Dear Mr. Bright Adawisi: Three things…

dear writer

Dear Mr. Bright Adawisi,

I am writing this letter because I have wanted to do so for the longest time. To thank you for the influence you had on me through six years of secondary school – arguably my most formative years – but particularly, for three events that I have never forgotten.

I wanted to thank you publicly too, because our teachers are just never celebrated enough and you were a bloody good one. I will try my best to write this as prim and properly tucked as your shirts and trousers used to be back in the day. But seeing as I already used ‘bloody good’…tsk tsk tsk. Also kindly ignore all misspellings and grammatical blunders, I know you see them all.

The first event I have never forgotten was my first personal encounter with you in JSS 1. It was our first day in school, I believe, and we had just written the placement test that would determine who ended up in the ‘first class’ and the ‘second class’ (we should talk about the logic behind this separation though, I have some interesting arguments against it). I had submitted my paper and was already packing up to go home when I remembered that I hadn’t written my name on the answer sheet I turned in! I dashed out and caught up with you at the landing of the staff staircase…do you remember?

I remember that while I stuttered through my pleading for a chance to write my name on my script, you just stood there, piercing me with your customary slit-glare, all the test papers in one hand and your bunch of keys dangling from the other. “My friend, that’s your business…” or something like that was your answer before walking away.

It was a Friday and results were expected on Monday. I knew I had done well in the test but of what use is a good grade without my name to identify my script? That weekend, I died many times. I could barely concentrate on anything else. Now I think about it, I am amazed at how important it was to me to pass into the ‘first class’, it felt like life or death. I blame you and the other teachers for selling the ‘first class’ dream so well. 🤣

Anyway, I got to school on Monday and true to fashion, results had been posted on the notice board. I checked and of course, I didn’t see my name on either list. But in the list of names that had made it into the ‘first class’, there was a line with no name and a score – a high score. I can’t say that I thought about what I did next because I don’t remember thinking it through, but I picked my bag, walked into ‘first class’, and took a seat. And waited.

If it was your intention to torture me throughout that day, you succeeded because I was a mess the entire day; every flash of movement outside the window caught my eye. Is it time for my ultimate disgrace? Have they come for me? Will I be kicked out now?

You eventually came just before the last period in evening lessons; swaggered into the class with your arms swinging and – “Where is Ojukwu, Martin?”

Dang! I died one last die…then I raised my hand.

“My friend, follow me.”

I followed you outside to the corridor where you asked me what I was doing in the ‘first class’ when my name wasn’t on the list. I tried to explain, at least I think I must have tried. But I have no idea what I said because the whole time, I was replaying a script in my head where I would go back in that class, pack up my stuff and be escorted, by you, to the ‘second class’. The thought would have been easier to bear if it had been earlier in the day, but alas, I had carried my big head to the ‘first class’ and had just spent most of the day sitting and learning there. What a way to start out in a new school!

I stopped explaining and waited; I remember vividly how my legs shook violently hidden by my trousers. The next time my legs shook that viciously, was five years later at a police checkpoint when I got flagged down while driving without a license and in a car with expired registration papers.

Then your verdict came. Sternly, you gave me a small speech about being careful and allowed me go back in the class. Just like that.

You also never brought up the matter again. Ever.

Why did you do it, sir? I wish I knew. I hope you tell me sometime, but even if you never do, you should know that that incident taught me a big lesson in perseverance and self-assurance.

You will be disappointed to learn that I made that mistake again – I know! 😒 In first year of university, I wrote Math 101 and submitted the script without shading ‘Paper Option II’. I remember it was Paper Option II because for the next two years, I wrote a ton of letters trying to get my paper graded with the right answer scheme, and the F reversed. Perhaps it was the perseverance and self-assurance you taught me that sustained my drive to get that paper remarked, even after having to rewrite the course. After marking, the F became a B; B for Bright. 😉

This is the first of a 3-part letter. To be continued…

By Chisom Ojukwu

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