Once upon a time I was in the Press Club in SS1 (Year 10), an invisible spectator. And as with a lot of school events at the time, I was happy being an invisible noise- and trouble-maker.
If you were as naughty as I was, you wanted few people to know your name and be able to tell what class you are in.
But one afternoon I headed to the club, intending to lounge at the back and doodle away or chat with my friends Moses and Chiedu as usual, when something unusual happened.
The teacher in charge – I can’t remember who it was – walked in, and the class scrambled to our seats. He calmly wrote five rhymes on the board and turned to look at us.
This was unusual, and as expected, he had our attention.
“I want you all to write a poem for me using these five rhymes,” he said simply, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a 50 naira note. “The winner gets this.”
Now this was before the 200 naira note was in circulation; by this time, 50 naira was gold.
Interestingly, another teacher (let’s call him Teacher 2) heard this as he was passing by, and from the window he produced another 50 naira.
Immediately all eyes sparkled and went from the money to the words, calculating.
“When you finish, submit it with your name and class to the staffroom,” Nameless Teacher said. The moment he walked out of the door, there was a mad scramble.
I turned beside me to see my friends scribbling away frantically, almost forgetting the goal was the one with the best poem, not the fastest writer.
Since I had never written anything that rhymed before, I was at a loss as to what to do. I considered calling it quits and told them both, but Chiedu was looking at me as if, true to my nickname, I was a psycho.
After a very brief lecture from Chiedu and on a dare from Moses, I took half a sheet of paper, wrote my lines, and submitted them to the staff room, as confident of winning as I was confident the moon was square.
Two weeks later, I was standing in line at an unexpected afternoon assembly, after our break, trembling nervously as Teacher 2 walked up our class line, asking for me by my full name.
Again I repeat: if you were as naughty as I was, you want few people to know your name and what class you are in.
Frantic and desperate, I was trying to remember what I had done lately that warranted this, and how I could deny and lie my way out of it.
When I was pointed out to the teacher, he looked me up and down and from the look on his face I knew I was dead.
That is, until the forgotten competition was announced, and the names of the runners-up were called, and their poems were read out.
I was bored by the time they got to first place and started reading the poem. Idly I wondered: why do these words sound familiar. Until –
“The winner is…” and my name was called out and I was marched out in front of the whole school, with the sole of my shoe torn, my clothes dirty, my hair unkempt from my earlier roughhousing.
I was a dirty kid, and I knew it.
And now everyone else could see it too.
But who cared!? I was grinning with 100 naira clutched tightly in my raised fist.