FOREWORD: This is a true life account, and not a work of fiction. It chronicles a momentous event in the writer’s formative years. The writer admits this is easily the most personal writing he has made, but he is comfortable with publishing it nevertheless. He believes it is only fine to start penning one’s memoir when the experiences are still fresh in the memory.
Once did I pride myself on the conviction that no lady was good enough to infiltrate the impregnable walls of my heart, that my tastes were so high no daughter of Eve would ever come to scale them. They were puerile thoughts, ones that were borne out of naivety and ignorance of the forces that governed the world. Ridiculous as they were, these self-confessed philosophies dictated the course of my life for its first seventeen years. And when the time came for my mind to be disabused of these conceits, Providence would be kind enough to teach me a lesson in the most unlikely of places, thousands of miles away from home, in a land my father had never been.
It was in the summer of 2013. I had just graduated from secondary school, fresh in every sense and full of hopes for the future. As would be expected, my singular preoccupation then was securing admission into a tertiary institution for the course of my choice. Gracious goodness, it was a tense moment, for family and friends were eager to know what was going to become of the youngster who had maintained quite an exceptional performance all through high school. The expectations were so high that I was afraid I might never recover from the shame if I failed. Success had become a compulsion, the burden of which I was never to be relieved.
I had chosen my dream school, University of Ibadan, as my most preferred university while registering for the 2013 UTME earlier. However, in the presence of so many expectations, I was moved to have a rethink, to sincerely reconsider my chances of getting admitted into UI for a competitive course as mine. It happened that a cowardly Omoya chickened out at the end. I picked the change of institution form and opted for two universities where I thought I had stronger chances: Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was better to be safe than sorry. I preferred to be on the angel’s side.
I have highlighted the above preamble because it is indeed the foundation on which the tale of my first love must stand. I thought it right to describe to you readers the circumstances surrounding that notable event, that you might perhaps enjoy the vicarious pleasures there to pertain or be afforded the opportunity of reliving the experience, if life has been gracious to favour you with one.
The time came for me to write the PUME for University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I had to travel all the way down to Enugu state from Ekiti. It was the first time I would make a long journey like that all by myself, without any friend or relative to receive me on the other end. ‘Na small-small pesin dey becom man,’ I had reassured myself. Uncertain of what was ahead of me, I left for Enugu two days prior to the exam. I would need all that time to settle down in the unknown land, while preparing for the decisive exam as well. I arrived at Enugu on July 17, 2013.
On my second day in the capital city of Enugu, having passed the night with a hospitable student of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, I met a young man by the name Rex. Rex was a Law student of UNN and a devout member of one of the campus fellowships. Such fellowships sought to entice ‘jambites’ to their worship services by catering for them and ensuring their well-being during the PUME period. Rex was just the help I needed. Like a tick to a dog, I clung to him. And so did two others.
So, three of us were under the guidance of Rex altogether. He would be responsible for our transportation to the university town of Nsukka, that town famous for having once accommodated literary giants like Achebe and Adichie. David, who was a fellow jambite, Rex and I made our way to Peace Mass Transit motor park in Enugu, where a young lady was waiting for us. She would make the third jambite in Rex’s care. Her name was Chisom.
Ah, the picture of that first encounter is still clear in my memory, as though it were some engraving chiselled into stone. Chisom stood under a shed, arms akimbo, flagged on all sides by buses, anticipating our arrival at the motor park. She was wearing a casual pink-patterned cardigan, black skirt and a pair of black shoes. Her hair was unbraided, short like one that was being kept for ajakolokolo. She had been waiting for an hour or thereabout, and when we finally showed up, she expressed her frustration without restraint. Rex was effusive in his apology, and we got on the next bus en route Nsukka pronto.
During the one-hour journey to Nsukka, Chisom and I struck an absorbing conversation. She wanted to know if I was a jambite like her, and I answered in the affirmative.
“Oh, that’s nice. What course are you applying for?” she asked.
“Medicine. What about you?”
“Wow! I’m applying for Medicine, too,” she replied, elated. Her lips parted as she beamed, displaying a set of white teeth, with a gap in between the two centre incisors on the upper jaw. I sensed a stir within me, one that I had never perceived. I could not put my finger on the cause of the stir, so I dismissed it as perhaps some kind of reflex only to be felt in Coal City state or a new hunger indicator my ingenious body had developed yet again.
Chisom would later lament on how JAMB had slashed the UTME scores of students like her who wrote the Paper Based Test that year. “It was a subtle means to compel students to embrace the newly introduced Computer Based Test,” she would say. As cool breeze through the window wafted past our faces, she would tell me more of herself, of her prestigious secondary school in Abia state and how she had offered French Language all through her school days. She would ask if I understood French, and when I replied: “Oui, je parle peu Francais”, she would nod her head weakly and thrill me with another smile of hers that caused a stir within me.
The more we discussed, the more I discovered I wanted to know more about this lady, and the more I was grateful for those few parts she had been gracious to reveal. I loved the sound of her words, the accent that adorned them and the cadence with which they proceeded out of her mouth, as though they were the melody of a violin played by the streamside on a cool evening. I loved the way she tilted her head, looking into my eyes with rapt attention, as I explained to her the meaning of my middle name- Simult. When we arrived at Nsukka and alighted from the bus, I had no doubt that I had found a new companion. Chisom was going to make my stay in Nsukka far memorable than I had envisaged.
