For six months, my school was shut down, no thanks to ASUU strike. It was a boring, annoying six months of sitting at home and adding more pounds to my already big stature. If I was not tall, I would have looked like a bloated pig.
A week before our youth convention at church, I was watching a movie on mum’s laptop when she entered and announced that the strike had been called off. I jumped out of bed and grabbed the newspaper from her hand. Right there in the front page was the news I’d been dying to hear.
I screamed excitedly and reached for my phone to break the news to anyone who cared to listen. Mum just shook her head and left the room.
My name is Bisola and I am a 200level microbiology student of the university of Benin. I have had to write JAMB four times and WAEC thrice before getting in. When I didn’t make the required 5 credits for WAEC the third time, NECO came to my rescue. I’ll be twenty-one in a few months. What else do you want to know about me? Oh, I have a boyfriend. His name is Paul.
On this sunny afternoon, as the taxi I boarded pulled into the parking space of Hall 1, one of the school’s female hostels where I reside, my heart skipped a beat when I saw my friend, Eseosa waiting for me at the entrance. I jumped out of the car and ran to hug her.
‘Look at you, you have grown so big.’ Eseosa touched my cheeks.
I laughed and hugged her again.
‘Madam, come carry your load abeg, dem dey wait me for park.’
I held my friend’s hand and rushed back to the taxi to get my things. The driver raised the boot of the car and helped carry my bags down. My friend clicked her tongue and shook her head as she stared at the two big ghana-must-go bags and a big red luggage in front of her.
‘Bisola, did you come to read abi you came to eat. Omo, see your load.’
‘You know how I love to cook and my mother didn’t help matters too. She just kept adding foodstuff even when I told her it was enough. Imagine, she put eight tubers of yam. Big ones. I had to remove four when she was not watching.’
Together, we carried the bags and dropped them close to the entrance of the hostel. Students were trooping in and out of Hall 1. More taxis pulled into the car park. Screams of excitement rent the air with voices reverberating, making the scorch from the intense rays of the sun less biting.
‘Remember you don’t have the hostel card.’
I nodded. ‘I know. That’s why I called you on my way to the hostel.’
I peered into the lobby of the hostel and saw an obese woman sitting on a white plastic chair that faced the hostel gate munching egg roll. On the table beside her was a bottle of orobo pepsi. Sweats covered rolls of fat along her neck. Her armpits were soaked in sweat too leaving parches of yellow stain on her white blouse. I have always wondered what her original skin colour was, because all I could see were unevenly distribution of shades of green, pink and black.
A student was pleading to be allowed in. The woman dropped the snack on the table and eyed her.
‘No. If you don’t have your card, you cannot go in.’ She picked up the bottle from the table and gulped down the content before yelling at another student who was trying to sneak in without being noticed. I moved away quickly.
‘Don’t worry, I have my card.’
I looked from the bags to my friend. ‘But you can’t carry them alone.’
‘I’ll call my roommates to help.’ Eseosa quickly dialled a number.
‘Phebe, please come outside with your card. Bisola is here and we need your help. Tell Tare to come with hers too.’
‘Thank you Eseosa.’
Eseosa smiled. ‘What are friends for.’
‘I hope you still know my room no.’
Eseosa chuckled. ‘Can I ever forget? Block E Room 202.’
I gave her a thumbs up. ‘Sharp pickin.’
The crowd in front of the hostel began to build up. It was easy to identify who they were. Squatters, floaters and illegitimate hostelites.
The squatters were students not allocated bed space in the hostel but they found a way to share a bed with a caring friend or a compassionate acquaintance.
The floaters were the first set of students to sneak into the hostel long before the distribution of the bed spaces by the school’s accommodation board. When the allocation of bed spaces was done, they still had been unable to get a space. One of the main reasons students who applied early for a bed space couldn’t get one would be the incompetence of their lecturers and H.O.D in sending their names to the accommodation board before allocation began.
When the students allocated to the bed spaces showed up to claim their right, the floaters remained in the room jumping from one bed to another until all the beds were taken. They end up finding a sleeping spot in the TV room while their luggage remains in their ‘room’.
