You think of Mum. She has not called you for six days now—you are keeping count. Before these six days, however, she was calling almost disturbingly, telling you to come home, and you kept saying that some things are holding you in school. Maybe she felt she needed to let you be and so stopped calling. But does she not know you don’t have foodstuffs and enough money?
“Hey!” A voice jolts you into reality. You turn, and it’s the girl you met in the lecturer’s office.
“So where are you going to now?” she asks, coming closer.
“I don’t really know,” you say. “Maybe find a strong hotspot and check out some videos on YouTube.” You then remember that your phone is down, but you don’t tell her.
“Oh! That’s cool, but how about taking a stroll? Me and you?” She asks, and you remain silent as if thinking of what to say.
“Do you mind?” she presses and you say no, you don’t mind. She stretches her hand, you stretch yours, forming a loose grip with hers. You start walking down. You don’t even know where you are going to. Maybe Odim Gate or Ikoku Junction, you can’t say. But you are walking.
After a considerable moment of silence, you ask why she did not submit her workbooks earlier. She looks at you, laughs and says, “You, is it not the same thing that has kept you here?”
“It is oo, but I also wanted to spend some extra time here before traveling.”
“Spend some time here? Who does that?” Her voice almost a scream. “Everyone knows Nsukka is not the best of places. The weather is always cold; always drizzling. The environment is not even safe—snakes here and there. Last week alone, we killed three snakes in our lodge. One—a green one—climbed into my friend’s apartment through the window. That my friend, her apartment is on the third floor, but the snake climbed into it—through the window oo! Even the sellers here are so stingy. Imagine, I once bought akara worth fifty naira. The woman put six balls and after she counted and saw there are six instead of five, she removed one. That was so annoying, you know.”
You know about sellers’ tight-fistedness here. You equally know about the abundance of snakes here in Nsukka. In fact, you first saw a live snake here—inside a gutter at the Vice Chancellor’s Quarters. It must have seen you first and seeking a hiding place when you looked into the gutter and saw it running crookedly. It wasn’t a huge one, but it sent shivers into your body that day. It continued running until it was hidden under a slab of concrete. But then you can’t imagine snakes climbing as high as the third floor and entering people’s apartments through the window. Well, it’s too early to accuse her of telling lies, so you remain quiet. And then, there is something about this girl, the way she speaks, her originality, her boldness. Not every girl on campus will tell you they eat akara. But this one? She doesn’t even mind. Somehow, she reminds you of the pride-filled Kosara who broke up with you after you teased her amidst her friends about how she looked so elegant in a cheap dress worth two-hundred naira only. This girl here won’t be offended at such a joke, would she?
Your mind quickly drifts back to the present, and as if you believe this girl, you ask, “Six snakes in a week? Where is that, please?”
“You stay at Hill-Top?”
The stroll is still in progress…
“So what’s the name?” she asks.
“What? What does it mean?”
“Its literal translation—Stop tempting me.”
“Oh, beautiful. You’re the first I’m meeting with this name. Seems Igbos are exploring the language, digging out fresh names for their kids. My aunt named her children Nwadebe and Gbanite—meaningful names, but strange.”
“Yes, names starting with ‘chi’ are now cliché.”
“Not including mine. How many people answer Chizitere kwanu?”
“Well, so long as there’s ‘chi’, it’s still a cliché.” Laughter follows.
You reach Ikoku Junction and cross to the road leading to the school pitch, which further leads to the Faculty of Arts, where well-trimmed hedges stand like green blankets cast over well-arranged tables. At the Faculty of Arts, you stop, sit on the concrete seat under a Melina tree and chat for a while.
“It’s getting late,” you say finally, pointing toward the sky. The sun, orange and dull, is sinking below the horizon, and darkness is gradually descending.
You return to your apartment feeling tired, your legs heavy as logs of wood soaked in water. It’s cold and lonely inside your room. If it were three or four weeks earlier, your next-door neighbor Williams would be indoor, playing Cardi B, coming to your room only to borrow lighter or cooker, and saying, “my gas just finished.” The pharmacy student living opposite, who likes eating noodles with eggs, would have had the entire building pervaded by the smell of eggs frying. But everyone has gone for the holidays.
You bolt the door, undress and crawl into bed in your red boxer-shorts and white vest. You heave a deep sigh and close your eyes. Then there is a knock on the door. It comes again, and the only thing you can think of is armed robbers. Last week, when there were still few students left in the lodge, they came in the night, packed every footwear outside and left. Maybe they’ve come armed this time.
Rising from the bed, you ask, “Who’s there?”
A voice says, “It’s me.” A soft voice. A female voice. A non-threatening voice.
You open the door, surprised to see Anwazina standing before you. You stare at her and she stares back.
“You came?” you ask. “How come?”
“I knew you live here. I just wanted to be sure. Won’t you tell me to come in?”
“Batawa, come in please.” She comes in, you close the door, and every other thing happens swiftly.
The following morning, you are in a minibus, on your way home. Not even halfway into the journey, and this eighty-year-old-looking woman is already snoring beside you. A lecturer is sitting by your right, marking some scripts. The road is not free of potholes, but the driver doesn’t want to slow down. He keeps turning the steering swiftly as if making a complete 360-degree-turn repeatedly. The result is the car moving crookedly like a snake-like the one you saw at the Vice Chancellor’s Quarters. Passengers keep complaining, saying: Driver, nwayo, take it easy.
You think of yesterday, of everything that would have happened. Had everything went uninterrupted, it would have been your first. A first experience that would have opened the door for you to share in your friends’ strange bravery. You would have been excited to announce to them that you are man enough, that you’ve ‘knacked’ a girl. Then, with their eyes bulging, they would ask, “Who?” But you wouldn’t tell them. You close your eyes and try to imagine, conjuring up images of last night: her fingers with multicolored nails splayed on your chest. Your head moving around her neck and bosom, wetting them with your saliva. Your low groans. Her soft sighs. And then the call—the phone call that brought everything to an abrupt end.
After she had received the call, she remained still for some seconds and then pushed you away, gently though.
“What is it? What did I do?”
“It’s not about you,” she said and told you that her mother has just passed away. A heavier silence descended. She rose and walked out of the room. You stood at the doorstep, watching her walk away, feeling guilty for your inability to help.
Now, inside this minibus, you think of your own mother. What if you return and she’s no more? No! God forbid. There are so many things you want to tell her: why did she not call you? Does she not know you have no foodstuff or money? God, you pray, protect my mum. The next second you are stunned at what you just did—you just prayed? Your hypocrisy stares at you. When life goes smoothly and you are comfortable, you proudly profess your atheism, telling everyone how crazy they are to believe—or even think—that there is a being who sits above, watching over humans. Then, when things turn awful, awful in the way no one—no mortal—can help, you subconsciously call God. And although you do not pray with the kind of faith that breathes life into a rotting corpse, or the kind that manipulates results, going into the computer database, wiping off an F and replacing with a C or B, or even an A, and going ahead to make the changes reflect everywhere they had previously appeared as F, you feel relieved whenever you do—a sort of relief that simply comes with speaking and pouring out your emotion.