Our first call at UNN, that den of intellectual lions and lionesses, was the secretariat of Rex’s fellowship. There, Chisom and I were directed to the stadium, where a tutorial was ongoing for jambites who would sit for exams on the sciences the next day. The tutorial had long begun before we got there, so there was no chair left for us. Chisom, fagged out by the journey, could not bear standing all through. She bent over, dusted a part on the bare floor and attempted to sit. I stopped her, rummaged through my bag and offered her the only sheet of paper I could get. She said a low thank you and beamed. Of course, the stir came again, hypnotizing this time around, making me forget those polite responses my big cousin had taught me to say whenever someone told me thank you. So, I smiled and just said thank you, too. She laughed at my response, but I doubted if she knew I was thanking her for those electric smiles of hers.
The tutorial was soon over. It had informed us of the possible format of the exam and the different venues where it would be held. Chisom received a call from Rex, instructing us to meet him at the other end of the pitch. She relayed the instruction to me, and we made to hit the road. She pulled me along and held on to my hand, swinging it playfully as we sauntered down the lawn. It was the first time I would hold hands with a female who was not my relative, but I did not tell her so.
Rex must have seen us holding hands when we got to him, but he did not comment about it. I thought it was a wrong thing to do, but what did my little mind know of the ways of the world? Perhaps it was the norm in the university to hold hands with a lady in the public, I thought to myself, then I clasped my hand around hers the more.
Chisom and I would be writing our exams the next morning in different venues. She had chosen UNN as her first choice, but I had chosen the renowned school as a second choice. Rex said something about us going to locate our exam venues that evening, so we wouldn’t be perambulating around the school the next day, searching for some goddamn venues. Chisom agreed, but she suggested we should eat first. She was exhausted and needed to be reinvigorated. She rested her head on my left shoulder to emphasize her tiredness. I sighed. Rex asked for my opinion, and I told him whatever Chisom said was right. God forbid that she should be wrong when her head was still resting on my shoulder!
Now, I do not remember the name of the cafeteria to which we went, neither can I describe its location or structure to you. Forgive me, but you could forget every other thing when the warmth of Chisom’s palm caresses yours. Her palm reminds me of a mash of banana and butter, something soft and uncommon like that.
That evening, Chisom bought a plate of rice and beans, a big fish and a bottle of Seven Up. When the waitress asked me to place my order, I told her to replicate whatever she had served Chisom. It was just as well, for I still took soft drinks then, unlike now that I have made myself believe water is the sweetest drink on Earth. As I scooped some rice and raised it to my mouth, I felt an acute pain on my shoulder. I had been carrying my heavy bag all along, and the resultant had set in. Chisom saw my grimace, and enquired if all was well.
“Eh, nothing serious actually. I’m just feeling some slight pain in my shoulder, probably because I’ve been carrying my bag all day,” I said.
“Aww, sorry. Let me rub it for you.” I caught that glint of sincere sympathy in her eyes, as she leaned over to massage my shoulder. She was fondling the wrong shoulder, but what did it matter?
We soon left the cafeteria and went in search of our exam venues. It was already late by the time we located them. We returned back to the fellowship secretariat to know where we would spend the night. The guys would stay over in a lecturer’s apartment, we were told, while Chisom would be led to one of the female hostels. Chisom and I would have to part; the day was going to end sooner than I wanted.
I still find it hard to believe, but that was the only day I saw Chisom all my life. We could not meet on the exam day because our venues were far apart, and because she left Nsukka as soon as she was done with her papers. I cannot remember what reason she gave for the French leave; I was too depressed to have paid attention to her excuse. The possibility that I might never get the chance to voice those feelings for which I had now gotten a definition filled me with horror. I wished I could look into those eyes of hers, as clear as spring water, and admit that her smiles caused stirs within me. I wished I could hold her hands and announce that her touch made all other things lose their essence. I longed to hear her voice, the one whose melody mocked the nightingale’s, its cadence rising and falling in sync with my heartbeat. But no, my Chisom was gone before I could say Robinson, speeding away with my heart in the belly of an automobile.
She had indeed infiltrated my once impregnable walls and brought the giants therein to their knees. We kept in contact though. Over one year after, when I felt the time was ripe, I made my feelings known to this princess in colourful words. Her reply was the last straw that broke the camel’s back: She only saw me as a good friend, no strings attached. The feelings were not mutual. I was devastated for weeks, and reflected over it in shame. My first shot at love was far from the bull’s eye, or so it seemed. But could she be playing hard to get?
Now, I am in University of Ibadan and she in University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I pick my phone and listen for the umpteenth time to the voice note she sent me via WhatsApp of recent.
“Omoya, I just want to see you. I really want to see you again. Just to see you again…” her voice rings out, calm, alluring and tuneful as ever.
I scroll over to my gallery and check one of her pictures. She is smiling as she raises her right hand to take a selfie. I feel that familiar stir again, and a knowing smile spreads across my face. My Chisom is more beautiful now.
[How was your first love experience? Is it something you would like to share?]
~~~Omoya Yinka Simult