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Sylva Eleanya: The catalyst for BURN AGAIN publishing

The Piano Teacher

By Osa Amadi

Among all levels of educational institution (and I have taught at all levels by God’s grace), the primary school, especially primary one, is the most challenging class in the teaching profession. Primary school teachers ought to be paid more than teachers at other levels of educational institutions.

After the first week of my job as primary one class teacher, I developed migraine. I taught all the subjects – Mathematics, English, Science, PHE, Civic Education, CRK, Music, etc., even Islamic Religious Knowledge!

The most difficult part of the job was to get the children to be quiet. Then another herculean task was sharpening their pencils with Tiger Razor blades. As you are sharpening pencils for one set of kids, the ones you have already sharpened their own would stab the desk with the tip of the pencil you have sharpened and then come back to you to sharpen it again. If you are not good enough at speedily finding solutions to problems you will end up using the whole time allocated for a subject to sharpen pencils!

Then, you will also need the skills of an adjudicator to settle disputes, and sometimes the abilities of a referee in wrestling matches to separate fights.

“Uncle, he beat me!” One child would come to you crying.

“It’s OK. Sorry. Now, common, Dapo, tell him sorry. Are you not a child of God?”

“Sorry, sorry.” And that would settle it.

“Uncle, she called me a lizard. I will give her a blow now!” Another one would start.

“Are you a lizard?”

“No!”

“Then tell her you are not a lizard.”

“I am not a lizard!”

“And you, Deborah, don’t call anybody a lizard again in my class. Is that clear?”

“Yes Uncle.” And that matter is also settled.

One thing many people do not know, however, but which I learned by experience, is that at that level and with those children, the teacher is working with angels of God. Those little children will bring good luck and miracles to you if you work sincerely with them, treat them nice, and love them.

One day, I felt so hungry and had nothing to eat from morning till noon. In fact it was accumulated, week-long hunger, for I had spent the last N200 I took from the headmaster on something else I can no longer remember. I was glad when the bell rang that afternoon for the long break. I was almost fainting. After all the children had ran out of the class I put my head on my table and slept off. About 10 minutes later, someone touched my hand and I raised my head up. It was Tobi, the most stubborn and brilliant child in my class. He did not say anything. He simply dropped one flat piece of biscuit on my table and walked out. I watched him go. He did not turn. Then one by one, other children started coming, dropping one piece of biscuit each (not a pack, mind you) on my table.

Initially I did not want to eat the biscuits so that nobody would accuse me of extorting the children of their snacks. But I heard a voice: “You are dying of hunger and I sent my angels to feed you.”

I ate the biscuits and drank the water I had brought from home.

Buoyed by the enthusiasm and other emotions BURN AGAIN elicited from those who read it, I travelled to Ibadan to submit the typed manuscript to Bounty Press Limited (acclaimed representative of Hodder & Stoughton and Edward Arnold Publishers) at Odutola Runsewe Close, Opposite Police Station, Orita Challenge, Ibadan. I also submitted a copy to Longman Nigeria Plc at 52 Oba Akran Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos.

In a letter dated 24 July 1995, and addressed to me, Longman wrote:

 

Dear Mr Amadi

BURN AGAIN

Thank you for making the above-named manuscript of yours available to us recently for publishing consideration.

We are afraid that our current publishing programme is too tight to admit your work, and we are thus not in a position to accept to publish it. We do therefore urge you to approach other publishers who might be able to handle your work.

Accordingly, we are returning your manuscript to you. Please acknowledge receipt.

We thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript, and hope that in no distant time, we shall be in a position to be of service to you.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Olabode O Adekanye

Editor (Humanities)

With similar sugar-coated words of rejection, Bounty Press also rejected me and my work. I felt both anger and discouragement. People who had read the BURN AGAIN manuscript were also shocked that it could be rejected by any publishing company.

“There are no real publishing companies in Nigeria,” Ndidi, my proofreader, said. “What we have here are printers of companies’ AGM reports, calendars, brochures and government approved school textbooks.”

Amid my frustration, the late Sylva Eleanya, my good friend and sports photo journalist with  Vanguard Newspaper visited me at No 9 Awofodu Street. When Sylva saw the heaps of books and papers scattered on the floor of the room, he was told I was a word smith, and about my product – BURN  AGAIN. He took the typed manuscript. After reading it he gave it to Chuks Ugwoke, the then Weekend VANGUARD Editor. Soon, Sylva returned with a message from Chucks: Do we have your permission to serialize BURN AGAIN? And I told him: Please do whatever you like with it.

On the Weekend VANGUARD of January 13, 1996, Vol. 12 No.18 with a cover price of N30, BURN AGAIN was promoted on the front page and the first episode was splashed on the centre spread with master illustration by Uncle Dada Adekola. It was an overwhelming victory over the sleeping publishing companies that had rejected the manuscript.

For up to six months, BURN AGAIN dominated the pages of Weekend Vanguard.

 

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