Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Vol.2 No.1, October 2008. ISSN 1753-6499 (Online). www.sentinelquarterly.com

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Esiaba Irobi
Nnorom Azuonye
Obemata
Sumaila Umaisha
Wumi Raji
 

 

ONCE UPON A MIRACLE

 

By Wumi Raji

 

Feyi stood up and sat down again. He stood up and sat down again. Then he stood up and paced the room, trying to think. He picked up his watch and watched the quartz blink away the seconds. It was an unconscious act. It was an unconscious act still when he dropped it. The actual time did not register. He resumed pacing. He was bitter and angry and mad and confused. Yes, all of this together and more.

 

He tried to go over the events again. He became madder still, angrier still, more confused, and bitterer. But who could be the target of these negative emotions? Bosede? Was she wrong in what she said? Was she wrong? Was she wrong in reacting the way she did to what he tried to do to her? But what was wrong with it: what she tried to do to her? What was unusual in his approach? How many could he count that had been so approached? How many?

 

He liked to pursue this new line of thought. A trip down the memory lane, yes.

 

**********

                 

Feyi discovered that it was a long journey back. He stood up in spite of himself and walked towards the window. The sun had suddenly gone down and the atmosphere had become sombre. Looking through the window, he saw the path meandering towards the past. He took a step forward and soon discovered that he was being pulled on, again in spite of himself. It was not that the journey was long or difficult or in any way tedious. It was just that the path was crowded and busy. The temptation was strong for him to spend too much time on one spot and consequently take too long before hitting the take-off point.

 

Feyi was careful as he followed his memory. Arriving the starting point, he went again into a fit which, indeed, was almost uncontrollable. His rage, this time, was directed against the person who started him off on the course. At a less important level, he was also mad that he had allowed himself to be so taken. But then, it occurred to him that anger might not be the appropriate reaction at this moment. Any individual undertaking a journey back to the past must maintain control of himself if he must make anything out of the experience. Indeed, it seemed interesting to him how a destiny could have been completely altered just because of a little incident. For, given what he now remembered of his early years, it seemed doubtful that his life would have taken the current turn but for his encounter with Beatrice Okumagba.

 

Truly, Feyi was a shy little boy as a secondary school student. Easily the smallest and the quietest, he stood the risk of remaining forgotten in his corner but for his sharp mind. He was very brilliant and therefore a great paradox: small size but very big head. Very, very big head. His mates nicknamed him the quiet genius. He had a great weakness though: no head for figures. Only God in his mysteriousness could understand such a great puzzle: somebody so well gifted yet with so much denied to him. The boy did not seem to bother though. He settled for the Arts and came out with six distinctions, a very good in English and an ordinary pass in Mathematics.

 

Yet he could not make the university immediately. His score in the joint matriculation examinations was well below the cut-off for his intended course. This was incredible, but the boy had no choice but to spend the year at home. When he still did not make the cut-off grade the following year, he became desperate, desperate enough to make him agree to enrol at an advanced teachers college.

 

Feyi remembered his one year at the so-called tertiary institution for teachers, and hissed as he remembered the numbskulls that he had to cope with. More importantly, he remembered powerfully his process of initiation. The two were complexly related.

 

Numbskulls. Could one really call that place a higher institution of learning, a place milling with numbskulls? Most of them had just two credits at the schools certificate level. Two credits out of sheer luck and a pass in English. That was all that was required. Not that this was not violated either. For it was the time of partisan politics. Elections were approaching and, at such times, horses could easily pass through a needle’s eye. It was the problem with Nigeria. Illiterate politicians, with absolutely no sense of commitment, except to their selfish interests. And the public too was unenlightened. Thus it happened that higher institutions of learning sprang up in great numbers, invading the landscape, destroying many highly reputed and well – established secondary schools. Or how else could one describe a situation where a highly rated secondary school suddenly got converted to a higher college? No manpower, no facilities and no thought of them. Only a change of name; that was all that was required. And party loyalists abound aplenty, ready to take up appointments as provosts and rectors and registrars while secondary school teachers transformed overnight into lecturers. Admissions were very cheap of course, selling at ten for ten kobo. And how dare anybody use coconuts as a metaphor to describe the heads of most of those who bought them. The fruit is edible, highly nutritious. The water stored in it is beyond comparison in purity and freshness. But these other heads contained nothing, could retain nothing, were useful for nothing. It could be a great ordeal for the uninitiated to have to relate to empty barrels. Most campuses were like the scene of an unending party, especially with the butterfly flamboyance of the female students, their blood – red lips which chattered unceasingly and their nail – heel shoes clattering incessantly on the concrete floor. It was a great ordeal for Feyi. But only before his initiation.

