He got off the glorified mat his Nana called a bed and yawned loudly.
“Chinedu, I promise you, if you don’t get off that bed, I’ll come in there and…”
“Nne, I’m here.” he yawned again.
“Look at you! Your mates are on their way back from the farm, but not you!”
“You have to spend your evenings with your head stuck in a book! Like that’s going to feed us!”She pulled his ears, dragging him in her stead.
“Ow, ow, ow!”he cried.
“I’m not a small boy anymore, Nne!” he slid from her grasp and rubbed his ears.
“If only the gods had not taken your parents from this earth…”
Chinedu switched off from her reality.
He imagined the characters from the book he’d read the night before; a boy with such a weird name as Huckleberry.
“Chinedu!”His grandmother screamed, startling him.
“It’s those stupid books again!”She threw her arms in the air.
“I’ve asked you five times to carry the basket of yams; five times, you yam head!” she began to walk towards him, swinging her cutlass wildly above her head.
Chinedu quickly lifted the basket of yams and raced to the house.
His parents had passed away when he was still a toddler and he was left with his Nana who didn’t hide the fact that her life would have been better without a pesky little boy following her about.
Chinedu continued his musing about the Huckleberry character; real men didn’t posses such funny names.
He chuckled to himself; a man like Huckleberry would be thrown of his belly in the market place so many times, he’ll probably have to dress up like a woman for the rest of his life.
Chinedu’s chuckle became a laugh at his own joke.
“Oh Chineke, what kind of idiot is this?”Nana adjusted her wrapper, carefully sneaking up behind the laughing boy.
With a loud smack to his head she screamed, “Is this where the yams are supposed to be?”
Chinedu had finally had enough. He kicked the basket of yams and stormed off, muttering under his breath as he did.
The scrawny teenager, in his outburst of emotion had not completely thought threw his actions.
In anger he continued to walk, he knew his Nana well enough to know that if he attempted to return, she would have skinned him alive and then proceeded to use his skin as a coat.
Chinedu walked past the village market and past the village square, ignoring people’s polite greetings and marched on, into the outskirts of the village.
He walked until his feet protested and his tongue threatened to ignite from thirst.
In the near distance he saw a sign that read “ xyz Community Grammar school.”
The paint was washed off and the building barely stood, learning affectionately to its right side.
Chinedu carefully crept up to the leaning school, in search of water.
“Onyeoshi! Thief!” a little boy yelled from a classroom.
A teacher grabbed him by his tattered shorts and wacked him on the back of head.
“Gini ke ne me na’eba? What are you doing here?” he demanded, still holding on to Chinedu’s shorts.
“Where are you coming from? Why aren’t you in school like your mates?” he grabbed the shorts tighter.
“I can’t speak plenty English sir.”
When the man neither spoke nor released Chinedu’s shorts, he looked up at the teacher and repeated, “Miri. Water, please.”
The teacher released the shorts and grabbed his hand instead, pulling him to the back of the building.
“Here, Drink!”he shoved a bottle of water into the boys hands.
Chinedu lapped up the drink, pouring the remaining over his head.
“Daalu, Thank you sir.”
“Where are you coming from?”The man asked in a different dialect from Chinedu’s.
Chinedu had heard the dialect in the market but wasn’t too familiar with it.
The teacher repeated the question.
“I’m coming from Udalu Village.”
The man frowned, his vegetables, yams and spices came from Udalu. It was at least an hour’s walk.
“Did you steal? Don’t you dare lie to me, I’ll find out and have you arrested.”
“I’m not a thief! I left my Nana, she slaps my head too much.”
“A boy, who despises discipline, will steal and a thief will kill and destroy.”
“I’m not a thief and I don’t kill.”
The man looked at Chinedu carefully. He was dirty and clad in rags but sincere.
“I’m looking for an assistant. Where are you heading to now?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I mean I have nowhere to go.”
“If I take you in as my assistant, it means we must go to your Nana and tell her, so she at least knows where her son is.” He explained.
“Sir, assistant, is that a houseboy?”
The man leaned against the wall and gave it a thought, “Yes, you shall assist with the household and the school.”
“Can I read?”
“Boy, how would I know the answer to that question?”
“I assume that you’re asking if the job allows you to read.”
“What is your name?”
“Chinedu, you shall be my assistant.” he smiled
“The classes are about to break for the day, so wait here and I’ll show you where the house is.”
The teacher strode off towards the leaning building, leaving Chinedu alone in the back of the school.
It was a test really. The back of the school held all the supplies for the children.
A steaming pot of soup stood a little further from where he’d asked Chinedu to wait.
The teacher stood in the corner, watching and waiting for the boy to fumble.
Chinedu busied himself with fantasies of being the teacher’s assistant, the aroma of the soup nearby, far from his consciousness.
Absolutely unaware that he was being watched, he mimicked the teachers walk and the way he wagged his finger while he spoke.
The teacher watched the boy in amusement; he was different, even from the brightest pupil in his class; this boy Chinedu possessed an ease about him.
He had seen enough.
“Chinedu, come over here!”He called from his little corner.
“Grab that bag and come with Me.”
Excitement built up in Chinedu with each step towards his future.
The teacher pulled out a bicycle and made a makeshift seat with some rags.
“You’ll ride with me today, only because you’re limping.”
Chinedu tried to conceal his nervous excitement as he was shown how to sit on the machine.
The teacher expertly peddled the route to his home, all the while cautioning Chinedu to memorise the route.
The teacher’s home was a hut with a modern roof.
Chinedu was given an immediate tour of the place and shown his room.
It was twice the size of his former room at Nana’s and had a soft mattress.
“Sir, I can cook.”
“I know, that’s why I have brought you to my home; if you couldn’t, you’d have found a way to learn.” He removed his shirt and placed it in a bucket and added detergent to it.
“Boy, come and wash this.”
Thus began Chinedu’s new life.