Standing from failure

41%.

I knew I wasn’t so serious that term in school but in the viral words of Divine Oduduru, “I never experred it”.

As I walked towards the Assembly Hall, I could hear the students walking ahead of me talking. One whispered to the other: “Mark was last three in his class”. My heart sank. Our positions weren’t usually written on the result sheet but some students knew how to get that information. My legs became heavy but I kept moving one foot in front of the other, willing myself to go on.

Back then at my secondary school, the indignity of being in the “last three” meant that your name would be announced in the Assembly Hall in front of the entire school. I could already imagine the stares I would get, the looks of derision and disappointment and also the veiled joy from the person whose place I had taken. I finally made it to the Hall. The Assembly Hall was noisy as it was the last Assembly for the term before holidays. There was palpable excitement in the air. But not for me. As I settled into my seat, oblivious to all that was going on around me, I paused to think of how I had sunk so low.

It hadn’t always been that way. When I was in Primary School, I had been the kid to beat. At some point, it seemed as though the first position was my birthright. I suspect that other parents used to query their children about me, asking, in vintage Nigerian parent style, whether I had two heads that made me have better results from term to term. At the end of each term, I would typically come back home to the familiar ritual of a handshake from my father and a hug from my mother. Academic life was effortless at the time and I was loving it.

Things started changing gradually from when I got to my first secondary school. I was 4th in the first term and 12th in the second. I figured I was still trying to adjust to school life at a higher level and would bounce back. But I was already on a slippery slope and I didn’t even know it.

In my third term, I moved to my new secondary school. As a Centre for the Gifted and Talented in Nigeria, it was a great source of pride to everyone who knew me that I had been granted a scholarship to go there. In that term, I had managed to score 69%. I was far from those at the top of the class as well as those at the bottom. In that midway position, I found comfort. But I was still slipping.

My results went down from the 60s to the 50s. Sometimes I wonder how my parents felt as I was slipping. To their credit, they never showed any disappointment. Dad tried to help me improve in some subjects but I would return the next term with an even worse result. It was in my first term of JS3 that I finally hit rock bottom. 41%. Last three.

I was still in shock. But my shock wouldn’t help me as the moment of truth drew near. The Principal had been talking but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. When it was time to announce the results, I was jolted out of my reverie. I listened with rapt attention and a rapid heartbeat as our Principal stated in a surprising twist that the results for that term were generally good and for that reason, the names of those who had come in last three would not be announced.

A shout of excitement went through the Hall but I sat in stunned silence. I had escaped judgment day and come out unscathed. The Assembly came to an end with rapturous shouts but I was just glad that I hadn’t been outed. I tried to discern from the faces of my friends whether they knew my secret but everything seemed normal and I found myself able to smile again. On returning home for the holidays, I told my family that we hadn’t been given our results that term. I couldn’t bear to break their hearts more than I already had.

I returned to school the next term, put in a little effort and ended up with 58%. I was pleased at the improvement but I needed to do better. My Junior WAEC exams came up the next term and I barely managed to pass. I still remember how scared I was to check my results on the notice board. Everyone around me had several As; I had none. To make matters worse, one of my seniors had commended me for trying, even though it was a result I was ashamed to be associated with. I was broken. At that point, it became clear to me that everyone expected so little of me. I knew I had to change the narrative.

That was when I set a goal for myself. I figured being in the first three was beyond my reach but the least I owed myself was to score a 70% average since my highest ever had been 69% in my first term at the school.

For the first time in years, I put in effort to reach my 70% target. All my toiling for the first term of SS1 ended in 67%. I was glad at the improvement but disappointed that I didn’t meet my target. I guess I had thought it would be a cinch as it had been during primary school. The next term, I renewed my resolve but could only end up with 68%. My target was within sight but having spent my junior secondary days rolling downhill, going back uphill was more challenging than I had anticipated. By the third term of SS1, I put more effort to move further up the hill but only ended up at 69%.

It was getting frustrating but I needed one more push, especially as I had been increasing by 1% each term. It was my first term in SS2 and I pushed once more. At the end of the term, I found myself waiting with bated breath for my results. As I opened my result, I heaved a sigh of relief and accomplishment: 71%.

