It wasn’t that the 300-level student, Bowale Israel, wasn’t handsomely carved. Neither was he as deadly as a shark cultist. It was the little exhibition of mad: the sudden explosion, the unconscious pacing up and down the hallway, the loud dialogue-like monologue. It was these things that made even the thought of having a romantic lady in his life seem like fiction.
Deborah Ebong was the transfer student in his class. Somehow she had miraculously worked her transfer to the University even at 300 level. She was as slender as a one-year-old pawpaw tree. Her long hair, rather than her breasts or a womanly shape, was the singular characteristic speaker that announced that she was a female human. She just wasn’t the girl Bowale Israel was looking for. She didn’t pass up to half of his features-I-seek-in-a-woman checklist. No large backside; no curvy waist; beauty, Nil; intelligence, not impressive; ability to cook well, he heard that she hardly ever boils water sef! So she was a failed candidate to him. Yet he recognized but didn’t know why she always flanked around him like a remora fish on a shark’s side.
It was going to be the routine Valentine’s day. No lover. No call, well except his younger sister asking him if he had taken his “anti-schizophrenic drugs”. He kept pacing the room, scared that he may have another episode of explosive outburst. He was talking with an increased volume to himself.
Why was I even born?
That’s true. I never gave it a thought; it was probably a mistake.
I feel like I’m just wasting resources here.
Why is life so unfair?
I can’t even have a love partner. And I am in the 300 level!
Maybe I should just become a priest if I survive graduation two years from now.
Or… wait. Not a priest. A monk.
I can’t afford to travel to China.
What do I do now?
Bowale pacing came to a stop as he spotted the coconut at a distance from his bright window.
Something struck his mind. Easy! I’d travel to the village. I can be a village monk.
But what about jobs?
It doesn’t matter, man, the villagers farm their food and that’s all that matters, right?
But my friends…
Be a real man, you’ve got no friends!
Bowale scratched his head; he didn’t want to believe the voice in his head. But it seemed so real and right. His pacing resumed. Faster than before. His heart raced. His feet and wrist pumped with blood and energy. No, not now. The psychiatrist had told him to distract himself by painting pictures when Mr Negativity spoke to him, but he was not in the mood to continue painting this lonely city portrait.
He opened his room door to steal some breeze for a while. Two hostelites dressed in Valentine’s color passed by with their girlfriends at their sides holding fancy packages.
“Why did you pass the corridor? Now everywhere is smelling perfume, perfume. Do you people want to block my nose?”
“What concerns him if we passed a general corridor?” One of the boys asked the other.
“Chike doesn’t respond to him; you know how he always does.”
“That’s true sef, no crazy hostelite can spoil our day,” He wrapped his hands around his girlfriend and stoned her with a kiss on her chubby cheeks. There was a wicked cackle as they walked down the corridor.
Bowale was mad. He went back inside, slammed the door. He came out again, slammed the door harder. He opened it again and repeated the action only stopping when he heard his doorknob drop to the ground with a clang.
He could hear the silence afterwards: the birds cooing, his heart crying aloud, the cars honking.
Bowale sat on his bed gazing at the spoilt doorknob on his hand and the fresh bruises on his right foot which made him so puzzled.
His pocket vibrated twice. Then he heard his ringtone. Who could it be? He stared at the screen.
He touched the screen and raised the phone to his right ear.
My email? Why?
Important message. Okay…
About what exactly?
Speaker? Me? How?
His face lit.
Okay. I’d check it right now. Thank you.
Well… I didn’t have any Valentine outings. I’ve been home all along. Sad, boring Valentine’s day as usual.
No, I don’t have one. In fact, I had never had one since 100 level. No one has called me today up till this moment, well, except you.
I’m still in my hostel by the way.
What about you?
This was the first time he asked about her; it felt different.
He sat upright, plucking his nose unconsciously.
You, too, were home all along? I thought it was just me!
Wow. I get it.
Hmm… Are you for real?
You know what?
Can I come over to your place?
Oh. You don’t stay in the hostel?
I get; your parents may be thinking XYZ.
Her laughter was unique; It seemed powerful yet creamy.
You want to come over?
I never saw that coming.
I stay at Zik Hall. Block C. You can call me when you get there.
Let me see what I can do; if there is no foodstuff, we’d soak garri together.
