, VICARIOUS INTEGRITY: A Short Story, PeaceWrites, PeaceWrites
Stories

VICARIOUS INTEGRITY: A Short Story

Written by

Stephen Angbulu

The Sprint from the parking lot felt like hours. She had fallen seven whopping minutes behind schedule. Her pace doubled, tugging her 3-year-old “future pilot” along. If she makes the 10-minute grace period, little Alfred stands the chance to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
.
.
.
“Hurry up junior,” Mrs Ife growled, “we haven’t come this far only to be sent back because of time factor o!” The lad stretched his juvenile limbs to keep up with his Mommy’s pace.
.
.
.
Alfred was in the final phase of a week-long screening exercise. After acing his interview with the school’s headmistress two days before, he and other selected candidates were set to sit for one final test.
.
.
.
The excitement was real. From the gate, Alfred’s playful instincts kicked in again. He couldn’t stop staring at his would-be schoolmates as they played around the merry-go-round, the see-saw, the swings and his favourite, the ladder slide. Mrs Ife had a hard time keeping him focused as they hurried down the hallway to join the other kids at the school’s assembly hall.
.
.
.
Dream-Found School holds a 75-year reputation for excellence and high entry standards. For a louder statement, many of her ex-pupils have gone on to man powerful offices in society. If you ever get to attend one of her biannual old-pupils reunions, you’ll catch the drift. The system of entry is far from what anyone expects from a normal school.
.
.
.
Parents get to register their children right after birth, to keep them on a 2-year waiting list. This way, the child has a higher chance of being shortlisted for the annual absorption exercise. For those who know, it was no small deal. Alfred had made it this far, thanks to thorough coaching sessions with none other than his able mom. For Mrs Ife, leaving this to a lesson teacher was too much of a risk.
.
.
.
Over the past seven weeks, she had burn countless hours drilling her boy on every subject and question ‘conjurable.’ If you were there, you’ll be moved to shower her with praises for her coaching style and discipline.
.
.
.
Just when she ran him through the final revision, a female voice blared out of the public address system, “Will the candidates step forward, please? Parents and guardians are advised to avail their wards immediately. Thank you.” Mrs Ife gave her boy a mommy-loves-you head rub as she led him to join the other kids who were now on a queue.
.
.
.
Call it an assembly hall and you’ll be right. But today, the final evaluation day—or FED as it is called—had turned this 75-year-old structure into a local equivalent of Jerusalem’s western wall.
.
.
.
When converted to Watts, the prayers that have offered by parents around the hallway leading to Prince Ariyo hall could power the country for a full year. Being the Nigerian mother that she is, Mrs Ife paced back and forth, heaving indistinct prayers under her breath as she stole glances at the hall’s entrance as though expecting Alfred to sprint out at any minute screaming “Mommy!”. A few steps away, a middle-aged man in brown ‘Jalabiya’ stayed glued to the edge of a waiting chair, absentmindedly fingering a string of beads encircling his wrist.
.
.
.
In the hall, the start bell had gone off. With exams in full gear, parents settled in for the routine until teacher after teacher began to leave the hall. In a matter of minutes, the kids had been left all to themselves without any adult supervision whatsoever.
.
.
.
No one seemed to understand. Exercises like these usually followed a predictable script: The—little—candidates get settled and strapped in their seats to minimize movement. Other teachers then take their leave as only those assigned to monitor the exercise get to stay behind. Finally, after forty-five minutes thereabout, the first child would sprint out of the hall and then others would follow. The headmistress would then walk forward to intimate parents and wards on the due date for receiving the acceptance/rejection letters.
.
.
.
This time, no teacher stayed back. As soon as the start bell went off, teachers took their leave one after the other. And kept the doors wide open. With no one inside, parents assumed the hall would get rowdy in minutes. Silence, pin-drop silence was all there was. Whatever the kids had been told must be working.
.
.
.
Back in the hallway, only a few parents had the guts to sit. Those who felt at ease with their prayers had formed clusters already. Veteran parents who were enrolling their third or fourth child were catching up on their children’s progress. For Mrs Aina, her first daughter, Tinuke, had since proceeded to Stanford for her “Law wahala”. “She wants to wear that wig by all means o! That thing that makes them look like Mungo Park,” Mrs Aina teased as the other women cackled in near-unison.
.
.
.
Standing nearby was a small group of men who had found solace under a mahogany tree. They seemed to be more concerned about the state of the nation. From the recent bill making the rounds in the senate to the deafening ‘noise’ about restructuring, they argued to pulp. And occasionally quieted down when they are reminded of the poor children in the hall who were trying to concentrate.
.
.
.
It was over an hour now and no child had emerged. Discussions morphed into murmurs. Parents, especially mothers, who couldn’t bear the suspense any longer, went by the door to peep into the hall.
