By Azuh Arinze
I left primary school over 40 years ago. Interestingly, of all my classmates, the only person and name that seems to have taken up permanent residence in my head is Judith Nmachukwu Ezemba.
Her father, if my memory is still as sharp as it used to be, operated what we call a ‘provisions store’, almost adjacent the newly completed St. Theresa’s Cathedral in Nsukka.
There also used to be a public tap, where the poor converged almost every minute, every hour and everyday to fetch water. But I digress.
JNE was so beautiful and cute that seeing her every Monday to Friday as we resumed for classes left me sometimes useless. And to compound my misery, I couldn’t express my feelings for her. In fact, I didn’t even know what was happening to me back then, at Township/Urban Primary School, Nsukka, Enugu State.
Then, one day, I stole her book – just to be closer to her! The title of the book is The Flute, written by literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe.
In my innocence and childishness, I took the book home, tore out a piece of paper, wrote my name on it and used ‘garri’ to cover where hitherto her name was emblazoned.
To cut my long story short, my secret deed was eventually brought to light. How? Well, only God knows. But all the books in my box (yes, we used to take a metal box back then to school) came tumbling down one day. And unfortunately for me, the exact page where I had covered her name somehow got exposed. That was how I was not only detected, but was also thoroughly flogged and thereafter sent home and asked to report with my father in school the next day.
Because I got home unusually early that unforgettable and unfortunate day, my mother whose shop, where she sold bean cake, I first went to, was startled. But I sold her a dummy, which she gladly bought. Ha! I was just something else then.
When my father eventually got back from work, later in the evening, I relayed my cock and bull story to him.
However, it was when we got to school the next day that the main drama began. Of course, with all the twists and turns unfurling and sneaking out of where I had neatly tucked them in. Likewise the jingles and jangles, and swings and sways, like my boss, Mr. Kunle Bakare, will say.
For reasons that have continued to elude me – even after over 40 years – my father, who was supposed to report with me in school the next day, perhaps acting on instinct, woke me up in the middle of the night to enquire what truly happened that would necessitate his presence.
Trust me, I vehemently stuck to my lies. Neither shifting nor wavering. Then, in the morning, after breakfast, he decked one of his best attires. Being that he had newly taken the prestigious Ogbuehi title in my village then, he expertly decorated his head with one of his chieftaincy caps. Both of us mounted his Benly motorcycle, with AN 55 SA as the registration number. And off we went.
Driving into the school compound minutes later, my father tucked his motorcycle in a perfect corner, and after both of us had quietly and silently alighted, he befriended the mirror for a minute or so, adjusting his cap and ensuring that it perched very well on his head.
The music, however, changed as soon as my teacher, after warmly welcoming us, followed us to the headmaster, one Mr. Ozioko’s office.
All hell, to put it mildly, was let loose. My father who came in with what we refer to today as too much swag, had his head bowed, on hearing what I did.
What later made him to take off his cap and rest it on the headmaster’s table was the superb coordination and articulation of my lies. Coupled with the fact that I got money from him for my own copy of The Flute. Asked what I did with the money, I stuttered and stammered, and ended up not uttering anything cogent or coherent.
Anyway, done with my unnatural stammering, he tendered his apologies and to home we went. No school for me that day, no matter how much the headmaster appealed to him.
This naughty son of his that goes by the name of Arinze needed to be taught a lesson first. In fact, not just a lesson, but a bitter one.
The distance between the school and our 27F, Enugu Road residence in Nsukka wasn’t much. So, we were home in no time.
My father, I could tell from his face was seething with rage. But obviously didn’t want to commit murder by descending on me immediately.
He waited till in the night, and after my mom had returned from her shop and he regaled her with my atrocious act. My movement, meanwhile, had been restricted as if I was involved in a coup plot.
Sleeping off after a long wait inside the room, I was rudely woken up with strokes of cane and in a staccato form around 10/11pm. Oh, this husband and wife so flogged me that night that if not for God’s grace, I wouldn’t have been here to share this story.
According to my father, and as he landed strokes of cane on different parts of my body, he would have appeared in my school differently if I had taken him into confidence. Not with all that swag. And like he later told my mother, it was one of the biggest embarrassments he had ever suffered.
Back to school, the day after, another drama began in my life and that of my ‘first love’, Judith Nmachukwu Ezemba. Ha! I see oba…
Hmmmmmmmmm! My real woes began the day after – and upon my resumption. Classmates avoided me, rarely wanting to have anything to do with me while teachers eyed me with so much scorn. The most painful, however, was that my ‘first love’ or ‘first infatuation’, to put it more correctly, Judith Nmachukwu Ezemba, treated me so contemptuously that she even had a derogatory moniker for me – ‘Arinze, onye oshi akwukwo’, which means, Arinze, the book thief!
Oblivious of the fact that it was my ‘infatuation for her’ that made me do what I did, we never sat down, unfortunately, for even a day to smoothen things out until we eventually exited primary school.
Although, every now and then we bumped into each other at different places in Nsukka, and being that we were not living far from each other, till I ended up at the popular St. Theresa’s College, where I read up to class 2, before my parents relocated to Lagos.
At STC, I had mustered a little courage and confidence and had confided in a few of my friends, particularly those who knew about ‘The Flute Misadventure’ and were in the same secondary school now with me that I was going to properly ‘toast’ her wherever and whenever we meet. But alas, it never happened. Even up until this moment.
Judith Nmachukwu Ezemba, I don’t know where you are now and also what has become of you, but please know that whether or not our paths ever get to cross again, the book I took was for love and nothing more.
And to my great father, late Ichie Azuh Chimezie Aloysius, I tender my apologies for that monumental humiliation. Na love cause am! To all of you that insisted that I complete this story, I say thank you and thank you and thank you!
Finally, I would like to put something on record, and that is that one thing is certain about young people – they could sometimes do crazy things for infatuation, because at the time of that misadventure, I knew absolutely nothing about love. I was simply trying to announce myself in my own way because I had also perceived some level of respect, or reverence from my classmates. Unfortunately, all that vanished in one moment of indiscretion. Leaving me with shame, scorn and a scandal.
– Azuh Arinze, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, is also the author of The CEO’s Bible, Success Is Not Served A La Carte, etc.