 

Beatrice Okumagba did it. It was a Saturday, around eleven in the morning. His room mates having travelled, Feyi sat alone, going through his notes when, simultaneously with a soft knock at the door, a powerful fragrance invaded the room. The door opened and she entered, Beatrice. Feyi noticed her perky breasts as they threatened to pierce her blouse, open necked, worn over a tight – fitting skirt of blue jeans.

 

Having now come into the room, the scent of her perfume became over-powering. Feyi felt uncomfortable, oppressed even by her presence. Though they had an appointment, he had not expected the girl now standing before him. He thought of taking en excuse, leaving the room never to return. He decided against it and waved her to a seat. She took the one directly opposite him.

 

Eyeful glances as they discussed, each making sure to avoid a confrontation of eye-balls. This was just a matter of time, of course, as there was no way it could have gone on for long. For, suddenly, as if pre-arranged, their eyes inter-locked. Messages of passion shot out from both ends and crossed paths as they travelled in the direction of their targets. Feyi felt his manhood responding, in spite of himself. He found himself shifting in his chair. The other side noted this, but the discussion continued. She was soon to complain that she could not see properly, a reason for which she changed her position. She now sat by his right hand side and the discussion continued. He raised a point which she found interesting. She clasped her hands in excitement, her breasts heaving up simultaneously as if in affirmation. The man in him responded once again. Still, he suppressed his reaction. At least, he tried to, and the discussion continued. Beatrice’s hands returned, but not to their former position. Or, more precisely, the left did not. Rather, it dropped casually on Feyi’s right thigh. He looked at it and her eyes followed him, studying his reaction. The discussion continued. The hand, after some time, began to move. It wandered upward, following the thigh. It moved slowly but continuously. Feyi’s system protested, rather mildly at first. He struggled to hold himself together as the tempo of protest increased. The hand continued to move upward and he could almost hear his manhood growling. Feyi could not understand how it happened when he placed his right palm on the hand. Again their eyes locked. He was very nervous. She saw it. Her eyes studied his face as the hand moved again. Up and up it went until it reached a point. Feyi would never know what came over him. He would never be able to describe what happened. All he was able to capture were the tell – tale pictures of the aftermath and the table which fell forward with the books scattered, some torn, many soiled. Beatrice’s chair must have first fallen backwards and then rolled on its side as they struggled. She herself had a bruised elbow. Her blouse was crumpled and dirty. The hook of her brassiere had snapped and the elastic broken. The big brass button of the skirt could not be found. The zip, however, remained mysteriously intact. Her hair was dishevelled, with dust clinging all over it, and all over her body. Like him, she sweated; and like him, she breathed heavily. She posed a miserable sight, looking every inch ravaged. In the thick odour pervading the room with the door securely locked, she undressed to wash her face, arms and legs in a bucket. She cleaned her hair with his towel and re-arranged it. Her blouse was washed and dried with the heat of his pressing iron. Her skirt was also ironed. She dressed up again and left.

 

Beatrice was to confess to him later – during the relationship that inevitably developed – how inscrutable she thought he was, and how her curiosity had given way to love and how she decided to communicate it to him. She confessed also her terrible experience of shame following what happened. Feyi had also told her of his total lack of experience prior to that day. Beatrice had reminded him that it was always so with first timers.

 

But hard as she tried afterwards, she could not cultivate Feyi. Indeed, the poor boy was like a caged bird let loose. He simply went wild, digging and exploring.

 

Crossing over to the university at the end of the session, Feyi simply went haywire. He became, in fact, a playboy. Several factors helped him. He had brains. He had books. He had looks, and he dressed well. At the end of the first year, he won the university award for the most brilliant student of the session. He was the first to win it in the Humanities. He retained it all through. He was very popular and he exploited this. Whenever he set out for a girl, it was with great confidence, with profound self – assurance. He hardly went through the details of the process of wooing. Rather, he simply perfected the initial experience with Beatrice into an art, eliminating the crudities and now handling the situation with finesse. No problem for him at all. Well, not anything significant until he came across Bosede Abiola.

