It was late into the afternoon when the last school bell rang and Nwike started getting ready to go home. He had just spent the last period drawing action figures on his notebook with Andrew while the Accounting teacher, Miss Stephanie gave a class on 'Assets and Liabilities.' He didn't like Miss Stephanie very much and that played a major role in his short attention span in her class.
It was raining when the last bell rang and a lot of parents were arriving in their cars to pick up their children. Nwike stood on the porch, external to the walls of his classroom and watched as his classmates' parents came with umbrellas to pick them up. He sometimes wished he had parents who could do that sort of thing for him. He looked at his wristwatch and realised that if he didn't leave the school premises on time, he'd arrive home a bit later than usual. He had to rush home and help grandma with the chores, wash his school uniforms and clean up his school sandals for the next day.
Walking to school and back, every single day was a chore for Nwike. He didn't like it but he had no other choice. Grandpa had a car but was against taking him and his sisters to school every morning. He didn't like that most parents did it and felt that children grew up a little bit too lazy when parents pampered them too much. He always talked about how he had to walk 3km to school every day when he was a young boy. He was old-fashioned and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Nwike set about walking home. He usually waited to see if any of his classmates wanted to walk with him. Some of them lived a few blocks from his house and most times, they would join him in the walk home. It wasn't so lonely and boring when they joined him and the long walk gave them a chance to chat. The only problem was that most boys always wanted to stay back after classes were over so they could play football or go to a video game house and play games. Nwike was different because he never stayed back after classes were over. One thing his grandparents couldn't stress enough was the importance of coming straight home immediately after the last class. He knew if he stayed out too late, his grandparents would worry and as a result, he'd be in trouble.
Nwike's school was very big. It was the location of three schools - a primary school, a secondary school and a college of education (something like a polytechnic but where teachers are trained). It also had dormitories for the polytechnic students and an under-equipped science laboratory that all three schools had to share. The entrance to the school consisted of two huge pillars (connected to a 6-feet concrete fence protecting the whole school) with a very big iron gate in the middle. It was always manned by two or three security men in ugly and unkept navy blue uniforms. They all carried clubs and spoke English with a Northern accent. It was a 15-minute walk from the porch to the entrance and while Nwike walked, he tried to think about "Eden."
Growing up without parents, Nwike learned to always rely on his imagination. He grew up daydreaming about what he wanted to be when he was older, where he wanted to go and all the wonderful and exciting people he hoped to meet. He was also in the Sunday school class at church and being a keen student of the Bible, he always wondered what it would be like to live in the biblical garden of Eden.
Of all the places in the Bible, Nwike's favourite was the garden of Eden. The story goes that when God created the first man, Adam and the first woman, Eve, he put them in the garden of Eden so they could nurture the land. They were told that they could eat any fruit from the trees in the garden except for the tree of good and evil. God warned them that if they ate from this tree they would die.
One day, Satan came in the form of a snake and convinced Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of good and evil. She told the serpent that God said they should not eat it and they would die if they did. Satan went on to tempt Eve to eat from the tree, saying that she would become like God if she did. Eve believed the lie and took a bite of the fruit from the tree of good and evil and later gave some to Adam. Adam and Eve, now knowing that they had sinned, immediately felt ashamed and tried to hide from God when he came calling for them. As punishment, God cursed Eve to feel immense pain during childbirth and Adam to till the soil of the fields in order to feed his family and then cast them out of the garden.
Nwike had formed the habit of making this said garden his 'calm and happy' place. He would mentally go there when he was scared of something or someone and sometimes, when he was sad, he'd go there and imagine what it would be like to run around in the open fields, play with the animals and just take in the beautiful nature. He also wondered if anyone had attempted finding the garden.
He was halfway home when he realised he was totally drenched in rain. He checked his schoolbag to make sure his books weren't wet and when he saw they were still dry, he smiled. He knew how angry grandpa would be if the rain ruined his books and how long it would take before he got new ones. He was about to cross the street leading to the timber market when someone called out to him. It was Sir Umunna, the local timber trader. His son Fred was in the same Sunday school class as Nwike.
Sir Umunna was sitting in his shop when Nwike walked in. He was enjoying a glass of beer and talking about his new car with some of his fellow traders. He was a very proud man. At church, he was known to donate large sums of money to different causes and while his donations were very helpful, they were never done anonymously. He had expensive cars, lived in a big house and made sure his family had only the best of everything. They eagerly flaunted their wealth and as a result, the church quickly moved to bestow on him the Knighthood of the Order of St. John. It was an honour to be a knight and the council that bestowed the knighthood on him, partly did it to keep him from leaving the church and taking his generosity with him.
"Hello Nwike, how are you doing?" he asked, patting him on his wet head and quickly reaching for his handkerchief to wipe his fingers. "I'm fine sir. It's just that it's raining and I'm drenched and still have a long way to go before I get home", Nwike replied. "Yes I can see that", he said. "The rain today, has been really terrible and I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon. It hasn't been very good for business but still, we thank God for life." He went on to ask Nwike about his grandparents and what was the cause of his grandpa's absence from church the past Sunday. Nwike's answers were always short because he was wet, tired and hungry and was in no mood for small talks.
When Nwike mentioned he had to be on his way home because it was getting late, Sir Umunna apologised for not being able to give him a lift home and immediately offered to pay for an 'Okada' ride instead. Nwike accepted the offer, flagged down one of the motorcycle taxis and hopped on while Sir Umunna paid the 'Okada rider'. They exchanged goodbyes and the okada rider sped off.
As the cold evening air slapped his face due to the speed at which they rode, Nwike couldn't help wondering how he'd dry his school uniforms when he washed them that evening. It seemed like it was going to continue raining till the next morning and if there was no sunshine, drying up his washed uniforms would be very difficult. Another problem was the electricity to do the ironing. The local body that supplied electric power were known to always cut it off when it rained.
He thought about not washing his school uniform that night and then the possibility of facing the music the next day at school. The thing was, Nwike was not the type to disobey rules that had a consequence which involved being caned mercilessly. Just as he alighted from the motorcycle taxi, he concluded that he was going to wash his school uniforms and dry them with the heat from his electric iron as soon as the power supply came back.
As he rushed into the house to remove his wet clothes and put on dry ones before he caught a cold, Nwike thought about Eden again. He entertained the thought of going to school every day and coming back home to this beautiful garden. It was a thought that made him smile even if just for a second.
... To be continued next week.