MEMORIES OF KERUBU: The Splendour Of Nostalgia (6)

By Ikenga Chronicles February 28, 2018

MEMORIES OF KERUBU: The Splendour Of Nostalgia (6)

–Remi Oyeyemi

He was a man of few words. He picked them very carefully and selectively. It was as if in awe of those words. As if intimidated by them. As if he was really fearful of and scared by those words. He seemed to be in deep thought before every pronunciation. Teachers are usually very loquacious. And at times, garrulous. But not him, he was evidently, from a different stock. A stock that oozed with perplexity and weaved a tapestry of weirdness around him. A stock of mystery cocooned with the curiosity of his students.

Tall, slim, bent, dark and eagle-eyed, he came across as austere, kind of ascetic and astringent. He was not repulsive in any manner, but he lacked the glow, the fluorescence and the luminance that other teachers easily exuded. He seemed to be in perpetual retrospection. His looks, seamlessly sombre, tethered on the precipice of moroseness. Melanoid, swarthy, and atramentous. I wondered if he ever laughed.

I also wondered what was always going through his mind–ruminatory almost always. What could he be thinking about? What is it that permanently tugs at his mind? I had speculated several times. He was not unkind, he was not mean, neither was he cruel in any way. Right now, I don’t remember if he ever had to cane any student as a form of discipline. I am not betting on it that it never happened, but I just couldn’t remember it did. He was not disliked by the students, but there were no strings of affection tying them to him–or tying him to the students.

On occasions, when the thoughts of him had crossed my mind, I had wondered whether my perceived permanent act of retrospection on his part had anything to do with the subject that he thought us–History. In my later years, at Ibadan Grammar School where I did my Higher School Certificate (HSC) and at Great Ife, where and when I came to appreciate more the value of History as a subject and as a major factor in human development, I had tried to seek a nexus of his demeanor and the subject of History.

History is a very powerful subject. It is not a subject that could be treated with levity. No nation survives without a great History. Any nation that trivializes its History would soon become history. History is the total encapsulation of the existence of a people and their trajectory. It speaks to their feats, failures and future. It speaks to their disappointments, the lessons learnt and their hopes as well as their aspirations. Without History, there is no patriotism. Without patriotism there is no country; there is no nation.

Taking away a people’s History is to derobe them and make them naked in the market place. It is tantamount to stripping them of their essence; their dignity, their sense of being and their uniqueness. Taking away a people’s History is like emptying their past, confiscating their present and throwing away their future. History and its teaching at all levels of education is far more important than most of us realize. History gave birth to Philosophy. Philosophy gave birth to Science. Science gave birth to Technology. Technology has birthed Hi-Tech, or if you like, Higher Technology, which is currently driving our world.

Thus, every time I remembered Mr. Ajagunna, I have always wondered whether his favorite subject of History had turned him into a stoic and ascetic philosopher who constantly ruminated about the mysteries of life. With History, you come in contact with events that made men and men that made events. You come across heroes and heroines. You come across villains. You come across treacheries, and undiluted loyalty. The substantive and the vainglorious; the valiant and the fainthearted. You come in contact with love, how inebriating it could be. How it inspired the building of empires and the destruction of others. You come in contact with unexplained hatred that checkmated aspirations and dreams of others. Human foibles, all.

It is difficult to come in contact with all these varied experiences and not ruminate on them; and not ask the question, “What is it that drives man?” With History, you come into simultaneous appreciation of the beauty and ugliness of our world. You are forced to think about it. You’re forced to wonder about it. This is the best explanation, I could come up with as far as Mr. Ajagunna is concerned. It has been the only thing I could conjure, with his conduct, carriage and comportment.

Even then, the way he talked was the way he walked. He walked gingerly. His steps were very calculated and cautious. Daintily, delicately, almost discreetly. It was as if he was in careful to thread on the ground. It was as if he could sense the pain of the ground and was trying to alleviate such by threading softly on it. He gave an altruistic mechanical expression to the majesty of an Alágemo, the Yoruba word for Chameleon. If you have seen a Chameleon walk before, you would have a clear idea of what I mean. He stirred my curiosity. He was a Gordian knot.

Oluwatoyin Ademola Abe, a.k.a Toyin Abe was in the same class with me. His father and mine, were very good friends. At this point in time, we lived together in his father’s house at Bolorunduro. His Dad, loving, caring and affectionate, never skipped an opportunity, though unique in its brevity, to chat with us. He checked on us at will to make sure we were okay. Anytime he was in Ilesa for some time, it was always a time of special buoyancy for us. Nothing in excess, but nothing essential and or necessary, was lacking. Deboye, as we all called and still call him, Toyin’s younger brother, had come in from Jos to join us at KERUBU. He joined the crowd of the lucky few, and he became a Kerubian, just like that!

Our daily activities were fairly monotonous but fun-filled and full of excitement. We played soccer at school, mostly during the one hour break before Prep. When we got home, we didn’t read 97% of the time. Most of the time, we played draught. And believe me, Toyin, was THE MASTER. He was affectionately merciless. He was endearingly ruthless. He was disarmingly intimidating. His wizardry in this game spared no one, old or younger.

Most times, he would come up with weird moves to neutralize and defeat equally talented players. He was awesome. Fantastic. And fantabulous. Many that tried to defeat him went home frustrated. I would not be surprised to learn that some of the wives of Toyin’s victims had themselves, become victims of their husbands’ vented frustrations. But it was all fun. It was all entertaining. It was all amusing. It was all delightful.

