Away from the treacherous waters of political economy today. Last week, yours sincerely was quite busy at the home-front. Nothing naughty. Certainly not in the risqué sense you might be tempted to expect of a very energetic young man with, God willing, many years of active service still ahead. Far from seeking to break the new Olympic records set by the terrific Yunusa Dahiru who “disappeared” little innocent Ese Oruru from Yenagoa and the next moment they both reappeared in Kano she had already been put in family way.
Earlier in February, one had been put on notice by the kids to attend two school programmes at different locations namely an inter-house sports and the more crucial common entrance exam to secondary school. Since my outing in Edo in recent past almost rendered me an absentee dad, now fully back in Lagos, I could not imagine a better opportunity to commence atonement.
So, when Josh turned up at dawn of penultimate Wednesday by my bedside to hug and wish daddy good morning fully kitted in his new sports outfit still smelling of oil dye, I realized the first payday had finally come. In fact, it started the previous day when we had to make available two cartons of fruit drinks for Josh and his elder brother in response to their school’s request for voluntary donations to make the day more exciting for all the kids.
Moments later, I joined scores of other parents, who would have cancelled work and other appointments for the day, to watch and cheer the children from Primary 3 to 6 display their sporting skills and talents on the field after weeks of intense practice and rehearsals.
Josh is in Primary 3 and Ese (not Oruru o!) is in Primary 6.
Big fun, it turned out. The assembly of parents/guardians was another spectacle, if not entirely a sartorial fiasco. It was as if the old-school were out to outshine one another ironically at an occasion meant for the new-school. From the Afro-haired dads prancing about in bogus shorts inadvertently exposing broomstick-thin limbs (like jute bag hanging on stilt); to psychedelic mums obviously overdressed for the occasion with their gaudily over-painted faces. Not wanting to take chances, yours sincerely simply settled for jeans pants and plain T-Shirt, deliberately hiding his big head in a fez cap pulled to the eyebrows. The competing houses on the school field included Red House (Nnamdi Azikwe), Green (Margaret Ekpo), Yellow (Queen Amina) and Blue (Obafemi Awolowo). Hmmm – federal character on display.
Once the game-master’s whistle formally opened the day, parents – especially mothers – became the cheer-leaders, crowding the sidelines, running behind their wards on the pitch, shouting, praise-singing, cajoling their kids to push harder to win. It became a Tower of Babel. First was the heat (prelim), then the knock-out stage and the finals. You could see many parents quickly activating the video fixture in their I-Pad to capture all the thrills and frills.
Honestly, not until the session entered “Keep It Up” that I fully realized how far I had been left behind by the new school. Or put differently, the wide gulf between the school that produced my generation and the one today’s kids attend. As the name suggests, “Keep It Up” involved a tag team of two pitted against other couples in a brisk walk with the ball delicately wedged between their heads. The ball must not fall. Otherwise, the errant team starts afresh, in case the referee rules they could still catch up with those already ahead. But, beyond the finish line, it was quite easy to appreciate the game’s own philosophical underpinning. To nurture the spirit of partnership in the kids.
Then, there was “cheer-leading”. It is choreographed dance in which the kids waltzed in colourful costumes to popular hip-hop songs, from local to international, blaring from a mobile disco-tech. From Lil Kesh/Davido’s “Shoki” to Olamide’s “Shakiti Bobo” to Rihanna’s “Oh na na, what’s my name!”. Well, parents will never agree on the suitability or otherwise of some of the songs rendered during the “cheer leading” in view of their sometimes explicit lyrics.
Then, there was also swimming competition. It was particularly thrilling watching the kids splash waters around as they ploughed their nimble arms in the azure-blue pool in rapid rhyme, aping the mermaid, fishing for gold, seeking silver and baying for bronze.
In our own days in the primary school over three decades ago, inter-house competition of this nature hardly transcended march past, sack race, high jump, athletics and maybe soccer. But the world is changing and so are the games. So emboldened also is the average kid of nowadays as he/she never hesitates to pester his/her parents with the sorts of questions that would be most unthinkable in our own days. Not with the cold stare of the cane or “koboko” from the lamp-post.
Once, Josh looked me straight in the eyes and asked a rather knotty question: “Dad, Ese and I like football. Why is it that it’s boxing you like?”
