Despite having to make adjustments in both her work and home lives, Violet was still grateful for the new appointment as the guidance counselor of the school. It took her mind off a number of things. The number of students that stood in front of the counseling office when she was on duty didn’t see any reduction, rather as their numbers increased so did complaints about counseling opportunities not reaching many students. Hence, there was the need to reshuffle the school timetable to allow the students to have an equal opportunity at being counseled.
During the DCC meeting that was also attended by the principal, Violet listened without much saying much as she was taken off two of her classes and made to take over the guidance counseling office. The office would be opened three times a week and two Saturdays in a month. Each session with a student would not last more than twenty-five minutes. Students who wanted to have a counseling session would have to register with the secretary and get a card with a number and appointment time. Violet didn’t oppose the decision, the reason more because of the increase in her salary rather than the fact that she was slowly falling in love with the extra job.
The other members of the DCC were relieved of the task of counseling. Throughout the meeting, Violet felt the contemptuous eyes of Mrs. Hannah on her. She was the only person that had opposed the decision that made Violet the guidance counselor. The reason she gave was that they were not sure if many students suddenly rushing for counseling was a good occurrence so they couldn’t be in a hurry to make big changes. It was rebuffed by the principal. He was certain that the decision would cater to the mental health of the students which would directly affect their performance in their studies. Other members praised the decision, offering Violet advice on what could be done to improve the quality of her counseling. Mr. Okwu wanted her to share some of his sermons with the students, proceeding to hand her a pack of fliers with “The Wide Road Or The Narrow Road” written boldly at the top. She had accepted it, then proceeded to place it on the table near the door of the office allowing interested students to pick one on their way out.
After she took her position as the guidance counselor, she began making changes to the office. Most of the expenses came from her already thinned pocket. Flowery yellow curtains replaced the dull gray curtains that had given her headaches at first. New book titles settled in the bookshelf, most of which she had gotten from the school library and a few she had bought herself. Two flower vases now sat on the windowpane, complementing the yellow curtains. Watering the flowers helped her prepare for counseling sessions and helped relaxed her mind. On top of the well-stocked fridge was a basket that contained biscuits, chocolates, and sweets. It didn’t take her long to find out that students talked more when they had small chops in front of them. The money for the vase and the curtains had come from the school. She’d had to write an article on how the color ‘yellow’ was better for the office than gray. For the rest, she had been happy to take the money out of her pocket.
She also began reading books about psychology, books about how to respond to certain problems. She found herself becoming more of a counselor than a teacher. At first, she wasn’t comfortable with the change as she had trained to be a teacher, she slowly adjusted to the rhythm of the job. As she got to know many of the students personally, she also began changing some of her parental methods, especially with Somto whose age was close to that of some of the students.
There were students with whom she was tempted to involve their parents. There was Kamsiso, the SS2 student with more love for music than she had for chemistry and biology, two subjects she was extremely good at. “My parents want me to become a doctor but I love music.” Those were her first words when she sat down in front of Violet. Indeed, she loved music; she had a voice that evoked emotions, she wrote songs that Violet felt would make hits. But despite her talent for singing, she couldn’t pursue it as a career. She came from a wealthy family. Her father was a Senator and her mother a doctor. Different identities had been placed on her and her siblings as soon as they came into the world. And she was to become a doctor, to inherit her mother’s position in the medical circle. Everything had already been laid out for her and so singing could only come behind the life that had been mapped out for her.
Kamsiso had already accepted her fate, so her sessions were no complaints about how she didn’t want to become a doctor. Rather, she was hell-bent on making her parents proud of her. She tried hard to do well in school, enjoying the little gifts that came with having good results. Their sessions were all about music. It was the only time Kamsiso could talk about music. She compared the songs of different artists. She analyzed lyrics as though they were essay submissions. She recommended good music to Violet, warning her of music to steer clear of. Raw excitement danced on her face as she talked about music. It contrasted the dull look on her face whenever she spoke of school and assignments. Many times, Violet considered inviting her parents for a session but it was one of the limits the principal had placed for her. There were certain things she couldn’t interfere with. However, it made her more cautious with her children. What did they enjoy doing? What did they want to do in the future? It was too early for them to decide, but it didn’t stop her from making them feel what they wanted mattered to her.
The counseling sessions also opened her eyes to a number of failures on the parts of parents. Many students couldn’t communicate properly with their parents, preferring to keep some things bottled up in their mind. Some students secretly bore grievances against their parents and could only keep it hidden, deepening misunderstandings and misconceptions. Many students didn’t have deep relationships with their parents, enjoying only the added privileges of being children—food, clothes, shelter. They all had the parent-child bond, but just how far it went beyond taking care of their physical needs, she wasn’t sure. As a parent, Violet could understand that most parents were too busy trying to make money to provide for the family, so she couldn’t fault them for neglecting their children’s mental health. Hence, she took it upon herself to try to become what most of them needed. They ranted about how they were the only ones that washed the plates in the kitchen while their senior siblings locked themselves in their rooms pretending to be reading, she listened. They wanted advice on how to deal with a male classmate that was showing them extra attention. She gave them. They wanted to talk about how scared they were of the future, of failure. She comforted them. Teenage mood swings, stubbornness, etc—she browsed the internet and read books on how best to deal with them. After her sessions, she went home tired but she enjoyed working with them. She was beginning to understand that they were not just students who simply needed to pass the WAEC and JAMB exams and get into universities, but they were also growing to be adults and they needed all the support that could be provided as they traveled on that difficult road.
Violet rubbed her temples, blinking rapidly. She looked at the time on her laptop screen, 12:06 am. She cracked her knuckles and proceeded to shut down the laptop with a loud yawn. She massaged her neck as she stood up, cringing at the loud scraping sound the chair made against the ground. Walking out of the closet, she switched off the light. Light snores came from the bed. She went into the bathroom to relieve herself. When she returned, she had to push Oyim a little as he had occupied most of the space on the bed. As she laid on the bed, a ping came from Oyim’s phone on the other side of the bed. At first, she wanted to ignore it but the phone pinged again. She reached over Oyim for the phone. The messages were from the network service. Violet stared at the wallpaper on the screen. It was a picture of the family, one taken during their visit to the zoo. She stared at the picture for a while, her heart beating furiously. It had been a month since she found out that Oyim was still cheating on her despite his promise. She had been too busy with her new position in the school and had pushed the matter to the back of her mind. She didn’t forget, she often told herself. She just wasn’t ready to deal with what is implied. She had two choices— to live with the fact that her husband had other women outside or confront him and create more problems for her marriage. She didn’t want to resign herself to the former, but she was also unsure of how to go about the latter. She didn’t talk to Nene about it. She didn’t want to. Nene was facing her own problems now. She couldn’t bear to talk to her. She stared at the picture on the phone for a long time. If she wanted to know the contents of the phone, it was easy. She only had to reach for her husband’s hand and place his index finger on the fingerprint sensor. But did she really want to go through his phone? Not only would it give her more emotional baggage, but it could also strip off a layer of trust that they shared as a married couple, layers that were already thinned down. Was she ready for the consequences? Almost twenty minutes later, she returned the phone to its position with a resigned sigh. She would think of this another day, she said to herself as she laid down and pulled the blanket over her body. For now, she would just concentrate on being a mother, a teacher, and a guidance counselor. As for her identity as a wife… she drifted off to sleep.