The yellow rays of the sun crept through my curtains and sat on my eyes when I woke up. I rolled to the other side of the bed quickly, almost falling off. Ebenezer Obey’s evergreen music was blaring from the kitchen and our near-empty room was vibrating with its echo.
I sat up and pushed my back against the wall. Now my nose, fully awake and ready for its duty, caught the smell of boiling chicken in the room. Who was cooking chicken in this sapa infested hostel?
I jumped out of my bed and ran to the kitchen. By the sink with a load of unwashed plates and mosquitoes were fighting for their share of the leftovers. Jide was peeling a tuber of yam into a tray, his waist moving with the rhythm of the song blaring from his music player.
“ Jide how far”, I said and rushed to the pot. I reached for a chicken lap, my fingers burned, and quickly I dropped it on a plate.
“ Baba drop that one na”, Jide said and dropped the tuber he was peeling and walked to the steaming pot.
“ Just lap o, anyway how come? how you take get this chicken” I asked and sat on a stool close by.
“ I stole it”, he said and opened the pot’s cover. “ Baba don pay”
“ Thank God o, when did he pay na. I didn’t see any alert o. Wait let me check my phone” I said.
“ I have not seen Bisi today o” Jide said and went back to the yam he was peeling.
Bisi? That’s true. My leg froze and a flush of coldness washed through me. I ran back to the room to pick my phone.
I dialed her number, it rang for some seconds, she didn’t pick it, when I dialed again it was switched off. I dropped the phone and yanked a blue pair of trousers hanging on a rod attached to the burglar-proof of my window. I was about to leave the room when I heard a heavy knock.
Who could that be? Perhaps our neighbours I thought, then I remembered we were the only one left at the hostel, other corp members had left for their states.
Maybe she is here. Thank God she changed her plan.
I ran to the door, pulled the knob, and opened my arms wide like a flamingo flapping its wing, ready to embrace the love of my life, then the door opened halfway and I saw who it was, my hands dropped to my waist.
“ Good afternoon sir, are you Mr. Ade?” He asked and pulled at the zip of his bag.**
“ Yes, how may I help you? ” I replied as I searched his face with my gaze trying to remember where we had met before.
“ Okay, this is for you. ” He said and pulled a white envelope from his bag.
I looked at him amazed, what joke could this be? Letter?
Maybe this was baba at his jokes again, folded in this envelope are the crisp notes of my salary.
I took the envelope from him and felt its side, just air and the tips of my fingers pressing the rough edge of a folded paper.
“ Merry Christmas sir “, the man said and went to his bike.
When I got inside, Jide was watching a movie on my bed, a bowl of popcorn on his lap.
“ Baba crazy things are happening,” I said and sat close to him. “ Wetin u dey watch ?” I asked and tore open the envelope.
“ Who was that ?” Jide asked and paused the movie.
“ I no know o, one guy like that dropped this letter and left. People still use letters?”
” Ehen na, Np was on his shirt abi?” Jide asked.
“ Yes, but how that one take concern me?”, I said and my gaze sailed to the first word: Dear Aderemi.
“ Ehen Np means Nigeria postal Olodo,” he said and played the paused movie.
“ Shut up joor, ” I said and continued from where I stopped:
Dear Aderemi, I have decided to return to the village. I know this would break your heart but it is a cross I must carry. My life is tied to that village and the name of my family is at stake. You are the best thing that happened to me this year, I wish to express my mind but words fail me. I pray we meet someday.
I was praying silently that we should be rejected so we could return to the secretariat and grab any office work available when he smiled and welcomed us to his school. Jide faked a smile, I maintained a straight face.
“ I am Babatunde Ishola, You can call me Tunde, but I prefer Baba,” he said and smiled.
He was in his late thirties, a perfect definition of an African man in his prime, his chest was broad like an ironing board and his beard was full. Jide would later say that if the world hadn’t changed, the man would be leading raids from one village to another.
“ let me show the teacher that would take you to your lodge, she is a corper too”, Baba said and gave us our files. “ Miss Bisi!”
“ Sir!”, a tiny voice answered from a class and a yellow lady with a round face came in.
“ They are our new corpers,” Baba said, smiling softly.
“ Welcome sirs, ” She said and pulled at her cap. “ My name is Bisi and …
“ Ade wetin sup now? ” Jide said and stood from the bed. “ You have been staring at the window for like a minute now, who sent the letter?”
“ Hmm, na Bisi”, I replied and scratched my chin.
