I was in SS 2 when I had my first serious approach from a would-be boyfriend; we called them ‘chykers.’ From early as junior secondary school, girls and boys alike competed to outdo themselves on who got the most beautiful girlfriend and the most handsome boyfriend. It was an unofficial competition and things they did would amaze you. Some boys would likely steal things at home to impress a girl. Those things didn’t impress me at all. I had my fair share of disturbances as I would call them.
Dynamic College was a school of its kind. Unlike Princes and Princesses where we had only children of the high and mighty within Lagos, Dynamic College, had its catchment, all over the country. It was like the Eton of Lagos. We were called ‘the Dynamites’ and maybe it accounted for why most students were explosive.
Kennedy was one of those whose approach scared the living life out of me. Kennedy would be at every turn. I wondered if he had a spiritualist that told him where I would be at any time. He was a class ahead of me, but he spent most of his time within my classroom block. He brought flowers and had them stowed away in my locker. I wondered how he got my combination lock and I suspected Amanda.
Amanda was a product of a broken home. She split her holidays. Her mother divorced her father whom she accused of infidelity. Amanda was never shy to call her mother a drunkard. Amanda’s friendship was the type
that was rudimentarily saprophytic. She asked to be friends because she felt I could influence her positively. She came into secondary school, knowing most things some adults over her age never knew. She had a
boyfriend, Emeka. They were often found in dark corners doing only God knows what. She wanted to influence me as much as I influenced her, she would encourage me to give it a try. As we grew up and became adults, Amanda would lie to her father that she was at her mother’s and vice versa. Because none of her parents spoke to another, it was difficult for them to verify her claims.
Kennedy continued to drop notes in my desk, pay for things I bought at the ‘Top Shop’ and send gifts through friends. What he wanted, “that I should be his girlfriend.” What he wanted from saying “Pamela is my girlfriend” I never really got to know. He was cute, the son of a big-time Eastern businessman. There were rumours that he spent his holidays abroad. These things weren’t just registering for me. Amanda even tried to get him to ask her out instead, he wouldn’t budge.
His infatuation became obsessive. I wanted to report him to the Guidance and Counsellor, but Amanda felt he will be in trouble. Kennedy was having a very clear case of depression. He was appearing corrosively withdrawn. He needed help and I felt a compulsion to help him. I asked to meet with him and when I spoke with him, he agreed to follow me to the Guidance and Counsellor. We are friends to date.
I was fifteen years old. I believed the fuss was about who was more beautiful than another. They were not interested very much about what was inside the head. I felt the unwanted attention was because I rolled with Amanda, and it had to stop. I had been taught by mother to be assertive. Mother is a gift. Mother took hours to talk to me about assertiveness and aggressiveness. She taught me how to say no and mean it. My romance with Amanda was good to die and I killed it courteously; and in came Sandra.
Sandra was different. She was from a responsible family. I thought it would have reduced the number of boys who wanted to make Pamela their girlfriends. Sandra had a boyfriend, but it wasn’t as Amanda’s. He was a classmate and I think theirs was about doing what others are doing. She was still sane and didn’t make it a life issue.
The next time I had something I was worried about, it was the number one student in school. Ray was wonderfully intelligent. From the time I came into school, it was either Ray had the highest-grade point average, or I had it. He was the Head Student as we called them. Ray was handsome and well built; an athlete par excellence. He was always in the news for one positive achievement or another. From the 400 meters sprint winner, to the most valuable soccer player. He won the 1500 endurance race. When they announced the state best debate student, it was Raymond. Every girl in school dreamt of Ray. I wouldn’t say he didn’t catch my fancy, but I wasn’t into him. Rather than infatuation, I admired his dedication to winning and wanted to be like him.
He was in his SS 3 and I was a class lower. For every announcement after morning devotion, there was a beautiful news about Ray. That was when Ray asked me to be his girlfriend. Instead of writing letters as others did, he asked in person. We were grouped in a school debate competition. Our approach was to first debate within ourselves. I debated against him and he was fierce and furious. I don’t know if he was angry, but he debated like he had an ass to grind with me. The moderator commended him for giving facts and commended me for being smart and calculated. When we were done and about to leave, he spoke to me directly for the first time.
“Hey, you are the one who always wants to push me out of my overall position, right?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure he was talking to me but when I realized there wasn’t anyone else closer than I was, I replied to him.
“Hey, you are the dude who would want to stop my shine.”
“Wow, aren’t you an arrogant one, who responds to her head student with no respect?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere heading the students?”
That was the beginning of the conversation that ended with him asking me to be his girlfriend. It was a pleasure to hear him ask me out, but I will wish to reiterate that it was never an option I wanted to consider.
Though we weren’t friends again, Amanda was mad that I refused him. Sandra would threaten to defriend me and every student will talk about it. Even my guardian felt I should be his girlfriend. I didn’t discuss this with mother whom at this point, lets me make most of my decisions. Father had become a regional manager in the bank and mother had joined the UNICEF. The family was now basking in more money than it could spend and it meant that I got anything I wanted.
Ray didn’t take this lightly. He was a guy who should get whatever he wants. As at that time, there were rife stories about girls who wrote him love letters. He wanted me to take my time and think about it.
Though I accepted his proposal for more time to think, I knew I didn’t have to think about anything else. I had my mind made up that I wasn’t going to have a boyfriend just yet. I knew what I wanted in life and I was still figuring out how most stuff work.
This singular action, earned the name ‘heartbreaker.’ It drastically reduced the number of boys who came to me for relationships. If I could turn down Ray, then no one stood a better chance. After our debate, I didn’t have to see Ray more often again and it suited me perfectly.