 

Feyi found her impossible, Bosede. Nineteen, sure – footed, proud of carriage, excellent in composition, Bosede was a combination of beauty and brain. Feyi was in the third year when she came in. She was a cynosure, attracting all eyes. Boys rushed at her. She rebuffed them all, rejecting their advances.

 

Feyi was not part of this. It was not his style. His was to bid his time, and he was not about to change it. She was in the same department as he was anyway, and was therefore sure that when things began to get very hot, she would have none else to turn to but himself. He was the chief consultant for those who had problems with their studies. Only he diagnosed best the difficulties of all students in the department. Only he knew the best and the appropriate cures.

 

He waited for her for a very long time. She did not show up in his room throughout the first semester. He became curious. Was she that brilliant or has she somebody else to whom she took her problems? Could she have hooked up with a lecturer so early? Not to worry, he thought. She would still come round to it. She would still seek him out. He was sure. Yes, even if she was as brilliant as rumour would have him believe, she still must pay homage to the master. Again, he waited, but in vain. Thus it happened that in the middle of the second semester, Muhammad decided to concede victory to the mountain.

 

Feyi cornered her for a chat. She responded well and they became casual friends. Casual indeed, was the word. It was obvious she respected him though. She received him warmly whenever he called at her room as he did now and again, and she too returned his call once in a while. Then they talked and talked. Her behaviour was intelligent. Her confidence affected the whole room. It irritated Feyi.

 

He became more curious. Was she naturally like that or was she just being deliberately difficult? Was she simply putting on airs? The curiosity grew more intense as time went on. With it, a great respect. With it, a great liking. With it, affection. A session ended and another one began. Feyi was now in the final year. Time was running out and here was this girl, insisting on her position, standing her ground. He thought he must have her. He liked her. He wanted her. He might need to change his normal method of approach, if only because of her.

 

He invited her out. She honoured his invitation. He felt flattered. The outing turned out to be good. They chatted no end: academic and other matters, including a lot of irrelevancies. At last he came round to his point, expressing his intention for a relationship with her. He could not remember himself having made such a proposition for a long time past. But he felt within himself that it was worth it. Oh yes.

 

She took her time to reply. For Feyi, it was like waiting for eternity. She picked her teeth as she talked. And even after he had finished talking, she continued to do so for a while. When she stopped, she took great care to lean the little stick against the ash-tray on the table. Then she picked up her bottle of coke, filled her glass and took a sip. She went back to the tooth – pick and drew invisible marks with it on the table. She was very composed. Her actions, deliberate. When she spoke eventually, her voice was soft and sweet, affecting him like a gentle breeze on a sweating skin. It was a polite turn – down. Feyi was consoled with the way it came.

 

He went over the experience later and did not like it. He did not like the way he allowed her to dictate the course of events. He was disappointed in himself. His anger was later to be turned against her. Just what was special about her? Why so many airs? After all, was she not a mere girl; just another girl? Why did he fumble so much? Why did he allow her to control the situation? He had encountered many of her type, hadn’t he? In what way was she different from the numerous girls in his past? Her beauty? No, there had been many more beautiful girls before her. Her brilliancy? So what? Did that make her a female no longer? Did that make her less feeble and less weak than the rest of the members of her sex? It was incredible that he could fail so woefully. Very bad of him. Too bad for him. He yearned for another chance.

 

That chance just presented itself.

 

Two days before, he had met her coming out of the library. She told him she would most likely be coming to get certain facts clear on a point she had just read. He had insisted on a definite appointment and it was agreed for Sunday at noon.

 

It turned out to be a very eventful day. His mates, obliging his request, left early. He cleared the room, swept it thoroughly and cleaned the chairs, desks and other furniture of dust. Next, he made his bed, re-arranged his shelf and put his wardrobe in order. Satisfied, he dashed for a bath. He came back and took his time dressing up before heading for the cafeteria. Breakfast comprised of bread and omelette. The coffee was steaming hot. He returned to the room satisfied, very ready; but only to meet two boys; two absolutely unwanted individuals, totally unexpected, waiting for him. Lanre Adelakun and Fidelis Okoye. They were student activists, most genuine and very influential as campus politicians. Feyi hated their guts. He did not know what they could be doing in his room. They had nothing in common. His own popularity was hinged on his being an intellectual. He was never interested in student unionism. Hardly did he even cast his votes during elections. What then could have brought them?

 

“Good morning, Feyi.” Lanre greeted him, stretching out his right hand simultaneously.