Many years have passed and many more successes have been recorded but that result was a significant turning point for me, not just academically but in other areas of life. The entire experience taught me that it’s easy to spiral from the top into an abyss because with each time I chose the path of least resistance, I found myself going further downhill. And though I knew I was falling from grace to grass, I gradually settled into eating grass as my new normal, and worse, others started to see that as normal for me. Falling is normal but getting used to the ground (or the taste of grass) should never be the case. So we should always get up though I’ll admit it’s not easy. But with every 1% I gained in my results each term, I could feel the gravitational pull of failure weakening. It is a beautiful thing to be finally able to stand up from failure. Because it’s only after you stand that you give yourself permission to soar.

MKA 2021

A Lesson Learnt

Today I was in the mood for a rich soak. You know what I mean, the timeless combination of Garri, Sugar, plenty of Milk and groundnut. The problem was there was no groundnut.

I was already at Agudama Street when this urge hit me so I decided to take a leisurely stroll down to Emekuku Street to buy groundnut from my “customer”; the same person I’ve been buying groundnut from since I was a young boy. After all my trekking (sorry, strolling), I got to his spot but he wasn’t there. In that moment, my daydream of a rich soak died a natural death.

But you know the thing though? Its not that his is the only place I know I can buy groundnut. After all, there are some spots on the neighbouring street just metres away. For some reason though, his groundnut is the best. And I know the reason; my customer is good at what he does. His groundnut is hardly ever burnt. You don’t encounter sand in the groundnut. When I buy N400 groundnut, I know its N400 groundnut. With some of the other groundnut sellers I’ve had cause to stray to from time to time, its either the groundnut is burnt or they sell a smaller quantity for a higher price or worse, some juicy grains of sand get lodged inbetween your teeth. But not my customer, he’s just really good at what he does.

Now it sounds like I’m making such a big deal about groundnut but I ran into my lovely cousin Debby and when I told her about my predicament, she equally confirmed that she has patronised my customer over time and he definitely knows what he’s doing. You can now imagine that for something so seemingly insignificant as the selling of groundnut, you can see excellence thrive in the midst of the ordinary.

While I can’t change the fact that my taste buds are going to be deprived of some awesome goodness this evening, what I’ve learnt today is far more important: that there’s nothing so small that you cannot put an excellent touch to it. The lesson here is simple: Put your best in all you do. Let those that come in contact with you know they’re dealing with a professional who strives for excellence all the time.

I really do hope you’ll shine forth in all you do. I have no doubt that you’re capable of extraordinary things. Bless you for reading.

Love Equations (5)

Jerry picked up the month old newspaper from the dining table and turned straight to page seven. He knew what he was looking for. As with every other time he performed this ritual, the caption greeted him squarely: “Two students killed in hit and run accident.” The newspaper had written a brief story about a hit and run incident which had occurred on the university campus, killing a male and female student. He knew it had to be Mina and her misguided lover but the newspaper didn’t mention any names. He had been following the news ever since, hoping to get some more information but nothing more had been said. In his heart, he prayed that there would be no evidence connecting him to the crime.
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In the hospital, Mina lay on her side with tears streaming down her eyes. The doctors had told her she was lucky to be alive but that Hassan had died from the injuries caused by the accident. “Why is life so cruel?” she thought to herself. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop crying. Even harder was that she couldn’t think of anything that would help the police identify the person that had run her over. She looked at the POP on her left leg and the bandage on her right arm. She was indeed lucky to be alive. After the accident, the rumour had made the rounds that both persons involved in the accident had died. Why the newspapers would rush to publish that erroneous information still boggled her mind. Thankfully, no names had been mentioned in the paper. The last thing she wanted was people running helter-skelter or pouring her sand trying to verify if she was a ghost.
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The two young men sitting at the bar were engaged in a discussion.
“Guy, you mean say you no hear say Hassan don mud?”
“I no hear oh. Wetin happen na?”
“Bros, na hit and run oh”

On hearing the words ‘hit and run,’ Jerry’s heart skipped a beat. He was sitting just behind the two men. He strained his ears to hear what they were saying.

