They sent words to my mother while I was still at the cyber cafe that I have been admitted into the University of Calabar. I can feel joy hugging her as she beamed with smiles walking up to me with her arms spread so wide like an umbrella and her gait like that of the river goddess, I opened my arms to receive the warmth of her embrace, when we were this close, she fell to her epileptic condition.
In her room, when she has regained herself, she smiled at the ten heads surrounding her – her ten children. Myself being the last of them all and the only son was sitting close to her, holding her hands very close to my heart grimacing. She coughed and tried to sit up and my eldest sister and myself who were closest to her helped her sit up. She reminded us of how our father had always wished for a baby boy that he kept on trying every year, eating lots of banana and consuming so much Kunu and Burukutu as it was rumoured amongst his age grade that it makes the semen thicker, after which he was to meet my mum at the first crow of the cock during her ovulation.
This made my sisters a year older than themselves and when mama finally gave birth to me, he was so happy. He shed his first tears in years after he lost his only brother, this time, it was the tears of joy. This story I’ve heard countless times on my birthdays that it seemed like a rhyme to me and now mama is repeating it even when it wasn’t my birthday. She became epileptic after papa died when I was two. It was said that papa was killed with “otumokpo” by his childhood friend who happened to court mama but left for the city without a word for mama or her family only to return years after to find mama with ten children for papa. They further said that “Ani” (mother earth) had to punish mama by making her epileptic after papa’s death and burial.
I find these to be fallacies and I determined to put in my best to learn a lot and change the stereotype in my bush village that is situated close to animals, faraway from where lights shown up and cars blared horns and release fumes of carbon. It is a place considered as the Educationally Less Developed State (ELDS) and my average score of 229 granted me admission into a school I admired just because of the way our village community school principal spoke about it because it was his alma mater.
Mama admonished us and asked we be like the head of a broom stick that cannot be disengaged from itself while trying to break it all at once. She said it signified unity. She embraced us one after the other and asked I sleep beside her. My elder sisters moved back to their various husbands’ house in the cool of the evening, leaving me with mama and the remaining four of my elder sisters that were unmarried, though Obiageli my immediate senior has a child out of wedlock for Nzubechi fondly called “aturu jehova” (God’s shepherd) because he was a witness.
He denied it at first and escaped by night after the child has been born because everyone said the child was his replica. “There is no big ear and bulgy eyes in your father’s lineage or mine” mama said while affirming that the Child belongs to aturu jehova. They called my little nephew Ifeanyi to mean our own.
I arrived Ettagbor, just in front of the University of Calabar main gate and beamed with those smiles that said “I have arrived”. The place is littered with hawkers of different wares, people and cars moving in and out of the gate randomly, beggars at one side of the entrance using their ailments – most of which I’ve never imagined existed – as a leverage to ask for money and saying God bless you more than often. So many billboards littered on the streets with different advert placements and some students taking pictures at the big lantern scene that serves as a roundabout for the junction.
I got into the gate and boarded the shuttle that is headed to Malabor Republic -the male hostel- as directed by Ejike, my mother’s aunt’s grandson who happens to school here also. I was to stay with him while I got my own hostel space. I called Ejike with the Nokia torch phone that was given me by my first in-law as a parting gift to keep in touch with the family. I so much appreciated the phone not minding the green rubber band tied severally behind it to hold the back from falling off. At the moment, it was my most priced possession.
I arrived Malabor and Ejike came to pick me up. I haven’t seen him before, I knew him by the description on phone – a blue shirt with an inscription behind campusel and a black khaki with little tear tear in it’s frontage . “You’re Echefu right? Welcome to Unical and here is Malabor”. He shook me and helped me carry my bag to his room. There was something about him I couldn’t say, his neatly grown beards, his cornrows that looked like the well dug ridges in Ekerifeze farm, his cologne made me breathe in twice and the way he walked high spirited made me think of models.
I noticed the way he greeted people as we walked down to his room and the way guys in the walkway said “malabite welcome o, I dey come collect welcome G4 for your room”. Later I was made to know that G4 is a name for raw garri – the richest food in Malabor Republic. We got to his room, it was sparsely arranged which was a first indication that the boys don’t cook. He introduced me to his roommates – five able bodied guys – and one of them came out from the wardrobe holding a brown paper rolled with stuffs inside which emits smoke from the red portion.
His eyes were red, his hair had patches that looked like thorns and he looked fiery. He said “ma man welcome to the cartel, if anyone wan kpere you, tell am say you dey room 135, say Skuki na your brother. Here na jungle o, on how you razz you go collect but no razz, meanwhile be careful. Welcome again”. I said thank you, with a a mixture of fear and happiness.
Something about them said they were cultists but Ejike looks responsible – except for his cornrows which he said he did because of the just concluded MTN show of which he performed – and is a medical student; from what I heard, medical students don’t even have time for themselves not to talk of being cultists but what do I know, I’m just a fresher. That night, Ejike said he was going to Pavilion 1 to read his book in preparation for his MB (an exam written by 300 level medical students) which is coming up in a fortnight. I said I’d join him because I was afraid I might get choked up from the smoke of marijuana that wafts in the air in room 135. I picked up a novel I had come with The Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adiche, my electric lantern and an umbrella because it was drizzling.
Ejike was so loving and treated me like an elder brother would to his newly admitted Junior brother. He got me egg rolls and zobo from a shop with the bill board hung above the entrance boldly written “Marvis Jay” which I testified to his assertion that it would be the best I have tasted. He asked we go pick up his friend from Hall 9 – the female hostel – according to him, she is his study mate. I wondered how a beautiful girl in Theater and Media, Film and Carnival Studies will be a study mate to a College student but like I earlier said, what do I know? I’m just a fresher.
Idara was so welcoming and hospitable, she hung her hand around my neck as we trekked down to pav1, past cars apparently waiting for someone and boys and girls in their pairs in dark and hidden places, sitting or standing like lovers. Ejike and her discussed things I didn’t hear and laughed out loud at intervals, there’s something about these two I said to myself and deep down, I wished I was the one making Idara smile. We got to pav1 and it was densely populated by medical students, majority were Ejike’s course mates because he had this camaraderie with them. I sat with Idara and she asked me some questions about myself and how I’m finding Unical to be.
In the twinkle of an eye, there was a gunshot by masked guys who ran out after aiming their target. Everyone rummaged the scene including myself and Idara. The Surveillance arrived the scene with their hilux van with siren like the Mobile Police. They had riffles with them, they went to the scene and found a student that had been hit, he was shot dead on the spot. Idara took me to my hostel in Ejike’s absence. His roommates weren’t around so I was all alone. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so scared but sleep still had it’s way in the early hours of the morning.
I woke up and there was still no one in the room but I heard noises outside. I got up wearing the clothes I arrived with as I had slept with them without bathing nor changing. Everyone surrounded a scene and it was Ejike lying dead with his mouth ajar and eyes widely opened. It’s true he was a cultist but a harmless one who helped people recover their stolen phones free of charge and was the very social one. I couldn’t believe my eyes, he died when my Unical dreams just begun…
“Wake up the bus is leaving soon” mama tapped me. We slept at the park so as to meet up with the early morning bus down to Calabar. She prayed for me, and gave me a bangle to always wear for protection. My nine sisters came with me alongside Ifeanyi. As the bus left, the waved me goodbye and I was in tears, suddenly missing them as I began my Journey to My Unical Dreams…
©Achi Gp Nuel