 

“Surprised to see us?” Fidelis asked the question as he smiled broadly.

 

“Yes, very surprised. But you’re welcome all the same.” He was trying to conceal his hostility. After all, he did not know why they had come. He checked his time. It was a quarter past ten. He wished they would quickly come round to their point.

 

“It’s a nice, neat place you have here.” This again came from Fidelis. And although he liked to be paid such compliments, Feyi would gladly have done without it for now.

 

“Thank you.” He did not feel what he said to follow this up but he thought he must try to be pleasant. “I don’t know what to offer you.”

 

“We are all right. Thank you.” Lanre answered for the two.

 

“But you’ve never visited me before.” Feyi surprised even himself. He never knew he could be such a fake.

 

“It doesn’t matter. It is our hope that this would be the beginning of great time together.” Fidelis volunteered this.

 

Great times? With rabble rousers? How presumptuous some people could be. Yet, he managed to keep himself in check, Feyi.

 

Just then, Lanre shifted in his seat and cleared his throat, an indication that he was ready to begin to discuss the subject of their mission. “Feyi, we’re sorry to encroach upon your time, especially at this stage of the semester. But as you will see, the matter is very important, very grave and it cannot wait.”

 

Oh God. All these preambles. Why don’t you save them for another time? Why don’t you come to the real point?

 

“I’m sure you’re aware of what has happened to the president and three other members of the union executive.”

 

“Do you mean their indefinite suspension from the university?”

 

“Exactly. If you remember, their suspension was due to their protest against the lackadaisical attitudes of library staff to work and their rudeness towards the students.”

 

“So what?” Feyi betrayed his impatience for the first time. He could not see how the matter concerned him. All the same, he must learn to wait. Lanre noted his reaction but he continued as if there was nothing amiss.

 

“I’m sure you will agree that what they fought for was in the interest of the students. You may disagree with their methods as some have done but the facts will still remain there. Now exams start tomorrow and these people are yet to be called back. And, as you know, it would mean at least an extra semester should they miss the papers.”

 

What are these people up to? They’d better not start any trouble now. But Lanre continued.

 

“We think it would be an act of betrayal should students just go on to write the papers like that; that is, without doing something to show their solidarity with their suspended leaders. We plan no demonstration, no protest. I want to emphasize that: no demonstration, no protest. But we think it would be good if we can get round to mobilizing students to assemble in front of the V.C.’s office tomorrow morning, then get one or two people to speak on behalf of the students.”

 

“And what happens to those who have papers tomorrow.”

 

“All papers scheduled for tomorrow are, hopefully, to be boycotted. Those people might have over – stretched themselves as some people think – they might have been tactless - but they acted in our interest. This is why some of us consider it important to do something to demonstrate that they had our support in what they did. We’ll do everything within our means to keep things under control, to make sure they do not degenerate into a riot.”

 

“So how do I come in?”

 

“That’s a good question. You see, we are not likely to be taken seriously if seen leading the students tomorrow. By “we,” I refer to Fidelis, myself and such other students about whom the authorities already have a fixed opinion. The standard response would be that we did not prepare for the exams, that it was because of this that we had decided to foment trouble. But you’re very brilliant. One of the most brilliant that we have, in fact. You’re a university scholar. The authorities respect you. The effect is likely to go down deep if you can speak on our behalf tomorrow…”

 

“I see.” This was involuntary.

 

“Also, we intend to call an emergency congress tonight. Many students are already aware of the plan but it is at the congress that we hope to make it formally known, and then work out the details. After that, we intend to go round the hostels for further efforts at mobilizing the students. Your active involvement in this would be highly useful.”

 

By now, Feyi had started boiling. He considered it an insult that these people could even try to involve him in such a plan. Crazy people! Yet he thought he must watch his reactions and utterances. You had to watch it with students or you got labelled a traitor even without your knowing what was happening. One had to be shrewd and this could even mean giving a reply which was directly contradictory to what one felt. “You certainly must be very concerned about the fate of the suspended students to have to think of taking all this trouble. I’m also impressed that you could think of involving me. But I’m sorry I have to disappoint you.”

 

“Why, please.” It was a tactless slip from Lanre.

 

Why? And he must answer that? What impertinence!