.
.
.
Some kids were heads down; peacefully snoring the minutes away. Others held on to their pencils, staring cluelessly at the white sheets in front of them. And some had started biting the flavoured eraser off of their pencils. None seemed to be writing.
.
.
.
A woman in bluish “ankara’, out of Eve’s curiosity, mustered enough courage and walked into the hall. On peeping into her daughter’s script, she clasped both of her hands on her head as she dashed out in panic. “These people want them to fail noni! They gave them ‘shimutenous hequashon,’” she screamed. Alerting those nearby.
.
.
.
A man who had patiently stood by rushed in to confirm. To his surprise and that of the others, the kids had been given ‘complex’ mathematical equations to solve. As a topping, the paper required candidates to not only list the 36 states and capital but to also provide the corresponding slogans.
.
.
.
As soon as the news broke, parents flooded the hall, and in a feat of desperation, began helping their wards with the questions. Some wracked their brains to conjure their faintest memories of mathematics. Others sang old nursery rhythms under their breath to recall the states and capital. Those who were born when the country had only 20 states looked to the younger parents for help.
.
.
.
All the while, no school teacher was seen at the venue. To most parents, this had to be a good omen.
.
.
.
A sound blared from the public address system, signalling the end of the exercise. By instinct, parents who were still assisting their wards knew it was time to leave. As though perfectly timed, no parent was left inside the hall when the first teacher marched his way in. Sneers flew from all over.
.
.
.
From parents who thought it was cruel of the school to set such questions for children, to those who felt a wave of victory for outsmarting the system. “Children, for God’s sake. They’re still children!” one woman yelled.
.
.
.
As the kids strode out one after the other, some still wore their dizzy faces. Others who had grown fond of each other in those two hours were already forming juvenile alliances. For the likes of Alfred, who had slept his way through the exam, it was a mini-reunion with his mommy.
.
.
.
“Junior, you look sleepy,” she said, empathising with the lad, yet wearing a guilt-ridden countenance for not rushing in—like some of the other parents—to help her boy. She knew that if Alfred were less innocent, he would not return her embrace. He would probably pout his way past her for abandoning him while other parents came rescuing their kids from the fangs of ‘shimutenous hequason’.
.
.
.
As though waiting for this moment, Alfred let out a hard sneeze that spluttered thick mucus out of his nose. It was his way of signalling the end of a blissful nap. Mrs Ife quickly pulled out a paper handkerchief and wiped his nose distractedly. This time, she was following the gait of the school’s headmistress who was approaching the hall for the usual “date of collection” announcement.
.
.
.
Strapping her bag on one arm, she picked junior up and pushed closer so she could be within earshot. Before she got there, however, she was greeted by heated complaints from parents directed at the headmistress.
.
.
.
Mrs Agbakoba was a tall brown woman with a graceful slim build. Except for her coke-bottle thick pair of glasses, no other feature could prove she was from the ‘analogue generation’. Being headmistress for nearly twenty-five years meant that she had seen more than any angry parent there could give her.
.
.
.
As the murmuring grew louder, she kept a straight face and motioned for one of the teachers who now handed her a few scripts. “Only the following names will be considered for admission,” she said, sliding the bridge of her glasses up her nose with her index finger. By this time, parents who were still fuming knew better than to interrupt the ‘rollcall’. In what seemed like a mini judgment day, everyone stayed put to listen for their ward’s name.
.
.
.
As per the announcement, Mrs Ife, alongside a few other parents, would wait to see the headmistress.
.
.
.
It wasn’t clear what the criteria had been. But as the meeting proceeded, it became obvious that the school never intended for any child to answer the questions after all. Obscurely hanging on the top of the page was the instruction, “Candidates must not answer any question”.
.
.
.
“I must congratulate you all for exuding great character today,” Mrs Agbakoba said to the parents whose children made the cut. After a brief question-and-answer session, they were handed newsletters containing details of registration.
.
.
.
For Mrs Ife, it was all surreal. Long after the other parents had left the hall, she sat still, staring out of the window. “Mommy…are we not going too?” Alfred snapped her out her reverie. Mrs Ife, after smiling goodbye to the headmistress, clutched her boy all the way to the parking lot.
.
.
.
It was a mixed feeling of shock and triumph. Earlier that morning when she and her husband said a prayer for their boy, they had no idea it would be their exam, not Alfred’s. Although he sat in the hall with the others, the real candidates were outside.
.
.
.
She gently sat him next to her in the car and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. By now, all the tears she had been hoarding came cascading down her cheeks and dropped onto the torso of her turmeric blouse. “Mommy, why are you crying?” Alfred asked. By reflex, he stood up on his seat and made for his Mommy’s teary face, wiping her cheeks with his tender palms. “Mommy it’s okay. I made it, didn’t I?” The boy was so sharp for his age.
