THE sun was eager to exhibit its competency, it seemed. It was an hour off midday and yet, the sun had taken a centred spot on the skies and was blazing its beams mercilessly on those who dared to brave its shine.
Ndubuisi tracked off a stream of sweat from her temple and wished she’d remembered to add a cotton piece to the meagre contents of her purse. The satin fabric of her blouse which now clung to her skin, added to the heated discomfort. If she had considered the possibility of the sun being so hot today, she might have chosen a more suitable fabric instead of one that didn’t deal well with heat. Of course, her skimpy wardrobe didn’t allow too many choices but the satin blouse wouldn’t have been one she’d have chosen.
She halted and half turned her neck. “Me?”
The man who’d made the call hastened his steps to meet up with her. “My apologies for detaining you, but I’m going to the school and wanted to know if I was still on the right track.”
The dark skin of his face had a thin line of sweat creasing his wide forehead, and the scanty moustache that hung above his wide, full mouth had a sweaty sheen to it. The sun was having a go at him, yet the pair of black trousers he was wearing and the very light shade of blue shirt that was tucked into it looked like they’d just been lifted out of the hanger and slid over his thinly muscled, not very tall frame. There was no crease on them and the black shoes on his feet still looked shiny despite the obvious fact that he’d been walking—possibly from their garage.
“Yes, the school is down this road. I am going there myself.”
“Oh, that is good. I was given directions at the garage, but it is better to have someone to walk with.” He had a voice that was like the choirmaster’s in church, deep, low-pitched and nicely rusty. “I am the new primary six teacher. Well, I will be once I’ve reported in for duty.” The soft laugh rustled like the billows of high wind. “This is my first appointment. I just finished at the college of education in Nsugbe—Computer Science and Mathematics.”
The note of pride was evident and Ndubuisi thought it probably was earned.
“Me?” She angled her neck to gape at him.
“Why are you going to the school? You work there?”
“Em, no. No, I don’t work there. Not yet.” Why did she feel inadequate suddenly? “I am going there to seek work.”
“Oh. I see. That is good. But I think though that you should be visiting the Ministry of Education if you seek employment in the school, not the school directly.”
“I… it is the cleaner’s job I seek.” Her eyes dropped and she wondered at the differences between his shoe covered feet and her slippers covered ones. It was like a differentiating of their status. “I don’t need to go to the Ministry for that. Headmaster can hire me… if he likes. He hired Nkiru himself and might hire me, if he has not found someone else already.”
“Oh.” There was a quality of surprise behind the word. “You’re going to be a cleaner. Hmm.” He looked at her. Ndubuisi could feel his gaze trail down from her head to her toes. “Well, I hope you get the job. My name is Magnus Odibe, by the way. Feel free to call me Magnus. I will leave Mr Odibe for the pupils.” The soft sound of laughter echoed again.
“Magnus.” Ndubuisi said the name, carefully emulating the manner in which he said the last syllable: ‘us’ and not ‘oos’ as was common among their people. “Mine is Ndubuisi Kanayo. Um, you can call me Ndubuisi.”
“Ndubuisi. A bit on the masculine side, don’t you think?”
“Hmm?” She turned confused eyes at him.
“I mean your name. It’s unisex, I know, but men mostly bear it.”
“Oh. Yes. I think my father wanted a son.” He later got two from her stepmother.
“It’s a good name, all the same. Ah, I think I see the school gate. Doesn’t look so big.” There was a note of criticism in his tone now. “It’s the only school in the village, right?”
“Yes, it is. But Idemili, the neighbouring village has a primary and secondary school.” Because she briefly wondered, Ndubuisi asked. “Do you wish you’d been sent to Idemili?”
“No.” He sent her a glance. There was a thoughtful smile on his face. “It’s my first appointment and it’s always advantageous to start with small steps. I think I will make more impact here than in a big school. I don’t expect they have computers here though.”
Since she had never seen a computer, Ndubuisi only made an agreeable sound, unclear if the school had one or not. And since they were already walking through the open gates of the school, she said, pointing a finger. “Headmaster’s office is that way. You’re going to see him first, are you not?”
“I am. I must report first to him and then have him introduce me to the rest of the staff and my new pupils.” Again, pride echoed in his voice.
“All right. I will let you see him first since you are coming from afar and on a more important mission.” The truth was that she needed some minutes by herself to gather her courage. Apprehension was returning as they drew closer to Headmaster’s office.
“Oh, but you can go ahead. It is ladies’ first, after all.” He halted in front of the concrete stairs and gestured with one hand. “Go on and see him, while I feed my eyes a little.”
“Um… okay. Thank you.” She climbed the first stair, then turned to smile hesitantly at him. “Welcome to our village, Magnus.”
He returned her smile. His wide mouth curving in on one side. “Thank you, Ndubuisi, and good luck with your interview. I hope you get the job.”
The good luck wish, whether it was only politely offered or not, restored some of her courage. “Thank you.” Her gait was more confident as she turned and climbed the next stair and the one after that, then knocked on Headmaster’s door.
