Those years gone by…


Maa began to take interest in my school work. She’d ask to see my books and even supervise my homework. She called Amina to show me things sometimes, just to shame me…much later, I would find out that Maa was illiterate.

I don’t know how it happened, but I began to understand things. How I was able to know how to read in Hausa remains a mystery…could it be the ‘ajami’ we had started to learn at the Islamiyya?

As I began to read Hausa, I read English too, in Hausa. I remember two students teachers we had, no names come to mind now, but one was tall and dark, the other was short and fair. They took over our class from our Indian Class Teacher for a term, they were on teaching practice. Those two translated whatever they taught us and I think that was the begining to the end of my ‘noEnglishness’. Our attempts at translations were funny, but the yeilded results. When from a passage that read ‘he lives near…’ we would translate as ‘ya bar kusa…’ the teachers would laugh and correct us. I then knew the difference between ‘live’ and ‘leave’, but how was i to remember them if i didn’t know how to spell them? That didn’t stop me though. I spoke English anyhow it came to me.

You know how you hear sounds and think they meant something while in essence they meant something totally different? I spoke those kinds of words too. I thought it was an upgrade from telling the teacher ‘I want to go and piss’, to ‘I want to go and use myself’. I had heard other pupils saying it but apparently it was just the sound I grasped. The teacher laughed heartily become correcting me and had to embarrass me by asking me to tell the whole class what it was I said and what I was supposed to say.

“I want to go and ease myself”, as opposed to “I want to go and use myself”.

We got a new teacher. Mr Ashafa. I had a major crush on him. He was dark. Had a pencil thin moustache (I think) and smiled a lot. He spoke English with kind of accent that I loved. I hung on to his every word. I out did myself in that class and even at home respect for me was growing. It felt good. I had finally arrived. When Mr Ashafa taught us about the mosquito that caused malaria, he said “whenever you see a mosquito, kill it”. That would be the beginning of my mosquito killing spree. I would sit by the thin gutter than ran the length of our compound in the evening, killing mosquitoes. When Maa asked what was wrong with me, I told that our teacher said to kill mosquitoes whenever we saw them.

I would later be made class monitor. This was purely on merit I have to say. Being class monitor did not come without its headache. 

Chinyere met us in either class four or five. She was big. And old. She wore bras and we were in awe of her. She came to school taxis, alone.

Because she was already a teenager she wasn’t afraid at all of making noise in class. Problem was, she didn’t appreciate her name making the noise makers’ list. I was in a dilemma here. If I wrote her name, she beat me after school. If I didn’t, I got punished for not submitting any names when the noise from the class could be heard from afar.

Whenever I wrote Chinyere’s name as a noise maker, I waited for the bell with bated breath…I would pack my shoes and books and hug them to my chest…the moment the bell rang, I’d run like my life depended on it…


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