.
.
.
It would take him a lot of growing up to understand. His mommy’s choice to do what was right had gotten him admitted into Dream-Found School. Nothing else!
©Steve little Alfred stands the chance to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
.
.
.
“Hurry up junior,” Mrs Ife growled, “we haven’t come this far only to be sent back because of time factor o!” The lad stretched his juvenile limbs to keep up with his Mommy’s pace.
.
.
.
Alfred was in the final phase of a week-long screening exercise. After acing his interview with the school’s headmistress two days before, he and other selected candidates were set to sit for one final test.
.
.
.
The excitement was real. From the gate, Alfred’s playful instincts kicked in again. He couldn’t stop staring at his would-be schoolmates as they played around the merry-go-round, the see-saw, the swings and his favourite, the ladder slide. Mrs Ife had a hard time keeping him focused as they hurried down the hallway to join the other kids at the school’s assembly hall.
.
.
.
Dream-Found School holds a 75-year reputation for excellence and high entry standards. For a louder statement, many of her ex-pupils have gone on to man powerful offices in society. If you ever get to attend one of her biannual old-pupils reunions, you’ll catch the drift. The system of entry is far from what anyone expects from a normal school.
.
.
.
Parents get to register their children right after birth, to keep them on a 2-year waiting list. This way, the child has a higher chance of being shortlisted for the annual absorption exercise. For those who know, it was no small deal. Alfred had made it this far, thanks to thorough coaching sessions with none other than his able mom. For Mrs Ife, leaving this to a lesson teacher was too much of a risk.
.
.
.
Over the past seven weeks, she had burn countless hours drilling her boy on every subject and question ‘conjurable.’ If you were there, you’ll be moved to shower her with praises for her coaching style and discipline.
.
.
.
Just when she ran him through the final revision, a female voice blared out of the public address system, “Will the candidates step forward, please? Parents and guardians are advised to avail their wards immediately. Thank you.” Mrs Ife gave her boy a mommy-loves-you head rub as she led him to join the other kids who were now on a queue.
.
.
.
Call it an assembly hall and you’ll be right. But today, the final evaluation day—or FED as it is called—had turned this 75-year-old structure into a local equivalent of Jerusalem’s western wall.
.
.
.
When converted to Watts, the prayers that have offered by parents around the hallway leading to Prince Ariyo hall could power the country for a full year. Being the Nigerian mother that she is, Mrs Ife paced back and forth, heaving indistinct prayers under her breath as she stole glances at the hall’s entrance as though expecting Alfred to sprint out at any minute screaming “Mommy!”. A few steps away, a middle-aged man in brown ‘Jalabiya’ stayed glued to the edge of a waiting chair, absentmindedly fingering a string of beads encircling his wrist.
.
.
.
In the hall, the start bell had gone off. With exams in full gear, parents settled in for the routine until teacher after teacher began to leave the hall. In a matter of minutes, the kids had been left all to themselves without any adult supervision whatsoever.
.
.
.
No one seemed to understand. Exercises like these usually followed a predictable script: The—little—candidates get settled and strapped in their seats to minimize movement. Other teachers then take their leave as only those assigned to monitor the exercise get to stay behind. Finally, after forty-five minutes thereabout, the first child would sprint out of the hall and then others would follow. The headmistress would then walk forward to intimate parents and wards on the due date for receiving the acceptance/rejection letters.
.
.
.
This time, no teacher stayed back. As soon as the start bell went off, teachers took their leave one after the other. And kept the doors wide open. With no one inside, parents assumed the hall would get rowdy in minutes. Silence, pin-drop silence was all there was. Whatever the kids had been told must be working.
.
.
.
Back in the hallway, only a few parents had the guts to sit. Those who felt at ease with their prayers had formed clusters already. Veteran parents who were enrolling their third or fourth child were catching up on their children’s progress. For Mrs Aina, her first daughter, Tinuke, had since proceeded to Stanford for her “Law wahala”. “She wants to wear that wig by all means o! That thing that makes them look like Mungo Park,” Mrs Aina teased as the other women cackled in near-unison.
.
.
.
Standing nearby was a small group of men who had found solace under a mahogany tree. They seemed to be more concerned about the state of the nation. From the recent bill making the rounds in the senate to the deafening ‘noise’ about restructuring, they argued to pulp. And occasionally quieted down when they are reminded of the poor children in the hall who were trying to concentrate.
.
.
.
It was over an hour now and no child had emerged. Discussions morphed into murmurs. Parents, especially mothers, who couldn’t bear the suspense any longer, went by the door to peep into the hall.
.
.
.
Some kids were heads down; peacefully snoring the minutes away. Others held on to their pencils, staring cluelessly at the white sheets in front of them. And some had started biting the flavoured eraser off of their pencils. None seemed to be writing.