“Come in.” His gravelly voice called.
Ndubuisi inhaled, crossed her fingers behind her back and opened the door with the other hand. “Good morning, sir.” She greeted even before she crossed the threshold.
Headmaster looked up. Then his already scrunched forehead, crinkled even more. “Ndubuisi, what are you doing here?”
“Em…” her scrimpy courage deserted her. “I… I came to see you, Headmaster.”
“I can see that.” The rows of creases did not clear off. “What I want to know is why?”
“Um…” she looked down to the floor. There was a carpet over it and her feet looked drab and dusty on it. Ndubuisi raised her head and made herself meet his frowning gaze. “I came to look for work, sir. Cleaner’s work, sir.”
“Cleaner’s work?” If the creases on his forehead could go any deeper, they would. Ndubuisi was sure of it. “But I have a cleaner already.” He made a sudden sound. “Well, she is leaving in a few days but…” he paused and narrowed his eyes. “Can you do the work Nkiru does here? She sweeps and mops the staff room, my office and the staff toilet. Then the primary one pupils’ classroom. They’re too young to handle the cleaning themselves.”
“I can do it, sir.” Ndubuisi nodded eagerly. “I am very hardworking.”
“Hmm.” His eyes roamed over her. He didn’t look impressed. “You have to be. She also acts as office assistant to me. Do you know what an office assistant does?”
“No, sir.” Ndubuisi worriedly shook her head.
“Running errands, that is what it mostly involves. There are so many things to be done and I can’t do them all alone.” He made a gesture with the pen in his right hand. “The pay is not much, I hope you know that? Fifteen thousand naira only. If you are accepting, then I will notify the Ministry that we already have a replacement.”
“Thank you, sir. Thank you for the job.”
“Hmm.” He studied her for a moment. Then gave a dismissive nod. “All right. Resume Monday. And be always an hour earlier than school resumes. I abhor lateness.”
“Yes, sir. I will resume early and will never be late. Thank you, sir.” This time she curtsied before backing to the door. She had a job. At last, she had work that will feed her.
“I knew you will get that job. And it is a more suitable job than working in Udodirim’s canteen.”
They were in Adaugo’s room, seated on her linoleum carpet covered floor, a bowl of fufu and egusi soup that was fast diminishing between them. Adaugo had prepared the soup, upon her return from the market square. The fufu, she had bought from Nneoma, who was known for her well-filtered and pounded fufu.
“I can’t believe that at last I have a job. Finally, God had opened a door for me.”
“Of course, he has. And this door will open many other doors. That’s the way of things.”
Ndubuisi swallowed the food in her mouth and looked appreciatively at Adaugo. “Thank you for all your encouragements and kindness since I moved into this house, Adaugo. I don’t think I would have found the strength to continue to stay, if not for you.”
“That is why God made us, that we might stand by one another.” Adaugo scooped up a piece of meat from the soup and then nudged the bowl towards her. “Finish it. I am done.”
“But there’s still quite a bit left on the plate.” Ndubuisi protested.
“Which is why I said you should finish it.” Adaugo was already washing her hands. “So, you are resuming Monday. You will need some new clothes.”
“I will?” Ndubuisi smeared the bolus of fufu with soup and swallowed it before adding with a dismissive snort of laughter. “I am just going to be a cleaner, Adaugo. I don’t need new clothes for that.”
“Of course, you do.” Adaugo strolled to the cupboard that stood beside her kerosene stove, picked a stainless cup from the top and filled it with water. She emptied the cup, refilled it and returned with it to lay it beside Ndubuisi. “You’re going to work beside all these we-know-book teachers and you don’t want to be looking like their housemaid, do you? We will go to Idemili tomorrow. They’ll be opening bale there; we will pick out some good skirts and blouses.”
“Pick out skirts and blouses with what money?”
“With the money God has provided.” Adaugo retorted, stretching across the mattress on the floor. She was never one to sit up after eating. She said the food spread faster over her body if she laid on her back.
That, of course, was foolish talk but Ndubuisi never argued over it, as it would yield no result. As she knew it would be pointless now to argue over her decision to use her money to buy her clothes at Idemili tomorrow.
So, she blinked back her tears and scooped up the last lump of fufu. “I met a new teacher on my way to the school. He actually stopped me to ask direction to the school. His name is Magnus. He said he just finished from the college of education in Nsugbe. He studied Computer Science and Mathematics there.”
“Magnus?” Adaugo mimicked her method of pronouncing the name. Then she snorted. “Oke afa n’egbu nwa nkita. Please, if you have finished, bring our bottle of palm wine to wash down this good food and celebrate your new job. Magnus kwa?” She snorted again.
Ndubuisi chuckled, washed her hands and then rose to get the bottle of palm wine. Yes, she wanted to celebrate her new job. The days of begging for food and depending on others were soon coming to an end. She too will soon begin to give to others and share her food with them.
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I know I still owe you guys one episode one of Nudbuisi but give me this time to re-publish Operation Stop The Wedding and then we will get to it. Have a good read and a blessed Sunday