I’ll tell you about love.
I know more about this four letter word than you’d expect. On an unrelated note, maybe not totally unrelated, I have always had a little pet peeve. You know I have never liked those musical boys groups like Boy’s To Men and Backstreet Boys crooning on and on about love and loving and winning and losing and running away and coming back to love. What do they know? What have they experienced in their young lives? It is a different thing when a battle-scarred lover like BB King is groaning out such a song. You can tell he’s been there and done that, got the scars, authentic scars to show for it and he’s keeping it real y’all.
Anyway, where was I ?
Yes, as I was saying I was chased out of the university that I attended for one year because of love. I had to take the university entrance exams for a second time to get into the second tier university from which I eventually graduated. This particular kind of love was not the whispering kind. It was rather the kind that screamed and grabbed one by the shirt collar and commanded— follow me. My story is a little bow-legged, but I will uncrook it’s leg for you.
“Do you have a golden pen I could borrow?”
I turned, and my eyes were staring into a pair of very mischievous eyes. Large eyeballs on a dark-skin, the eyes were glistening and dancing. We were at the office of Academic Affairs to register and enroll for classes in our first year in the university.
“I do have a pen, but it’s not golden,” I said.
“Ok, do you happen to have a silver pen I could borrow?” she asked again. The twinkle was still in her eyes.
“Sorry, I don’t have a silver pen,” I said, somewhat sheepishly.
At this point she was laughing. And her laughter was out aloud.
“So, tell me what kind of pen do you happen to have?”
“I have a blue Bic pen,” I said
“You have just an ordinary Bic pen?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well I guess I’ll have to borrow it and manage with it seeing that I left all my golden pens at home,” she said with a straight face.
I began to laugh at this point. And when I got to know her better it was always a little fuzzy for me to decode when she was joking and when she was being serious. She would say stuff like—
“I am a princess. I do not feel like eating this crappy campus food today. I am in the mood for exotic cuisine. I think we should do Thai food today. Or what do you think?”
The only decent Thai restaurant in town was part of a five star hotel. It was far beyond what I could afford.
We would go, or she’ll drag me along. We’ll enjoy our meal, and she’ll pay.
There are days I’ll meet her on campus, and she would tell me she walked down to the main campus from her hall of residence, a distance of about one and a half miles.
“Why didn’t you not take a cab?”
“I am just a poor girl. Do you expect me to spend all my allowance on cabs? Some of us poor kids have to use our two feet. Besides I used to be very good at track.”
“But you should have told me,”
“Really, you would have paid for my cab fare?”
“Of course I would have paid.”
“You know what you should do for this poor girl?”
“Every morning, you must send a limousine and driver to pick her up from her hall of residence to her classes and wait until she’s done with her classes and take her back to her hall of residence.”
“Huh what? I thought you said you were rich.”
“I never said that,” I would say.
“This princess will only marry a billionaire with a private jet. This princess only wears gold and diamonds. This princess must have servants who jump whenever she clears her throat.”
“Where am I going to get that kind of money?”
“You don’t have to. This princess is already a multi-millionaire. Do you want to see my bank account?”
It was the same tone of voice she used when she told me she had something she wanted to show me on her birthday. She had waxed her pubic hair in the shape of my initials.
“Do you want it?”
“Of course I do.” I was practically panting.
“You can have it. See, it has your name on it.”
I went ahead to have it.
She convinced me that I must come visit her over the semester break. I should not have agreed to visit. I’d have to say that was when all the trouble started.
Let me tell you something about this country of ours. In the olden days there were well over three hundred and fifty ethnic groups. These ethnic groups spoke different languages and oftentimes viewed each other with suspicion. But those were the olden days. Today, in this country there are only two groups—the very rich and the very poor. The very rich speak the same language. They understand themselves. They do not even speak the same language as the very poor who come from the same part of the country as themselves. The very rich live in the same quarters all over the country. From Kaduna to Lagos to Kafanchan, they live in the G.R.A—the government reserved areas or the area formerly known as the European quarters. The Europeans have gone. We did not like the cane with which they whipped us on our bare backs. Our new masters were handed the same cane by the Europeans when they were leaving, but our own people—our new masters—they said to the Europeans, “No, we will not use your cane.” We thought that at least it was a good thing that they turned the European cane down. We were deceived. They went and picked their own cane. This their own cane was koboko, the real bilala horsewhip. This is the whip that they’ve been using on the back of the poor ever since.
I visited her in her G.R.A home during the semester break. It was at the gate that I discovered that she was the daughter of an army officer. Her father was a brigadier general in the army. There were over half a dozen soldiers sitting at the gate of her house in olive green muscle shirts and fatigue army pants playing a game of Ludo.
“You want to see Madam,” the soldier manning the security post asked me.
“I am here to see her,” I said calling her by her name.
“You are here to see Madam. I will get her on the phone for you.”
She ran out and hugged me tightly and held my hands as we walked into her house.