I belonged to the class of illegimate hostelite. After applying for a bed space at the beginning of the session and still couldn’t get one, I had to buy from a student at a price five times higher than the original rent paid to the school.
Eseosa’s roommates arrived and dragged my things in. The woman stopped them. My heart pounded and I prayed silently. If she remembered that they had checked in already, they would be in trouble. She collected their cards, looked them over and and waved them away. I sighed in relief. I’d have to hang around until 4p.m.
After exchanging pleasantries with some of my departmental and block mates, I thought to call Paul. Since I couldn’t get in until 4, what better way to hang around than to see my boyfriend. He was the major reason I was excited to return to school.
I wanted to hear him say the words I loved to hear. His declaration of love for me, the poems he read to me almost every night, his laughter, his smiles.
The six months away from him would have been unbearable had we not talked every night. Even though I made the calls most of the time, It was perfectly fine by me as long as I could hear his voice. My trembling finger punched his number.
‘Hello Paul, where are you?’
‘Are you around?’
I shouted excitedly. ‘Yes! Where are you?’
‘I’m at Lilian’s Kitchen. You remember my usual eating spot?’
‘Sure. I can’t wait to see you.’
Eseosa came out of the hostel and stopped in front of me. ‘Eseosa is here. We are coming to see you now.’
The moment I said that, I wished I could take the words back. This was supposed to be a private moment with my man without a third party. What was I thinking?
‘I’m going to see Paul. You wanna come?’
I thought she would say No but instead she nodded her head and we walked to the restaurant together.
School was already bustling with activities. Students stood at different corners chatting and talking. The photographers had set up their stands under some trees right in front of another female hostel and they were calling out to passers-by for a shot or two. Only one person was on my mind as I increased my pace. Paul. How I loved him with every breath of my being.
Can I ever forget how we first met? It was my first week in school and I was trying to finish up with my registration when he came out of school’s auditorium and saw me leaning on the wall. For some seconds, he didn’t take his eyes off me and I couldn’t take mine away either.
He was the most handsome man I had ever met. Dark. Muscle built. Broad Chest. Wavy hair. His eyes were beautiful in every shade. He had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks. The definition of a perfect man.
‘I’m Paul.’ He stretched out his hand. I shook it. The clear bag I was holding almost fell but I quickly grabbed it.
‘Need some help?’
I exhaled. ‘Someone just told me that there is a fee I need to pay at the bank and I didn’t know about it. The thought of going back to the bank and queuing is just so annoying.’
He smiled and my knees became weak. ‘Can I take a look at your documents? I need to know how far you have gone.’
I handed him the clear bag. He pulled out the documents and began to go through them. My phone rang. It was Tochukwu.
Tochukwu is a childhood friend. We grew up together back in Lagos before his father got a lecturing job in my school. Our families were close knitted friends. As far back as I could remember, Mummy Tochi, as we usually call her, was mum’s only friend. I had been three years when Tochukwu was born and mum told me how I adored him and cried when I was forced to leave his side.
Few weeks after Tochukwu’s arrival, my brother was born. I remember how we ran in the rain with only panties, laughing and shouting. Tochukwu grew up to be very stubborn. We fought and shouted at each other, and many times I had been pushed to slap him hard on his back and shout, ‘Am I your mate?’
Mum cried when the news came that they were relocating to Benin. I cried too. I missed Mummy Tochi’s delicious puff-puff and the songs she taught us every Friday evening. Tochukwu was sad too even though he didn’t cry. He was in primary 4 at that time while I was in my first year in the secondary school.
When I got admission to Uniben and travelled down to Benin, I called his father informing him I had arrived. He came with Tochukwu to pick me up from the park. Tochukwu looked different. He was darker now and thinner than he was back in our childhood days. Instead of a troublesome and naughty boy, I discovered him to be an introverted young man with a mini-library for a bedroom.
For the two months I stayed with the family, Tochukwu was fond of staying in his room listening to a sermon or reading a book. One evening when he took his father’s car out for repairs, I entered his room hoping to find a book I’d be interested in from his shelf and then I saw on his bed four different translations of the Bible and a notepad. The Bibles were opened to Philippians 3. I picked up the notepad and read what was scribbled on an opened page
Lord, that I may know you and the power of your resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.