Though momentarily thrown off balance by the audacity of the question, I calmly chose to come clean: “Well, I was very tough as a kid and because there were some bullies around those days, I preferred boxing. So, any naughty boy who tried to mess up with me on the street, I beat him up. But later, I realized good boys don’t fight. So, I stopped boxing, though I still like watching it on television today”…
Mercifully, just before the scalding sun became too unbearable, the inter-house competition finally drew to a close. From the aggregate points posted on the makeshift scoreboard, Ese’s Red House had clearly emerged the overall winner of the inter-house sports, followed by Josh’s Green. Since the trophies would be presented at a later date, we decided to call it a day.
As we drove home, the car was filled with the smell of sweat the kids’ T-shirts and shorts had absorbed. Though disheveled in appearance, the glint in Josh and Ese’s eyes nonetheless conveyed what they obviously felt deep in their hearts: joy that dad found time this time to come watch them compete on the school field.
Three days later (last Saturday), it was only Ese’s turn. Couple of weeks back, he had written entrance exam to another college. When the results were released and he passed, with a wry smile on his face, Ese asked: “Daddy, with this good result, don’t you think I deserve a treat?”
Patting him on the shoulders, I replied smiling: “Don’t worry, you’ll qualify for a treat if you also passed the second common entrance.”
It rained heavily this Saturday morning. So, we had to huddle under the same umbrella as we waded through a sea of cars to reach the gate of the school where the entrance exam was taking place. Along the way, I had to give Ese last-minute pep talk. He has passion for soccer. So, I had to tell him to abstain from playing rough or rough tackle in case they were going to test him in football in the Physical Education (P.E.) segment of the evaluation:
“Always remember to be a good boy. The coach is not looking for how fast you can score or the number of people you can tackle down or dribble. He only wants to see how often you pass ball to your team mates and how easy it is for you to convert a pass into a goal. Ese, that is the only thing the coach will be looking out for.”
At the crowded lobby where parents parted company with the kids, we bumped into Mrs. Clem Agba, looking so graceful and motherly as always. She is wife of Prince Clem Agba, Edo Commissioner of Environment, one of the decent human beings one had encountered in Benin among the hordes and hordes of swines, serpents and rats. Her son was also writing the exam. To paraphrase an African saying, truly we all are like rain water, little droplets flowing from everywhere into the ocean of humanity.
Once the three-subject written test commenced, the school principal, a white guy, took parents on a tour of the school’s evolution inside their high-ceilinged auditorium: from its humble beginning to its present status with a massive well-landscaped premises with gigantic buildings made of burnt red bricks. His narrative was inter-spiced with funny anecdotes of pranks students play at school. Parents could not help laughing raucously from time to time.
At the end, I realized there was still sufficient time for me to dash home (which is not too far away) to fetch my I-Pad with a view to video-recording the P.E session. As I had anticipated, on arriving home, Josh and her sister, Ewan, pleaded they join me to see what the secondary school Ese is applying to looks like. (Kids, this minute they are all over each other; the next moment they’re at each other’s throat, leaving you to counsel them on the virtue of peaceful co-existence.)
Ewan’s own reason was funnily instructive: “Let me check if the school looks nicer or bigger than my own school.” She is presently a JSS student. Sibling rivalry for you. (Hmmm, they are looking at the building’s size; daddy is thinking of the size of school fees.)
Of course, since they assured me it was not a trap that would result in buying ice-cream for them on the way, their request was granted. Luckily, we arrived the school just before the commencement of the field test. Perhaps due to the earlier heavy downpour, the school decided to narrow it down to only a 100-meter dash, no soccer as earlier hinted. Trust Josh, within a moment, he was able to pick out Ese from the multitude out there on the field resplendent in their sporting outfits and trainers.
A set of twelve pupils competed at each turn. When Ese’s group finally hit the turf, we moved closer to the finish line. On sighting Josh and Ewan, he smiled broadly from afar, making a hi-5 sign. Once the starting gun was fired, beyond our expectation, Ese shot into early lead and, looking in our direction with teeth clenched in extreme exertion, kept that wide lead till he breasted the tape. Yeah! that’s my boy!
Looking back, it is too obvious that our presence, more than anything else, was what triggered the steely determination in Ese last Saturday to run his fastest ever since he was born.
On our way home, I could not think of a better reward for him than open a conversation on a subject always dear to him:
“So, which team is Chelsea playing today?”
“We (just imagine!) are playing Stokes this evening, daddy.”
He is Chelsea fan and, not wanting another chance slip without showing club loyalty, chose to wear their trademark blue jersey to the 100-meter dash.
What a day!