Okon’s phone was not far from where I sat on the bed waiting for him to prepare the Spaghetti Bolognese – whatever that meant – that he just won’t stop boasting about how delicious it was going to be.
I caught a whiff of the aroma emanating from the kitchen and my famished stomach growled. I was in a haste to catch the first lectures which started at 8 A.M and didn’t eat before leaving the hostel. We had several lectures back to back since 8 A.M. A glance at the clock hanging on the wall showed that it was already 4 P.M.
It has been like that ever since we returned to school from the nine-month strike that was embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). As if it was our fault that ASUU embarked on the strike and we were being punished.
Unlike me, Okon was from a privileged background. His parents were wealthy by Nigerian standards. His father was a banker while his mother a businesswoman who sold fabrics in Kano state, the second-largest city in Nigeria after Lagos, and the commercial nerve centre of Northern Nigeria.
Okon and his family moved to Kano about five years ago when his father was transferred from the Lagos branch to the Kano branch of one of the new generation banks he worked with.
He had told me of how he would have attended one of the private universities, but his friends had convinced him that private universities were just ‘glorified secondary schools’ and he would only experience ‘real life’ if he attended any of the public universities in the country.
What they failed to mention were the incessant strikes that made one graduate long after their mates in the private universities had graduated. As it was, his younger sister who was in one of the private universities in another part of the country, and had started two years after him might graduate before him.
I was mulling over all these when the beep of a message pulled me out of my reverie. I caught the words of the message as they flashed on the screen before the screen went blank “Sweetheart, just got home and mum told me that you had left for school. I wouldn’t have come around if I knew you were not at home. I miss you badly. Stay safe. Love you”
My jaw dropped slightly, my eyes bulged and I felt as if I was kicked in the gut. I quickly picked my bag and left the apartment without a second glance. Fortunately, I saw a bike on the deserted road and gave the direction to my hostel room amidst tears. It was soothing when I got to the room and my roommate was not yet back. I curled up and there was no way I could stop the warm tears that coursed down my cheeks.
“How could Okon be this heartless? He said he loved me but still had another girl,” I just couldn’t wrap my head around all these.
The weather was colder than I had expected I used to hear people say Jos was the oversea of Nigeria because of the cold and I had thought the cold in Jos had prepared me for the kind of cold I was experiencing, but I realized that it wasn’t true.
I couldn’t really say how I got the job; my mind was so blank that all I could remember was that I would be paid US $11.5 (roughly over N4,000) per hour of which was the minimum wage of the county. I was looking forward to earning a six-hour pay today which I had calculated would be US $69 (more than N26,000) Imagine how much I should earn at the end of the month. Way higher than what my father was earning as a federal government worker in Nigeria.
I would earn that much Just for waiting tables, the same job that was seen as a job for the less privileged in Nigeria and there was nothing noble about it. Not so in the US as my colleague, Nancy’s dad was a District Attorney, but she waits table to pay her tuition.
I told her that her parents would be labeled as very wicked if they were in Nigeria for making Nancy, their only child, work to pay her tuition even when they could effortlessly afford it.
“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Nancy hailed, grinning from ear to ear, as patrons walked into the bistro.
“Aha! That means a lot of work and a lot of tips today,” I said excitedly.
Several patrons came in, most of them dressed in red and white. The love in the air was palpable so much so that it made me homesick.
“Can you please take the order of that couple by the window?”
I turned to see two men sitting, I craned my neck to see whom Nancy referred to as a ‘couple’ but didn’t see any.
I went to take the orders from the two men who were apparently married as I caught the glittering golden wedding band on their fingers. I wondered why they decided to leave their wives at home and hang out together on Valentine’s Day
The one who was visibly the youngest of the pair, with a clean-shaven pate, said, “Hello, we would love to have Baked Potato Salad as appetizers, Enchiladas as the main course, and Chocolate Chip Cookies for dessert.”
“Okay,” I said with a smile plastered on my face while I took down their orders.
I turned around and was about to leave for the next table when he added, “Please get a glass of water for my husband”
I did a double-take, and a quick gasp escaped from my lips while the menu flew out of my hand and landed on the face of the person close to me. She screeched as if she had seen a ghost.
I was still gathering myself when I caught sight of what I thought was a baby in a pram. It turned out that it was a dog, well dressed, and was sleeping peacefully like a baby. I freaked out and screamed loud enough to wake the dead.
The same dog that Okon told me was a delicacy in their place was treated like a human being here.
I heard, “Call the security!” all around. Everything had happened so fast and was a blur; before I could process what was happening, strong hands grabbed me from behind.
“Let me go! I kept kicking and trying to wiggle free from the strong grasp.
“Dorcas” I felt someone tapped me and called my name.
I sat up instantly and I saw Okon sitting beside me.
“Who were you fighting with? He asked grinning mischievously.
I sat up and when the fog cleared from my mind, I noticed that I was in my room in the hostel.
All the wave of pain I had felt before falling asleep came tumbling all at once and I glared at him with all the contempt I could muster.
“Why did you leave just like that? Okon asked me his voice had a nervous tinge to it.
“I saw the SMS the other girl sent to you”
“What SMS are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. You know what I am talking about.” I said harshly.
Then I saw his expression changed as realisation hit him like a tidal wave, “The SMS from my sister!” He said as he laughed so hard that I felt uneasy.
“That was my sister, Darling. You should have waited for me to explain instead of zooming off as you did.”
I was too flustered to say anything and all I could do was only to gape at him.
“Learn to always hear the other side of the story before reacting”
I remembered how fondly he had talked about his only sister several times.
“I’m sorry…” Was all I could say at that moment.
With practised skill, I stuffed my guilt and regret at the bottom of my heart as I realized that my head was spinning from the culture shock I experience in the dream not too long ago.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org