I can not remember which came first: the noise, the gunshots, the stampede of shoes kiting in different directions, shrills of female members cutting the air, the piercing response of anguish of those shot, those who fell, their inevitable thud as they hit the ground.
No one saw their faces or remembered their exact number, but one thing was for sure—death had visited us in the company of his kinsmen. I advanced toward a transparent glass and watched my reflection rush towards me before I rammed into the glass and it shattered. I felt no pain, just a pricking desire to live, just a gnawing resolve to amble towards safety; my feet quickened towards the wrought iron partition that separated Awolowo Hall from the steeply-bent road that led down to Mozambique Hall. My feet shot up from the ground, unperturbed by the inertia of jumping down.
Then I remembered Ify.
The sun was reluctant to set. The darkening clouds washed over it at a hurried pace, but the brown sun would emerge at the end of the clouds, victorious, vindictive, like Evi.
I looked at him, imploringly, pleadingly; my eyes bent low to meet his gaze only halfway, my mien that of a meek favour-seeking cat but he remained resolute, lips thinned out, as he paid his glass of Chapman his utmost attention.
“Look, Ify. You can make faces all you like. You are not attending that gyration. There is no way you will become a keggite and remain my girlfriend. You have to make a choice. It is either palmwine or I…”
“But Evie”, I said, my face drawn out like a morose mongrel, “How can you ask me to pick between you or Palmwine? Do we always have to come to the point? Do I always have to make a compromise? You asked me to severe my ties with Dayo. I did. Now you don’t want me to join Keggites. And you are being unreasonable about it. You didn’t even ask me what I want with them.”
“What exactly are you saying, Ify? You are a medical student in 100 level, always remember that and also remember that you met me in this school. I was like you five years ago, thanks to ASUU. Fresh out of secondary school. A bloody Jambito interested in everything. I wanted to play drums for CASOR. I wanted to sing Tenor in a secular Acapella group. I wanted to recite poetry at Pit Theatre. I wanted to have the best result in CHM 101. I wanted to join Alpha Club. I nearly failed CHM. I had a 50 Pass in Chemistry. 50. I was this close to failure. This”, Evi inched his thumb and forefinger towards each other, leaving just a gap to drive home his point.
“I am not you o!”
“Yes you are not. But you have heard my final word on this matter.”
Evi was quiet but his legs trembled. He brought out a white hankie and wiped sweat off his forehead. He wiped his glasses with the moistened hankie till he was satisfied. Then he put on his glasses, downed his drink in one gulp and left.
I sat on the concrete seat in Rotunda bar; tear droplets filled my eyes as I watched him walk out of my life again.
Ify wanted medicine, but she settled for Dentistry when her name came out in the last batch of Supplementary List on the afternoon we matriculated.
She paced about the Faculty Notice board that afternoon, waiting for the list to be pasted, but under the pretence of obtaining the Matriculation gown whenever anybody asked what she was doing at the Faculty.
She could not lie to me. I was me. Her best buddy. Dayo, the keeper of seats at morning lectures in Ajose Lecture Theatre. Dayo, the religious sponsor of lunch at the Health Sciences Canteen. I was Dayo, the dude who always made an extra photocopy on her behalf. I was Dayo, her Jambito boyfriend like her friends liked to call me.
“Calm down, Ify. They will paste it soon enough”, I said but I wasn’t sure I sounded convinced myself, my matriculation gown neatly arranged in the crook of my elbow.
Ify continued to pace. She mumbled words, spoke tongues, and committed her admission to the divine court, decreed against every extraterrestrial force interested in being an impediment, breaking their yokes, losing their hold, banishing their interests, trembling all over.
“God is control”, I said, “Aren’t you hungry? Let’s go and chow. By the time we eat, they should have pasted it, and then we will go to Amphi”.
“Look Dayo, leave me alone. I am talking about my future; you are talking about food”, She closed her eyes in total submission to His will.
I stood up from the desk I leaned on and walked towards her. She smelt of a flowery fragrance. She wore a short Ankara dress that embraced her bust and emphasized it. She was so light-skinned she could have been a goddess.
I hugged her. I told her everything will be fine.
On any given Friday night, Moz Hall was like a city mall, milling with a throng of prospective shoppers, well-dressed guys and under-dressed ladies holding hands, music blasting from hired speakers advertising upcoming campus events, wide-eyed porters loosely on guard, waiting for ten p.m so that they could fastened their padlocks on the hostel gates and sleep in turns.
Today was not much different. Cece Winan’s It Wasn’t Easy competed with Britney Spears’ Sometimes in very loud decibels at the Hall entrance while Evi and I held hands in silence as we walked towards Awo Hall.
Evi’s silence was eerie but the grip of my fingers was reassuring. A cold blast of wind blew, yellowy leaves rustled and fluttered to the ground. Evi cinched his grip around my fingers, never letting go, up to the point where his grip was a tad hurting. I winced and he looked at me. I saw his brown eyes behind his geek glasses. He had been long-sighted for as long as he could remember.
“Evi”, I called
“Ehnn”, his response.
“Why are you in such a hurry to go now? Let’s seat for sometime”, I pulled him toward the Moz Bus Park which hardly served that purpose. It was better known as the Lover Spot. Couples paired up under the canopy of corrugated iron sheets, sat on cement pavements, held hands, laughed, locked eyes sometimes.