.
.
.
A woman in bluish “ankara’, out of Eve’s curiosity, mustered enough courage and walked into the hall. On peeping into her daughter’s script, she clasped both of her hands on her head as she dashed out in panic. “These people want them to fail noni! They gave them ‘shimutenous hequashon,’” she screamed. Alerting those nearby.
.
.
.
A man who had patiently stood by rushed in to confirm. To his surprise and that of the others, the kids had been given ‘complex’ mathematical equations to solve. As a topping, the paper required candidates to not only list the 36 states and capital but to also provide the corresponding slogans.
.
.
.
As soon as the news broke, parents flooded the hall, and in a feat of desperation, began helping their wards with the questions. Some wracked their brains to conjure their faintest memories of mathematics. Others sang old nursery rhythms under their breath to recall the states and capital. Those who were born when the country had only 20 states looked to the younger parents for help.
.
.
.
All the while, no school teacher was seen at the venue. To most parents, this had to be a good omen.
.
.
.
A sound blared from the public address system, signalling the end of the exercise. By instinct, parents who were still assisting their wards knew it was time to leave. As though perfectly timed, no parent was left inside the hall when the first teacher marched his way in. Sneers flew from all over.
.
.
.
From parents who thought it was cruel of the school to set such questions for children, to those who felt a wave of victory for outsmarting the system. “Children, for God’s sake. They’re still children!” one woman yelled.
.
.
.
As the kids strode out one after the other, some still wore their dizzy faces. Others who had grown fond of each other in those two hours were already forming juvenile alliances. For the likes of Alfred, who had slept his way through the exam, it was a mini-reunion with his mommy.
.
.
.
“Junior, you look sleepy,” she said, empathising with the lad, yet wearing a guilt-ridden countenance for not rushing in—like some of the other parents—to help her boy. She knew that if Alfred were less innocent, he would not return her embrace. He would probably pout his way past her for abandoning him while other parents came rescuing their kids from the fangs of ‘shimutenous hequason’.
.
.
.
As though waiting for this moment, Alfred let out a hard sneeze that spluttered thick mucus out of his nose. It was his way of signalling the end of a blissful nap. Mrs Ife quickly pulled out a paper handkerchief and wiped his nose distractedly. This time, she was following the gait of the school’s headmistress who was approaching the hall for the usual “date of collection” announcement.
.
.
.
Strapping her bag on one arm, she picked junior up and pushed closer so she could be within earshot. Before she got there, however, she was greeted by heated complaints from parents directed at the headmistress.
.
.
.
Mrs Agbakoba was a tall brown woman with a graceful slim build. Except for her coke-bottle thick pair of glasses, no other feature could prove she was from the ‘analogue generation’. Being headmistress for nearly twenty-five years meant that she had seen more than any angry parent there could give her.
.
.
.
As the murmuring grew louder, she kept a straight face and motioned for one of the teachers who now handed her a few scripts. “Only the following names will be considered for admission,” she said, sliding the bridge of her glasses up her nose with her index finger. By this time, parents who were still fuming knew better than to interrupt the ‘rollcall’. In what seemed like a mini judgment day, everyone stayed put to listen for their ward’s name.
.
.
.
As per the announcement, Mrs Ife, alongside a few other parents, would wait to see the headmistress.
.
.
.
It wasn’t clear what the criteria had been. But as the meeting proceeded, it became obvious that the school never intended for any child to answer the questions after all. Obscurely hanging on the top of the page was the instruction, “Candidates must not answer any question”.
.
.
.
“I must congratulate you all for exuding great character today,” Mrs Agbakoba said to the parents whose children made the cut. After a brief question-and-answer session, they were handed newsletters containing details of registration.
.
.
.
For Mrs Ife, it was all surreal. Long after the other parents had left the hall, she sat still, staring out of the window. “Mommy…are we not going too?” Alfred snapped her out her reverie. Mrs Ife, after smiling goodbye to the headmistress, clutched her boy all the way to the parking lot.
.
.
.
It was a mixed feeling of shock and triumph. Earlier that morning when she and her husband said a prayer for their boy, they had no idea it would be their exam, not Alfred’s. Although he sat in the hall with the others, the real candidates were outside.
.
.
.
She gently sat him next to her in the car and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. By now, all the tears she had been hoarding came cascading down her cheeks and dropped onto the torso of her turmeric blouse. “Mommy, why are you crying?” Alfred asked. By reflex, he stood up on his seat and made for his Mommy’s teary face, wiping her cheeks with his tender palms. “Mommy it’s okay. I made it, didn’t I?” The boy was so sharp for his age.
.
.
.
It would take him a lot of growing up to understand. His mommy’s choice to do what was right had gotten him admitted into Dream-Found School. Nothing else!
©Steve

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