Red Means Hot

I am a literature teacher in a deceptively tacky school. I don’t care much for my job and trust me, my job doesn’t care much for me. The students I teach? Average. Okay English. Okay Diction. Okay willingness to learn. Just Okay everything. Sometimes, I think my average unprogressive life might actually be rubbing off on them.

But hey, I’m not here to talk about my trials, tribulations, worries, sorrows, depressions or whatnot. I’m here to share something rather interesting. Two days ago, as I did something that might pass as a stroll, into a room that might pass as an office and dumped my bag which might actually also pass as a canoe onto a lifeless plank propped up by 4 wooden legs which might pass as a table, I saw a letter.

It was folded and the paper was rough. I actually contemplated tossing it into the dustbin. But something held me back… maybe the humor or irony hidden in the probability that the letter might just teach me, the teacher, something new. Or maybe it might be a tip-off by some dramatic student in a bid to save me, his teacher, from the endless ‘gum on the chair’ prank these students play on me. To be honest, I don’t plan on sitting down in any class for the foreseeable future.

 I opened it and read it.

I have decided to share


Dear ma,

I’m not writing this letter to you because I want you to assess me or find me and mentor me or anything like that (to this, I must say I chuckled. Mentor eh? That escalated quickly). I’m just writing because you’re the only person who I know might probably be interested in reading my work.

That said, last week Tuesday, you walked into class and I was taken aback immediately. You were wearing a red dress. Though ill-fitting, it was definitely a deviation from the dull and terrible colors you wear every day. I assume Tuesday was a special day for you.

However, it made me think a lot about the color red and its various significations.

  • There is this woman on my street. I associate her with color red. Red, as in Bad temper.

     She’s a food seller. Well, not really… she’s the owner of a food shop. Whenever my dad sends me to buy food from there (because my dad is a terrible cook), I’m always very tense. She stands behind her sales girls, hovering over them like she’s their halo (although I’m sure halos are for like peaceful stuff like angels), barking out orders and ‘observations’ like; ‘Shey 100 naira rice niyen?! It’s too much! O ti poju!’, ‘hurry up ko serve obe yen! Do you want to sleep inside’, ‘Take this madam’s order ko se kia!’, ‘Open your ears when customers are talking and stop asking them to repeat their orders’.

    It’s so bad that she doesn’t even know when she shouts at her customers too. ‘Hey, madam, come forward and place your order. No time to waste.’

But my dad and I still buy her food because she’s the only food seller on my street and because I fear that if she loses a customer, the sales girls would take the hit. When I told my dad about her red temper, he said ‘maybe she’s not doing what she initially wanted to do in life’, and my mind went straight to you. I fear that your temper might soon turn that red and for the same reasons.

  • There is this boy I like… more than the other boys. When he wears his red jersey on Wednesdays, my heart skips a beat longer than it usually does whenever I see him. His is red. Red, as in, love.

       When my mom was still alive, she would tell me that whenever I see the traffic light go red, I should ‘Stop (and think about the people I love)’. I know she meant to say ‘Stop (and think about your father and I). That is why I feel guilty when I see traffic light go red and I think about this red jersey boy.

     Although he is not the normal kind of boy that all the girls like because he is quite rough and his hair is never combed, but I know I love him. He does not know that I’m fierce red-ly in love with him but I have a plan in my head to walk up to him one day wearing a red shirt and red trousers, carrying a bottle of red wine behind my back and confessing everything. He won’t even know the red train that hit his takoko hair. I’m really nervous about this plan but I have a feeling he’ll like it.

  • When I was in Jss2, I saw my first period. It was not what I expected it to be. But it was blood. Red. Red, as in, power.

       The next day, I went to class and I felt so superior to all the boys there. Small small 12 year old boys, running around, playing paper ball. I just shook my head, lifted my chin and sat down at my desk. When Ifeanyi came and started dragging me from my seat and was saying ‘Come let’s go and look for Daniel’s trouble’. I was just thinking ‘Ehen? See this boy o. He thinks I’m his mate. Wonders will never end’. Overnight I had become aware that I carried a power no one could possibly fanthom or steal from me. God knows I did not say anything to Ifeanyi, but the way I just looked at him… in a superior way, it said a lot. Till now, I can tell that Ifeanyi still respects or fears me.

     But if red means power, I’m worried that I don’t see red when I look at our President. I see grey or something like that.  When I shared this burden with my dad, he laughed and said, ‘Power is not in shouting and in gra gra young woman. Power is much more subtle that you think. Power is not the muscles that labour, it is the voice that makes the muscles labour’. I was really nodding, because it made sense when my dad said it. But every time I go back and watch the president, I very much doubt this.

  •  Two years ago, I saw the largest and scariest quantity of blood in my life… in my mother car(and on the street) and in my father’s bloodshot eyes. Everywhere was red. Red, as in, danger.

    My mother, she loved us. But she loved us too much. She loved us too much that she could not take her eyes off us as she pulled out of the house and a racing really big truck rammed into her. I’m tempted to say ‘Come and see blood!’ but that’ll just be very two years ago of me. Now I would say ‘the quantity of blood I saw that day was alarming’. Because it was!

         My God… my father did not sleep for days. He wept and wept. Even more than me. And that says a lot since it was not him that came out from her… from her very being. I lived in her womb even before I was born. When I saw that accident, I felt like a major part of me had been crushed. I even ran to the accident site immediately. I could still smell the fresh blood. God, it was terrible. I heard one bystander say ‘Jesu Kristi. Eje re!!’. He sounded more amused than concerned. Anyway, that statement made me understand the gravity of such quantity of blood. It was danger. I sound like I have gotten over it but I haven’t. I take solace in the fact that as I saw and smelt the red blood everywhere, the smell of my mother’s red love was so much stronger than the smell of danger. So so strong. And that’s what I take comfort in. Her love was larger than even her life.

  • Finally, when I was about 7 years old and was having difficulty knowing what button to press for cold and hot water on the water dispenser, my mom called me to the dining section, where the water dispenser thing was and said ‘red means hot. Say it after me. Red means hot’. We even formed a song. Red means hot.

    My dad walked in and when he heard us singing he looked amused at first and then had a cunning look in his eyes. He walked over to my mom in her somewhat faded red dress, kissed her forehead and said ‘Red sure means hot’.

Needless to say that I already know the student that wrote this article, (it only took me comparing the handwriting with their test papers), I must also say that I’m impressed/worried, not by any literary skills (or un-skills), but by the fact that I know that not only is this student male, but also that both of his parents are alive and well. 

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