on Cynthia in the most ominous way. Malice crackled in the air around them.
Nancy and Precious had taken their position beside Cynthia, ready to fight. Cynthia’s crew no doubt viewed themselves as invincible and too hot to handle, demanding respect everywhere around school. Or at least they hoped they did. They had even gotten a name for their crew — the triple goddess.
“Hey!” Nancy warned. She opened her mouth to say more, but Cynthia held up her hand to silence her.
“I can handle her just fine on my own,” Cynthia said, her voice spiced with venom, her eyes threatening harm.
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Amarachi stood at akimbo. “You’re all bark and no bite.”
“Stop!” I begged, pressing my palms to my ears. “Please stop!”
Everyone occupied their seats, filling the room with hushed voices. Only one thing could evoke such reaction from my classmates — a teacher’s presence. I looked toward the doorway and found Sir Aaron walking in, his textbook and a bottle of water in his hands. Simultaneously, Amarachi and I sat down.
Giving us the middle finger, Cynthia returned to her seat, Nancy and Precious with her. Sometimes I wondered if those girls got paid for being her bodyguards. Like maidens serving a princess, they went everywhere with her and did all her bidding.
The class prefect hammered his desk with his fist — an order that we all stood up to greet Sir Aaron. “Good morning, sir!” we chorused.
Sir Aaron gestured for us to sit. Shuffling of feet extinguished the silence as we returned to our seats. But in the blink of an eye, it passed away, restoring silence to its place. Placing his textbook and water on Cynthia’s desk, Sir Aaron walked to the board and wrote a four-letter word that turned my stomach to ice: TEST.
“Tear out a sheet of paper and write your name,” Sir Aaron said, turning to face us. “Remove from your desks your books and any incriminating material. If pen and paper aren’t the only things on your desk, you’re wrong.”
He swept his eyes around the classroom to make sure we all complied. Returning to the board, he dropped the bomb:
Write short notes on the three speculators in the Nigerian Stock Exchange Market and explain how they expect to profit from their activities.
Indistinct chatters sailed around the classroom as everyone tried to voice out their hopelessness. Once Sir Aaron whirled around to face us, the voices faded.
“You have twenty minutes or less,” he said. “Time starts now. If you talk to your neighbor, you’re wrong. If you turn your neck, you’re wrong.”
I copied the questions into my paper and stared at the board, blank faced. Answers eluded me. I glanced around to find everyone in a similar state.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Cynthia said. Frantically, she raised her hand. “Sir!”
“Yes?” Sir Aaron said.
“I believe there has been a mistake. Is this question ours like for real? I mean, when did you teach us these things?”
“Did I not conclude our previous class by asking you all to go home and read about the Nigerian Stock Exchange market?” Sir Aaron asked. “Here you all are, staring at me like a bunch of idiots. Oh, and just for the record, this test is no joke. It makes up ten percent of your continuous assessment, so you best give it your all.”
“All or nothing,” Amarachi said. We exchanged hopeless gazes.
Shaking my head, I whispered, “We are so dead.”
“Victoria!” Sir Aaron called.
My heart thumped wildly in response. Heads turned in my direction. I could see the mockery in their eyes. Sir Aaron had apparently caught me speaking. That spelt the end of my test. What difference would it make anyway? Even if I had a whole day, my paper would still be blank.
Sir Aaron picked up his table water and took a sip. “How’s your health now?”
What? He had only called to ask about my health? Unbelievable. Rubbing my forehead for no reason, I stared at him, totally forgetting the question before me. Amarachi kicked my feet, jolting me back into reality.
“I’m fine, sir,” I said. My face paled as I looked down at my paper. Failure stared back at me.
Seconds stretched into minutes. Twenty minutes passed with a hissing sound. Sadness clouded my features as I submitted my paper. I sat there on my seat, present but absent. My mind wandered off into the unknown. A feeling of nothingness had taken dwelling in my heart.
Sir Aaron provided the answers to the question on the board. “The three spectators in the Nigerian Stock Exchange Market are the bull, the bear and the stag…”
I watched him speak, but the noise in my head tuned out the rest of his words. My head swelled with too many thoughts, tossing me into the deep dark sea of gloom. I had never been this helpless concerning my academics. I felt crippled. This didn’t look good.
Twenty minutes into the next class and I still couldn’t get over my failure in Commerce test. What would Sir Aaron think of me when he picked up my script and found it blank?
“Tell me what I just said,” Madam Charity said, her eyes trained on me. Holy cripes! I hoped she’d spoken to the girl in front and not me, but her eyes stayed locked on mine.
The girl in front turned to look at me. She seemed just as confused as me. My indifference toward Madam Charity’s question forced her to her feet. “You were talking about—”
“Not you, Flora,” Madam Charity said. “Yes, Victoria? We don’t have all day.”
Words eluded me. My performance in Sir Aaron’s test had filled me with rue-cheerlessness, making it impossible to think of anything else. And here I stood, about to make another fool of myself. I would always remember this day as my worst school day.
“Excuse me, madam Charity.” Cynthia’s voice severed the silence. I glanced at her seat and found it empty. I had been too engrossed in thoughts to notice her absence. With a smug smile, she stood in the doorway. Folding her arms, she cast me an unsettling glance. “But the principal wants to have a word with her.”
“That should be after this class,” Madam Charity said.
Cynthia stomped her feet. “It’s urgent!”
Sir Amadi’s voice screeched over the intercom, “Victoria Brown. Report to my office in one minute or less.”
Madam Charity gave me a subtle nod. “You heard him.”
I had just been saved from Madam Charity’s question. But the smug smile on Cynthia’s face as I advanced toward her made me shudder. Although I had no idea why I had been summoned, I knew one thing. Trouble had found me.