2004: Mr Goke


Feb 24

Buffalo nickel

Dig through your couch cushions, your purse or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you fine. What were you doing that year?



Primary 5

I thought primary 5 was a big deal. It was my final year in the Primary School and all I wanted to do was get away from everyone who knew of me and my folly. You see, I was not exactly the brightest child growing up and everyone knew it. My primary school had this terrible thing where they called everyone who came last in their various classes, out on the assembly ground. Then, our proprietor would whip out his cane and say to the other students, ‘What is this?’ And other students would shout, ‘Pankere for the olodos!!!’ Then he would smile like he was amused and would flog every single one of us 7 strokes of the cane. If I never got flogged any other time in primary school, I can at least boast of 28 strokes of my proprietor’s cane because I came last every year of my Primary Education… every year until 2004 – when I was in primary 5.


In June or so, of 2004, my mom got me a lesson teacher. I did not even know about their plans to get me a lesson teacher and I did not expect it either because I had once overheard my dad tell my mom that ‘Yes! maybe a lesson teacher would teach her some few extra things, but guess what else he would teach her? Huh? That she isn’t good enough… smart enough! I can’t have my child thinking that she has to take extra classes because she is a dunce’. And to that, my mom replied, ‘You’re the only one seeing it that way honey. James, Mr Gbile’s son…’ My father interrupted, ‘Who is that?’  ‘The man in church na. That one that fought with Mrs Ayoola over car park space last week Sunday.’ ‘Ehehn? Did I see him? Were we there when they were fighting?’ ‘Yes now. Ye! The beans I put on fire o!’ And so it was, that I had to dash away from the door.

Anyway, my tutor’s name was Mr Goke. He would come over to my house from 4-5pm every Wednesday and Friday to teach me. No one was usually at home then as my dad was at work and my mom was always at choir rehearsals.

Mr Goke was the change agent of my life. He was a man with kind eyes who had several lines on his face like someone who bore the marks of time in his skin. His teeth were very white like he had never eaten soup in his life and his smile very wide like he had never known sadness. He was also really dark in complexion and had one even darker birthmark in the middle of his forehead

The first time he came around and taught me, I got zeros on all his tests. After he marked them, I just stared at him and waited for him to scold me and call me an ‘olodo’ and a ‘waste of time’ or like my Primary 3 teacher used to say, ‘Waste of space, matter and 9 months’.

Anyway, he looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Wow… well, this is good news because now I know that whatever you want to do, you do it very well. There’s not a more terrible calling than that of a mediocre!’ Then he patted my head and left. He was like that! He only had good and encouraging words for me. He would tell me to ‘take all the determination you put into ensuring you don’t understand anything and channel it into understanding everything.’ Soon, I was challenging myself and getting, 1s, 4s, 7s and finally 10s. I was reading before every of our lessons in order to impress him. One time, as he left the house, he said, ‘You’re really doing well… getting really good. But I hope you’re enjoying it for yourself. Success is not success unless it’s enjoyed by the success’  Then he laughed and said I could not understand why he was laughing but that I should ‘try to derive happiness from your own success or else, pfft, you’ll just be a depressed potentially happy person’

I wrote my Common Entrance exam and came out as the best student in the whole of Nigeria (do I still need to tell you how my school term exams were?) And since then, I have been riding on the ginger of his influence on my life:  I’m usually always the best in everything I do. Ask around.


I must say however, that it was weird that my parents never asked me about him all through the coaching period. I simply concluded that my mother had employed him and had wanted to keep it a secret from my dad. Or that they did not want me to feel embarrassed about taking extra lessons.

It was however weirder, when yesterday, I asked my mom if she knew anything of where Mr Goke was nowadays and she said, ‘Who’s Goke?’,  I said, ‘My lesson teacher na. The one you got for me when I was in Primary 5’ And my mom replied, ‘Ehn? Abi you’re mixing things up? I did not get any lesson teacher for you o. Me and your father were even just discussing last week about how grateful we are that we let you just learn on your own. We knew, we knew that you just needed time to blossom’


Even as I refuse to think too much about this, the words Mr Goke said on the last day he taught me keep coming back to me and they were, ‘You’re ready for your common entrance and any other exam in this life. In death however, you may never know whether you are prepared for the exams you’re given. But with you I have learned that if we’re given an assignment, we will be backed up with a capacity. It’s the way the universe works – in life and in death. Thank you Bolanle.’


No. Thank you Mr Ghost-ke.

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