Her laughter induced his blushing. He dropped on the bed, his smiling face opposing the multiple white squares on the ceiling.
Yes o… Even on Valentine’s day.
I’d be expecting your call.
Once again, Deborah, thank you so much for what you did; God bless you.
I’ll check my email right away.
Take care, too.
Bowale smiled. He never thought Deborah could be a wonderful person.
He heard footsteps pass the hall and he suddenly remembered that she would be coming over soon. He tucked in the bedsheet in minutes, swept the floor, and hid the bucket and the pair of boxers he had lined on the window railing into his wardrobe. It was at that moment he was cognizant of the blackened cobwebs that lingered at the extreme corner of his room behind his wardrobe. A broom in his right hand and the extra height from the chair below his feet solved that issue.
His room had never had the sparkling neatness since he first moved into the hostel; Bowale was pleased.
He wondered if he should place an expensive order from the nearby restaurant and go broke for the rest of the week or borrow four packs of Indomie from Mallam Basit downstairs. Then a call came in.
I am coming outside to pick you up now.
What is the color of your dress so I can easily spot you?
Wow, that’s Valentiney.
I’ll be outside shortly. Bowale gave a final scan of the room for any misplaced item, stabbed his pocket with his phone and ran out of the door. He remembered: the door wouldn’t lock because he had spoiled its lock. He had to stuff the edge with a piece of carton paper before it could stay in place. He dashed out.
Bowale wondered how he had never seen Deborah in the beauty she displayed. He wondered why he was busy trying to please Sarah from Dentistry or Moji from Communication and Language Studies or even Ebere and Felicia from his department.
Deborah had been there all along asking him about his well being and test performance and if he had eaten on certain days when he appeared gloomy yet he never saw the gift of a genuine friendship she was offering because she was too thin and seemingly unattractive. The room smelled of her cologne and steaming Indomie noodles. The gas cylinder was speaking in strange murmurs, too. He was chopping the onions on the small wooden table he placed at a corner of the room which he had carved out as a kitchenette.
Deborah paced his room with pleasure from wall to wall engrossing herself in the framed paintings that amazed her.
“Are these your paintings, too?”
He looked up, “Yeah.”
She turned to him, “you’re amazing!”
She rolled her eyes playfully, “I wonder what you’re doing in the Pharmacy department; you should have been studying Visual arts.”
Bowale chucked, “Well, since I’m always alone, my Psychologist recommended that I continue drawing to reduce my focusing on the voices I hear in my head.”
“You stay alone? What about your roommate?”
“My roommate,” he looked up at her then back to his onions chopping, “he left; he could not bear with my periodic explosive episodes.”
He quickly poured the chopped tear-emitting whitish purple vegetable into the small pot that steamed the aroma of burning noodles.
“I’ve done some findings of Schizophrenia; I know it can only be managed at this time, but I believe that one day, you’ll be cured of it.”
She is so hopeful. How did she remain so positive about things like this? She must be having a problem-free life. Bowale reasoned.
“Maybe that’s why God directed your path towards studying Pharmacy. Maybe he wants to inspire you to create a new drug that totally cures the mental disorder, not just manage it,” She continued.
Bowale’s heart started singing louder. Apart from his mother, he had never met someone so positive about him. He wanted to place his lips on hers and coddle her forever. He battled with his conscience — Do it. Don’t even try it. Do it.
“Thank you, Deborah,” he said, “those words mean a lot to me.”
He took out two plates and dished out the noodles. One plate fresh, the other containing the burned and dried part. He took the burned part and gave her the top part, careful to ensure that there was no sign of burned noodles on her plate. To his surprise, however, she wanted him to eat the fresh one while she devoured the burned part. She couldn’t bear watching him eat rubbish. She’d rather take it.
“Did you later check your email?” she began after warming her forked noodles with puffs of air from her mouth.
“Oh not yet,” he took a bite, “I was arranging your coming and so…”
He choked, coughing out what might have gotten through his trachea instead of his esophagus.
She dashed to get a sachet of water from the pile it laid towards the table in his in-room kitchenette. She opened it up with her teeth and channeled the content to his mouth, careful not to spill some water on his blue T-shirt. Her left hand tapped his back lightly and he recovered.
“Thank you,” he coughed out, laughing at his action.
