- Orville "o'gee" Green
Can anyone say with certainty whether I have retained the dubious distinction of being the only boy at Calabar to have failed the school-leaving exam the second time, after being successful the first time? Thereby hangs a tale (although I think 'tail' would be more appropriate, as I certainly made a monkey of myself). The story goes something like this:
From early childhood I was reputed to be a 'bright' boy, the kind that is 'skipped' a couple of times in elementary school; so, by the time I arrived at Calabar on government scholarship, I was pegged to be something of an academic star. (First lesson: Don't buy into everything nice that's said about you.) I had a creditable track record, academically, all the way through to Fifth Form and going into the Senior Cambridge (read: "O" Levels) exams.
My subjects were English Language, English Lit., Spanish (written and oral), Biology, Maths, and Religious Knowledge. My result was a Grade 3, with credits in English Language, English Lit., and Spanish. Overall, I did better than a good number of my classmates. However, those were the good old days of the school always wanting the best showing when the results were published in the Gleaner.
So, using the argument that I (as well as a couple others in the class) was young enough and bright enough to benefit from another 'go' at the brass ring, Dopey White convinced my father to have me repeat Fifth Form. I waved a reluctant goodbye to my classmates from Second Form days (except for the two or three other 'youngsters' like myself).
So, the Reprise. (Second lesson: Bright doesn't necessarily translate to smart.) I somehow fooled myself into thinking that this second time around would be a breeze because, let's face it, I'd been there, done that! Same set of subjects; never mind that the syllabus wasn't the same! So, I pattered along, convincing myself that I was really on the ball. Come exam time, I was so confident, that the afternoon of the day before the History exam (a free day) I told my mom I was going to study with Gervais Clarke (whom she didn't even know, but the name sounded impressive).
Within the hour I was comfortably ensconced in the Ward Theatre, engrossed in a cinematic representation of The True Story of Jesse James. Can you even begin to imagine my amazement and annoyance the following day, when there was not a single question about Jesse James in the European History exam?
As was the custom, the new school term preceded the exam results. Of course, I was promoted to Lower Sixth, with its unbelievable amount of free periods. Yours truly started into such nosebleed-inducing subjects as Additional Maths and Physics (to this day, I still don't know why or how). Finally, the long-awaited results were announced in chapel; Dopey read name after name of the successful candidates, then, looking me straight in the eye and shaking his head, he said: "Green, you failed to make it."
For a while everything was a hazy gray; there were buzzing sounds in my ear (I learned later it was the incredulous murmurs from the rest of the boys); and I remained in a kind of fog for an indeterminate period. The details of my results included distinctions in English Language and Literature, Spanish written and oral; failures in Maths, History and Religious Knowledge!! How could I ever face the Rev. M.E.W. Sawyers again?!
Dopey was inclined to be gracious and allow me to continue preparing for the "A" Level exams. I walked tentatively through days filled with derisive comments and jeers, ameliorated only rarely by the odd word of comfort or encouragement. Slowly, I regained confidence and settled down to polish my tarnished reputation. Then, one fateful day, tired of sitting around at school with endless hours of nothing to do stretching out before me, I decided to go home--against the prevailing rules of the day.
As Fate would have it, Norman Escoffery (a fellow-felon from a lower form, whose motive for leaving school was less noble than mine) and I were riding along The Robin (Dunrobin Avenue) when we were overtaken by Dopey, on his way to deliver a few boys for a cricket match at Excelsior. When we recognised the sound of the headmaster's car, Escoffery and I thought we had a sufficient headstart so as to take cover before he could recognise us. Huddled under a small bridge, we heard the car stop, a door open, footsteps coming in our direction, then saw the face of Philip Harry, who had been dispatched to learn the identity of the absconders.
The outcome of that episode was that Dopey convinced my father that I had "too much time on his hands" and would be better off taking the "O" Level exams again. So, for me it was 'once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.' By then, I was a cauldron of resentment and anger against Dopey and the entire system, until it occurred to me that I had played into 'their' hands.
With my enlightenment came a resolve to get on with it and get out! My last encounter with the exams (at the same time my earliest comrades were doing the "A" Levels") produced solid results, if not earth-shaking, but I was determined that I would not spend another day in school after that term--especially as I knew then that I could get into university with my results.
So, has my record been broken? Well, there�s no hurry.