However, I proceeded to the final class based on my class teacher’s advise that he did not see any need wasting a year if, while I was repeating the fifth class, my parents luckily found the means to pay my fees in the high school. But he said if after my final year, my parents still could not find the means to pay my fees, I might then decide repeat the final class, as a measure to allow them look for money that would enable them pay my way to a high school. There was no talk about the possibility of scholarship program or government assistance.
While Laisi who had changed his name to Tunde was proceeding to the second year in high school, I was supposed to be stepping into high school, but I could not due to financial reasons. I was compelled to repeat the final class in the elementary school with a hope that the following year would favor my high school prospects. Musa thought and hoped along with me. I knew that if he had the money, he would have asked me to seek high school admission. I knew he was in a more pathetic state of mind over my plight, but he was helpless.
The only alternative solution he had was for me to be apprenticed to learn a trade, and which I had rejected. It was not an easy matter for a son to turn down a father’s instruction. It will naturally be seen as disrespect to a father. But Musa knew that turning down his decision was not intentionally an act of disrespect, but a drive to embrace what in the ultimate was the best option for my future and that of the household. He was bothered, just like me that the hope for high school admission did not work out the following year either.
However, Tunde moved into the third year in the high school. While he was in his third year, I wrote a late entrance examination at Ife Anglican Grammar-the school he attended, and I passed. Tunde was happy. He wanted me to come to school as quickly as possible. But there was no money to pay my fees. The school did not ask for just a deposit, but the payment of the entire term fees. Resultantly, I stayed away from high school for another year. After a second year of repeating the final class in the elementary school in the same school, I moved to another school for a third year in the final class. I was determined to wait until God knows when money would be available for me to go to school.
I saw my eldest brother went through school. My immediate elder brother was in school. I had been acculturated to school life by mixing with students whom my life had been entwined in the school where Musa worked. I played soccer with them after school hours and watch other children in their school activities, because I was mostly with Musa at work on weekends. I had started dreaming about seeing myself in the same uniform and a student like them. I was determined nothing was going to stand between me and the realization of that dream.
Having already made up my mind about the direction of my future, my eldest brother’s instruction to my immediate elder brother to seek a high school admission only reinforced my resolve, that one day the family would decide about me against learning a trade. I belong to the family. I did not drop from the sky, and my future ought to be taken care of. I did not know there was a government with overall control over the affairs of our lives.
After my third year of repeating the final class in the elementary school, after I had refused to be apprenticed to learn bicycle repairing, Musa got me a job in a bookshop, where the owner doubled as wrist watch and clock repairer, in a bungalow adjacent to the Barclays Bank building near the palace. But I told Musa that I was not going there to learn any repair work. I would only assist in the bookshop business. I demonstrated in everyway I could that I was not getting involved in any undertaking that could sentence me to eternal poverty or irrelevance in the society.
I refused to accept the parlance that when food had been taken out of poverty situation that poverty had been eliminated. I wanted my stomach filled with food the same way I wanted my head filled with knowledge. I thought veritably that there must be some sense in the sudden interest that every household seemed to have developed at sending their children to school, and that there must be a reason why the peasant thought he would not wish his child to wear the same shoes like him; shoes unlike the one worn by the elites that does not make a remarkable sound.
While I was in the Independence Bookshop employment , owned and operated by a light complexioned man named Akofe, during which time he also used me for delivery of repaired watches and clocks to their owners' homes, I wrote the entrance examinations in two notable schools in the town, and I passed both examinations.
The first school was Saint John’s Grammar School-a catholic church owned, and the other was Oduduwa College- the oldest high school in the town, where the notables in the town had passed through, had their children, attended by my eldest brother and where Musa worked.
I was pushing to leave the bookshop work, go to school, and return to buy my own books from the bookshop the same way I saw other children did and accompanied by their parents.