This is my heart cry Lord. That I may grow in the knowledge of you.
‘Hello Tochukwu.’ I said, watching as Paul arranged my documents back into the clear bag while he continued to peruse through some others.
‘Bisola, I am very sorry. I just got out of a lecture since morning. Where are you now?’
‘Don’t worry. I’ve got this handled. A friend is helping me out.’
Paul raised his head and smiled at me. I return the smile. ‘Tochukwu, I have to go now.’
With Paul’s help, I was able to finish up with my registration that day. It was clear I had fallen in love with him. Even after a year, my feelings for him has not changed and now as I approached Lillian’s kitchen, a familiar thrill coursed through my body.
Paul was sitting at a table towards the window when I entered. He stood up and began to walk towards me. He was as charming as ever and his smiles still made my knees weak. I swallowed hard when he stood in front of me and pulled me into his embrace. I buried my face in his chest and breath in his scent- a familiar cologne, faint, sweet.
When I pulled away enough to see his face he laughed and held me closer. The sound of his laughter stirred a deep desire in me. I wanted to stay in his arms forever.
Eseosa cleared her throat. ‘I’m still here o.’
We pulled away and laughed. I tickled Eseosa. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve missed my man so much.’
Paul gave my friend a side hug. ‘So good to see you again Eseosa.’
Eseosa nodded her head. ‘Same here.’ She purse her lips and turned to me. ‘I don’t even know why I followed you here. I’ll see you later.’
‘My angel.’ Paul said as soon as Eseosa walked away. He led me to the table where he had been sitting and held out a chair for me to sit. He pushed his half-eaten meal aside and began to stare at me.
I rolled my eyes. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’
‘I’ve missed you so much.’ He whispered.
‘I missed you too.’
‘You must be very hungry. Let me order something for you.’
‘Paul I’m fine. I’ll just take a drink.’
Apart from the gala and soft drink I bought at the park in Lagos, I had not eaten anything but seeing Paul again satisfied my hunger. His presence was messing with my head. I wanted him to cuddle me, to put his hands around my waist and tell me how much he loved me. I missed the nights we sat under one of the trees in front of my hostel and Paul would kiss my hand while staring deeply into my eyes.
‘Why don’t you want to kiss me here?’ I had asked one evening, touching my lips.
He shook his head. ‘That’s tempting Bisola. I want to so badly kiss you but I’m afraid I would do more.’
I laughed. ‘But we can’t have sex here. That’s why I don’t visit you when you are alone at home.’
‘I know. You remember what Pastor Uyi said at the last bible study.’
I nodded. ‘It starts with a kiss.’
‘Exactly. I’m just being careful. When we get married, we will do all we want. But for now, we say No to the forbidden fruit and no kissing.’
But he gave in one night at about 1 a.m as he saw me off to my hostel from the college of medicine where we had gone to read together and night afterwards, we looked forward to more kisses and caresses.
I sat quietly and sipped my drink while he finished up his fried rice and plantain. Our eyes locked for the umpteenth time and I could see his body exploding with desire. We stared at each other, our bodies far away from the restaurant and right under our ‘love’ tree.
I was still basking in the thoughts of the sweet nights ahead when I heard my name. Annoyed by the interruption, I ignored the intruder and continued to sip my drink.
I raised my head to see one of my classmates, Yetunde, smiling down at me. I forced a smile and stood to hug her.
‘It’s so good to see you. When did you arrive?’ she asked.
‘Our last semester results have been released.’
My heart stopped. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Yes o. It’s on the notice board in our department. My dear, most of us flopped CHM 211. Thank God for the D I had. If you see the people that had carry overs ehn. Go and check it. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.’ She pointed to a pot-bellied man standing at the door. He was holding two plates of food and a handbag. ‘I don’t want to keep my boyfriend waiting.’
