“Cudjoe! Cudjoe! Wake up!” I heard the voice from far away. Then I felt my body rising and my feet planted to the ground. Half asleep I was marched to the bathroom. Still groggy I was placed on the toilet seat. I did my thing. Next up the bath. Now that got me wide awake. I blinked as my body was washed down. “Today I don’t have a sore anywhere.” Bath over I was shunted back to the bathroom and mama was waiting for me. Pomade slathered and school shorts worn. My breakfast singlet was on in case I soiled myself.
I hurried back to the hall and waited. Mama finished up and set the table for me. Oats! Bleh. I don’t like oats because if you don’t eat it fast it becomes runny and cold. Daddy was done dressing for work and swiftly he was out of sight. I looked out the window. The sun was just rising.
It never failed to confuse me; in my English textbook little boys and girls woke up when the sun rose and always when the cock crowed. Daddy always woke me up while it was still dark, rarely ever being gentle. I frowned. Mama yelled at me. “Hurry up and finish eating.” I dug in.
A few moments later I was hopping down the stairs out the front door. Joe and co were just around the corner. We quickly walked the way to school. Daniel broke it first. “Cudjoe did you learn the times table?” My expression changed. “Ms. Sowah said today we will do mental.” The others nodded in approval. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s be saying it.” As we turned down the street to the toy store the refrain could be heard. “Two-One-Two! Two-Two-Four! Two-Three-Six!” by the time we reached the store we were on the six times table. After six we stopped because seven was hard. If only we knew what lay in store for us.
We raced across the zebra crossing in front of the school. We greeted the watchman who let us in. His nickname was xylophone because rumours had it he couldn’t spell xylophone. We clambered up the stairs to class three. No one else in the class had come. I fingered the five hundred coin in my pocket. “Let’s go and buy chips eh.” Roland suggested. I shook my head. He always brought thousand to school. He could buy anything he wanted before school started, first break and second break.
Daniel and Joe were already looking through their bags. It was time for races. I fished around my bag. Daniel had found his races car by then. It was a beauty. Blue and silver and with all four tyres still intact. I emptied my bag. Nothing! I sat on my table. Mama must have taken it out. I could only sit and watch as they ran around the classroom with their cars. The girls started coming into the class. Awurakua and her friends. They were loud and could beat you if you got into trouble with them.
Bored I leaned closer as they sat a few chairs away from me. They were saying the times table. And it wasn’t the six times table, it was nine! Nine times table! Amazed I shouted at them. “Ms. Sowah hasn’t taught us that one. Why are you learning it?” Dorcas, a tall girl (tallest in the class actually) looked directly at me. “Be there and be saying Ms. Sowah hasn’t taught us. She will beat you if you can’t say it.” The girls chimed in. There was something unpleasant about the way they sounded.
I looked at my friends busy with their cars. I sat with the girls and listened. A few minutes later the bell rang for assembly. We gathered round the front of the school. Assembly was long. I looked over at the girls standing in front of us. They were smiling. I turned around to look at my friends and the rest of the boys. They were talking about a film one of them had seen earlier.
Assembly ended and we walked back to class. I got to my seat and sat down. I took out my exercise book with the times table at the back. I looked beyond the six times table. I might as well have been watching a Chinese film.
Ms. Sowah walked into the class. She was fair and tall and hardly ever smiled. I didn’t like her. I remember the first time she taught us English. She told us that the baby duck is called a cygnet. I had read a book titled The Ugly Duckling so I knew that a baby duck is called a duckling. She called me to the front of the class and beat me. There was another time during dictation when I had written down all the words while we were reading the passage. While going around during dictation I was not writing. She beat me again. It was like I was always upsetting her. I looked at her and frowned. The class rose and chorused. “Good Morning madam.” We went through the greeting. She took a piece of chalk and wrote the dreaded word on the blackboard. Mental.
A collective hush went across the back of the classroom when the chalk stopped moving. I turned over to look at Ebo in the next row. His ears were wiggling. His shorts were wet from wee weeing on himself and he looked frightened. “Today,” Ms. Sowah announced. “We are starting the times table from six times table.” She picked up her cane from the cupboard. A lump formed in my throat.
We stumbled through the six, seven, eight and nine times table. Ms. Sowah paced up and down the rows. “Row one!” she barked. “Seven times table.” I was in row three. I pulled my exercise book out again. She caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and quickly walked up to me. “Cudjoe!” she was smiling. I rose and looked her in the eye. “Say the nine times table.” There was an ugly look in her eyes. I looked up at the cane hovering over my head and gulped.
I began. “Nine- One…”
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