Yippee! Campus Tales is here again! This is the second installment out of a series of four. Now, don’t frown; you already know every of my series comes in fours. So, I was telling you about the anticipated electronic chapbook yesterday. Like I said, it will be published in a couple of days on this blog, and, as my much esteemed reader, you will be downloading it for free! This series is more of a forerunner, because the chapbook is the real bomb. In the chapbook, you will find a potpourri of irrepressible humour, sensational anecdotes, startling twists, and whatnot, presented in one of the most captivating literary styles. The fascinating thing about all these is that the thrilling stories in the chapbook are all accounts of campus life. Special thanks to my brilliant and beautiful editor, Ife Watson. The lady has been awesome.
Okay, can we have Campus Tales 2 now? Thank you!
If there is a heaven, I know most male undergraduates in Nigerian universities will not make it. Now, this is not a curse, neither is it a speculation. I am a male undergraduate in a Nigerian university, and I know what I do, just as much as my eyes are open to what my friends do.
A couple of weeks ago, Nike, a female course mate of mine, with whom I have a good rapport, came to class in the morning, looking strange. Her dressing was usual: a pair of denim trousers and a decent shirt. One of my male friends, out of mischief, had once commented that he had never seen her in skirts – an assertion I would later uphold to be true after keen observation- but that was not even the crux that morning.
Nike and I often visit Mama Tee’s restaurant together in the evening, after Anatomy practical on Monday and Thursday. Anatomy practical is energy-sapping. You stand all through the duration of three hours, dissecting cadavers to examine the locations, innervations, and functions of bones, muscles and veins, as you look into the instructional “Cunningham’s Manual of Practical Anatomy” and, for reference, carry about a big textbook like Netter’s “Atlas of Human Anatomy”. Because medical students are usually left with little or no strength after the exhausting but enlightening practical, we first call at Mama Tee’s to get replenished, before embarking on the journey back to the hostel. No one likes to collapse on their way home.
When Nike and I stop at the restaurant together, the gentleman in me takes the honour of footing the bills. Even though I know it is a strain on my allowance, and that I might have to live on garri for days as a consequence of my chivalry, those worries never matter at that instance. I just bask in the euphoria of being conceived as a perfect gentleman. Regrets may come later.
There is a limit to my desire to be seen as gentlemanly however. I detest deceit; I hate to say or do something of which I am not convinced. This might be one of my few flaws or virtues, depending on your perspective. Therefore, while it is my utmost delight to applaud others for something pleasantly peculiar about them, like an enviable character or a nice-looking pair of shoes, I am careful never to give an insincere compliment.
That morning, I noticed that Nike had a different look. The coloured braids of black and blue she had on before was gone. Her hair was loose, combed and patterned in such a way that the strands in the middle of her head rose well above those by the sides, an imitation of the popular Gallas hairstyle. It didn’t suit her. Perhaps she would have appeared more presentable if she had rubbed in some cream, combed it some more and applied a little oil. It was her natural hair, and you know how wild natural hair can look without adequate care. I was uncomfortable with it. In fact, I did not like it, and I wanted to tell her. But this was her natural hair! You may not understand, so let me explain.
If you want Nike to brighten up on a cloudy day, just mention the subject of natural hair and her flame shoots to the ceiling. And she is not the only lady I know with this sudden rave to wear her hair natural like our grandmas decades ago. I have seen Bimbo, a lady rooms away from mine, concocting different greenish and brownish mixtures. “It’s for deep frying…” I thought that was what she explained it to be, until I echoed it and a frown spread across her brown face.
“You guys are just so fake! You don’t appreciate natural beauty!” she yelled, and stormed into her room.
Nike had laughed until a tear trickled down the corner of her eye. “Dele, you’re so impossible,” she said, in her sing-song voice. She clarified that it was not deep frying but deep conditioning. “Ah! Which one is deep conditioning again?” I mused.
My mouth which was ajar snapped shut, overwhelmed when Nike went further to explain that her hair ate eggs, milk, yoghurt, avocado, pawpaw, bananas and even palm oil and pepper! “Ata ke! Unbelievable!” I exclaimed. Though Nike sought to explain that the pepper was a particular species, I still could not comprehend how pepper came to be a product for hair care.
We were busy all day. I would only have time to speak with her after Anatomy practical. Mama Tee’s would be a perfect venue. Because we were good friends, I hoped she was not going to take offence in what I had to tell her. Nevertheless, beforehand, I took time to pick the words I would use with caution. Ladies are very sensitive, and I was not ready to lose a valued friend yet.
