I train my eyes on Bisi, the smartest of the three. “Why did you cheat?”
“Ah, Tisha please. Me no shit!”
It’s amazing how a girl so smart and pretty could have such a depressing diction.
“It’s cheat. Ch ch.”
“Anyway, that is not my issue now. I saw you sharing your paper with these other two and I am not going to take it lightly.” I look at the other girl, Foyeke. “What happened, you?”
Foyeke rolls her eyes and shrugs. I’ve been told she’s the daughter of the local chief and that’s more than a piece of information.
I turn to Alape, the dumbest of them all. “Why did you copy from Bisi?”
Alape can’t speak a word in English. “I did not,” she says in the local dialect.
I hold my breath to keep from giving her a slap on the face. I could barely speak their language though I understood a little.
“You’re lying. Bisi, tell me the truth.”
She was just so pretty. Her hair always plaited in thick rows show clean fair coloured lines separating whichever design it was. Today, Bisi’s hair has been plaited in a style, which leaves the long dark ends falling over her face. I notice she likes to sweep them away when she talks.
I should not be attracted to her.
Bisi sobs. “No, sir. It just is is Alape is—”
“Shut up your dirty mouth!” Foyeke says in vernacular. She rolls into a long string of reprimand I could pick just a few words like ‘snitch’ from.
“I am going to punish all of you. I will give you zero.”
“Ah, sero! Sero in Englis. Ah Tisha, please.”
I can’t bear to see her crying. I wave them to their seats. The class erupts in a chatter and I have to bring them under control.
This can’t be where I should be. I develop a headache. Each time these local children make noise or annoy me, I get a headache. I’ve been with them for one month and I hate every day of it. After the first week, I applied for transfer from here but it’s still under process.
“If you don’t shut up, you will see my wrath.”
There’s some quiet but I can hear Foyeke’s distinct thick voice with her accent so annoying, I could shut her up forever. I ignore, and draw in deeper breathes. I should be out of their class in another few minutes and then I can gain my composure.
I walk to the teacher’s desk in the class, and arrange the exam sheets I just collected from the students. Why am I so angry?
These children cheat in the exams and tests all the time.
“Tisha, please. No give me sero.”
I look up. Bisi stands in front of the desk, her face wet. “Teacher please, don’t give me zero.”
She shakes her head, the soft curly locks swirl around. I look away and catch Foyeke stare at us from her seat in the middle of the class.
She’s full of disdain, and I raise my voice. “Then I will give you twelve strokes each.”
The village children are not new to being flogged. The school principal makes it a daily ritual.
“These children are so stubborn and evil, until you whip the devil out of them, they cannot learn,” the principal says all the time.
I must be out of my mind to say this. Flog the girls? Flog Bisi? Why did I say that? I look at the object of my confused emotions, and she nods.
“Thank you sir.”
She loved reading and studying. I don’t want to punish her. I don’t want to hurt her. She’s thanking me for my choice to hurt her. Dear Lord, what have I said?
The class captain, Nuru, a tough 18-year old boy I chose because he was the oldest and toughest, brings a cane within a minute.
I have never hit anyone in my life. Without any invitation, Foyeke and Alape come to stand in front of the class.
The other teachers whip these kids . Now I have allowed my anger to put me in a fix.
Foyeke is arrogant about it. She steps forward and stretches her hand before me. My anger is justified. These are girls in their penultimate year in high school. I should treat them like ladies.
I hit on her hand. This is right. The other teachers beat these stubborn kids all the time.
When the last stroke lands on Foyeke’s hand, she licks her lips and looks at me. In her thickest accent ever, she speaks vernacular. “You will hear from my father.”
The class erupts in laughter. She walks to her seat amidst an applause.
I ignore. Alape steps forward and within minutes, I’ve discharged justice.
Bisi has tears in her eyes, and my heart drops into my stomach. There’s a cheer and I turn to see Alape giving high fives to her seat mates.
I raise the cane, and Bisi closes her eyes the same time she stretches her hand out. I have to do it, and I do.
Bisi lets out a blood-curling scream. The class roar in laughter.
The cane drops from my hand and clatters on the dirt floor.