“We were taught in primary school not to talk while eating,” Deborah laughed, “see yourself?”
“But you were asking me a question na…”
They both giggled.
He picked up his phone, turned on his mobile data, tapped the Gmail app and pulled down the screen to refresh.
He scrolled through the regular messages he was tired of reading yet held back from unsubscribing. Then one message stood out.
He gazed at Deborah’s calm countenance then clicked the message.
He had been nominated to give a talk at TEDx Abuja 6 months from that day, February 14.
“Yeah, my Uncle’s best friend was in charge of organizing it this year. It made me think of you. I knew you always had the longing to share your ideas to multitudes so I submitted your details on your behalf and followed it until it was approved.”
Bowale was dumbfounded. His well of speeches had run dry.
“I had been a fool for snubbing you all this while,” he started, “yet, you still wanted me to be happy.”
“But why did you care so much? Why me?”
Deborah’s plate was already empty save a few strands of noodles that she had picked up from the table.
“Two years ago, I lost my mum to Schizophrenia. Suicide. When I first came to class and noticed that you showed some signs I recognized my mum exhibit, I made efforts to come closer, to know you more, and see how I could be of help. I had already lost one, I didn’t just want to lose another and somehow I fell in love with you in all your imperfections.”
She stood up and packed the plates to the kitchen table, “That’s what kept me going even when all of you screamed frustration at all of me.”
“I noticed that you lacked friends, and I just wanted to be there for you. I just wanted to check on you every night to make sure you’re not blaming yourself for your disorder,” she looked at him, again, “I only wanted to see you smile.”
“The day I saw you give your presentation on Xenobiotics and the human liver, I saw life and energy in you,”
“Wow, thanks,” he blushed.
“I had asked you if you really loved to speak and your answer made me think of ways to keep making you speak even to a wider audience. Then I thought of TEDx shows and remembered my uncle’s friend.”
Bowale shifted his chair backwards, moved two steps towards her, knelt as he studied her glowing iris. He cupped her head, pulled it towards him, gingerly, and suddenly joined lips for a moment.
“I swear, I have been chasing girls for their outward beauty and curves, never have I met one so beautiful and shaped by love within, I will love you, forever.”
Deborah wiped her leaking eyes.
“I live for you, Deborah,” his face was straight yet painted with emotions he couldn’t hide, “Even if I had already planned to fail with honor, today, I alter my path. I stand for you.” He kissed her again, this time more passionately. He meant his words; he meant his actions; he wasn’t joking at all.
“I envy your cooking skills. The noodles were uniquely different and melted like shea butter on a hot frypan,” she smiled, “I don’t know if you already know, but I can’t really cook. That’s why I appreciate people, especially guys, that cook well.”
“Oh. My grandma taught me how before she died. I could teach you some basics if you’re willing…”
“Of course, I’m willing to learn!” She laughed.
Bowale smirked, “That was not what I wanted to say.”
Deborah raised her right eyebrow.
I meant to say, “if you are willing to pay ₦50,000 per minute of my teaching time,” Bowale smirked.
“What?” Deborah couldn’t control her laughter, “You would have charged $10 million per second of your time.”
They both laughed.
Deborah was glad to see his eyes light up like never before.
“I was looking for a person to show love, probably fall under the spell of lust, kiss or maybe go further, but I found one that really cared about the pearl in my gutters.
I don’t want to talk about my artistic gift or any other passion I might have; I want to give a more relevant talk. Something that would wet people like me out there with a spring of hope.”
Deborah stared into his light brown eyes, expectantly.
“I know what I’ll talk about,” he said.
“What’s that, my dear?” She cups his hand and airplaned it to her lap.
“I’M A SCHIZO AND SO?” He grinned.
“That’s a catchy title. You don’t know the lives you will influence when you give your talk.”
Bowale looked at her, “You don’t know the strings of lives you have saved by the spark of your love for me.”
“I don’t need a loud Valentine’s day celebration. Seeing you henceforth, enkindle my love daily. I love you, Deborah.”
“I love you more, Bowale.”
About the Writer
Ezeadum Sixtus Ebube is a 200 Level medical student at the University of Ibadan. He has a long-lasting romantic relationship with creativity and enjoys every variation she offers, most especially, in the aspect of creative writing.