“Ify. I can’t. I told you I have two weeks to Combined Incourse exams.” He looked at my sullen face, “Okay, I will wait for like five minutes”.
We sat. I leaned on him. He took off his glasses and gasped, and then he began to wipe them religiously again with a white hankie.
I snatched his glasses, put them on and made a face. He smiled.
“I love you”, he said looking into my eyes, oblivious of a young man’s scoff as he walked by. The young man was dressed in a green sleeveless fabric, the unmistakable regalia of Keggites. The young man was Dayo, heading for the Gyration at Awo Café.
Things stopped being the same between Ify and I after she met that bespectacled buffoon who was way up our senior. She didn’t hide the fact that she liked me. She toyed with indecisiveness of a teenager who wouldn’t make up her mind. She wanted my friendship, but she didn’t want my kisses. She wanted me to keep seats for her in class, but she didn’t want me to visit her hostel every evening.
But I liked her, or should I say, I was fascinated about her oddities, her contradictions. She liked being sought after but she wouldn’t commit. She liked God but did not like Campus Fellowships. She prayed only in strange tongues. She carried a small make-up purse around but favoured a big bible. She liked short decent dresses. She liked palmwine. She wanted to be a keggite.
The first sign of trouble was on matriculation day. I went to Ify’s room that evening to take her to the freshmen’s party organized in town as we had agreed earlier. A bespectacled man sat on her bed; she sat leisurely on the small strip of rug between his feet, her photo-album sprawled open on her intertwined legs. She swallowed a chuckle when she saw me and then managed a smile.
“Hey Dayo, what’s up?” She said.
“I am fine. What’s up? We’re already late or have you changed your mind about the party?”
She stood up with a start and scratched her weave vigorously. Then she said, “Meet my friend, Eviano. Part Four Medicine.”
“Hello”, I shook the bespectacled guy’s outstretched hand; he screwed up his nose and adjudged me from behind his frames.
“How are you?” he asked.
I looked at Ify’s eyes and found what I sought in them missing.
“Ify, alright, we see later”, I got up and left, but I registered my anger by slamming the door.
“Ify, I got to go now”, Evi said. He stood abruptly and detached himself from my embrace.
I was startled, then surprised and then saddened by the briskness of his actions, by his selfish dedication to his books. After all he was not the only student in Ife; he was clearly not going to be the first doctor who would graduate from the prestigious College of Health Sciences. But secretly, I liked his seriousness, his obstinacy with his focus. He would make a good husband some day, perhaps a good father too, but somewhere in my hearts, I wondered if we would last. If he could be patient enough for my childish tantrums, if he could care for me like my sister, if he could wait for me till I was ready to give myself to him.
But that did not all matter at the moment. All that mattered was Evi’s books waiting for him at Faj Caf. And he was serious about going to them.
“Won’t you stand up?” he pressed.
I reluctantly stood up and walked beside him towards Awolowo Hall, sulking.
“Grow up already”, he said as he doubled his pace.
“Slow down jare. Don’t you know how to treat a lady?”
“You want me to hold your hands and attract the attention of this bored Awo boys, who are just looking for scapegoats to make a mockery of?”
We were silent. As we left Awolowo Hall through one of the exits that led to the shortcut to Faj Hall that passed behind the Health Centre, he held my hands. We walked through the enveloping darkness and his grip grew cinched.
Then he suddenly threw my hands forward and gripped my waist and lurched at me with his lips in the raunchiest kiss ever. The kiss could have lasted for five seconds or eternity.
We dissolved and I could feel blood flush through my face. It was a public display of affection alright but the darkness had cordoned us off.
A column of torch-light wielding students suddenly appeared from behind a bend. We stepped on opposite sides of the bush path and watched them file past us. Evi’s eyes gleamed with affection. The sky was studded with myriads of stars and I just wanted to hold him and seat somewhere and stare at the starry skies with him.
We hugged again and he said “Goodbye”.
I watched him till he disappeared behind the bend.
I stepped out of Gyration to ease myself behind the bush path that led to Awo Hall and the unmistakable figure emerged from the darkness.
I tried to rush the stream of urine but there was no luck, the palmwine had begun to take its toll.
“Boys are just animals”, she said as she walked past me, but slowed down her pace, so that I could quickly tidy up and walk beside her.
“If you had it like a hose, you would also whip it out”, I wiped my hands on thighs of my jeans.
“Ewww”, she exaggerated her expression, “You are just an animal, Dayo”
“So are you going to join us for the gyration after all or did Doctor refuse to grant you permission?”
“What are you saying? That I need permission from anybody to do anything?” her voice was rising and I was glad. She loved the feel of independence; she loved to assert herself as a free roving being nurtured on the Pop music of Tina Turner, TLC, Monica and Destiny’s Child.
She knew very little about mind games so my ploy worked. I urged her to accompany me to Awo Caf and I found her a green Kegites vest. Soon enough she was singing the hilarious songs of gyration, she even got a gong which she beat in time to the rhythm of the drums. She laughed heartily. She was having fun. She looked at me funny, like she actually could have a thing for me. And now I had left her when trouble broke out.
I said a quick prayer for Ify as I ran into Aluta Market for cover.