On This Street, Part V

Did you miss Part IV? Read it here

*****

My flopped job search at Children’s Hope International dampened my spirit but a flicker of hope lingered. That’s why instead of going home after visiting CHI offices, I stopped by Town High School. 

I walked into the deputy head teacher’s office and told him I could teach English Language. “Are you a teacher?” he inquired. He had earlier welcomed me with a smile, lending me some reassurance. 

“Yes,” I replied, suppressing the nervousness in my voice.  

“That’s nice! How long have you been teaching?”  

I told him I was awaiting graduation. He laughed out loud at my response and for a minute I wondered if what I said was funny. A smile crept onto my lips and I was tempted to laugh with Mr. Deputy. When his forehead suddenly creased into fat folds of skin and his laughter disappeared as abruptly as it had come, I sat upright in my chair. I held my breath. 

It’s unfortunate you’ve not yet graduated, he finally said after what felt like a year of silence and staring.

I felt hope fall and crumble next to my dusty feet.  

“You see…” he continued, “If Ministry of Education officials find you in our classroom, they will arrest you and the head teacher.”

I suddenly felt guilty. Guilty for lying to Mr. Deputy that I was a teacher by profession. I cleared my voice to start apologizing when he cut in.

“My daughter, wait for your graduation. When you get your transcript, go register with the ministry, become a legally recognised teacher and come back. We’ll make you teach English Language.”

His tone had now become sympathetic, fatherly even. I felt worse for telling a lie.

I muttered my thank you and left Mr Deputy’s office in a hurry. In the distance, Derrick, who went to the same university with me, was coming out of a classroom. He had studied Agriculture and I Communications. We were both awaiting graduation.

I didn’t like the envy that engulfed me when I ran into my classmate Ian at CHI offices earlier and yet here was Derrick, another reminder of my bad luck at job hunting. I decided to do something quick so he wouldn’t see me. I made an abrupt U-turn to Mr. Deputy’s office.

“What did you leave behind?” he asked when I re-entered his office, his demeanor, that of a troubled and irritated man. It was clear I wasn’t needed in the office but I made a last attempt.

“Deputy, I can also do secretarial work,” I offered.

He got up from his chair and told me to stick to teaching since I was a professional teacher. He told me I had chances of growing in my career as a teacher up to the rank of head teacher or even commissioner in the Ministry of Education.

“Don’t be taken up by quick money because the future is brighter in classrooms,” he added.

Mr. Deputy said he knows of many young teachers who abandoned the classroom for well-paying jobs with humanitarian NGOs, but when war ended in northern Uganda, and those organisations closed shop, staff were laid off.  

“But they had made their money,” I said.

“Do you think they were saving money?” Mr. Deputy countered and added, “I was quarreling with my son yesterday. He works with one of those NGOs but drinks like a fish. He despises me and the teaching possession.”

His forehead had creased again, eyes bulging as he talked. 

“In my son’s world, cheap phones, cheap waragi and cheap houses belong to teachers. He forgets that I raised him on my cheap standards. My children are eating me up,” he confided in a reflective tone.

The room fell silent.

Mr. Deputy wiped off sweat that had beaded his face and neck. I felt hot and wondered how I could help this man. He was clearly troubled.

He looked out the window, his eyes fixed onto something invisible in the distance. I wanted to say a final goodbye but didn’t want to interrupt his mental journey.

After about three minutes, Mr. Deputy’s sat, suddenly elated.

“Do you know that you can teach in the village?” he said.

I frowned at him unconsciously.

“You see!” he uttered, slamming the table in the process. Papers flew off the desk to different parts of the room. “That’s the mentality I’m talking about. You young women from university are very difficult to deal with because you are proud. You want to stay only in town? There are no jobs for you in town,” he continued. 

I regretted my decision of stopping at the school but had to remain calm. Through the window, I could see that the compound was clear. 

“Deputy, thank you,” I said and started for the door.

He called me back and with a calm voice, said, “My daughter, was I rude to you?” I replied in the affirmative but added I should have been more receptive of his suggestion for a job opportunity in the village.

Mr. Deputy looked relieved after my response. He added that he was not a tough man by nature but added that his children who earned big money only cared about alcohol, which makes him worry about the welfare of every young person.

“With my meager resources, I educated all my nine children. I will retire next year but I think I have no future,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.

“I’m sure your children are now out of home. They can take care of themselves, so don’t worry,” I counseled.

“I would rejoice if they were out of home,” he lamented, before adding, “My girls produce children and return home. The boys sell my land and drink off the money. I’m not proud of myself,” he dubbed his eyes with a dull brown handkerchief before continuing pouring his heart out more. I looked around the office for drinking water to calm him down but saw none.

He directed me to the next room, and it’s there - in the staff room - that I bumped into Derrick.

 “Have you joined us?” Derrick inquired, after we’d exchanged pleasantries. I said no.

Derrick said he would have been surprised if I had joined the school. “Look round this room,” he said. There were seven men and two women who seem to be in their 40s.

“This school doesn’t hire young women,” he whispered, adding that he got the position of a physics teacher because the lady he competed against, though fully qualified, had a toddler.

Derrick went on to list reasons why young women were not hired by the school.  Women were emotional, absconded duty, always found reasons to leave school and all that that slowed down the completion of the syllabus, he said.

I went back to Mr. Deputy’s office and handed him a cup of water. As he drunk, I saw him relax, and his eyes that was earlier teary, dry up. The irony of the moment was a school boss who had just broken down before me, a desperate job searcher, while also superintending over a policy that denied women work because of “emotions”. 

I grit my teeth in anger and decided that I needed to leave the school ASAP if I wanted to remain sane. I prayed for Mr. Deputy’s retirement to come soon, so that he could go put his house in order, instead of crumbling in his office, under the weight of a cocktail of emotions.  

In the meantime, I put my job hunt on an indefinite hold.

End.

 

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