After he had greeted El and other neighbors, he had a breakfast of pap and beans cake before we stepped out toward the college about few minutes to nine. Dele did not talk much on our way. I did not have anything to say either. We went past a place called the heaven of the king of Benin. I saw that Dele looked at the place where a mould of about five feet permanently seated on the spot. After that, we went past the prison, the only one in the town, and then we walked past St. John’s Primary School where I did the last repetition of the elementary final class.
“I hope the principal would be home for us to see him.” he said, and immediately added, “do you know we are going to see the principal, but he does not know we are coming, because we don’t have any appointment with him?” Dele noted as we walked through the blocks before the school gate and school staff residences on both side of the road. I did not have any reply.
The thought in my mind was all about us walking out of the principal’s office with my admission concluded.
We went past the college gate. There was nothing new to me here. Except the unusual absent of the gateman that left the gate unmanned that morning. The same might have been applicable to Dele. It was his former school, and I had been around there just like any other student who came in for the five year secondary school education or those who came in for the two year higher school certificate. We walked past the long line of beautiful hibiscus plants set to the right and left side of the road toward a round-about in front of a story building that was the assembly hall, administrative offices and part dormitory.
Dele asked, “where do we go: to the principal’s house or his office?” After a pause, he added, “It will make sense for us to go to the house. He may surely not be in the office at this hour on a Saturday.”
Thus, rather than walk toward the entrance of the office to our right, we turned left and continued our walk past a stretch of garden like section- an area covered with shrubs leading to the principal’s house, amidst a forest and a path covered with leafy tree branches. A little ahead of us sat the stone house that was the residence, quietly alone amidst leafy shrubs. As we pushed toward the entrance of the building at the back of the house, a woman came out and greeted us.
We knew and recognized her as the principal’s wife. She may not have recognized me. Nonetheless, she welcomed us with a wry smile, which gave me a clue that she recognized Dele, who immediately requested to see the principal and she let us in. She led us into a small waiting room while she climbed up the stairs. We sat there in the waiting room speechless, hoping the principal would come down any moment.
With the woman away upstairs after she let’s into the house, I overcame the first fear that we were not told that the principal was unavailable. As we sat waiting, a thought came up in my mind about the principal coming down to tell us the class had been filled, case closed, and there was nothing he could do to help. I was in a state of trepidation. “What would I have to do again if this attempt fails?” I asked self consciously and the sound of footsteps came on the stairs. He was the principal.
Dressed in a piece of colored flowery robe and a pair of glasses, the man appeared with unassuming smile, and stretched forth his hand to Dele for a handshake. Dele was now on his feet with me on his side like a minion. The principal gestured for us to sit down after exchanging of pleasantries.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the principal asked, and looked at me more than he looked at Dele. He must have sensed our mission.
“My younger brother passed the entrance examination here, but he wasn’t short listed for admission after the interview.” Dele remarked.
The principal turned to me. “Are you sure that you passed the entrance examination?”
“Yes. I did.”
The principal looked into my eyes and was silent. When he talked he said, “There must be a reason you were not listed for admission. And that I have to find out. Since I don’t have the files in the house, we have to go the office.” He turned to Dele, “You have to give me few minutes to dress up, so that we will all go to the office where I have the files.”
I felt a bump of joy in my heart. But I still felt I needed to wait, and see the admission process concluded before bursting into a song of joy. While we waited for the Principal to come down from upstairs for us to go to his office, I began to have a feeling of songs like some of the songs we sang in the primary school. Dele did not know what was in my mind. There was a magazine in his hand in which his attention was glued.
The principal came down and led the way out of the house; led us through the same path we came into the house, through the shrubs and unlike when we were came in, I could hear the sound of birds singing inaudibly. I felt that an end was about to attend the mystery that surrounded my high school admission.
We arrived in the principal’s office. He brought some files from a rack, a little above his head, put them on the desk and began to flip through one after another. He traced my name and said, “Yes, you passed.” And he asked simultaneously, “But why were you not short listed?” his eyes still fixed on the files. All of a sudden, he looked up, looked into Dele’s eyes, and looked at me and asked...“Dele, who will pay his fees?”
“Yes. I will. It is why I am here with him.” Dele answered.
“He is now admitted.” the principal intoned. “Are you paying the deposit now or you want to pay the deposit and the fees together?” the principal asked and the smile ceased.
“I will pay the deposit now and send the school fees later.” Dele responded and he immediately put his hand in his pocket, brought out some money and handed them over to the principal for a deposit to register my admission. He thanked the principal for his gesture.
We left the principal’s office certain of my admission into a high school. Dele was openly grateful to the principal, and he reminded me on our out for me to follow up the process as demanded by the principal. He said that the most important aspect of the admission procedure had been accomplished.
I was greatly relieved.
We walked the stairs from the administrative building to the same road we had taken when we came about two hours or so earlier, toward the gate. We made our way back to the house like triumphant duo. I certainly felt triumphant. It was a high school education at last. If Dele had not intervened, who would have come to my aid? Would passing the entrance examinations not have been the end of my education odyssey, like the case millions of other children who had missed the opportunity of high school education- a bridge to a higher level of education- all for reason of poverty or inability of their parents to show a prove of ability to pay their fees?
Is the society not unwittingly encouraging segregation among children; some children of the rich, some children of the poor, and whatever becomes a child’s future depends upon the status of the parents? The answer to the question is unambiguous; children whose parents had money, even when they did not pass entrance examinations were certain to be given places in schools as long as their parents could tap their connection.