The Village Headmaster – A Short Story

She was the only girl-child in the Dike household. Tailing four boys, Chi-Chi was the baby of the family and the love of all and the entire village.

Ariam was her world; the only one she knew since she has never had the opportunity to learn otherwise, situated in the eastern part of her vast Country, Ariam was pristine, untouched by the so-called civilization. Life was dull but peaceful; at least she was sure of so much love and a full stomach at the end of the day.

Ariam was a farming community made up of about three hundred men, women and children. But then life will not be complete and story not well told if one discountenances the Ahia Ariam or the popular once-in-every- seven-days market at the center of the village. Though her parents were farmers who took pride in caring for their ancestral lands, Chi-Chi was no farmer! She was more interested in what a legacy left by the Catholic Missionaries years ago has to offer.

Life in her African village was simple and un-assumed. As it was in such remote villages, Chi-Chi and others must have to do without electricity light, portable water, etc. Despite the visible absence of these means of making life more predictable, her village was a fun place where everyone you meet on the bush paths to farm or the stream is a friend or a relative.

The day in the Dike household starts at about six a.m. As the girl of the house, Chi-Chi knew her place, roles and responsibilities as norms, culture and tradition dictate.

The village stream was about 3 kilometers away from her house. Since the family can not face the day without water, she must get up off her sleeping position in the family’s common room and join her brothers as they and others make their way to the stream. It was a looked-forward-to activity for her; a time to meet with friends, share one or two latest village gossip, share in the interpretation of dreams of last night etc. But this morning it was not about some dream, the mood was obviously different; the girls and boys on their way to and from the Ariam Stream had but one topic to share and analyze.

Ariam, fortunately, was blessed by God and by the local Government Authorities with a Primary school to the visible envy of neighboring communities since their wards must walk the distance to St. Michael’s Primary School . It was founded by the Catholic Mission of Saint Michael.

Stories about Mr. Okoro, a village headmaster was known, told and retold in many communities where he has worked and lived, some true and some otherwise. But one thing that was true about him was the fact that he was tall and huge, with such imposing physique, he tends to intimidate others- teachers and parents too. He was good at his calling and a disciplinarian. That was the part that really sent jitters down the spine of his pupils.

Mr. Okoro, it was rumored, was in line for a transfer for yet another Primary school somewhere. No one knew where so both parents and pupil waited for the big news with fingers crossed. Everyone wished him away so they waited with anxious care.

All such news must be passed through the village head called Eze, who must then disseminate it through the town crier. He is the man appointed by the village traditional council of chief to go round the village at night with a metal gong on his left shoulder and a rod to sound the gong.

It was just around past eight last night when everyone listened attentively as the man in his fifties made his rounds.

At last the cat was let out of the bag; Mr. Okoro was due for Ariam to resume as the village headmaster the very next morning!

It was a news received with mixed feelings; while some thought it was okay for someone like him to come help mold the youth , most, mainly the pupils of the Primary school thought otherwise. So one is able to understand all the hush-hush toned gossips, all the long faces worn by the children including Chi-Chi’s brothers as they went to fetch water from the stream.

She was in primary four obviously over-aged for that class because her dotting father had kept her away from school when it was time to start with her age-mates. She knew what to expect; Headmaster Okoro, she heard, was a no-none-sense kind of a man, it means no late coming to school, no skipping of home works, etc. but Chi-Chi was determined to make the most of the development. While others worried themselves sick about why it had to be their school, she was concentrating on how best to exploit Mr. Okoro’s tenure to make a success of her life.

That morning she was one of the first to show up at the school having hurriedly gone through her domestic chores which included the washing of plates, pots, and cutleries used up the previous night, all these were done at the vast court yard near a hut which served as her mothers’ kitchen. Life in her village means most things must be done outdoors; all washings and toileting inclusive! The villagers maintained a measure of hygiene thereby keeping visits to the health center miles away at the barest minimum.

Living in her world was living light years away from modern reality; it was still a world where parents, society demand loyalty and obedience, a living devoid of rancor, strive and anxieties known elsewhere, yes, that was what it meant to live in her village, where you are expected to shout a resounding “yes ma” or “Yes pa” when your parents call.

That was her world – Chi-Chi’s world. She had no excuses neither does she hope to manufacture some tomorrow. She was sure the sun will rise and set the day after tomorrow, she was sure of a green earth, pristine, unpolluted, no enemies to contend with only love and those she loves… that was what life was all about for her and she cherished every moment of living in Ariam.

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