“ Another format, so you guys write letters now. Hmm, I go love o”, Jide said and smiled till he saw the sad look on my face and the stupid wan disappeared.
“ What happened? ” He asked.
I stood from the bed and went outside. The air outside was cold because of the harmattan and the street below was dusty from the cars coming in and leaving the neighborhood.
I wondered why my mind was occupied with that scene at the school. Did my mind bring that scene up just to mask my fear, to lock me up in that sweet beginning and shut my thought process because I had concluded that nothing could be done to save her?
No, she won’t return to that man, I thought and ran down the stairs. I kept running till I got to her flat on the next street. The compound was silent save for Jack, the landlord’s dog that was barking in his cage.
Her room was on lock and key. I sat on the foot mat and wept.
We started talking during breaks, a week after I resumed at Citadel group of schools where I spent my service year as a corp member. Jide had already made friends around and was going out for dinners. I decided to study everyone before taking any step at all because of my experience with friends. So on that particular afternoon, we had closed and Jide left the school quickly to prepare for a party somewhere in the town.
I was writing the names of my students in the class register when she entered my class.
“Good afternoon sir, is corper Jide around? ” She asked from the door before entering the class.
“ No o, he left a few minutes ago. Good afternoon”, I answered and closed the register.
“ I gave him my marker, did he drop it? one red marker like that” She said and came closer to my table.
I raised my register from the table and dropped it on my chair.
“ wow, so you read novels too”, Bisi said and picked up my ancient copy of Things fall apart.
“ Oh, novels. I read them sometimes when I am less busy”, I said while raising a notebook. A red cover slid from the middle of a notebook that had been under the one I raised.
“ That is the marker”, Bisi said. “ I didn’t know you read novels o, I don see partner. Are you through?”
“ With the book? Yes”, I replied and returned to the register.
That day we left the school together discussing Achebe’s body of work. Then it became our ritual during breaks at school to discuss books and gist and at times I visited her place after school hours.
I came to her flat one evening to return Buchi emecheta’s: Joys of Motherhood when I found her door ajar. She was not in the habit of leaving the compound’s gate open, let alone leaving her door without closing it.
When I came inside, she was on her bed crying. I dropped the book on the ground and rushed to her.
“ What happened Bisi?” I asked.
She wiped her face and smiled, even with her eyes red, her beauty was mesmerizing.
Then she narrated her story.
I stood from the foot mat and went back to the corper’s lodge. Jide was eating from a plate of rice when I came in. He dropped his spoon and wiped his mouth with the back of his palm.
“ How far Ade, tell me something na”, he said.
“ Omo don’t worry joor, It’s nothing serious” I replied and walked into my room.
She had told me she was engaged to a prominent chief in her village and the man sponsored her education and had been a benefactor for her family. She had begged to serve the nation before getting married to him.
“ I decided to serve so that I can enjoy a bit before ending everything in that man’s house. And it’s not like I love him o”
Those were her words that afternoon, after some minutes of thinking about whether to pull out a handkerchief or saying my mind, the words rolled out:
“ We can fight together Bisi”
She stared at me for a while. I thought she would send me out of her house and accuse me of taking advantage of her painful situation and our three weeks of friendship would crash, but instead, she hugged me and wept on my shoulder.
That was the genesis of our love. That night we went to the cinema and watched black panther.
I pulled my clothes and stepped into the shower.
We were seated at a table waiting to be served when she got a call. After the call her face became blank.
“ What happened ?” I asked and reached for her hand.
“ It’s my husband o, ” She said and pulled at her wig.
“What happened?” I asked and dropped my phone on the table.
“ He was asking when I would return to the village”, She replied.
Then I remembered that it was a day after her passing out parade. It was a year already.
“ I am going to my house Ade, I should leave tomorrow”, She said and stood from her chair. I picked up my phone and came to her side, my legs were heavy, and my heart was throbbing.
We trekked silently to her compound and I fought back tears when we got to the gate.
“ Can’t we try something Bisi, anything?” I said and wiped my eyes. “ You can’t just leave and return to that village”
“ It’s not like I have any choice, I am only doing this for my parents, if they were dead I would pay him all he had given to my family, and stay with you. Ade try to understand “
Bisi said and knocked on the gate. I shook my head and wiped my eyes again, after a while a man came to the gate and opened it.
“ Come Ade, come inside” , She said and I followed her to her room. After a dinner of cold spaghetti, we made fire on her bed, later in the night, her head on my chest she promised she would think about what she could do.
I came out of the shower and cleaned my body. I connected my phone to Jide’s Mp and played : A thousand years by Christina Perri.