 

For a moment, Feyi felt like ordering them out of his room. Again, he managed to keep himself under control. “Well, you know, I’m not an activist. I have no interest in politics. That’s why I go my own way. I’m very sorry but you’ll have to excuse me. I especially cannot stand a large crowd. You’d yourself be disappointed if you see me fumble. May be some other time, if there’s any way I can help, I’ll be most ready.”

 

“Feyi,” Fidelis called in a deep, grave voice, “I won’t insult your intelligence. You should know, perhaps more than I do, that a man lives not just for himself but also for others. This is why it becomes necessary once in a while for an individual to pause and examine his course! Am I right in what I say or do? If so, are there other areas in which I’ve been negligent? Do I live for myself alone? Is it the appropriate thing to do? I say this because, as you know, a life has purpose less in relation to itself than in relation to other lives. Some sacrifices now and again are necessary for meaningful existence. It is for this reason that I would like to urge you to think over what Lanre has just said. We intend to do everything within our power to prevent a demonstration. An appeal to the vice chancellor, that’s all. And with somebody like you on our side, we feel confident that our plea will not fall on deaf ears.”

 

Feyi continued to boil within himself. He did not like the people sitting in front of him. He did not like their guts. He felt like throwing them out of the room. Their plan was crazy. It could erupt into a violent demonstration. This he hated. He would give anything to subvert the plan. But these two people: there’s no preventing whatever they set themselves to.

 

Lanre spoke again. There had been silence for some three minutes, meaning to him that there was nothing more to add for the time being. “Feyi, as Fidelis has stated, we would like you to think over the matter. There’s going to be a meeting at five this evening in the P.R.O.’s office in the students’ union building. That is where we hope to straighten out our plans before meeting the students at half past seven. You’ll be most welcome if you are able to join us. We’ll be grateful for it, really. I’ll check you up again at four-forty-five. I hope you’ll be ready.”

 

They stood up and left. Feyi was glad to see the door shut after them. He was set in his mind: he would be nowhere to be found at five.

 

Bosede came in on the dot of twelve. Feyi thought it a great way of getting over the earlier experience. She looked even more beautiful in her simple rig-out. She wore a knee – length gown made of purple colour Kampala stuff decorated with white patterns. This was perfectly matched with a pair of flat – heeled, rubber sandals, and she had tiny rings dangling from her ears. Her jerry – curled hair was neatly combed backward. Nothing more. Nothing but for a small, black bag containing her notes. No lipstick. No false eye – lashes. No make-up whatsoever. Yet she looked charming. Magnificent.

 

Feyi suggested she sat on the bed since using the chairs would mean them sitting at the opposite sides of the table and shouting across at each other. She obeyed. He sat near her and they started. It went on well for a long while. Feyi was truly a master. Bosede saw this, admitted it, conceded it to him, openly. There were light moments, of course. Then she smiled, her face glowing, her lips parting to reveal a set of snow – white teeth. At times she laughed. When she did, she was even more relaxed. Her laughter was sonorous.

 

Feyi studied her, watching for the right moment to strike.

 

“I never knew the African world – view to be this complex,” she had retorted unexpectedly. Feyi had illustrated the subject with the Yoruba myth of origin.

 

“Very complex, actually. In fact, in many respects, and at the risk of offending your sensibility, more complex than the Christian or Muslim world – view.”

 

“How do you mean?”

 

“Oh, it’s obvious enough. Let’s look at it from the notion of the Godhead. Both Christians and Muslims conceive of God as perfect, whereas each of the African gods possesses certain frailties. The Christian God especially is a merciful God, possessing only positive qualities. Evil is attributed to Satan. But Ogun as a single god embodies within himself both the creative and destructive essences. In his various efforts to be useful, he finds himself committing multiple errors, destroying things in the process. Of course, he atones for them. This is also man’s real nature. For the traditional African, the negative and the positive are inextricably interwoven.”

 

“Interesting. Unfortunately, it seems to be the fashion these days to disclaim tradition. You’re either a Christian or a Muslim. It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand what you proclaim, and more importantly what you reject.”

 

“Well, yes. But I suspect people are far more traditional than they claim to be. Or, rather, to be more precise: than they know themselves to be. Not many of our people actually believe in the ability of God to redress wrongs for example – I hope you understand the sense in which I have used the word “God.” Most people would rather invoke the spirit of Sango or Ogun or some other no-nonsense god. They also don’t violate their own gods as they do that of the Christians and Muslims. Where I come from, you dare not carry flash light in the rain or you risk being struck down by Sango. And look at many of our drivers: most of them claim to be Christians and Muslims yet they hold Ogun in awe. They don’t dare swear falsely in his name.”

