“Good morning sir, I am Francis from the south. I have been posted here to teach,” I said.
“That’s great. You’re welcome young man,” said Mr. Alidu Tanko, the headmaster of the only basic school in the village. I handed my appointment letter over to him to confirm my claim. I had just been posted to a remote village in the North to take up a teaching appointment as a primary school teacher. Having spent my entire life in the south, getting posted to the northern part of the country was an opportunity to experience a different life elsewhere.
After almost a twelve-hour journey, I was very exhausted because I arrived late in the evening. Upon arrival, my presence caught the attention of some children who were playing.
Some of them came closer to help me carry my load without bothering to ask me where I was going to. The village mainly comprised of thatch houses. Most of the houses were chains of round single structures joined together by short walls to form compound houses. Such houses had single rooms ranging between five and eight and occupied by large families.
One fascinating thing about the village was their love for tree planting. Though the road that passed through the village was dusty, trees were planted alongside it. Aside from that, every house I saw had at least a tree planted in the middle. I told the children where I was heading to and they didn’t hesitate to show me as they were happy to assist me in carrying my load.
When I arrived at the headmaster’s house, I thanked them and wanted to offer them a few coins but before I could put my hand inside my pockets, they had all left in a haste to continue with what they were doing. The headmaster took me to a single room that had already been prepared prior to my arrival. According to him, that room was being occupied by a teacher who had been transferred nine months earlier.
The next morning, he took me to the house of the richest and influential man in the village. He was Baba Sakara. He commanded a lot of respect in the village aside from his wealth. He had solely financed the building of a new 6 unit classroom block with modern materials. The old school building was near collapsing and some parents had withdrawn their children to be in the house for fear of unexpected disaster. The Headmaster then made a passionate appeal for assistance from Baba Sakara. The rich man never relented in his effort to assist.
With over fifty farms, he was the major employer in the village. However, he never spared those who wronged him and had often confiscated properties of those who defaulted in paying loans they took from him. He was famous throughout the village and beyond. He was a tall man of about fifty-eight years with a wrinkled face
After the introduction, Baba Sakara thanked me for accepting to teach in a rural school and encouraged me to work hard and contribute to the development of education in the village
“I hope he’s not going to be like the other one who has Left “, Baba Sakara inquired sarcastically.
“No I am not sure.” the headmaster responded with giggles.
On our way back to the school, I asked the headmaster what Baba meant by his comment but he asked me to disregard it since that man could be humorous at certain times.
I reported for duty. On my first day, I was introduced to the teachers and later the students during the morning assembly. The smiles alone on the faces of the students made me feel at ease.
“At least I am home.” I murmured to myself. The first week of lessons was a bit hectic as language barrier was the main challenge. Most of the children could not express themselves in English language but understood when it was spoken. That was because they were used to speaking their mother tongue. Their reading ability was on the average as some tried to pronounce words correctly. I was determined to do my best for the students in my class (primary six) to at least write half a page about themselves before the term ended.
Firstly, I had to create a rapport with the forty-eight students for them to approach me easily when they had a problem. I also devised strategies that would make lessons more enjoyable to the children within the first week of my duty.
It’s Friday and learning activities were unlike the first four days of the working days because the children were usually allowed to engage in games. Throughout my engagement with the class to which I was assigned, I had had sharp eye contact with one of the students that sat at the far end corner of the class. She was about fifteen years old, fair in complexion with beautiful natural hair. Her whitish eyes gave her a radiant look. She was always moody in class and one of the few students that never answered questions.
While the whole class went out for break, she would be there alone with her head on the table. I observed her from my second day in class and she seemed new to me. However, since I could not capture the faces of all pupils, I consoled myself that with time, I would be familiar with them. At exactly 1pm, the students went out for games leaving the poor girl all alone in class. I called her to find out what was wrong with her but refused to give me an answer.
She only stood and looked at my face like she didn’t know how to talk. I tried hard to make her talk to me but it was all in vain. As I continued talking, she blinked her eyes rapidly and what followed were tears. I asked her to go back and sit down. I decided to call her back when she got a grip of herself. Still overwhelmed by her behavior, I dashed out of the class for the head master’s office to alert him on what I had just discovered and possibly get some information about the girl.
“Really! What’s her name?” he asked after I told him.
“She refused to talk to me,” I replied.
He looked puzzled at that and said he did not know the student I was talking of and my description of her didn’t match with the pictures that came to mind.
“But sir, she is a student here,” I stated.
“In that case, call her for me,” he ordered.
I went to the class but she wasn’t there. Probably, she might have gone out for break I thought. As one of the students passed in front of my class, I gave him the description of the girl to call for me but he also came back with a different girl that looked like the one I had had an encounter with some minutes ago. I assured myself that since we were all in the school, she would definitely be in class on Monday and I would find her.
At 2pm, the bell chimed for closing. Over two hundred students rushed to the assembly grounds to form their various lines. They looked cheerful for it was the last day of the week. As I stood on the verandah overlooking the crowded students, I craned my neck and saw the strange girl in the line. I felt as ease seeing her because after school was going to be the ideal time to talk to her. Much to my disappointment, when the students were dismissed, she was missing from the crowd. I got down to look for her but it proved futile.