I was elected as the head student. Dynamic College believed in giving students the right to choose who leads them. I was overwhelmingly elected. Ray was proud and for the first time, he complimented me before everyone. It wasn’t a tradition that the outgoing head student will make a speech.
The tradition was the customary handing over of a college shield and baton. When Ray said he wanted to make a speech, the whole school was stunned and in silence. A few muffled murmurings were heard from within the crowd and when he spoke, it was philosophical.
“Not every time does one see someone who challenge him so much. I have grown up in life, being the best in everything. My first year in this school, I knew I was in the right place, where I could achieve all my dreams. At another point, I met a student who made me doubt my exceptionality. I had to work harder to be on top. I am glad to have met this student who has made me break my boundaries and come out of my comfort zone. Though I couldn’t get closer than I wanted, I am proud to hand over this position to her. Everyone, give it up for Pamela Ikemba.”
I wouldn’t say I heard everything he said, but I wished the grounds could open and swallow me. But most times, what we wish for never comes to us. The applause that followed his speech was deafening. That day remains engraved in my heart. I nearly doubted my resolution not to have a boyfriend, but Ray was smooth.
Dynamic College had a tradition of writing an aptitude to help you understand your abilities and make a career choice at SS 1. One would be put through a science-based and arts-based aptitude. The one you excelled better in, the school through the guidance and counselling unit would
encourage you to build your strength and career around the field. Before you enter the last class, which was SS3, you would be put through a career aptitude, which judged your passions, skills, and temperament to inform your choice of career.
When the school had the first aptitude, I scored a hundred percent in both thematic areas. The first time the school had such a score. The guidance and counsellor had to invite mother to seek her opinion. Mother insisted I must be there to give my opinion. I chose to enter a core science class. The next aptitude, I was better suited to study medicine; this I agreed with.
When we sat for our Secondary School Certificate Examination, the outcome was as expected. A parallel alpha-grade in the nine courses I wrote for. Father was ecstatic and mother would not stop bragging about it. I
earned my first unaccompanied trip to the village. Daddy got an itinerary driver to convey me to the village and stay with me all the while. It was a life uplifting experience that helped me build my relationship with the underprivileged.
Mother had advised me to be courteous and responsible. Grandma would want me to follow her to every place she went to. I had not stayed this long with grandma and the two months I spent with her, made me realize what work she did with father.
Grandfather died while father was in the university. He was a civil servant and grandma was a school principal who invested all she had to train father and his only sister; Aunty Chika, who resides in Australia with her husband. Grandma has lived in the village since she retired and depends on her pension, poultry farming and the fat stipends from her children. She was living her retirement dream, only short of grandfather, whom she had wished would be there with her.
Grandma told me stories about grandfather and I wished I had met him. Grandfather was a veteran of the civil war. He fought gallantly and had souvenirs to show for it. After the war, he had gone to Lagos as a federal civil servant and had moved with his young family. Grandfather died of a heart disease; I wished I was there to save him.
I learnt how to weed the farm, tend to the poultry and I enjoyed sitting under the big ube tree, hoping that they fall for me. It was said that in our village of Umuchukwu, it was a taboo for a girl to climb a tree and though
I desired to climb this tree and exploit the extravagant fruits it contained, I couldn’t.
Grandma would holler on her domestic help, “Uchenna, bịa ghọtara Akwanwa ube.” By Akwanwa, she referred to me, whom she had christened ‘Akwanwa.’ Akwanwa literally translated to ‘a delicate child.’
One of those days, I had so much ube that I purged all night. Grandma would make me promise never to tell mother about my experience. She knew too well that mother would insist I returned to Lagos immediately.
It was awkward that I had a driver with me in the village; a place I hardly knew where to go to. I had valuable life experience and learned humility and gratitude within my time there, but I didn’t ever get to understand why I was given a car to drive me to the village. When I discussed this with
father subsequently, he agreed with me that it was even riskier and it was resolved I would fly to the east, any other time I was going to the village.
In retrospection, I think Amanda was one of the judgemental errors I made while growing up. Instead of segregating against Amanda based on her lifestyle, I could have given more to assist her to make better life choices. It is often in this part of the world, that we blame children for assuming a particular lifestyle. I wouldn’t know how I would have turned up if I was in Amanda’s shoes. I never got to know what she passed through, but in hindsight, I think she may not have had better options.
Broken families leave children perpetually damaged, and often requiring a force bigger than them to conquer life. I think it is an act of irresponsibility on the side of the parents to expose their children to vices because of their inability to live a coordinated and purposeful life. It is not enough that
parents divorce without due consideration for what their children feel, but leaving no example whatsoever for such child to copy is what I find difficult to comprehend. Most parents have little or no time to spend with their children. All they think about is fight, have sex, get drunk, do drugs, smoke weed, keep late nights and return, blaming their children for coming into this world and ruining their lives.
At the time we were ready to enter the university, Amanda didn’t know what to do with her life. She was adrift and found herself within a storm too big for her. All I did was pity her and move on. I don’t think that was the right thing to do. Sandra joined the University of Ibadan and I gained admission at the University in Lagos (UNIILAG). While father wanted me to school in the UK, mother felt I would be too far from home. As the only child, she couldn’t bear letting me out of her sight for a moment; I guess this was because she was yet to recover from her miscarriage. I wanted to school in Nigeria too, but although I wanted to school in a private university, the desire to
have a broad university experience overcame and I was headed to the University of Lagos.