My maths teacher hates me. He asked me to find y. I mean, how can I find y, something missing a long time ago? My brother and sister had tried to find it. Uwodi had searched for it when she was in class six. Then Atadoga also searched for it during his time in class six. My siblings, very brilliant, top of their classes, those children. But they are children no longer. Uwodi works in the bank at Kaduna and Atadoga is in the Army, a colonel now. They have both found happiness, but they couldn’t find y.
My maths teacher, he came to class yesterday very angry.
‘x2+3y =1. Find y’
I was not surprised. This had been the question for many years, the question that defeated my siblings in their respective class six. I had memorised it. I had waited for it. And it came, not in my class six, no; my class four. I mean, bearded man just walked into the class, straight to the board.
x2+3y=1. Find y.
Fine! I was not going to beg. That will give him the pleasure he wanted. I was determined to find y, for the family name. Well, secretly, it was to prove to Mama that I was better than Uwodi and Atadoga. They used to come home with big books; piles and piles of them. They will search and scribble and search and scribble. The defeated look on their faces always says it all. I was going to prove that I was better, that I had done what the two of them combined could not do. I mean, I was tired of being beaten by Mama’s long cane, tired of being called a block head, tired of being looked down on by hard to please Mama.
I went to Aunty Mona, down the block. Aunty Mona also taught maths in an All Girls’ school and was as bright as my Maths Teacher. She is the same age with Mama but they are not friends because she’s more beautiful and mama is always complaining that her husbands are too many. Mama does not like us visiting her.
“I really want to find y Auntie. Can you tell me where to see it?”
She looked at me queerly, touched the rim of her thick lens glasses. A dry smile showed behind those goggles.
“You can use the four figure table.”
The four figure table! I never thought about that and I knew my brothers never thought about it either. Where can I lay my hands on a well made four figure table?
Suraju the carpenter two streets before mine is the best carpenter in Akanampa.
“The table I have here has already been bought.” He said impatiently. “Come back tomorrow!”
“At least something small?” I begged, “something I can use for my assignment? We are submitting tomorrow.”
He grumbled and gave me a table, a little wooden thing with four sides. I searched all around it, turned it upside down, really shook it hard. Suraju was looking at me, a puzzled stare.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m trying to find y.”
He turned his back to me and began to plane a wood.
“You can’t find ‘just why.’ You need to know which why.”
“So they are many y?”
“Of course! And each why has an answer. But you definitely will not see it in a table.”
“But Aunty Mona said it’s in a four figure table…”
“If it was there, you’d had seen it wouldn’t you?”
I went back to Aunty Mona. She was very surprised.
“Did you search it very well?”
“Yes Auntie. I turned it around, searched it inside out.”
She looked at me again. That dry smile is still there. “You may use the Almighty formula.”
“She means prayer.” Pastor Ichem explained. He is the General Overseer of Holy Ghost Pumping Church International, a wooden ramshackle close to our house.
“I’ll pray for you but you need to give an offering first.” He looked at me, hunger in his eyes.
“You have fifty naira?”
I gave him the only money I had, a dirty twenty naira bill. He quickly put it in his pocket. He prayed with me, a short spittle filled twenty naira worth of prayer, asking God Almighty to give me the wisdom to see why at the appropriate time.
God answered his prayer- through Mama Amanyi. She saw me rummaging through a refuse dump. She laughed a high pitched laughter when I told her what I was looking for.
“It is not called Wai. It is called Uwai.”
“I used to have two. Some school children from Nevasity came the other day saying they wanted to dance with it and I gave them one. I think I can find the other one somewhere.”
I went with her to her house at Pato, besides that puddle full of pigs. She gave me the wooden bowl covered with sooth.
Finally! I have found it- in the most unlikely places-I found y. I have beaten my brothers! I took it home and washed it clean.
Following morning, I went to Maths teacher’s office and submitted my Uwai. Apart from mine, there was none on his table. So I was the only one who found it? I was so proud. In the afternoon, maths teacher was standing in front of the class, eyes smouldering, my Uwai in his hand. “Who submitted this?” He asked.
“Me sir…it is not called y sir, it is Uwai and…’
Twak! Twak! Twak! The sting of his cane surprised me rather than hurt me. Instead of anger, I felt sorry for him. The pain on my neck only revealed to me the pain in his old heart; the humiliating pain of a little boy finding what he had searched for all his life.
My Maths teacher hates me…but I forgive him.
In 2007, Paul Ugbede attended the Royal Court International Residency Programme for emerging Playwrights in London, United Kingdom. He also attended other creative writing programmes: British Council New Writing in Drama programme (2007-2008), Chimamanda Adichie/Fidelity Bank Creative writing Workshop (2008), BBC Radio Trust writing for the Radio Workshop (2010) and the Writivism Short Story writing workshop (2014). His works have appeared in the British Council Anthology of new plays, Writivism 2014 anthology and wosa online. He is the author of ‘Mr Chairman Sir!’ a play and Director of International Centre for Playwriting Development in Africa and resides in Lagos, Nigeria.Follow @JaladaAfrica