The sunlight was gradually paving way for the lurking darkness to take over the village. It was getting to half-past four o’clock and children in the community were playing. Having taken a siesta for over an hour, I decided to step out for a stroll to acquaint myself with the environment. The stroll took me to a very serene part of the village–a riverside. It was a nice looking area that was on the outskirts of the village. The river had nicely planted trees alongside it with blossoming flowers falling inside the running river. The sound of the running river was different from the one I had been seeing in movies.
One strange thing was that my eyes never met anyone either on his or her way to the riverside or coming from the river with buckets or pots of water. Getting closer to the riverside, I heard a pleasant song being sang by a melodious voice. The voice was very silky and pleasant to the ears. I hurriedly moved some steps closer and saw a teenage girl just by the riverside. Her back was facing the direction from where I was approaching. As she sang, she kept swinging her legs in the river. I finally got closer to her.
“Hello!” I greeted. The person turned and to my surprise, it was my student in class six who had refused to talk to me earlier that day in school. She was with all smiles. She had a pot filled with water beside her. She was in a dirty old oversize long dress.
With my eyebrows raised, I asked “So you can talk?”
Still beaming, she replied, “Yes sir.”
“Then why did you refuse to talk to me early on in School?” I probed.
“Forgive me sir, I did not know whom to trust. The whole world has let me down. So telling you, especially a stranger my problem was not a good idea,” she responded in a soft voice. I got shocked by her answers and concluded that she could be very intelligent.
“So what’s your name and what are you doing here all alone?” I asked further and sat beside her. She turned and looked at me for a while and responded, “my name is Asibi and this is my home.”
“Home! How can you say this is your home while there is not even a single building here!” I exclaimed and looked around. I found it hard to understand her. “So where are your parents?” I asked curiously.
“In my part of the world, I have no family–no parents, no siblings or aunties, and uncles,” she responded in a very sad tone.
Because I had the premonition that she might have a genuine problem, I began to understand her utterances from the proverbial point of view. I then asked her to tell me more about her so that I would know how best I could be of assistance to her. In an extremely sorrowful face, she began:
“I lived in the next five villages far from here with my parents. Despite being poor, we were a very happy family. Peasant farming was our major work. My six brothers and I were always on the farm helping our parents with the farm work. I was nine years then. One season, there was a severe drought and all our crops began to wither. The whole family was at the mercy of hunger. As a result, my elder brother, who was then seventeen years old, died of starvation so my father traveled from our village to seek assistance from the richest man in this village.”
“My father took a loan from him in order to buy food to feed the family. It was agreed that should my father failed to pay the money on time, the rich man would come and take me to live with him forever. Unfortunately, my father couldn’t repay the money. One night, the rich man appeared with four heavily built men and they took me away despite my mother’s tears. My brothers were too young and weak to resist as my father stood there helpless with his arms on his head. The rich man has three wives and ten children. In order to conceal his dealings, he told his best friend, wives, children, and others in the village that I was his late distant cousin’s daughter whom he had adopted.”
“He also decided to put me in school and told me secretly that he was going to marry me soon and relocate me to a different location when I turn 18 years. That meant I wouldn’t complete school. In order to ensure that I kept a tight lip on all the arrangements he made with my father and his future plans, he brought me by this riverside and made me swear an oath that I would never divulge any information to a third party or attempt to cross this particular river in attempt to run away because the only way to get to the other villages is to cross this river.”
“Since then, I have never made that attempt to cross the river for fear of drowning. In the house, I am treated like an outcast. All his three wives don’t like me. His children mock me. They starve me constantly. The kitchen is where I sleep. I am surrendered by hatred, pain, and anguish. One of the rich man’s son fell ill and nearly died. I was blamed. The second wife, whose son got ill, sent the news around the village that I had bewitched her son. As a result, my mates and almost the whole school don’t want to get closer to me. Since then, I have been in a lonely world. This riverside is where I derive my joy and happiness.”
After she had narrated her ordeal, I felt pity for her. All that she told me were corroborated by the marks of torture I discovered on her body. My affection for her grew in leaps and bounds. I asked her to allow me to talk to the headmaster but she declined and begged me not to tell anyone because the headmaster was the best friend of Baba Sakara and could not be trusted. I became confused because on one hand, I wanted to help her and on the other hand, I would have to bear the brunt of Baba Sakara’s anger.
“So what do you want me to do for you?” I asked with a sad look.
“I want you to kindly go to my village. It’s far from here. It’s called Vimu. It is the last of the five villages that follow this village. When you get there, ask of Papa Ayamga,” she requested.
The task was too heavy for me as I stood there to deliberate on that silently. I wanted to give up and save myself of all the troubles but the young girl read my mind quickly and held my knees pleading with tears dripping from the corner of her eyes. Ultimately, I agreed to help her the best way I could because all she needed was to see her parents. She once again pleaded with me not to let anyone know about my meeting with her which I obliged.
