24 Mar Unearthing
Greg! Mr. Nwadi’s voice thundered, jolting Onwubiko back to reality. Every Thursday since the term started, Onwubiko always found himself daydreaming during Nwadi’s class. Today it was about joining the Nigerian Army immediately after sitting for the senior certificate exam. He had always admired how smart they appeared on October 1st during the Independence Day parade. Secretly, he also loved how the soldiers wielded their bulala and the breezy sound it made ‘welp!’ ‘welp!’ as it landed on the back of civilians who had committed petty offenses.
Gregory!! Nwadi called again. Will you answer my question?
Onwubiko blinked twice, trying to recollect the last thing he heard Nwadi say. One could hardly blame him for his absentmindedness. The class was a double math period slated just before recess. Even if he did not struggle with mathematics, the timing was ill-suited for Onwubiko. His stomach always growled loudly near break time, reminding him of the miserly portion of fufu from the night before, and the handful of garri he stealthy stole from the store every morning. As Onwubiko blinked rapidly and stammered his way through an answer, ‘follow me to the staff room’, Nwadi cut in.
Mr. Nwadi walked in a funny way, with his buttocks pointed slightly upwards and his trouser sounding fuku fuku as he walked. He schooled at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and would tell anyone who cared to listen he had a BSc in mathematics, making a note that it was not ‘ordinary TTC’. He also boasted of being taught by T.C Chandler, the last British professor to leave the department. Perhaps it was Chandler’s influence, but Nwadi refused to call us by our native names. If you did not have one, he would assign one to you. That was how I came to be Gregory, a name neither my late mother nor father had given me.
As we approached the staff room, a group of boys had already lined up waiting for Nwadi. Besides being the maths teacher, he was also the punctuality master, – a role he exploited to capacity. The boys had all committed one crime relating to punctuality, the most common being late to school or the morning assembly. Being late meant only one thing,- working on Nwadi’s farm. For all his faux British imperialism, he did not joke with the farm portion allocated to him by the principal. Every teacher in our school had been allocated a parcel of land. It served to utilize and keep tidy, the large expanse of land within the school premises. But most importantly, it helped the teachers survive the military government. The military government had been owing teachers for half of the year. Their salary was a mere pittance, yet it was irregular. Hence, the farmlands helped the teachers fend for their families.
Being the beginning of the harvest session, our assignment for the day was to harvest Nwadi’s yams, a task I was grateful for compared to when I spread wet chicken dung on Mrs. Okoye’s farm. Moving to the far end of the farm, away from the boys in class 6, I began to dig around a mound. The deeper I dug, the more I saw the scale of the yam. Nwadi had warned us against breaking his yams, he intended to sell them at Eke Awka on Saturday.
As I dug deeper into the ground, away from the mound, I caught a glimpse of a green piece of clothing. I was going to ignore it seeing it wasn’t uncommon to dig up clothes on farms, but I took a second look and saw it was not just clothing but the Nigerian flag. Puzzled as to how the flag got there, I continued digging to pull it all out and then, I struck a metal box. Two of the boys closest to me were watching me keenly, they thought I was stalling to allow others to do all the harvesting. I waved them over to help me dig through the box. The box was rusty, making it easy to pull open. As we lifted the lid, I grasped at what we saw.
In the box lay an old army uniform and several guns. Nwadi came over to see what kept Onwubiko and the others hurdled together. The sight of the guns unsettled Nwadi, he became jittery and sent for the principal. With that, the yam harvest ended.
The entire grammar school was tense with excitement. Though the school had dismissed two hours earlier, no one agreed to go home. They watched as soldiers came with their customary green trucks and cordoned off Nwadi’s farm. 136 rifles were recovered, relics from the Biafran-Nigerian war they said. Onwubiko was brought to the principal’s office for questioning. How did you know something was there? Why did you go to that portion of the farm? Did you take any rifles out? they repeatedly asked him. He was too timid and would only nod in affirmation or shake it when he had no answer. It was his first time being close to an officer. Rather than being taciturn, he wanted to tell the officer his dreams of joining the army, participating in parades, and going to Liberia.
As Onwubiko lay to sleep, he dreamt he was an army officer, dressed in forest camouflage and a helmet. He was shooting at Nwadi’s yams with one of the rifles. At dawn, he dreamt he was flogging Nwadi while he screamed for help. Onwubiko woke up with a scream as Aunty Ifeoma’s cane landed itawai on his back.