THE LIFE CHANGER (Chapter One)

THE RECOMMENDED JAMB NOVEL FOR 2021

The life changer


The Life Changer

 

CHAPTER ONE


They were waiting for Daddy.

We were.

I paused outside their door.


The laughter was cheerful. It was also infectious. It began as a silent chuckle, then slowly it turned into a mirthful but stilted giggle. Now, it had finally transformed into a full-fledged chortle. I stopped awhile to listen. My plan was not to eavesdrop. God forbid that I should be that kind of mother who surreptitiously listened on her children’s private conversation. But there was something about the laughter that was compelling and arresting.


Bint, my five-year-old daughter, appeared to be the narrative voice. She was telling her two sisters the story of her classroom encounter with their meddlesome Social Studies teacher the previous week. The narration was so vivid you could actually visualize what transpired. The teacher believed he knew a little bit about every subject under the sun, especially French which most of the students found strange. Bint herself was new in the school.


French was an optional subject even at this level of primary school education. We however encouraged her to take the option since we believed that language acquisition at an early age came relatively easy and with minimal effort. And, in any case, French was second to English in the ranking of international languages, we reckoned.




So it was that the first question the teacher asked was, “Who can tell me how to say Good Morning in French?”


Everybody was silent in the classroom.


“You mean none of you knows how to say Good Morning

Hesitatingly, not without trepidation, Bint raised her hand.


“Yes?” he pointed at her.

Slowly, she stood up.

“What is your name?” the teacher asked. “My name is Bint.”


The Life Changer


“So, tell us, Bint, how do you say Good Morning in French?”


“Bonjour,” Bint said.


“That’s very good,” the teacher said, speaking English. “And how do you say that’s very good in French, teacher?” Bint asked innocently.


“What?” The teacher jerked his head off as if stung by a bee. Then, within a flash, he bolted out of the classroom only to come back a few minutes later with the French Mistress of the senior classes.


“Ask her,” he told Bint simply.


“How do you say that’s very good in French, Aunty?” Bint asked reverentially.


“C’est tres bien,” the French Mistress replied. “C’est tres bien,” Bint repeated confidently.


The class began clapping and laughing at the same time. The class teacher followed the French Mistress out and didn’t come


back till after the break.


Meanwhile the whole class as one surrounded Bint and started clapping and singing going round her in cheer and joy. They seemed to have known instinctively that Bint was destined for bigger things. Who else but a genius would ask a question the teacher could not answer?


siblings.


“I got them. I really got them,” Bint was saying excitedly to her I found myself laughing silently. Before I got carried away, I let


myself unobtrusively into the room. They were used to my impromptu barging. One reason I used to go in unannounced was to keep them on their toes where issues of personal hygiene were concerned. The second reason was that we were used to keeping each other company. These formed the rationale for my periodic checking of their room to ensure that they learned the basic norms of maintaining the cleanliness of their room at an early age and to get used to my presence. My own grandmother used to tell us when we were young that what you teach a child is like writing on a rock and when dried, it would be difficult to erase. I seldom miss an opportunity to make them see the lesson in an experience. They learned to respect my opinion over most of their matters and I tried not to be unnecessarily didactic when it came to correction or giving instructions. This cemented our mutual trust.


“I am so proud of you, Bint,” I said as I wedged myself between Bint and Jamila, her immediate elder sister. They were all seated by the edge of the bed and looked up at me as if my intrusion had all along been anticipated.


“Thank you, mummy.” Bint said as she nestled even closer to me. She was my last child and consequently the darling of the entire family. My first child was Omar. He was the first child and only male. Between Omar and Bint there is such great affinity that no one dared frown at her intransigence, no matter how great, if he was around.


And all of them called me mummy. They didn’t call me Mama, a title every child in my community used for their mother. They couldn’t call me Ummi, which was my name at home, which incidentally also meant mummy. It actually translated to My Mother in Arabic, because I was named after my paternal grandmother. So I was Ummi to everybody else, and Mummy to my children and their friends. Except Omar who insisted on calling me Mum. I was never particular about how I was addressed. What I always insisted was respect for each other, and for one another.


“Listen, young girls, all Mallam Salihu was trying to do was to practice his small French thereby trying to perfect it. You should give him a break. Moreover, he is humble enough to accept that he does not know. Another teacher would frown his face and tell you au revoir means welcome whether you like it or not. Your knowledge to the contrary would mean nothing to him.


“But au revoir means ‘goodbye until we meet again’, mummy.”


Bint was quick to point out.