 

“Whereas they are only too ready to take God’s name in vain. That’s blasphemous, you know.”

 

“We’re both guilty of it, so we will both end up in hell.”

 

“No, I won’t be there with you.” They both laughed. Feyi seized the opportunity to tap her right cheek. No reaction. He felt emboldened. After some time, he made another attempt. Not again an ordinary tap on the cheek. It was more to the point. It was an attempt to cuddle her waist.

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” It was a sharp rhetorical question, fired as she simultaneously tore off the hand in a swift movement. Feyi thought he should have expected this. After all, didn’t they all feign resistance at the beginning? Again, he allowed himself some more time before going on further offensive. This time, the hand went round her neck searching for her breasts.

 

“What do you think you’re doing for God’s sake?” She was simultaneously on her feet. Feyi said nothing. “I consider this an insult and demand an immediate apology from you.”

 

“Come and sit down.” He was very patronizing as he said this, standing up.

 

“Come and sit down where? I’m not going to sit down again on that bed.”

 

“O.K., you can take a chair. Is that all right?”

 

“No. I don’t even think I want to sit down again in this room. It is not safe for me.”

 

“Why don’t you take it easy, Bose?” He walked towards her as he spoke.

 

“Don’t come near me. Stay where you are.” She said, walking backwards. “I see. People who peddle the story really know you: That when a member of the opposite sex as much as says an ordinary hi to you, you think of taking her to bed.”

 

“Whoever told you that?”

 

The story is all over the place. In any case, haven’t you just proved it? You don’t respect anybody and you have no other thoughts in your head where it concerns the female sex. And I pity you. Because you will just end up destroying yourself. You don’t discriminate. Just any hole will do. Once a girl crosses your path, you’re ready to go to bed with her. It’s rather sad.”

 

Feyi thought she was beginning to go too far. He must stop her. “Now, now, now, I think we’ve had enough of that. Shall we now go back to our discussion; that is if there’s still anything you want to discuss.”

 

“I told you I don’t want to have anything to do with you again. You employ a positive endowment to negative ends. You don’t think of anybody. You have no ideal, no lofty dreams, and no high aspiration. You have no thought for humanity: nothing but sex, sex, sex. Very bad.”

 

“Now, Bose, I won’t take any more insults from you.”

 

“But I must let you know it. Because you’re a fool. It doesn’t matter that you are bright. Being good in class work does not make you intelligent. So much crisis around you, so many issues of great importance. The campus boils, the society burns outside, the whole world threatens to explode but the only thing our man thinks of is women. Not in any way beneficial to anybody. Not even you. Because you’re as much a victim as those you take to bed. I doubt if you have any sense at all. And you see it every day: the tragic consequences of indiscriminate sex? What about your health? You must change, Feyi. You have to change. You need to sit down and think hard. Otherwise you will just ruin yourself.”

 

She burst out of the room, banging the door after her. Feyi stood rooted to the same spot, gazing at the door. He stood like that for a long time. A quarter of an hour at least. When he moved, it was to sit on the bed, elbows on the thigh, head bent low and cupped in the hands…

 

**********

 

Feyi still paced the room. He still felt dazed. He also felt bitter. He thought she had no right to talk to him like that, that he shouldn’t have allowed her to get away with it. But then he asked himself: what could he have done? Fire back as she spoke? What had he to fire back? And look at this: did she make any great point? Was she justified in reacting the way she did? Was he right in what he did to her? Should the fact that he had done it to several others before her make it right? Was it ever right at any point? Was there anything worth pondering over? Questions and questions and more questions. He went back to the bed, to his former position: elbows on thighs, head in the hands, eyes fixed to the ground.

 

And the words began to come back: “You don’t think of anybody. You have no ideal, no lofty dreams, no high aspirations. You have no thought for humanity, nothing but sex, sex, sex…”

 

But wasn’t she rather harsh in calling him a fool? Was he a fool? “Sex, sex, sex”: wasn’t it one of her kind that initiated him into it? But how tenable was that as a defence? Why must he allow himself to be so taken? Even assuming that he had been inexperienced and so could not have resisted her on that first day, would it have been any more pardonable for him to have carried on in such a way? And the question of ideals and dreams… Yes, those stupid boys also insinuated it. Stupid? Fidelis, Lanre: stupid? Was he qualified to describe Fidelis and Lanre as stupid? Were they indeed so? “A man lives not just for himself but also for, and because, of others…” could that have been uttered by a stupid mouth? Another sampler: “it becomes necessary once in a while for an individual to pause and examine his course…” And he, Feyi, claiming not to be stupid, needed another person to point that out to him.

