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Knowing when Enough is Enough

Written by Edith Ohaja
~Vanguard, Nigeria. February 29, 2016

Kukah's wife, Ojoma, has done it again! She just keeps pushing till he loses his patience and blows a fuse. She's always going on about his English - how a graduate should not speak the way he does, how a teacher should be a model to the students, blah, blah, blah. Kukah feels the attacks are unjustified. He admits his English is less than perfect, but he often reminds her, "I am a Chemistry teacher for crying out loud and I know a bunch of guys with higher degrees who speak more atrocious English than I do." He learned the term, "atrocious English", from her on one of the occasions she was berating him.
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It's not like Kukah dozed through his English classes as a student. It's just that the teachers weren't much better than the pupils and it was felt on both sides that what matters most is to be understood. But he admired those who spoke well, which is why he went after his wife. He did ask her to teach him at some point but after she tried explaining about mood in grammar - indicative, subjunctive and so on - he gave up. The whole thing was too confusing.
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"English is more technical and more illogical than any subject I know: the rules just keep changing, what applies in one case doesn't necessarily apply in all similar cases. Thank God, I scraped through the subject at O'Levels," he had declared then.
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But his wife was not prepared to write him off as a lost cause. She was not bothered about the garble others spoke, but she was determined to refine her husband's usage of the English language. Which would have been fine and good, except she didn't know the time and place for it.
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So this morning when her husband, the vice principal, was chatting with colleagues in the staffroom, she tut tutted his observation that Class 5 "beat" Class 6 every year in inter-house football. Ignoring the glare he gave her, she explained that class is a singular noun and thus should go with the singular verb, "beats" and followed that up with a lecture on how important concord is in English. However, Kukah cut her off midway, basically telling her that she and the English should take their unreasonable language with its erratic rules and shove it up you know where.
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Kukah knew it was a bad idea to teach in the same school with his wife but jobs are hard to find, so he used his influence to secure a place for her. But he was wondering with their constant run-ins on English if that move was really worth the cost. When he got to his office, he began to rearrange the stuff on his table. That was his calm-down mechanism. If he was still boiling by the time he finished with the table, he would work on the entire room.
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As he was packing books and papers, Mrs. Bulama, a fellow teacher, poked her head through the door. She held his gaze with a sympathetic and indulgent smile and initiated a rather strange conversation. First, she offered to help him reorganize his desk but he told her the desk was fine, that he was just ....
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"I know how you feel. I am so sorry for that episode out there."
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"You are? I mean, you shouldn't be. It's not your fault."
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"Imagine the embarrassment! In front of aaallll the teachers! What was Ojoma thinking?"
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Kukah winced and responded, "I don't think all the teachers were there."
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"Still, why go around offering unsolicited lessons to people? C'mon, everybody makes mistakes. After all, English is just a borrowed tongue."
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Kukah stiffened and corrected the lady, "She doesn't do that thing to others, she specifically reserves that type of attention for me."
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"What type of attention is that? Insulting a man before his subordinates?" Mrs Bulama was getting angry.
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"I'm not sure she meant it as an insult."
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"It was more than an insult! It would seem that this her English major thing has really messed up her brain."
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Kukah was wondering what Mrs Bulama's mission was. Why rub in the hurt? And he didn't like the way she was talking about his wife. But she was not done yet.
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"Any woman who cannot respect her husband, who would wash his dirty linen in public, is not worthy to be called a wife."
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"That is enough, madam! If there's nothing else, I'd like you to get back to work."
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"It is not enough!" Mrs Bulama retorted as she came really close to Kukah. "You need a woman who will appreciate you, a woman who will treat you right." She had placed her hands on his shoulders as she spoke.
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Kukah pushed her away. "Shame on you, madam! I've been hearing of your escapades around here if you don't know. A married woman poaching other women's husbands! Who even knows if you are really married? No one has ever seen this Bulama guy."
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"My husband is abroad and what stories are you talking about?"
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"For a grownup woman, you must be very naive. You think you can hit on guys and share your 'favors' without the stories making the rounds."
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"Men can be so heartless!"
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"And you are a saint? The Head of Geography is spending most of his paycheck on you while his family suffer. The new Physics teacher is already under your thumb. So you came here to butter me up with your feigned outrage at my wife's behaviour, but God knows I will never be your prey."
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"There's no need to shout!" Mrs Bulama spat at Kukah. "You deserve your wife. I'll just get a transfer and leave this God-forsaken school," she added and began to leave his office. She, however, paused at the door, spun round and told him, "It's 'his family suffers,' su-ffer-s." While Kukah was wondering if the lady was demented, she remarked, "I guess your wife is right to target you. You really are incorrigible."

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