“I know my dear, but if the teacher is angry he can tell you any word means whatever he wants it to mean.”


“That would not be fair.”


“It is also not fair to push your teachers beyond what they know.”


“They are the ones who act as if they know everything, mummy.” When our conversation got that animated, my children seemed to


forget that I was also a teacher. I never bothered reminding them. The spontaneity of the discussion was what made it interesting. And if you attempted to interrupt, you would destroy the flow of the discussion.


Teemah, my second child, opened her mouth to say something and


paused.


Just then, there was this loud knock on the door. Before he was asked to come in, Omar pushed open the door and


jumped on me.


“I made it, mum, I made it!”


His sisters all stood up as one and began asking, “What did you make?”


“I made it to the university, dears. Bint, your big brother is a university student.”


They screamed and shouted and ululated.


The news came as a pleasant surprise to them. And especially to me. Nobody knew where Omar was going when he left home earlier that morning. To say the truth, he was looking rather anxious when he came to greet me in the morning. He was dressed in blue jeans and white shirt. His skin cut hair style contrasted beautifully with his side burns which he kept clean and trim. He had always been a precocious child. To look at him, you would think he was well into his twenties. But Omar was just eighteen. My singular thrill with Omar was that he was always decently dressed and clean. This pleased me beyond measure.


Now, I was even more pleased when he thrust the admission letter from Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board to me. The Board was popularly known by its acronym, JAMB. Indeed, even at my time it was not inconceivable that there were some undergraduate students who never knew what the acronym stood for. Let alone now. Anyhow, I took the letter and read it. My son was given admission to study Law at the Kongo Campus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.


This was exhilarating.


This was all his father dreamt of.


My husband had wanted to read Law himself but providence


dictated he read accounting.


“Big Bros, what course did they give you?” Teemah, my first daughter, and therefore Omar’s immediate younger sister asked. “Look here, young lady, call me with respect. To you, and


everybody in this house, except mum and dad of course, all of you should


now call me My Learned Brother. In the school we call each other My


Learned Colleague. So, since you are not my colleagues you call me My Learned Brother!”


“Indeed! This is called running before learning to crawl!” Teemah


laughed.


“Can you hear yourself?” Jamila said to her brother.


“Just call yourself Omar Esquire,” Teemah said.


“Mum, your daughters are plain jealous.” “Indeed,” Teemah managed to muster all the affectionate sarcasm


in that single word.


“Big Bros, congratulations,” Bint said, turning to her brother to give him a hug.


“Thank you, my dear. For you there is an exception. Call me whatever you want. But those belligerent sisters of yours… let me just catch them calling my name anyhow. We will take them to court.”


They all burst into laughter.


“Wow, I am really so happy for you. Let your father come home. There would be a grand celebration today,” I said tactlessly.


I knew my utterance was tactless because as soon as I said that, my


face was besieged by eight expectant ears, all wanting to know what I had in mind and how the celebration was going to be and when.


“First, let us wait for your father’s return. He closes at five o’clock in the evening and arrives home later. You know that his is the only bank in this community.”


“It’s okay, mum. But tell your children, especially that blabbermouth called Teemah, that nobody should tell Dad about this admission before. me,” Omar said.


“Why is that?” I asked.


“He promised to upgrade my torchlight phone to a smart android


phone.”


“That’s not true, mum,” Teemah said. “There’s no way Daddy would promise him smart phone while he leaves us with this torch light


phone!” Teemah’s protest elicited such laughter that for a moment I forgot


what the bickering was about. “Mum, you see plain jealousy. Envy. That’s what’s stopping Teemah from growing tall.”


I allowed them to chastise one another a while before ruling that whatever their father’s decision would be, either on the celebration or on the purported phone purchase, would have to wait till the owner of the house arrived.


“All I asked is that nobody should rush to tell him before hand,”


Omar repeated his request.


“Okay,” I said. “Nobody would be the one to tell him first. As soon as he arrives, you would go and tell him the good news yourself.”


“Thank you, mum.”


“You are welcome, Omar.”


The room was getting stuffy because we did not turn on the fan. What was I saying? We did not have light for two days now and the generator was in need of repairs.


“Let’s go outside and sit under the mango tree in the courtyard,” Jamila said, wrenching the words out of my mouth, “it is very hot in here.”


We trooped out and went to the courtyard. White plastic chairs were already there and Bint and Jamila began dusting them with an old piece of clothing.


“Mummy?”


“Yes, Bint. What is it?” “I want to drink zobo.”


“I can buy that for everybody,” Omar said. “Teemah, bring five


bottles of zobo.”


