Friday evening found me in a position I’d come to know well: staring at my ceiling, taking stock of my life and not liking the results.
After that initial paper I’d bungled up, I’d learnt all night for each of the papers, and they were better, but not by much. How much can you expect to write, when you’ve been confidently missing class for 4 weeks?
So there I was, broke as usual. I’d just drank a lot of water to deceive my stomach that I’d eaten, so it wouldn’t be making disgraceful noises. I was just about to sleep, when I saw a lot of rapid notifications from my class whatsapp group.
My whatsapp class group is a frustrating place. Someone will occasionally post something sensible about tutorials or examination details, something like that, but that’s like 1% of the time. The other 99%, it’s really just rubbish, honestly; people just talking up and down and wasting your precious data bundle. So when i saw the notifications, I was reluctant to open it. It was a good thing I did, though, because they were pictures, captioned, “Anatomy midsem results.”
My heart jumped. So soon? After that azonto performance in the exam hall, I knew failure was my portion. I just needed to know if I’d a failed so badly that I would have to resit the paper.
I waited for the pictures to download, all the while reciting Catholic prayers to keep calm. I didn’t even know I knew Catholic prayers.
It finally loaded and I opened the pictures. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw there were no names; just index numbers. At least my disgrace would be private.
I started looking from the single numbers. Someone had gotten 7. Out of 74.
And I thought I had house witches. After making sure it wasn’t me, I started tracing the index numbers, till my number appeared. I almost dropped my phone.
I had 45. Forty-five over 74!
(If you’ve not done Pharmacy, you might be confused at this point and think it was a complaint. But no, people learn all night for much less than this.)
My hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe it! I started shouting shouting all over the place. Abdul stuck his head from his bunk and gestured for me to lower my voice, but I didn’t care o, chale. How was this even possible? Had the lecturers dashed me marks?
I looked in the class group to see if anybody else had a similar reaction, but for the first time, the place was SILENT. People had seen their results and their fingers were not working again.
I was still in shock 5 minutes later when the Nigerian girl I’d been learning with called.
“Otu, how was it?” She pronounced my name with a lilt at the end, like a question.
“Chloe! It was amazing! I don’t know how, but I got 45!”
“Oh wow! That’s pretty good. Mine was okay too. See? Things aren’t so bad.”
“Oh God, I am so relieved Ei. I was wondering what to tell my father.”
She laughed. “We need to celebrate. Let’s go out somewhere.”
Ehn? I laughed, because she had to be joking.
“Oh I’m serious o. Let’s go to the mall or something. I’m tired of this school.”
How did I tell her this delicately? I decided to be upfront.
“Chloe, er. I just ate gari and three sachets of pure water 2 hours ago. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice o. There is zero money in my pocket.”
She was laughing before I finished. “Oh, you’re cute. I wasn’t asking you to pay. I’m bored. Let’s go out.”
Brethren, at that moment, there were two voices in my head. The weaker voice in my head was, “Oh chale this is a little yawa here o. She’s paying. She’ll hold this over your head..” but it was quickly overpowered by my stomach voice, which went something like “Hey hey don’t be stupid. You’ve not eaten. Add a polythene bag so you can package the rest and bring it home.”
20 minutes later I was dressed and in front of her hostel. I’d left shame behind in my room. It was time to eat, please.
We took a taxi, and all the way there I wanted to ask her where we were going to eat. If it was one of those nonsense ice cream places, I would cry. It was a pity there weren’t any chop bars with fufu.
“So what do you do when you’re not learning?” We were almost halfway there, stuck in traffic.
“When I’m not learning? So you mean all the time?”
She laughed. “Yes. What do you do?”
I had to think for a while. “Nothing, really. The school has sort of swallowed my social life whole since I came here, but in Botwe my dorm-mate played the guitar. He taught me a few things.”
“Oh really? So you can play songs?”