The men continued.

“Na wa oh, see as life be,” the second man lamented. “No be Hassan wey I see which day?”
“My brother na so we see am oh. Him bin dey with one babe the day wey e happen. Na just God say she no die.”

Jerry’s heart was pounding loudly now. He was almost positive that his heartbeats echoed all over the room. He needed to hear more before he could be sure.

“‘You mean am? Who be the girl?”
“Guy, I no too sabi her oh. Whether dem say her name na Bina abi na Mina. But I hear say na Sacred Health she dey now sha.”

Jerry almost passed out when he heard her name. The men were still talking but he couldn’t hear a word they were saying. All he could think of was that Mina was still alive. “What if she knows I tried to kill her? What if she reports me to the police?” As these thoughts ravaged his mind, Jerry stood up and left the bar. He knew what he had to do. Sacred Health Centre was not very far away. This time he had to plan it just right. There would be no loose ends.
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Mina lay on the bed as sleep crept into her eyes. The doctor had given her some drugs to help her sleep. She drifted into sleep. Within 15 minutes, she was awake again, breathing hard. She had had a dream of the night the accident occurred. In her dream, she remembered seeing the yellow stars painted at the back of the car that ran her over. She had seen those stars before. Only once. As the thought of whose car she had seen those stars painted on entered her mind, she became sick to her stomach. “Did Jerry really try to kill me?”
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Jerry walked pass the hospital again. He had been doing some reconnaissance, trying to observe the staff at the health centre so he would know when to put his plan into effect. It seemed most of the staff came out to the canteen down the road for lunch at 2pm. That would be the best time especially as the centre was usually largely deserted at that time. Whether Mina knew anything or nothing at all, she was not going to live to tell the story.
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Mina was lying on the bed when she heard light footsteps approach. She turned only to see Jerry. “What are you doing here?” She demanded, with anger in her eyes. She started to scream but in a swift move, Jerry’s palms were over her mouth, muffling her screams. With his other hand, Jerry reached for the pillow on the other side of the bed and then with both hands, pressed it over her face to suffocate her. Mina struggled for breath, her arms flailing about as she tried to grab hold of Jerry. Suddenly, she heard a sound accompanied by a thud. She felt the pillow being taken off her face as she gasped for air. “Madam, you dey okay?” A voice called out. She opened her eyes to see one of the male cleaners dressed in his cleaning outfit, bent over her. On the floor, Jerry lay down unconscious. The cleaner had apparently hit Jerry on the head with a stool while Jerry tried to suffocate her. “Make una come here oh!” the cleaner shouted. Within seconds, a small crowd had gathered in Mina’s room.
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Before Jerry opened his eyes, he felt a sharp pain on the back of his head. He tried to move his arm but was unable to. As he opened his eyes, he saw that he was handcuffed to the bedpost. Slowly, he turned around only to see two police officers standing at the door. He closed his eyes again. “God, I’m finished.”
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Few years later

Mina stepped out of the courtroom heaving a sigh of relief. The case against Jerry had been difficult but the court had finally delivered its judgment. The prosecution had failed to prove that he murdered Hassan. Thankfully all the legal manoeuvres could not stop him from being convicted for her attempted murder. The look on Jerry’s face when the Judge sentenced him was priceless. Mina couldn’t help but wonder that all this had happened because she hadn’t reciprocated his feelings. As she walked away from the court premises, one thought echoed in her mind: “Truly love is not by force.”

The End.

Love Equations (4)

Mina got to the venue of the party within campus at 8:35pm. She would have come later if she hadn’t suspected that Hassan would already be there, being the early bird that he was. True to type, Mina spotted Hassan sitting on the other side of the hall, looking out of place. She walked over to meet him.

“Hey, what’s up Hassan? Sorry I showed up late.”
“No problem,” was his response, even though she could see the disappointed look in his eyes.
“Really I’m sorry. I couldn’t get a taxi in time,” she pleaded.
“It’s alright Mina. Your dress looks very lovely on you.”
“Thank you,” Mina beamed, followed by a mock curtsy. Hassan laughed and with that, they started chatting away.