I attended interview in both schools. And the only obstacle that I had with the panels of interviewers, was about who would pay my school fees. In both schools, I said the truth about my father and his income. I told them he worked in a college as a laundry man, paid every month based on the number of items he laundered; all our food came from the farm, which meant we were self sufficient for them to see we would have money to pay fees.
I saw that the gestures from the interviewers was not encouraging, and that my inability to show enough prove about my father’s financial capability to pay my fees might be my waterloo; and quickly I added that I had a brother who had completed his high school, worked in a bank and hoped he would be of help in the payment of my school fees if my father failed. A safety net I thought. They were looking for those who had money to pay and not otherwise.
My hope was in the school where my father was a laundry man, because one of the interviewers was a wife to Musa’s customer, a secretary in the king’s palace, and who had helped Musa secured the school’s employment, so he could enroll his first son there, and have his fees deducted at source from his salary. I had a wrong optimism. None of the schools listed me for admission, because they did not get satisfactory answer about the source of money for my school fees.
It was a sad development that resulted in my abandoning the work in the bookshop. I thought about what was happening to my life and waht was I going to do about it. I felt disillusioned. The wage from the bookshop job d id not amount to much. It could only fetch a pant in a month . Alt hou g h I thou ght it was better than going into bicycle repairing or to follow Musa to do his laundry or work in the farm. The laundry and work in the farm were hard labor. I detested both. If I had my way then, the means to take care of the household, I would not have hesitated to pull Musa out of both. It was so much work with little return. I reasoned it was why more and more farmers had abandoned the farm in large numbers because access to mechanized farming was still rare.
Leaving the bookshop means simply giving Musa an excuse to ask me to join his laundry and farm work. Just like I felt bike repairing did not have the challenge a man pursuing a rosy future must ever contemplate.
As a last resort, I thought it was better to join Musa in his laundry and farm work as a ploy to keep him seeing me around him all the time, and a way to remind him about my need for school admission.
I felt good that I passed the entrance examinations to the two schools. If I had not, it would have been a lifetime of shame for me among my friends, and an excuse for Musa to force me to learn a trade. He would simply have said I was not brilliant enough to go to school.
This was frustrating to my young mind. At my age, I was not supposed to be at work but school. There was no where for me to take my protest. I was already sixteen. Happily, because I stopped work in the bookshop, Musa did not leave me to stay at home, doing nothing. He made me to join him in his laundry work to the extent that most of the students thought I had myself turned into a laundry man.
I felt ashamed for students to see me with bundle of wet clothes on my head coming from the fish pond, where the washing was done or standing in the open behind one of the dorms arranging wet clothes on lines, with both male and female students watching me, while they go to the dining. I tried all I could to avoid it to no
avail. There was nothing I could do about it. And like a stroke of more shame coming my way, the work with Musa in the college, which I thought would be brief soon turned into what seemed like a permanent affair, when Musa suddenly took ill with a swollen right foot, cut off from work and needed someone to take his place at work for him to continue to have income to take care of his home.
The mantle to keep Musa’s work fell on me because I was not in school or in any employment. My decision to leave the bookshop became a blessing in disguise. I took over Musa’s role at work.
Every Sunday morning I went to the dormitories; boys’ dormitories first in the order of nearness to the laundry building, and would finish up with the girls’ dormitory. It became compelling to go to the girls’ dormitory, where I had avoided so that the girls would not see me involving in the laundry work. I was forced much against my plan to be there for that period. I took over Musa’s bicycle, his sole mean of transportation and the Cadillac in the family. I often felt it was to take care of the bike that Musa wanted me to be a bike repairer. It became my lot to ride the bike to his customers’ homes around the town, collected what they had for laundry early in the mornings before they go to work.
There was a time I looked at the bike and I asked myself, “What is in this that I have to go and learn other than how to repair the tubes? Is this what Musa wanted me to learn to do for a living?” Without anyone to answer my questions, I turned my attention back to the work fate had placed in my hand at that moment.