I couldn’t play anything, friends, but I tried a diplomatic lie. “Oh, I’m sure I can play something, at least. I mean, I can play “All Of Me” for a very long time, but that’s it, really…” She was laughing again. I really wasn’t aware what I was saying was so funny.
At a point the car jolted to a halt in traffic and I was thrown forward, and I noticed what she was wearing for the first time. Kaish.
I hadn’t really paid attention when we were at the bus stop, ’cause I was focused on keeping my stomach silent, but this girl had really dressed. I’d worn jeans and a very loose top so I could eat without looking pregnant. But the dress this girl was wearing ehn, hei. I won’t even discuss what was going on at the front part of the dress, but the length went down to her ankles eh, and there was a slit. I followed it saa, and my mouth was opening slowly as the slit just kept rising. It got lost somewhere around her thigh.
“Uh…” I’d lost my train of thought. I looked up to find her smiling at me. “We’re here, Otu.”
I shook my head and focused. “Sure, sure.”
We got down and started roaming the place. I hadn’t really been there before, but it didn’t really look different from the Accra one. I knew that the Lord had heard my cries, because she bypassed all those silly expensive ice cream places (“Ah. Tsw. Is that one too food?”) and led me straight to some restaurant.
“I don’t actually live in Nigeria, you know.” We were eating. I’d ordered rice, but she was just drinking and looking through the menu. I was intrigued by her comment.
“Really? But you have a Nigerian accent, no?”
“I do? Really. I guess it’s my parents’ influence, then. They’re fully Nigerian, but we mostly drift between Kenya and Mauritania.” I’d even forgotten there was a country named Mauritania. So was everyone rich but me?
She paused and sipped the last of her drink. “They’re really nice places; you should come visit.” She seemed so animated talking about this. She must’ve been really bored in school.
“Ha. Sure, sure. I’ll just buy a ticket and fly to Mauritania, why not. It’s just, what, 2000 dollars?”
She looked amused at my sarcasm. “It really isn’t that expensive, you know. People just assume these things.” She paused, then “Will I ever hear you sing? I mean, I hate that song, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be so bad if you sang it.”
See, I wasn’t very bright, but I wasn’t stupid. This entire night had been too nice. The Nigerian girl I did group studies with, had paid for a trip to an expensive restaurant, and was laughing at my dry jokes all night. These were the kind of dreams i dreamt in my hunger induced sleep sometimes. Was this happening? What was actually going on?
But obviously I wasn’t going to jeopardize anything by asking questions; I still wasn’t done with the food. So I concentrated on that, and as I ate, we talked.
Her father was one of those rich diplomats, as it turned out. She had a rather large family; she was the 5th child and there were 4 girls after her. We had that in common, at least. We spoke about never finding room for yourself, and laughed at the stress of dealing with older dramatic siblings.
She told me about how she didn’t make many friends because of the usual situation when your family moved a lot (“I’ve been to 8 different schools,” she mentioned at a point.) and so she valued whatever little connections she made. “So I realise were not that close” she said at a point, “but this is nice.”
I was…I didn’t know what to think, honestly. My mind was blank. I hadn’t really paid much attention to this girl beyond using her mind to pass exams, I hadn’t had the time. But I looked at her now, and I saw. The thing about Chloe was that she wasn’t quiet, but she blended into places well, talking, friendly, understated, so she wasn’t really the first person you’d notice when you walked into a room. But when you really looked at her, as I was doing now, you couldn’t look anywhere else.
I realised I’d been staring for the past 20 seconds, trying to organize my thoughts. She smiled at me again. How she could find these horrible social skills funny were beyond me. “Are you done?” she asked, pointing at my plate.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” I wasn’t even close to done, but I wasn’t sure I could. What was going on? Was I reading the situation wrong?
“We should probably get going, then.” She flicked her hand towards the back and a waiter over with a dutiful smile.
“Are we done?” He asked, looking at Chloe. He could tell that I was obviously not the one with money here. Chale I wasn’t even offended. Broke was broke.
“Yeah, yeah.” She gave him money and rose from her seat. I got up too, and stretched out my hand, and she took it, grinning.
