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All Eyes On Me!
by Johnson O.J. Arumona
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“…All eyes were on me on that wonderful morning when I first stepped into school. No! Not because I was sort of a ‘little star’ or the ‘son of the president ’, ‘ a supernatural child or because I was ‘too fat’ for my age. None of that was the reason. And it wasn’t because my ‘black face’ was once shown on the screen of our TV set either. (I once attended a Children’s TV program. Where I sat… (According to my mother) ‘Hidden’, among other children that she could hardly even recognized her son). All eyes where on me for a different funny reason.

It was the year of our lord. In one of the twelve-months of 1977. Before we left home, my mother has dressed me in one of my best tailored suit. This was the same outfit that I wore for my Christmas for the year 1976. Knowing my mother very well, now that I have come of age. I am sure that she said some encouraging word to her son, who was entering elementary school for the first time. But whatever she had said then, I didn’t grab it straight. I was just a boy of seven and I was about to be initiated into the ‘abc’ stage of the ‘academic cult.’

Did she ‘hugged or kissed me on the cheek’ before we left home? Certainly not! The reason was, at that chronological time, in the part of the world that we came from. It wasn’t part of our culture for her to engage in such. After all hadn’t she agreed to my father’s request that I was old enough to start school? Hadn’t she offered her prayer; resting her hands on my forehead, as a symbol of ‘her blessing’ for her first son?’ Hugging or kissing were the ‘white man’s’
cultural ways of expressing their affection. Which was a culture that our people were yet to borrow then. …Anyway, whatever she told me, I have forgotten!

By tradition it was proper for my father to personally take me to school since it was my first time. We mounted his motorcycle popularly known as ‘machine’ and off we rode through the tarred ‘Secretariat Road’ where my proposed school was situated. We reached ‘Model Primary School’ in no time. He parked his machine in the compound and we walked hand in hand, father and son, into the school. I saw many children roaming around.

My sister, Eberi, who was two years older than I, was already in that same school. I had been earlier assured by my father that she would be around to support me. Indeed, we soon sighted Eberi among her friends and my father made sure that he called her attention. When she noticed our presence, she excitedly walked towards us. She was accompanied by four of her girl friends, all wearing their ‘green white green’ school uniforms. They first ignored me. Then perhaps my father reminded her of her new responsibility to ‘look’ after me. And her friends waved their tiny hands towards my face. Father gave them some monetary gifts and they left. We walked on. I remember turning my head to catch a glimpse of my sister and her friends. They were familiar with the environment. ‘They had no reason to be afraid of anybody.’ May be that was what I thought about them. They waved to me but I didn’t respond back for my father’s long arm and pace dragged me forward.

We arrived at the headmistress office. She was a white woman. Her name was smoothing like ‘Mrs. H. Britain.’ She was all smiling that now I could tell that she was sincerely happy from the depth of her heart to have received me. (In later years, I got to know that she was a friend of my father). She congratulated me and she switched my hand from my father’s. She buried my hand into hers and she took it upon herself to honorably usher me into my new class room, which was not very far from her office. My sisters were still outside while we passed. She waved to then and said to me. “Owoicho, you will be glad that I am taking you to the ‘Blue-Nursery’ class. That was the same class that your sister also attended when she first came here.”

The ‘Blue-Nursery’ class eventually became my first class room. There were other new in-take like myself. All the children were about my age and were neatly dressed in their fine ‘Sunday’ outfits, as I thought then. They didn’t look happy and neither did I. We were made to stand in different rows after our names were inscribed on a paper and pinned on our chest. May be, for easy identification purpose.

I remember our class teacher (or was it a mistress? Heaven only knows her name now) calling our names one after the other. When she called my name I simply stared at her. “Say present!” She shouted at me. “Pre-re-z-e-n-t.” I fearfully repeated after her. How that day ended remains a mystery to me till date. However, one incident that I will live to remember till the day I return to dust about that morning was when I felt the urge to visit the toilet. I was tightly pressed but I was too scared to tell my teacher. When I couldn’t bear it any longer, I decided to go out and look for my sister. Of course my teacher stopped me at the door. Where I stood like a dumb. Unable to answer her queries I stared to cry. May be she felt sorry for me, I don’t know, but she pampered me to her table. I continued too cry calling my sister’s name. The confused woman continued demanding what was troubling me. She wiped the tears from my face. She managed to ‘hit the nail on the head’ when she finally asked: “You want to shit?” and I agreed. But before she could guide me to the toilet I was so pressed that I messed myself. Soon happy flies hovered all over my body. My pant, trouser, socks and sandals were messed with ‘shit.’ My teacher stared angrily at me for a long time.

I remember my sister and her friends covering their noses with their hands, when she was called from her classroom. ‘How could her own brother, the new boy, in navy suit, be stinking?’ Well…there I stood like a dumb and smelling. The mistress who also doubled as my class teacher hissed. She pushed my head with one of her fingers as she removed my belt which was fastened to my waist and my trouser fell. She called me ‘yam head’ and she spat saliva out of her mouth. She continued to hiss and searching me with her big eyes while she washed me with soap and water. She led me back into the class room.
‘All eyes were on me’ even after my father picked us from school.

© All Rights Reserved. Johnson O.J. Arumona. 2004

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