 

Now, why had he chosen to stand aside? Standing aside? was that the situation? Was he standing aside? Humanity, aspiration, dreams. Struggle. That was the word: a much abused word: struggle. Why did he hate the word? Did he hate it? Did he hate the word, struggle? Perhaps. Why did he hate it? No, he didn’t hate it. He had no reason to. But was he sure? Could he be sure that he didn’t hate the word? “I’m sure you’ll agree that what they fought for was in the interest of the students.” These were Lanre’s words. They came back. He was talking about the suspended student leaders. He was probably right. “They might have been tactless but the facts are still there.” Lanre’s words again. They were tactless! Wrong methods. Always. All the time. Violent methods. Yes, that was it. Violence. He hated the word. Again, did he? Yes. He was sure now. Struggle. Violence. He hated the two words. He probably hated the one because of the other.

 

But were the two words inherently negative? Were they? Well, both seemed to go together. And the effect was always destructive. At least on university campuses. People tended to misunderstand the issue, mistaking violence for an end in itself. A little thing and they would go on rampage, assaulting innocent people, burning down cars,  looting things, destroying property.

 

This now appeared to be the issue. This tendency by students to take laws into their hands, to be destructive. But could this be corrected by staying away? Could things ever become right when matters were left to people who were at best muddle – headed? Again, Bosede’s words: “The campus boils, the society burns outside, the whole world threatens to explode but the only thing our man thinks of is women.” Could she be right here? Was she right?

 

There was a knock at the door. It opened slowly as he lifted up his head. It was Fidelis. Feyi made to check his time.

 

“Sorry, it isn’t time yet. I was just passing by and thought I should check to see if you’re in.”

 

Feyi said nothing.

 

“Lanre will come back as arranged at 4.45. It’s just about an hour from now. Fidelis checked his time as he spoke.

 

Feyi still said nothing. Fidelis couldn’t quite understand the situation.

 

“See you then.” He closed the door and opened it almost immediately. He thought he saw it in Feyi’s face: it was as if he wanted to speak.

 

“Where are you going now?” The voice was unsure. But at least Fidelis was right.

 

“H1, 39. Only four rooms away. Lanre left a note in his room that he would be there. And there’re still certain things to sort out before the meeting. It is important that I see him.”

 

Feyi opened his mouth and closed it again. He opened it yet again without speaking. Fidelis could not understand. What could be wrong? This was not the Feyi he knew. He volunteered a persuasive word.

“Yes…?” Then as a follow – up after allowing some time without Feyi still coming out: “I thought you wanted to say something.”

 

“Suppose… suppose… er… I don’t know if I can come along…”

Something was wrong here. This was not the normal Feyi. The normal Feyi he used to know was very sure of himself, spoke with confidence, was a very arrogant person. Apart from this, Fidelis could not be sure that he heard rightly, he could not be sure that Feyi indeed was asking if he could come along. It was either that he heard wrongly or it must be that Feyi meant differently from what he had made out of what was said. He thought he should not commit a blunder.

 

“Pardon, did you ask if you could…?”

 

“Sorry, I just thought it is possible that I can be of some help. I thought there might just be something I could do by way of assistance…”

 

There was no time to think over this, unfortunately. No time to make sure it was not a dream. It just couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be. No. Yet, Feyi must not be allowed to change his mind. “Come along,” Fidelis answered, “of course, it will be wonderful to have you around.”

 

Fidelis could not believe it as he watched Feyi change his shirt; change from bathroom slippers into a pair of sandals. He watched him comb his hair. He was ready. Lanre still could not believe it: the sudden transformation going on before him. He could not believe it. It could only have been a miracle. Oh yes, it was a miracle. Certainly a miracle.

 

The end.

 

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Wumi Raji won a book prize in the 1988 BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Competition. He is the author of Rolling Dreams, an collection of poetry and a co-editor of Rising Voices, an Anthology of New Nigerian Poetry. Among others, he had been an Alexander von Humboldt research fellow at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and a Visiting Research fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK. Currently, he is a Reader in Dramatic Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo, Ile Ife, Nigeria.