We walked around the mall for a bit, laughing at people, talking, talking, just talking. At a point we passed an ice cream shop, and there were two guys playing the guitar in there. One of the guys was in our class; I was shocked. A pharmacy student with extracurriculars? I barely had time to sleep. He saw us and waved as he played, beckoning with his hand, mouthing come, come! through the glass.
I could see what was about to happen a kilometer away, but I could do nothing as Chloe dragged me in there. “This is your chance, Otu. You thought I was joking about the singing?” She laughed.
“Okay. Are you going to dazzle me or what?” She was sitting down by Paul, the guy. They were already friends, I think. I stood there and weighed my options. I really didn’t have a choice, and I did have a decent voice, after all. Ah well.
“Yo, Xavier. Play ‘All Of Me’ wai. In key of D.” I said to the guy.
He nodded and started strumming, and I sang. There were only about 7 people in the shop at the time, and they’d all stopped to watch. The sellers were just standing there in their hair caps, smiling as I disgraced myself.
I kept my eyes focused directly on hers as I sang. I hadn’t sung the song this well before, but then when had I ever had occasion to serenade a beautiful girl in front of an entire restaurant? Her smile widened with every line I sang, and when I ended the chorus, she giggled and clapped twice, and left her hands in that position, clasped. Someone at the back of the restaurant cheered, and a few people clapped. I had to struggle to keep an idiotic grin off my face.
“That was beautiful,” she remarked, when we were outside waiting for the Uber cab to come.
I tried to be smooth. “Oh, I..I had beautiful inspiration,” I managed to say.
Otu, why? Why was I swag-less like this?
Thankfully the Uber driver called her just then, so I didn’t see her reaction.
She looked drained, I noticed, when we got in the car. It occurred to me that what she’d been drinking at the restaurant was slightly alcoholic. Was she drunk? I told the guy where to go, and we set off. She took out her phone, kicked off her heels like she was in her own car, and sighed, “I’m tired.” She put her head on my shoulder, and started texting on her phone. I didn’t even want to breathe, for fear of ruining it.
It seemed like it was 10 seconds later that we arrived in front of my hostel. She lifted her head and looked at me, and I was at a loss again.
“Will you be okay? I can have him just drop you off there, and I’ll w-walk back-” I stuttered. she shook her head. “I’m fine.”
There was a brief minute, where I thought of what to say, how to say it. Her eyes were still on me. She had such wide, wide eyes, she almost looked surprised half the time. And her hair almost always covered her forehead, but it was parted as she’d slept on my shoulder, and I could see how it curved out. How had I overlooked such beauty for so long?
“Chloe, I-” I stretched out my hand and touched her face. I prayed to the heavens that I wasn’t reading this wrong, then I leaned in and took her lips. She stiffened for a second, then she sighed.
I remember that she tasted like expensive wine. How appropriate, I thought.
We stayed like that for a while, lips locked , and then I out of the corner of my eye I saw the Uber driver’s face through the mirror. He looked horrified. His mouth was hanging. I couldn’t help it; I fell back and burst into laughter. She looked confused till she saw his face, and then we were both just howling with laughter in the backseat.
The taxi driver looked angry. “Please time is far spent, I need to return.” Still laughing, I turned back to Chloe. “I’ll see you?” She nodded. There were tears of laughter in her eyes. The driver sped off immediately I was out if the car, and I waved, twice.
I had to stand there for a second and steady myself. And then I jumped and punched the air in joy. Life was finally showing me a win. I was ready for this. I looked into the sky. “Thank you!” I shouted. People standing around the roundabout were staring, but I was used to the staring now.
I walked all the way back to my room, skipping, wondering whether to tell Jeff and Abdul. I got to my room and pushed it wide open. “Chale, you people would not believe-“ Jeff was looking at me as I entered, and he pointed to my bed. There was a girl in a crop top sitting on it, smiling.
“Hi, Otu,” Naa said.