Mina was glad things were going well. She had been worried Hassan would be upset that she came late. The real reason was that she had had trouble picking what to wear and not the excuse she had given Hassan. At least it paid of, she had gotten a nice compliment out of her lateness.
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The music was blaring all over the hall and Hassan was already sweating. “This girl can dance sha,” he thought to himself. She was facing him now and he couldn’t help but wonder whether she was trying to seduce him or it was just regular dancing. Her twists and turns were beginning to be much more than he could handle.
“Let’s take a break Mina,” Hassan shouted into her ears over the music.
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Mina nodded at Hassan’s suggestion and they both found a place to sit. There were a lot of drinks going around and after a while, Mina started to worry that Hassan was getting drunk. The time was 10:55pm.

“Hassan, we should start going.”
“Cool down. Where you dey rush go?” Hassan blurted.

Mina didn’t need a babalawo to tell her that the beers had done a number of her guest. “Hassan let’s go.” Mina pulled Hassan to his feet and towards the door. Once they were out of the door, Hassan suddenly spun her around and kissed her lips.

For a second, Mina wanted to yield to Hassan. That was until she smelt the alcohol in his breath and pushed him away. “You’re drunk Hassan, let’s go.”

Mina put her arm around Hassan’s waist to prevent him from staggering as they walked on the side of the road. It was dark outside and Mina was worried they would run into bad boys. Looking at Hassan, Mina was convinced he was a JJC at drinking alcohol. Her mind returned to the kiss again. “Was it just the alcohol or did Hassan really like her?” The thought had barely left her head when she saw a car barrelling towards them as they walked down the road. Before she could scream, it was too late. The car rammed into them and threw them on the ground. In great pain, Mina managed to open her eyes to see the car speeding off. That was the last image she saw before slipping into unconsciousness.
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As he drove off, Jerry smiled to himself. He had wanted to deal with Mina only but seeing her with her lover was just too much. His hands were shaking slightly on the steering wheel and he had to steady himself as he approached the campus gate to allay suspicion. He had to get out of campus fast.

“Officer, una still dey work?” Jerry asked the security man as he got to the gate.
“Na so we see am oh Oga,” the security man responded.
“This una work no easy oh. Take this small money see front na.” Jerry dipped his hands into his pocket and pulled out some crisp notes.
“Ah, thanks sir. Na you be Oga, carry go.”

Jerry put the car in drive and left the campus heaving a sigh of relief. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Love Equations (3)

Jerry was fuming by the time he arrived at his apartment. Mina had given him the impression that she was going to submit an assignment at her Faculty. Now there she was in a different part of school with another man. Scratch that, a boy! It was just fate that he had managed to see them as he returned to the campus to photocopy some documents. Jerry’s could still picture the image of Mina laughing with that boy. “Why is she never that way with me?” He wondered. “What does that small boy have to offer her?”

As the thoughts criss-crossed his mind, he started developing a headache and used his fingertips to massage his temples. Jerry knew he was going to have to do something. What it was, he didn’t yet know.

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Mina threw herself on her bed, not bothering to remove the clothes that were scattered all over it. It had been a long day and what she just needed was some good food and a cool bath but she was just too tired. As she lay there, she thought of her evening with Hassan. It had been interesting to say the least. Her biggest challenge had been keeping a straight face while he taught her, she could probably have taught him a thing or two! But Hassan proved to be every inch the knight in shining armour she’d hoped for. At regular intervals, she had to pretend she was lost and couldn’t understand some of the calculations. He was quite patient, always willing to start afresh just to get her to understand. A smile played on her lips at the thought of her mischievousness. The best part about the day was that Hassan had agreed to attend a party with her over the weekend. Everything was going according to plan.

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Hassan woke up on Friday morning to see a bloodstain on his white tshirt. “All these mosquitoes,” he grumbled under his breath. The time was 7:15am and he had a lot to accomplish all day. There was also the party Mina had invited him for. Hassan stood up from the bed and walked towards the bathroom, whistling to the tune of Fela’s Palaver. The tutorial with Mina had been quite interesting. She was really playful and Hassan couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to the tutorial than simultaneous equations. He had been surprised to get the party invite but he was looking forward to the outing. That would be the perfect opportunity to see whether the green light he sensed from Mina was really green or something else.

