I came across this photo and it was a poignant reminder of my most dreadful childhood memories. Beyond the man in the photo, I saw my P.5 mathematics teacher who I’ll call Opit in this piece, a dark lanky grump who epitomized my early definition of terror and a perpetual guest star in my nightmares. I was 9, in arguably the best primary school at the time. Not only in the village, but the entire Ntenjeru County, and it happened to be right opposite our home. Established in 1958 as a single sex school, it later changed to become a mixed school in the 80s but the nuns who headed it selfishly deiced that the school name would stay as Kayunga Girls Primary School; a decision that was clearly inconsiderate to all the boys who would forever be condemned to have a P.L.E certificate stained with a girl’s school name on it (Like my eldest brother).
Sorry, I digress.
I wasn’t a stupid child, but math and I didn’t really gel the time, and I want to blame it on the teacher. Master Opit was an abysmal teacher and, apparently, a terrible husband who wasn’t taking good care of his family business. We may have been young, but half the school had heard the rumor of when the S.S.T teacher—who also doubled as the music teacher—was allegedly caught doing “totito” with Opit’s wife in the music room. Thinking of it now, this may have been the source, or a big contributing factor to this man’s bitterness, this man hated the pupils so much you would think he didn’t have children of his own.
Math was always the worst done subject in class, and Master Opit was determined to teach it the only way he knew how; ‘from the bottom up’ and no one was safe, not even the best performing pupil if they didn’t score 100%.The general rule was; everyone would receive a number of strokes inversely proportionate to their percentage score. This meant if you were so unfortunate as to score 83% in his exam, you would receive 17 lashings of his cane. On other hand, those of us who scored 17% pleaded with our parents to change schools, but to no avail.
Going one number at a time, Master Opit tortured us systematically. It didn’t matter if we revised the paper over a week’s period or more, but for every number he finished, he called those who failed it to the front of the class for their spanking in all positions imaginable. Lying down, hands against the wall, feet raised against the wall, or touching your toes. When that got boring for him, he would ask us to stand on our tables, then he would move around the classroom canning our calves, or simply ask us to stretch out your hands and he went for the palms.
During the weeks of tribulation, half the class had visible blisters on their legs and palms, but the school administration didn’t care anymore than my own mother who took me and my brother to Master Opit’s wife–who happened to be the science teacher–for coaching. My butt hurt so much I occasionally had to balance on my hipbones interchangeably like a kid planning to stealthily loosen his sphincter muscles for relief in class.
In my third term, before my mother finally decided to transfer us to an even worse boarding school, I remember kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, like my mother taught me how to, and making a simple and yet earnest prayer; “Hail Mary Mother of God, please double my math marks in these coming Mukono District Examination Board Exams and save me from getting a 9.” The Virgin never disappointed, I scored 80s and 90s in all the other subjects, and a whopping 30% in mathematics, that pass 8 was all I needed.
Even as I grew older, I made a promise to myself that I would never forgive Opit for traumatizing my childhood. To this day, I occasionally meet him whenever I go back to the village, he hasn’t aged a bit, and still looks as mean as he did 17 years ago. On my university graduation, I specifically asked my mother not to invite him for my party. I am not sure he noticed, or even cared, but whenever he rides his motorcycle past home and I catch him glancing in my direction, I return a stern look that snarls, “I remember what you did to me *ucker, and I am taking this beef to my grave.”