The sitting room was quiet and cool. She was watching her favorite soap opera. Some mushy thing in the mold of all the things she loved in life. She loved romance and would not watch or read anything with a sad ending.
I was eating the clear and aromatic croaker fish peppersoup she made for me when her father walked in. He was not a very tall man, but he was like a rock formation in motion.
He walked in. Looked at his daughter looked at me and nodded to his daughter to follow him to the room. He completely ignored my greetings.
“My friend how did you get into this house?” He asked me when he came out.
“I was invited by your daughter,” I said.
“And where did you happen to meet my daughter?” He asked.
“We met in school, on campus,” I said.
“You must leave my house immediately, and you must never step into this house again.”
“Yes sir,” I said and rose to leave.
She was nowhere to be found though her cologne still lingered.
As soon as I left the house, I did not look back. I took to my heels just in case he had told the soldiers at the gate to torture me. I need not have worried. That was not his method. He was an officer after all and had trained at both Sandhurst and Westpoint. He went about it all strategically like the military officer that he was.
It was my advisor who first hinted to me that I should change schools. He was a bearded radical, the campus head of the university professors’ union. He did not say much but said he would write me a recommendation. Later my chair called me and asked that I should consider changing schools. The dean called me and said the campus was not going to be a good place for me to study from now on. I tried to ignore their not so subtle hints.
One evening I came back from the main campus where I was still trying to sort out my issues with registeration and met Big Tom lounging on my top decker bed. His head nearly touching the ceiling.
Who was Big Tom, you ask? A good question.
Was Big Tom a student?
No, he was not.
He was once a student many years ago but had been advised to withdraw in his sophomore year due to academic difficulties.
Why was Big Tom still living on campus? Why was he feared by almost everyone who lived on campus?
The short answer—Big Tom was a campus warlord.
Like I mentioned earlier our university campuses here are war zones. Four years living here, and you’ll have all the trauma marks of a battlefield survivor. There were far too many camps to count. Criminal gangs all with their different colors. They each colonized a different color, and there were colors of shirts and hats you dared not wear on campus.
There were also the militant Aluta Continua boys. These were as angry as the criminal gangs though their cause was a little bit more clearly defined, and they often misquoted Marx and Sankara and Che. They protested when there was no power or water or transport or food on campus.
And then of course there were the militant Christians who prayed and fasted and bound and unbound and terrified unrepentant sinners with their excoriating voices and judgemental eyes.
I belonged to neither of these groups. I was a campus journalist and that in itself was some kind of militancy as well.
Big Tom knew I was a campus journalist, and therefore spoke to me with a certain level of deference.
“Look, my brother, let me go and buy you a drink. We can discuss over drinks.”
For this well-known extortionist and blackmailer who was adept at using strong arm tactics to get anything to offer to buy me a drink meant something was really wrong.
“Somebody really big is leaning on the Vice Chancellor to see your butt off this campus. Because of your good academic standing and because you are a campus journalist they cannot just kick you out. Whose toes did you step on?” he asked me as he puffed at his cigarette with one eye closed.
I told him about her and our love affair and her father etc.
You must be wondering where she was at this point. Did she not return to campus?
She did not. Her father had sent her off to Jordan and Dubai. She was taking the semester off to rest.
Big Tom ordered beer and fried fish for us both. I had never seen anybody receive faster service. The proprietor said our order was on the house.
“If I tell you that this is not hard for me to say, I’ll be lying,” Big Tom said to me.
“You are one of those students I really admire. You are here on campus doing exactly the kind of things students are supposed to be doing here on campus, attending classes and doing social crusade with your journalism. Not like the rest hiding behind gangs. But like I said, someone bigger than the VC wants you out.”
Who could be bigger than the vice chancellor? I recalled the joke about the pope and his driver.
One day, according to the story, the pope was in the mood to drive and told his driver to move over to the back while he took over the wheels. He soon hit the gas pedal hard and soon there was the sound of a police siren. The cop peered into the car and saw the pope, he bowed his head and waved for him to go as he did the sign of the cross.
“Who was that?” his backup colleague asked.
“It is the pope on the wheels. He was driving someone somewhere in a big hurry.”
“Who could the pope be driving somewhere in such a hurry.”
“You idiot. God, of course,” his colleague replied.
“And if I refuse to leave the campus?” I asked Big Tom.
He ran his fingers across his neck. He was not smiling, this time.
“So how do I start?”
“You’ll get a good transcript. You’ll get a good word from your chair and the dean. You can transfer to a good school down south.”
That was how I was run out of that campus and had to start as a freshman in another university down south where I eventually graduated.
To what do I compare love? I’ll have to say love is like medicine—a bitter pill, a coated tablet, always starts out sweet but bitter in the end. I have had one dose of it, and I am cured.
Post Image by philografy via Flicker
About the Author:
E.C.Osondu is the author of the novel This House Is Not for Sale. He is a winner of the Caine Prize.