Darkness had almost approached after spending nearly two hours talking. I requested to take her home but refused on the grounds that people would see us and she could be in trouble. She rather asked me to go and she would follow soon. Though worried and reluctant, I left. When I arrived home, the headmaster, whose wife had prepared and served my food was already looking for me. I told her where I had been and she raised her eyebrows telling me it was forbidden to be at the riverside that day. In shock, I wanted to tell her about the girl I saw but quickly withheld that information. That night, I kept thinking about the girl and the circumstances under which she went and lived with Baba Sakara. I could not sleep well as I was thinking of my journey to her village.
I got up early Saturday morning and lied to the headmaster that I was going to the district capital after saying a short prayer. Since Vimu was not accessible by road, I had to contend with the overgrown bushes along the way. Luckily, I met some farmers who were either coming from the other villages to farm near the village where I taught or moving from my village to the surrounding villages. With assistance from the people I met on the way, I got to the village around 3pm.
Before my arrival, I had to rest at certain periods throughout the journey. Finally, I got to the village and was able to locate the family of Asibi. Her father, Papa Ayamga, looked pale and worn out while her mother’s collarbone protruded outwards. I narrated all that had transpired between their daughter, Asibi and I. Her mother broke down in tears while Papa Ayamga buried his chin in his palm. They lived in a two-room thatched house and a small kitchen.
Having told them everything, I asked to leave but they restrained me from doing so with the reason that night would fall on the way and it could be dangerous. Upon further persuation, I obliged to pass the night in their house. I spent the night with the children in their room.
We got up early and set off. We arrived back at my village in the afternoon. But before that, I had decided to directly involve myself in the whole issue and came up with an idea for a negotiation so that Asibi could be released and the loan paid by installment though I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park for me. I asked Asibi’s parents to wait for me at the Junction leading to the house of Baba Sakara while I called the headmaster into the matter.
Initially, he was confused when I told him of Asibis parents’ presence and the idea of discussing Asibi.
“How come you know Asibi? That girl has been missing for weeks now.” the headmaster expressed shock.
“Maybe she’s been found because I spoke to her yesterday. She was the one I came to your office to complain about.” I said. “And Baba Sakara didn’t tell me that Asibi had been found? ” the headmaster wondered. He entered his room and came back. We joined Asibi’s parents who were then waiting for me. I introduced them to the headmaster who was still wondering how I managed to know them.
We arrived at Baba Sakara’s house shortly. He was comfortably resting in his lazy chair. As soon as he saw Asibi’s parents, I noticed the shock and panic on his face. We were offered a seat and throughout, Baba Sakara was still feeling uncomfortable. He called his three wives to join the meeting. Suddenly, Asibi’s mother asked of her daughter. Her request brought panic to the three wives as well as Baba Sakara.
“Baba, when was Asibi found?” the headmaster asked but Baba could not answer. I then went ahead and told them about my encounter with Asibi in school and later at the riverside and how she ended up in the house of Baba Sakara. At the end of my narration, Baba Sakara exchanged fearful look with his three wives. At that moment, Asibi’s parents, the headmaster, and I were completely at sea. All of a sudden, the second wife got up from her chair and started behaving abnormally.
She removed her headscarf and began to undress saying, “I will confess, I will confess. I hit her head with a wood and she died.”
Her confession brought clamor in the house. She continued that after the girl fell down and died with blood oozing from her nostrils. The first and the third wife saw it and together told their husband. The four decided to keep it to themselves as they took the lifeless body and buried it near the riverside about three three weeks ago.
Out of the blue, I found myself falling from the chair on which I sat after realizing that I had had an encounter with a ghost. Next, I found myself in a traditional shrine belonging to the priest in the village. By my side were the headmaster and some of the teachers. I had been unconscious for three days and the priest used all his resources to make me regain my life. The Headmaster told me how the youth in the village had stormed Baba Sakara’s house with rage upon hearing the unfortunate incident.
They set his house ablaze and handed him and his three wives over to the police. Asibi’s corpse was exhumed and taken to Vimu to be reburied. Her parents had left a message that they would come to see me later. The Headmaster praised my bravery and told me that he was not aware of what Baba his best friend was doing in secret. He went ahead and narrated to me how the teacher whom I had replaced ended up being transferred to a different village after she had tried to help Asibi. That was the reason why Baba Sakara asked whether I was not like “the first one”
I resumed school the following day. At assembly, all eyes were on me because the news of my encounter with the ghost of Asibi had spread like wildfire. I stood there still wondering how Asibi chose to use me instead of any other person. That day, while resting after the children had gone for break, I fell into a deep trance. I saw Asibi’s apparition in front of me expressing her appreciation for what I had done for her and assuring me that I would be greatly rewarded someday.
I tried to open my mouth to talk but realized it was sealed. I watched her sheepishly as she bade me farewell with a gentle wave. She entered a bush nearby and disappeared. I woke up suddenly and there was nobody in the class.
The following year, I won the national best teacher award and dedicated it to the memory of Asibi for having the courage to live through hard times and donated part of the cash prize to her parents.