At any given day in my house an invisible visitor would find my family congregated in the living room or in my parents’ bedroom, everybody bent over, staring into a book, either collectively or in pairs of two. Academic excellence demanded by my parents was achieved in my little sister Tolulope; for me, however, it remained elusive. After my stint in elementary school topping the class and carting home most of the prizes during the Prize giving ceremonies, I just stopped caring. I had incomplete notes and preferred encyclopedias to school work.
At the end of my first term in secondary school, I was the 14th out of 30 students in my class. My parents were gutted. I had let play into my life and was straying from their dreams of me becoming a surgeon. My parents dedicated every moment to study with me. In the market, in the car on the way to church, everywhere. Their efforts were rewarded in the coming school terms. I was 8th, then 4th and I finally settled in 5th. 1st was unattainable in my eyes. Faith Seni-Daniels colonized it and nobody bothered trying for it.
In my third year in high school, I was to take the JSCEs. This exam determined promotion to Senior Secondary school and was used to subtly classify students (science or arts class). The students that went to science class were the smartest, the art students were slightly smarter and the commercial class students were worthless. My school held a mock exam during first term preparation for the exams in June.
The statement arrows started flying back and forth over my head.
“You should not baby Tosin. He is an adult now and he should know how to pick up his books by himself.”
“We should look through his work to see where he might need help.” My mother would reply, speaking like I wasn’t even in the room. The tug of war between the two exam parent philosophy schools of thought continued until eventually my mother stopped hovering, giving me creative freedom that term. Occasionally she would remind me to pick up my books, but that was as far as she would go.
Result day in my school was different. All parents were invited to a meeting with the school and all the results were hand delivered to parents after the meeting. That morning, I was deliberately sluggish as I had feared the worst. I was certain I had failed but was unsure as to what extent. The drive to school was the longest twenty-five minutes of my life. I sat in the car and must have dozed off at least five times in the thirty minutes I had to wait for my mom to return from the results briefing meeting. Finally, I saw her emerge from the gate and walk towards the car. Anger was written all over her face. She entered the car and threw the report paper towards me.
The report card read 31 placed in a huge circle just at the top. 31st out of 41 students. In junior class two, the last class in my year was scrapped and was divided into three. My class had eleven new students while the other two; Beta and Gamma class had ten. I tried to mutter the words “I’m sorry” but nothing came out. Despite the AC in the car being on full blast, I felt hot. Little beads of fear in the form of sweat developed on my forehead and chin.
The drive back home was nerve wrecking. I talked, I cried, I made promises. Mom just kept smiling and occasionally laughing. She didn’t drive home directly instead she took me to a panel beaters workshop and informed him that I would become his apprentice after my JSCE exams. I cried and begged. She said nothing to me. That night at the dining table, she informed my dad and he agreed with her. For the weeks until my exams, my parents didn’t study with me. If I didn’t want to end up being a panel beater apprentice, I would have to wrestle my destiny out of the welder’s cold hands myself.
A few months after the JSCE trials of fire (sorry, exams), results were released and in usual fashion, parents invited to a meeting with the school. After waiting in the car for thirty minutes, mom showed up walking to the car the same way she did a few months before; anger plastered on her face. She entered the car and flung the envelope at me.
The result read 9A’s, 2C’s, 2P’s.
I had passed.
I was confused. Why was her face straight? She burst out laughing. My dad caught on too and started laughing too.
I had really earned my freedom to study and remain in school.
I had finally come of academic age.