She said a quick hello to Paul and hurried out with her pot-bellied boyfriend. Every excitement in me died. The desire to be alone with Paul disappeared and all I wanted to do was get under my blanket and forget that I was a student.
‘Should we go check the results?’
I shook my head. ‘No. I’ll check it tomorrow.’
‘Why are you afraid? You told me you wrote the exams well. At least this should boost your CGPA. Those carryovers you had in 100level hmmm…You need a miracle not to have a spill over.
I shot an angry look at him. He raised his hands.
‘Babe, I’m sorry. But really, let’s go check this results. I’m curious too.’
‘Paul, we have fellowship this evening and I am even tired from my journey. I’ll check it tomorrow.’
Paul shrugged. ‘Ok, If that’s what you want, fine.’
When I didn’t say anything, he held my hand. ‘Baby, what’s really wrong?’
Why is he asking me that? Nothing is wrong with me for God’s sake. ‘Nothing. I’m fine.’
‘Maybe you should take some rest and we’ll meet after the bible study.’
That statement annoyed me. Was he trying to get rid of me? Why would he just want to dismiss me when we haven’t seen for six months.
‘Bisola, are you sure you are okay?’
I nodded my head and smiled. ‘Let’s go.’
When I got into the hostel, It was 4p.m already and male students were hanging around the different blocks of flats. I tried to push my fears aside as I entered my room. Some of my roommates had arrived. They were all talking and laughing but I was not in the mood. For the first time I became pissed at how a small room with 6 bed spaces could accommodate 10 ladies. But somewhere in my heart, I was grateful mine wasn’t as bad as Eseosa who had fourteen roommates. Floaters, squatters, all in a small room.
Before 8a.m the next morning, I was already in my department standing in front of the glass-cased board that held the departmental results. My eyes scanned for my matric number and then I saw it. My heart fainted even before I began to trace the scores of the different courses I had written.
C. C. F. F. F. E. F. F.
I withdrew from the small crowd already gathered in front of the board.
My roommates were leaving for lectures when I entered the room and lay on my bed. The only answer I could give to their many questions was that I was not feeling well. When they left, the tears came flooding my face.
That cannot be my result, I muttered and sat up on the bed. I had slept more in the classroom than I did on my bed. Why would God do this to me? I had cried to him in the sport center during the prayer vigil at the sports center. Why hadn’t he be merciful with me.
‘But I read. I read very hard.’
Maybe I hadn’t seen the result well. Was it possible that the grades I saw were not mine.
I decided to return to my department to check it again. When I got to my faculty and climbed the staircase that led to my department, I heard Dr Odion’s voice ringing out loud from one of the classrooms. He had fixed a class for that morning but what use was sitting in his class when I had failed his course last semester. Thankfully, the noticeboard was on the other side of the corridor.
As I took the bend that led to the board, I saw Tochukwu coming out of one of the offices and heading towards the back stairs. As if on impulse, he turned and smiled when he saw me. He began to walk towards me. I almost hissed.
The notice board was right ahead but the last thing I wanted was for Tochukwu to interrogate me about my results. It was bad enough that he was a year ahead of me even though I was three years older than him.
‘Hello Bisola. Good to see you. When did you resume?’
He thrust his hands into his pockets. ‘And you didn’t even bother to come check up on us. Mum was asking me this morning if I had seen you.’
I smiled bleakly. ‘I’ll come this weekend.’
‘Okay, I’ll be seeing you this weekend.’
I nodded without looking at his face. He stood there while I scrolled down the contacts on my phone for no reason.
Go away, for goodness sake
‘I saw your name on the noticeboard downstairs. The Dean of Sciences wants to see you.’
It was then I raised my head and stared at him.
‘Is anything the matter?’
I frowned. ‘I don’t think so. I’ll go see him. Thank you.’
For several minutes after Tochukwu left, I stood there, worried. Why would the Dean want to see me if it didn’t have to do with my results? I really failed, didn’t I? I went down the stairs to a large noticeboard that had all sorts of information scattered across it and right there at the center was my name and matric number spelled out on a clean white sheet.
There was only one answer to this: I was in trouble.
Episode 2 comes next.
Have you read Straight from Honeymoon?