“Bring the money first.”


Omar turned to look balefully at me. “You see, mum. Teemah does


not even trust me.’ I just sat there smiling.


“When it comes to money, Omar,” Teemah said, “do you, even you,


do you trust yourself?”


“I sure do.”


“How many times did you take my zobo without paying?”


“That was different. I was not an undergraduate then. Now, you are talking to a potential lawyer. See, young girl? You’d better watch it. You could be in trouble one day and your only brother here would be called upon to defend you. I would remind you of this day, believe me.”


“Teemah, go and get the zobo,” I said, “I would pay.”


“Thank you, mum.”


By this time Bint and Jamila were done cleaning the chairs. We sat as close to each other as the white plastic chairs would allow


and waited for Teemah to bring the zobo. There was a very joyous atmosphere in the air and nobody wanted to spoil it. Then all of a sudden Bint said, “Mummy, tell us a story?”


Before I could answer, Teemah was back with five bottles of zobo


on a plastic tray and squatted to serve us.


That got me thinking. Bint wanted me to tell them a story. But it was a different story that came to my mind. Omar was going to a new environment. Until now, he had been ensconced in this Lafayette


community of ours. He was going to town. The university was a civilized community, different from ours. And with so much freedom one didn’t know what to do with it. May be I should tell them about my experiences in the university. But how interesting could that be? My life before marriage had always been one dreary thing after another. That surely was not the kind of story someone like Bint, or the remaining children for that matter, would want to hear. It certainly was not the kind of story my exuberant son would like to hear. I decided not to bother about any story. Let the story, whatever its angle or angles, come naturally or not at all. I knew though that since my marriage coincided with my entry into the university, and so much drama was witnessed then, my children may have a peep into that life. Like I said, however, I would not make a deliberate effort at personal narration.


We still had like two or three hours before their father returned from work. Me? The joy of a teacher was that as long as the school was over, she too was free to rest till the next day. I had time. I would ask Omar about his admission first. How did he go about getting it when no one raised a finger to help him?


“You see, mum,” Omar told me even as his siblings listened. “There is always a silver lining in the cloud. After I passed SSCE examinations, by no means a small feat, even if I am saying it…” “What do you mean by that immodest remark? By no means a small


feat! Well done William Shakespeare.” That was Teemah, always looking


for her brother’s trouble, as they say. “Mum, tell this big mouth to stop interrupting a lawyer when he is speaking.” Then he turned to address Teemah herself. “Don’t you know how many of my colleagues had their exams sat for? Don’t you know how many parents paid big money to these so called Miracle Centres where no candidate fails their exams? Don’t you think I have a right to boast of my achievement when I scored seven credits including English and Mathematics at the very first attempt in my WAEC examination? It is by no


means a small feat, my dear sister. Don’t let me curse your efforts, you hear? I would say yours is soon coming and I would see what you


Teemah sensed Omar was slightly hurt. She stopped taunting him. And he went on with his story.


“After the WAEC results were out, we purchased the JAMB form, filled it online and submitted. While people were running helter-skelter from one school to another looking for whom to assist them with their children’s admission, I prayed that I should pass the matriculation exams well. I scored two hundred and thirty out of four hundred.”


“We know that too. And we never slept the day the result was


announced.” That was from Jamila.


Omar ignored her.


“Two days ago my friends called and advised me to check the admission online,” he paused to look empathically at me.


I braced up, knowing what was coming.


“Mum, you see why smart phones are important? Most of my friends knew of their admissions from the comfort of their bedrooms by simply browsing on their phones. Me? I had to wait two days. So let Daddy know that. Anyhow, it was worth the wait. I went to the internet café today to check on my admission status and found my name among the successful candidates. The experience was really thrilling. But it would have been


better still if I just browsed and saw my name in the comfort of my room.” “It is okay, my son,” I said. “We would see about that phone when


Daddy comes back.”


“Meanwhile, do you know the implication of this admission in your


life?”


“Sure. It means I have arrived. It means I am at one with members


of the intelligentsia.”


I smiled at my son’s naivety. Just an admission letter and he had already become a member of the intelligentsia. The young, mhm. “Listen, my son. This admission is a life changer for you.


“Life changer?”


“Yes.”


“What does that mean, Mum?”


“It means it changes your life” Teemah said.


“It means more than that, my dear. It means it also changes you.’


“How can it change me?”


“Well, I may not be able to categorically tell you how it can change you. But I know how my admission changed me.” “How, mum?”


Read» Chapter Two

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