I was drowned in a pool of words that Dikachi had put together to make sentences that grew and extended their tentacles to every part of her page; pages multiplied until they became a beautiful story. She wrote and I read. I was the only one permitted to read her works. That made me feel special.
I preferred reading novels under the ebelebo tree (almond fruit tree). That was what my Benin friends called it. Since I wasn’t Benin but Igbo, I pronounced the word as ebele bo, which if translated in Igbo language would mean “mercy bo.” I preferred to sit there and perhaps it was because the nerd boy also sat there.
He wasn’t just a nerd, he was handsome in an unusual way; he wasn’t bald like my step father. Thin lines of hair ran from his chin up to the top side of his face. The remaining hairs that God let him have were sprinkled above his top lips, his long legs and arms. His eyeballs were mystical, I always believed there were pages of stories living in them. It would be delightful to read them over and over again. If his eyes were filled with typed stories, I would want them carefully printed through his red shade lips, and a taste of his lips… what was I thinking?
His eyes always met mine but he constantly looked away into a huge textbook, supposedly a biology textbook.
One day, I decided to do what the youths would call ‘shooting shots.’ I sat close to him and I felt I was floating through existence.
“You don’t have friends?” I popped the wrong question, with an after feel of regret. But he smiled, his two middle front incisors were quite bigger and slightly longer than the rest of his dentition, like that of a rabbit, but I still found it attractive.
“I’m Akubundu. Igbo. Faculty of Arts, Linguistics,” I said almost choking, I had swallowed saliva unintentionally.
“Ola. Yoruba. Faculty of Sciences, Pharmacy.” He paused but continued as though he had recalled something.
He was amazed that I came all the way from Faculty of Arts to his faculty, which was directly opposite the Uniben Staff School, my primary school. Looking at the walls of the school building alone reminded me of old memories I wanted to be meticulously buried under the carpet grass beneath my feet.
We were lost in our own stories for a long time. Since he couldn’t pronounce my name he preferred to call me ‘Aku,’ which alone meant ‘wealth,’ but wholly, with the other parts of the letters it meant ‘wealth is life.’
Ola had friends, but he enjoyed his own space. He always wanted time alone, he said it was to ‘ponder.’ He enjoyed white maize but I didn’t, yellow was more preferable to me because it reminded me of Onitsha, my hometown; he liked them boiled, but I preferred them roasted.
He told me about Ibadan but never about the people in Ibadan; there was something he avoided telling me and that was what I always saw in those beautiful shy eyes that betrayed what he didn’t want to let people have cognizance of.
I always didn’t let him wear his spectacles. I either had it on top my hair or on top my nose. He always pleaded to have it but I wouldn’t give him. If we didn’t meet under the tree, we would meet at ‘Ekosodin gate,’ the big black gate with security men on turquoise blue uniform shirts and black trousers, guarding cautiously with guns I couldn’t tell if they were real or dummy.
I recalled kissing him severally. I always made the first move in everything, I wasn’t desperate, I was just bold and free minded. He hadn’t expected it then, butterflies fluttered in his bellies.
I recalled one indigo evening, he was telling me about going home, he said he belonged home. I was already upset that I lost my phone, I was mad that he didn’t care that I lost something important and he was more concerned about home. I left him in anger, I didn’t give him listening ears like I used to.
That same indigo evening that had the skies sprinkled with stars, turned deformed at 12:00am. Even my reading lantern went off, something I had charged for two hours. It was eccentric in a way that wasn’t supposed to be. Beads of moisture dropped through the dark clouds, raising dust from the ground. I could hear the whirling of the wind, it must have gathered old brown leaves like Dikachi would have written in her books. I couldn’t read any longer. I was worried, I felt strange. I dropped quickly on my bed, my head buried in the cotton-stuffed pillow, I felt guilt crawling from the walls of my heart down to my abdomen, it wasn’t menstrual pain, it was strange.
The next morning, we woke up to an environment with dew falling from above. Dikachi and I were walking past the tarred road with tall trees along the area leading to the Faculty of Arts, when a short girl tapped me on my shoulder from behind. She gave me a white envelope, she said it was from Ola. She was his course mate, I thanked her and dumped it inside my quality leather handbag that mum had given to me as my twenty-second birthday gift.
“Baby boy don annoy you oo, you seem to be less excited.”
“It’s just a little brawl, we would get over it soon,” I said, but it was more like a consoling word to myself than an explanation to my bestie.
We sat down on an empty seat, it was still an hour to go before we proceeded with lectures. I had just opened my note when Ochuko showed me a picture on his phone, he was always the first person to update me on any trending news on social media.
“Una don see this guy wey dem say thunder storm kill for this Uniben? All these cultists,” he said with mockery as though every boy who suddenly died in a university was a cultist. It was Ola. For some seconds I paused, I couldn’t feel my legs.
“Hmm, they said thunder storms left cracks on the walls of their lodge. About fifty students didn’t die, not even his room mate, only this one,” a girl chimed in.
“Jesus! This is not possible! Ola!” I exclaimed almost in a loud tone, both of my fingers were trembling. I dipped the left in my handbag and got out the envelope he had given me. Inside it was a letter carefully written, ink stains carefully forming words that sat gently on each line of the long sheet. Dikachi and Ochuko had popped their curious eyes into the letter, eyeballs moving forward and backwards, grabbing words that their brains carefully calculated…
“My angel, you’ve always been my happiness, thank you for loving me. Unfortunately, I’ve not always belonged to this world, I belong with the ancestors. But you made my world worthwhile, you’re brave, strong and intelligent. If I were to live longer, I would wish you loved me till forever.
You’ve always been curious, you’re the only one who suspected I suppressed a lot of stories and emotions you would have loved to know or listen to.
I wasn’t born on a beautiful day like you.
My mother couldn’t identify my father, she wasn’t proud of me. I’ve always been shamed and cursed, we both shared in the shame. She left me with my grandmother to search for greener pastures, but grandma wasn’t proud either. She treated my aunty’s children with more regard than me. I wanted to be loved by them. She kept on saying, ‘You’re a child who came forth from shame, you should have been aborted or miscarried to save your mother’s name.’
But I guess you’re the only one who cherished me in a way that I could never imagine. Since I was five till fifteen, my own mother had always told me that I would die at twenty-four, since it was the age my supposed father had hurt her and left her; she always said it to my face with so much pain. She wished that I suffer what my father should have suffered, a price to pay for his sins. I guess I’m going to die tonight because tomorrow is my birthday. Goodbye
Days have escaped into weeks and weeks grew into puberty, a hectic month, into dozens of it. It’s a year now, yet I feel his presence each time I set my foot under the ebelebo tree. In my dreams, every white maize I eat reminds me of the memories; the hardness of his palms when we hold hands; how tight he pinches his nose with his thumb and the the other finger close to his thumb when I fart. Even when I walk by the Faculty of Sciences.
What a handsome sweet soul, so innocent yet a victim of the mistakes of the past. Thankfully, I still have his glasses with me, right now I feel lost, I feel angry, yet sad. I want all of him, I feel I can never have him.