“Mom, when am I going to stop learning?” Bukky asked blankly.
“Stop learning? Learning never stops, dear. It is endless, a life long…” Ifeoma’s last statement hung in mid-air, as soon as it stung her that she was talking with Bukky, her hugely inquisitive ten-year-old daughter.
“Emm…yes, learning is a life-long process,” Ifeoma resumed her mother-child tête-à-tête, as she methodically dusted the dining table and chairs in their modestly furnished sitting room. “But education – formal education – , like the one you are having has a time span, say sixteen years.”
Ifeoma scanned her daughter’s face for signs of comprehension. Bukky said nothing. She simply stared askance at her mother. She had momentarily abandoned lacing her shoes in preparation for school that morning immediately she heard her mother’s unsavoury reply to her indulgent question. Ifeoma understood the silent urge for further explanation. Promptly terminating the menial chore she busied herself with, she gently sat in one of the dining chairs and reluctantly braced up for a spirited round of puerile lecture. Then she lovingly lifted the little girl to her lap.
“Baby, the Nigerian government’s educational system policy, for example, is called the 6-3-3-4 system. This means that a child is expected to spend approximately six years in primary school, three years in junior secondary school, another three years in senior secondary school, and then about four years in the tertiary institution. The first two stages constitute the Basic Education. So, Honey, that means you’re now at the second stage of your Basic classes, you see?”
“The second stage of learning or education?” Bukky finally found her voice.
“Education – formal education.” Ifeoma tried to be exact.
“So what stage am I in learning – formal learning?” Bukky seemed to have forgotten her mother’s opening explanation.
“Learning has no stages.”
“’Why? Maybe I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Yes, maybe I don’t and maybe I do, but just can’t remember. And learning is not necessarily split into formal or informal; only education is, because it is also a form of learning – systematic learning.”
“Systema—, What is—?” Bukky was getting confused
“Yes, systematic. Oh, goodness! It is half past seven already. You’ll be late for school. Now, come have your breakfast – it’s ready,” Ifeoma tactfully terminated the unnerving dialogue, and placed a cup of tea and a saucer of five slices of bread, richly layered with mayonnaise in front of Bukky, who had now freed herself from her mother’s cuddle and hurled into one of the dinning chairs. Ifeoma then went into the kitchen for other early morning chores, leaving the little girl to quietly enjoy her meal.
“Mom!” Bukky murmured to herself as soon as her mother was out of view, “always double-talking! ‘Learning is endless, education is not. Education is formal or informal, learning is not. And yet, education is a form of learning. What mumbo jumbo!” she gasped frustratingly. She wished they hadn’t discussed the topic because now she thought she might have a talk-induced headache!
She finished her meal, and effortlessly strung her fairly large bag, already packed and resting on the table, to her back. “Mom!” she yelled, “I’m set for school!”
Bukky had dashed off to school before Ifeoma emerged from the kitchen to do her usual fond assessment and adjustment of the little girl’s clothes, accompanied by a whisper of ‘Have a nice day!’
Ifeoma – Mrs. Ifeoma Akinsanya, that is, glanced at the used cup and saucer on the dinning table at a corner of the sitting room. She gently closed her eyes and leaned against the kitchen doorframe. Then folding her arms across her chest, she tried to relieve the earlier experience with her daughter. Not that it mattered much – at least not the topic, neither the length. What rather intrigued Ifeoma was her daughter, Bukky – her queer questions, her queer plans, or, simply put, her queer nature!
Maybe she herself is just being naïve – a young naïve mother yet to come to terms with managing the boisterous and inquisitive nature of growing children. Or maybe she’s just being overwhelmed by all Bukky represented to her. She softly opened her eyes and stared blankly into the open space. Bukky meant much to her. She seemed to make her recall fond memories, giving her a vicarious pleasure of loving relationships – Barrister Henry Akinsanya, her cherished husband; Nonye, her bosom, but long-lost friend after whom Ifeoma had given Bukky her middle name; and Ma Okoli, her own equally doting mother.
Ifeoma knew all these reinforced her love for her daughter. But she also knew Bukky had come to form a habit of making half-amusing, half-puzzling inquiries. One day she had asked where babies lived before they are born – a question even Ifeoma herself knew she couldn’t honestly answer satisfactorily. And when one day Bukky had felt unusually very reluctant to go to school, but she had insisted otherwise, the little girl insinuated that her mother was probably deriving some form of monetary reward from her teachers by insisting she attended school regularly.
Ifeoma also recalled when her younger sister, Anwuli came to stay with them. Bukky had taken a studied look at both women as they chatted on an early evening and then asked why her mother, Ifeoma was not the taller of the two ladies, since she was the elder as she claimed. Ifeoma and Anwuli then burst into a prolonged laughter. Bukky then reminded them that she was taller than Paul, her little brother, because she was older. But that only further amused Ifeoma and Anwuli. Ifeoma grinned mirthlessly. And Bukky’s father? Aha, the busy bee! Always buried in his work, with little time to get into the ‘firing line’ of her daughter’s probing questions. Why would he anyway? Hasn’t he often jokingly blurted that that was a mother’s natural responsibility? “And so what is the father’s?” she had in the same manner jovially challenged him one day. “The perfect Jack all work and no play!” ‘the future SAN’ (as Henry fondly referred to himself) had replied in his usual jocular tone. Ifeoma wondered inanely if her husband would really be able to distinguish between Bukky and a look-alike in a rowdy crowd of school children.
But come to think of it, aren’t Bukky’s foibles the infantile version of Henry’s vivacity? Ifeoma mused. Hers was one interesting and amusing family. She adjusted her folded arms more comfortably. She loves her family anyway and well, too.
“Mummy,” the drowsy voice of Paul, Bukky’s little brother ambling into the sitting room from his bed jolted Ify (as her husband fondly called Ifeoma in private) out of her reverie.
“Mom,” he repeated sleepily, “please, don’t let me go to school today. I’m already late.”
Ifeoma grinned again, and then let out a chuckle. There goes the five-year old member and youngest interesting character of the Akinsanyas!