For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

“Chike's School Days”

Chinua Achebe


Chike’s teacher was fond of long words. He was said to be a very learned man. His favourite pastime was copying out jaw-breaking words from his Chambers’ Etymological Dictionary. Only the other day he had raised applause from his class by demolishing a boy’s excuse for lateness with unanswerable erudition. He had said: “Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.” The teacher’s erudition showed itself in every subject he taught. His nature study lessons were memorable. Chike would always remember the lesson on the methods of seed dispersal. According to teacher, there were five methods: by man, by animals, by water, by wind, and by explosive mechanism. Even those pupils who forgot all the other methods remembered “explosive mechanism.”

Chike was naturally impressed by teacher’s explosive vocabulary. But the fairyland quality which words had for him was of a different kind. The first sentences in his New Method Reader were simple enough and yet they filled him with a vague exultation: “Once there was a wizard. He lived in Africa. He went to China to get a lamp.” Chike read it over and over again at home and then made a song of it. It was a meaningless song. “Periwinkles” got into it, and also “Damascus.” But it was like a window through which he saw in the distance a strange, magical new world. And he was happy.

We read it in Girls at War.