“When did you loosen your hair, Nike?” I asked, as we sauntered towards Mama Tee’s after the practical.
“My hair? I took it off three days ago jare. I had to deep condition it. And wow, I discovered this new Indian clay that worked…”
Our arrival at Mama Tee’s halted the flow of her words. I pushed the door knob and waved Nike in before me.
“So you mean, you loosened your hair three days ago? You must have been really busy over the weekend.” I forged ahead with the discussion.
“Why did you say so?” she asked. I saw the beginnings of a frown gather on her drawn eyebrows.
“Well, I know ladies can be fussy about their appearance. They like to always look gorgeous. Whatever stopped you from braiding or plaiting must have been very pressing,” I replied.
“Hmm, true. But isn’t this hairstyle good?” She pointed to her head. I looked at her hair and stared into her eyes.
Looking into those warm pools that her eyes were almost changed my mind. My mouth started to affirm that she looked great but my brain refused to cooperate, so I shook my head.
“No, it isn’t. It doesn’t fit you,” I added without stopping to take a breath.
She recoiled. “So, you’re saying I look ugly because I don’t have an artificial weave on?”
I could hear the stressed anger tones in the falling syllables of her last words. I began to stammer, my teeth clashing with my tongue. But trust me, I manned up and served the dish as it was, with no sweetening additives.
“Nike, I don’t mean it as an insult. I’m only being sincere with you. Your hair looks rough.” I spoke very fast, as if I had hot yam in my cheeks.
She nodded, while fiddling with her fingernails. “Thanks, Mr. Sincerity. I know it looks rough.”
It was my turn for my eyebrows to skydive in surprise. She knew it was rough? So, why would she want to look unkempt?
“But it’s a matter of your wrong perspective,” she continued in that tone a wise person uses when talking with an idiot.
“My perspective?” I repeated, at a loss for what else to say.
Nike launched into a lecture about Nigerian men like me being conditioned to think straight hair was the definition of feminine beauty, how we now thought our Afro was rough and not beautiful. As she spoke, her voice peaked and students in the restaurant began to stare at the conspicuous sight we were making in front of the counter. I looked around for an escape, but there was none. The girl behind the counter had gone into the inner room which served as the kitchen.
My mind drifted, and it only returned at the point when Nike stated, “I’m so disappointed in you! I thought you of all people would be supportive of my natural hair journey.”
Journey? I was more nonplussed than ever. I tried to apologise, but Nike’s ears seemed plugged to my pleas.
“Nike, why na? Don’t be offended,” I pleaded.
She said she wasn’t angry in that sarcastic manner peculiar to girls when they are saying something but acting in the opposite.
“I think I will just start going to the hostel. I’m not hungry anymore,” she said.
As I was still trying to figure out a way to snap her out of this bad mood I had brought on, the restaurant’s door was pushed inside and a guy entered. The guy broke into pleasant smiles as he spotted Nike.
“Nikky Baby, how are you, dear?” He ensconced her in an endearing hug as I stood by, uncertain whether to leave them alone to catch up or hang on to continue my apology.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Her face relaxed, as she also smiled back at him.
“Babe, you’re more than fine o! In fact, you look yummingly cute and sexy! And this your natural hair is amazing!” he effused.
Chai! I wanted the ground to open and swallow me as Nike bent her head at a crooked angle to cast a pointed glance at me. Who be dis yeye guy na? He just came in and spoiled my blues, pouring sand-sand in my Ijebu garri!
The guy offered me his hand. “Chairman, hello there!” he greeted with that usual male chumminess. A limp handshake was all I could manage.
I watched rooted on the spot as Nike, who had earlier declared a loss of appetite, followed Mr Natural-hair-lover closer to the counter. They ordered a plate of rice each and floated to a table where they continued their ‘hairmance’.
“Doctor, make I serve you the usual abi?” one of Mama Tee’s girls asked, interrupting my confused thoughts.
The soulful peals of Nike’s laughter wafted over to my table in the corner where I sat, as I pushed my spoon through the food like a shovel on a dunghill. My last peek at them made my heart bleed: With a blissful expression on his face, the guy was patting Nike’s natural hair. I swallowed hard, gritting my teeth.
***The series continues tomorrow***
First published on Levitatenaija.com
Written by: Omoya Yinka Simult
Twitter handle: @omoyayinka