The manifestation of Toyin’s brilliance was not limited to the playing of draught. In the class, he was an all rounder. He was dexterous at unraveling the mysteries of Physics as well as he was able to disentangle the crucibles of Literature. He was adroit at untangling the rebus of Chemistry as much as he could disemboweled the intricacies of Economics. He was adept at deciphering the riddles of Mathematics as much as he could navigate the scraggly annals of History.

Toyin was and is still eminently and seminally gifted. His brilliance was not only manifested in his very wide knowledge in all the subjects, his writing style was and still beautiful. The style was captivating and enchanting. I can’t resist to use the word alluring. And pulsating. It animates. It invigorates. It exhilarates. It inebriates. It was and still is a type of stylish writing that when used to write a love letter to a lady, she would stay up all night with dreamy eyes, unable to sleep, wondering how she got so lucky. If you doubt me, ask his wife, the love of his life!

And on this fateful day, Mr. Ajagunna, our History teacher in Form Three, sneaked, into the classroom for his period. Yes, with the way and manner he walked in, “sneak” is the only appropriate word that could describe that experience. Unceremoniously, he announced that we were going to take a test. And this test, he reiterated, would count towards our end of term aggregates. No one among us had a previous knowledge. None among us was prepared. It was unexpected. It was unenvisaged.

He gave the test. And we took it!

And it turned out to be a beautiful disaster. A disaster, which in its ordinariness, was overwhelming and unnerving. It was the kind none of us had hitherto experienced. He had walked in, gingerly as usual, holding our marked papers. It t was as if a ghost walked into a sepulchre. The whole class, unprompted, was dead silent. Through the eerie silence, the fear was palpable. And may be some anger. Anger that we were not foretold about such an important test.

Calm. Cool. Collected. Obviously in the halcyon comfort of his own reflective world, he could not have fathomed the level of the anxiety in that class at that moment. But if he did, he did not show it. One by one, he handed our papers to us. Everyone was stunned. Shocked. Aghast. Everyone was drowned in the sea of consternation. And anger. Everyone was in a state of disbelief. We all wondered, “what kind of teacher is this?”

How could one get 3% out of 100% in a subject like History? How could one get 7% or 8%? There were many 5%s and 6%s. Like 80% of the class got between 2% and 9%! Thank God there was no zero percent. If there was, I was not aware. A handful got between 10% and 13%. Even, Anthony Olaore, reputedly dominant in the subject only got 15%. I got 18%. Only Toyin Abe got 25%. That was the highest mark. We were all looking at each other. Bewildered. Mystified. Confounded.

I was a nervous wreck. I was scared stiff. I was angry. I was really worried. My mind was really disturbed as I thought of my father, Oyè Àsàbí ìlú, eni egbé é rí, t’égbé é t’éní; eni egbé é rí, t’égbé é yò. Hmmmmmm! The level of my apprehension was elevated. Especially, when I reminded myself how I got punished for a whole summer for coming 5th out of 90 students in the promotion from Form Two to that Form Three. That is a story for another day. But I was really concerned as I searched Mr. Ajagunna’s face for salvation from a possible “perdition.”

Then, he spoke.

Yes, at this point, Mr. Ajagunna spoke. As usual, he spoke in his choosy manner, picking his words carefully, selectively and consciously. He told us all not to panic. He informed us that his marking system was remarkably different from others, as if we didn’t know that already. He noted that if you got below 10% in his marking, you failed. He insisted that with “normal” marking system, that would be below 40%.

He added that from 10% to 14% of his own grading format, you would be between 40% and 55%. Further, he explained that from 15% to 19%, you would be between 56% and 69%. 20% and above in Mr. Ajagunna’s marking scheme was, according to him, an equivalent of 70% and above. His explanation calmed the nerves a bit. But what showed up on the report sheets still mattered to some of us.

After Ajagunna’s nerve calming explanation, I must confess that I was amazed at how Toyin Abe got such high marks. At least, that was what it was. Since me and him did everything together, I could not remember anytime he picked his book to read. We were always having fun together, playing soccer, playing draught, engaging in other mundane but interesting activities. Then, I came to a probable conclusion, that he must have been waking up while we were all sleeping, to read.

And I reasoned, how could he do that? That would be very selfish of him! At least he could have woken me up so we could read together. After all, we did everything together. Then, I made a secret plan to catch him in the act. That way, I would be able to let him know he had been unfair. Much as I tried, I never caught him. He was always sleeping like a log. Even, when I thought he was pretending, so I wouldn’t catch him, and I tried to shake him up, he would respond with a change to higher gear, savouring the satisfaction that only a deep and restful sleep could avail.

Toyin never did any secret reading. He was just brilliant, with a photographic and telegraphic mind. He was just endowed. He was just gifted. He was only blessed. He was just talented. He just had the good grace of the Almighty God. He was so rounded in all subjects. No subject ever gave him any sleepless nights. He could have excelled in any field that he wanted. He was and still remains a seminally brilliant mind.

Mr. Ajagunna gave an added explanation on his intention for giving us the test without previously notifying us. He said he wanted to see how always prepared we were. He admonished us that we should never be lethargic. Or apathetic. We must always be ready at all times. But with the anxiety he had permeated the class with, he sounded like one of those Scripture Union (SU) members sermonizing about the suddenness of Jesus Christ’s second coming. But we got the message. It was illuminating. It was instructive.

And it was part of the KERUBU memories. My KERUBU. Our KERUBU. My memories of Cherubim and Seraphim High School, Ilesa.