Love Equations (2)

“Mina should be here by now,” Hassan thought to himself. He glanced at his wristwatch, she was running late by 22 minutes and counting. “Like say person no get another thing to do today. He thought he heard some footsteps behind him a turned around only to see Mina a few steps away.

“Chei, you’ve caught me,” said Mina, smiling as she talked. “I wanted to surprise you.”
“Haba, how can? I’m too sharp for that.”
Mina laughed as she brushed Hassan’s arm playfully. “You’re funny,” she said.
Hassan was perplexed. “What did I say that was so funny?”
“Never mind, let’s go,” Mina commanded, or so it seemed, as she started walking towards the classroom area with Hassan right behind her.

Hassan couldn’t help but notice Mina’s bodacious curves as she walked in front of him. A wry smile played on his lips as Timaya’s ‘Ukwu’ came to his mind. “What’s this girl up to?” He thought to himself. He had noticed her playful banter and the feel of her touch on his arm had sent a shiver up his spine. “Snap out of it,” he chided himself internally. “Mina needs my help and that’s all this is. Full stop.”

Mina’s words jolted him out of his reverie. “You seem distracted,” she said in a low voice, sounding concerned.
“No…no… I’m fine,” Hassan responded hastily. “Let’s go inside this classroom.”
With that, they both walked into the classroom for their tutorial session.

From a distance, Jerry watched as Mina walked into a classroom with a young guy. There was only one thought on his mind: “What’s that boy doing with my Mina?”

Love Equations (1)

“So… Would you like to have lunch with me on Saturday?” Jerry asked.
Mina could see the hope in his eyes. She knew she had to let him down but didn’t want to hurt him.
“Saturday won’t work. I have a wedding to attend,” she responded.
“Then we could make it a dinner instead,” Jerry suggested.

Mina thought to herself for a fraction of a second. “Why won’t this guy take a hint na? To go date na by force?” She had to think of an excuse.
“You know how stressful weddings are,” she responded. “By the time I’m back home, I’ll be too stressed to go out.”
“That’s okay dear, how about Sunday then?”

Mina got lost in her thoughts again. “Who this one dey call ‘dear’? Hmmm, Mina you have suffered. I’m just respecting this guy for his age. Imagine the…”
“Hello… Earth to Mina.” Jerry joked, interrupting Mina’s thoughts. You haven’t said anything yet. How about Sunday?”
“I have church on Sunday with so many meetings after that,” she answered crisply.
“Its okay,” Jerry said glumly. “I guess we can plan something for next week”.
“My next week is totally booked,” Mina responded sharply. “So many assignments to work on. I won’t be free even till the week after.”
“No wahala dear, you have my number. I’ll call to know when you’re less busy.”
“Okay Sir.”
“I’ve told you to stop calling me Sir. Its Jerry, I hope you’ll stop calling me that Baby.”

Mina cringed inside, not sure whether it was from the thought of his calling her ‘baby’ or that she would have to call him by his first name. “Mumu would’ve been a more fitting name,” she thought to herself.
“There’s no problem Jerry,” she managed to say with a straight face. “But I really have to go now. I’m already running late to submit an assignment.”
“Oh, sorry about that,” apologised Jerry. “I can drop you off at your Faculty.”
“No, no!” Mina protested. “There’s no need, I have a few things to tidy up here first. I’ll call you.”

It seemed her ‘promise’ to call calmed Jerry’s nerves and he gradually started moving towards his car.
“Okay dearie. I also have to meet with a colleague now. Don’t forget to call.”
“Yes I’ll call,” Mina responded, tongue in cheek.
“Talk to you soon dear,” Jerry called out, as he put the car in gear and zoomed off.

Mina made a brief show of waving goodbye before turning around and heaving a sigh of relief. “Phew. See this nonsense man with him nama head. Mstcheew,” she sighed. “Some guys just don’t know how to take a hint.” She looked at her watch. “Ooohhh!” She moaned. “This mumu man don make me late for my tutorial with Hassan.”

