It was a Monday morning in Nightingale Academy. The school felt like it was mourning the death of someone, with the downcast look of virtually all the students. They had just completed their Midterm test, the week before and the results were out. Most of them already knew their fate, hence the face. The principal was not impressed either, with the performance. That fateful morning, after usual programs for that morning’s assembly, led by the vice principal, the students were once again vibrant. They chanted the marching in song with glee on their faces, prior to their previous melancholy look.

“We are marching to our classes

To receive understanding

For learning is better than ...”

They chanted joyfully. 

“Halt,” the principal commanded. They all stopped marching and singing at the same time. “Where are you marching too! No, tell me! Where are you marching to with dull heads!

“Good morning sir!” They chorused uniformly.

“Don’t good morning me!” The principal seemed angry that morning and this was what the students had feared. At this rate, they knew it was only a matter of time before he asked that the students who failed, be punished. “It has come to my notice.” He adjusted his glasses. “It has come to my notice that some of you performed woefully in the just concluded midterm test.” He paused and looked around for a few seconds. “Especially students of JS1 B. Class of Dullards, is it?”

Ayo felt ashamed about this. She felt like entering the floor and she knew students of 1A would mock her after the assembly. Most of them had taken to calling her 'Dull light' and she hated that more than anything. She had even stopped staying in the first row, since her first day in school, as she has come to realize, 1A students queue mostly at the front.

“Please Mr. Dammy, do something about it,” the principal instructed the class teacher of JS 1B. “And I want you to discipline them appropriately.

“Imagine, the highest performing student in your class is not even close to the lowest in 1A and it’s very disappointing,” the principal added. “I expect to see changes before the exam. That will be all” – he removed his glasses and only put it back on after he had cleaned the lenses thoroughly – “you can proceed into your respective classes.”

The students resumed marching and chanting. Students in JSS 1B hung their head low until they had marched into their classroom. 

After the assembly, Mr. Dammy went straight to JS 1B. He entered the classroom angrily. When they greeted, he refused to answer and started to speak from the depth of his heart.

“You know it’s so disappointing the way you all failed. I didn’t expect this from any one of you especially the both of you” – he pointed his fingers at Ore first, then Ayo – “Yes I know, this class is termed class of dullards but it doesn’t have to be.

“You can change that. You can be your own selves” – as he speaks, he pointed to each and every student – “You shouldn’t accept what others think of you!”

The students murmured and exchanged glances with one another.

“Quiet everyone!” he commanded, visibly angry. “You all have to put in better performances. You don't have to wait for someone to set you right. You’re all old enough to tell your left from your right. No one brought this knowledge from heaven. We all came with brains to learn. And Henceforth, this class can’t remain the class of dullards. As long as I am your class teacher, it can't and ...”

“Excuse me, sir,” a student interrupted Mr. Dammy from outside the classroom.

“Yes, what is it?” Mr. Dammy asked with annoyance.

“Sir…” The student stammered. “The principal… He asked you to see him… In his office”

“Okay.” Mr. Dammy looked at the boy at the door. “Tell him I’ll be with him shortly”. 

“Okay sir.” The boy left with that instruction. 

“As for you all.” Mr. Dammy turned back to the students in the class. “I will be back.” On this note, he left the classroom.

As soon as he left, the class burst into an uproar, paper flying here and there and everyone moving about shouting at the top of their voices. Students from other classes could hear their noise. Ayo wasn’t involved in the uproar, she just sat at a corner unperturbed by the noise. She was deep in her own thoughts.

‘How could I score so low in the test? It’s unlike me. In this manner, I’m putting my mother to shame and her money to waste. Why would I repay her this way? I use to be the first in Lizben. What happened? I’m disappointed in my own self. I need to be better. I have to be better for my Mom’s sake?’

Ayo was not always like this during her primary school days. She used to be one of the best in her class but now she seems to be the worst in her school. She has no one to blame but herself. She couldn’t even blame it on her father’s death nor could she blame it on her lazy friend and present class. She had chosen to study less and play more both at school and at home. She and Bukky are always playing instead of doing their assignment. Ayo threw caution to the wind and no one was there to pull her back. But after listening to Mr. Dammy that morning, she became sad and disappointed.

Amidst the chatter, Bukky noticed that her friend has been quiet since their class teacher left the class. She immediately walked up to her friend to find out what happened.

“What is wrong with you?” Bukky demanded from her friend.

“I failed.” Ayo wiped a tear from her eye.

Bukky hissed. It was her habit to do so each time someone says something unpleasant to her or something she disapproves of. “So did everyone in this class. Is that why you are now beating yourself up?” She attempted to pacify her friend.

Ayo just looked at her friend not knowing what to say.

“Bukky come, let’s finish this game while we can. The teachers will soon be back!” a girl yelled from the front seat. Her voice betrayed her small stature.

“I guess their meeting with the principal will be over soon,” another said.

“I’m coming,” Bukky screamed back. “Let me...” 

“You don’t understand,” Ayo placed her a hand over Bukky’s hand, which was on the desk. “I used to take the top 3 positions since my Basic one.”

“Ayo!” Bukky removed her hand. “I hope you are aware you scored higher than most of us in the class. Besides, this is not Basic one. Better count yourself lucky,” she advised and turned to leave.

“Idiot!” Ayo raised her voice. “With this ridiculous mark!” Every student in the class diverted their attention to where Ayo was sitting. Bukky remained rooted to a spot. She couldn’t move forward nor turn back to face Ayo. Though, she kept listening to her friend and actually felt for her.

“I did score higher than 30 in all my test scores when I was in Basic school,” Ayo kept saying with tears rolling down her cheeks. “And now I’m scoring 16 as my highest score. That’s ridiculous! Imagine, 16 out of 40 marks.”

The class was quiet now, they were all listening to Ayo. Ayo didn’t care less nor did she stop. She was concerned more about herself.

“If you are all happy with your score.” Ayo stood up. “I’m not!” – she banged her fist on the table – “It clearly means I don’t belong to this so-called “class of dullards.” She left the class hurriedly, crying her eyes out. Bukky ran after her.

After Ayo left the class, the students became dead silent. They too felt the pain from Ayo’s word. It’s not as if they also wished to fail but they believed they can’t do better than their mates in 1A. Maybe it’s time for change, time to be better as their class teacher had advised.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, in the conference room. The teaching staff had just concluded their meeting with the principal and were leaving the room one after the other.

“Mr. Dammy,” the principal called. “I hope you do remember that registration for the state mathematics competition will commence in a couple of weeks?”

“Yes sir, I do remember.” Mr. Dammy stopped in his tracks. “I’ve selected three students each from JS3 and SS2 who would represent our school in the competition in both junior and senior category.”

“Okay, good,” the principal praised. “What about our school’s Annual Mathematics Quiz? You are yet to select a student from your class. Other class teachers in junior school have submitted the name of the student to represent their classes.”

Mr. Dammy didn’t respond immediately. Having listened to the principal, he concluded in his mind on whom to pick. The reason he hasn’t submitted a name was because he didn’t know who to choose. Now, he does. He finally answered, “Yes Sir! I will submit the names to the secretary today.”

“Okay, thank you,” the principal thanked Mr. Dammy and dismissed him.

Mr. Dammy did not return to JS 1B after leaving the meeting. Instead he went straight to the secretary’s office to register the student’s name for the school’s Annual Mathematics Quiz. The student was none other than Ayomide Cole, whom he believed could make a change. 

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