By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
In the neighbourhood of Kissy Dock Yard classes have just begun at the Municipal Government Secondary School. “Good morning sir!” The pupils of JSS III greeted their teacher in a staccato chorus.
Teacher Lemp Lemp ignored the salutations as he strolled lazily to his desk at the rear right of the classroom. Wet portions of sweat on both armpits of his sky-blue long-sleeves shirt suggested he’d walked some distance to school. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his right palm as he drew out a chair and sat.
The pupils could see that Teacher Lemp Lemp was in one of his ugly moods, when he would beat them all for the slightest offense and they might not even have any lesson. Not only them in fact- JSS I and II might also miss their Mathematics and English Language lessons, respectively, later in the day.
He shoved the class register and some files to the far left of the table, took out a piece of paper and started scribbling and scratching.
Unknowing to the pupils, Teacher Lemp Lemp was suffering from a domestic knockout. Mrs. Lemp Lemp had given him an ultimatum- “You either find another job or I’ll move out soon… Not with the kids of course!”
Mr. & Mrs. Lemp Lemp and kids shared a one-room apartment in the shanty community of Kanikay, Cline Town- a notorious habit for criminals.
That morning he also almost had a brawl with his landlord over the aggressive manner the old man had come to demand a three-month rent in arrears. And just as he was about to leave for school, the woman who ran the market stall next door had reminded him of how much cups of rice and cooking condiments Mrs. Lemp Lemp had borrowed from her and how much they cost altogether, and that the stall needed to be restocked.
Teacher Lemp Lemp had controlled the rising anger inside him and walked unsteadily to school. He had always assured his creditors that he would pay when they pay him. They, of course, referred to the Government. The Government owed him seven months in backlogs. If they could only pay four months of that, he could settle his debts and still have some money enough to engage Mrs. Lemp Lemp in some petty trading stuff and keep her calm. But that seemed very unlikely. Government always promises but seldom fulfills.
Suddenly Teacher Lemp Lemp had an idea. He had spent almost 25 minutes into his teaching time doing some calculations. He briefly scrutinized the paper he had been scribbling on, pushed his chair backwards, causing an irritating noise in the process, and staggered up.
The bottom of his trousers almost covered his heavily-polished black second-hand shoes. That was the only presentable pair he had and he could not remember how many times the shoemaker up the drive had helped put it back on form. Teacher Lemp Lemp was notorious for wearing such big bottom trousers and his pupils secretly adored him for that, and often called him ‘Guy in the 60s’ or ‘Flag Brothers.’ They knew he must have overheard them not once, not twice, but he seemed unconcerned.
His red, flaming eyes scrolled across the classroom:
“Sorry, I’m not in a teaching mood today and I assume I will for the next couple of days. But you don’t have to worry about your lessons. We’ll make up for them. I was thinking of some extra lessons every week. We have a lot to cover and we are far behind schedule,” he said, cleared his throat, and continued.
“You decide a day in the week that will be convenient for all of you, or at least the majority of you, and we will do two-hour lesson each time. It can be after normal school hours or during the weekend.”
Some pupils shouted Sunday. Others said they had to go to church and prepare for the next school day. A consensus was however reached for Saturday.
“Saturday? Fine. We make it from 10am to 12pm,” he said hopefully. “Now, every Saturday you pay Le. 2, 000 each as extra lesson fee. I think that’s reasonable enough. You can all afford that, is that not so?”
And without waiting for an answer he continued quickly:
“You see, if you want my best you don’t expect me to come sweating and exhausted to teach on an empty stomach. You all must be aware that we’ve not been paid for months now and the Union will soon ask us to go it slow. But then it will not be fair to you,” he paused for a while.
“Mind you this is between you and me. I’m only doing this for your own good. You need plenty of time to cover the syllabus and start revision. And I’m assuring you that by the time you realize it we would have finished the syllabus and start all over again, so even the snail will catch up.
“So are we on the same page?”
Yes Sir! It was a high pitch of different shrilling voices.
That day Teacher Lemp Lemp went home after school in high spirit. At least his idea was on course. He would explain to the Principal that he needed some extra time with the students to enable them finish earlier and start all over again for a firm grasp of every topic.
‘My ultimate goal this year is to ensure that we have the best BECE results in the whole country’, he would tell his principal and the egotistical baldhead would be proud of him and would look forward in earnest to claim the glory.
When he slept that night, Teacher Lemp Lemp had a dream. He was at the school for the first lesson at 10:30am expecting a full turnout of the students impatiently waiting for him. But none of them showed up and he had collapsed on the hard floor, having great difficulty to breathe like an asthma patient. A hard slap on his back by Mrs. Lemp Lemp had freed him from that horrible experience.
It was dawn of the first Saturday and it was time to fetch water to bathe from the only tap in the community before it runs out in about an hour’s time.
Teacher Lemp Lemp left home shakily and reached school by 10:45am deliberately. To his greatest surprise the pupils were all there, patiently waiting for him. He controlled his happiness. 80 students were in attendance (only three were absent). 80 by Le. 3, 000 is Le. 240, 000. Le. 240, 000 by 4 = Wow! That almost tripled his monthly salary which was never forthcoming. He could get on with this and may be later extending the lesson to twice a week…
Teacher Lemp Lemp taught and taught and taught with such vigor and patience, going over every section again and again until the pupils were satisfied. It’s working. It really was working. But Teacher Lemp Lemp had to ensure continuity.
At the end of the lesson he said: “I’m, impressed. It shows that you really want to learn. And to make sure your parents’ monies don’t go in vain, I assure you that nobody will fail my subjects! None of you!”