She quickly rushed into the hostel to dress up. “Fine Hausa boy,” she said to no one in particular, as an image of Hassan gained entrance into her thoughts. She looked at herself in the mirror, smiling as she noticed her curves seemed a bit more pronounced in the dress she had chosen to wear.

She had to make herself look good today. Hassan was smart but it seemed he was too dumb to know when a girl was interested in him. Today would change all that she hoped. Not that she needed any help understanding Simultaneous Equations. But it was a good opportunity as any to get a little bit closer to Hassan.

She looked at her watch again. It was 5:10pm. After one last look at the mirror, she locked her room door and left with the hope that the ‘tutorial’ session would help to balance the equation in her interesting love life.

Stories from my childhood (2)

It was after school hours. I’d had my lunch, completed my homework and found myself on the balcony just looking around. My skinny knees moved with ease in and out of the balcony railings. The new game seemed interesting and I started putting my knee through the railings from one end of the balcony with the aim of getting to the other end. I got to the railing next to the iron pole and put my leg in. When I tried to bring it out, it didn’t budge.The more I tried to wriggle myself out of that precarious position, the more it seemed the only way out would leave me with one knee less. My over-active childish mind went to work immediately, imagining how I would spend my whole life attached to the railings. “So that means I’ll be the only one sleeping outside when everyone goes to bed?” In vintage Mark fashion, tears rolled down my cheeks. Thank God for Vaseline. Who knows what life would’ve been like stuck to a railing?

Stories from my childhood (1)

So there I was. My sisters had crossed the road. I was left alone and the mad man was walking closer towards me. His clothes were tattered and he wore his stench like an agbada. Voices both from within and without told me I had to get away from him. I moved left. Mad man moved left. I moved right, he moved right. “I don die” was the recurring thought in my mind. I made a quick move and dashed forward but away from his reach. Or so I thought. Mad man reached out and his hand brushed my head. Mad man left. A minute or two later, tears rolled down my eyes. I thought silently “So na so I go take mad? Chei”. I had heard the effect wouldn’t be immediate. Probably after sleeping through the night. And that was how I went home in a sombre mood, waiting for madness to come by dawn

Body versus Mind

I was jogging to catch the bus today and the mean driver decided to leave even though I was on time. As i was raining insults on him in my mind, a thought came to me. I remembered a story that I was told of someone who had missed the bus and ran all the way through the park to meet the bus at another stop.

I wasted no time and immediately set to work. In my mind, I had broken the distance into 4 phases. I had been visiting the gym the previous month so I felt there was still some fitness in there.

I ran through the first phase with ease. The second phase was a little bit tougher but I pushed through with the thought that I had only 2 phases to go. In the middle of the third phase, I realized that I should have actually divided the distance into five phases. At this point, my mind and body began to have a serious conversation-

Body: What do you think you’re doing?
Mind: Keep quiet, I’m going to make it.
Body: Give up!
Mind: Never!

I jogged some few more steps and then I made the mistake of looking up to see the steep incline that lay in my path. The conversation between my mind and body began to take a different tone-

Mind: What do I think I’m doing?
Body: Ah! I don die!
Mind: But someone has done this before?
Body: *panting seriously* Who send me work?
Mind: Are you sure that story is even true?
Body: You wan kill person?!?

In the next few steps that followed, my mind began to see reason with my body-
Mind: Na die be this oh!
Body: Dey there na! You dey feel like James Bond.
Mind: Abeg Abeg, that story na lie joor!

With that statement, Body and Mind looked at each other. In mutual agreement, they forced my ‘sprint’ into a jog and then a walk. As the 3 of us walked to the bus stop, all hope lost on catching the bus. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d gotten so lazy. Mind could see I was feeling bad and suggested-

Mind: Perhaps you can start going to the gym, maybe get a six pack.
Body laughed hard! And then Stomach, who had been quietly listening to us talk in his slightly protruded form blurted out: Bros, no deceive yourself! Na me and you till the end!

Kai, I don suffer!