Monday, August 18, 2008

Novella: Choices (Chapter 4)

The excitement was palpable as it always was when the students of Kristos High School were going for a competition or traveling on an excursion. This seemed like a combination of both. Chuba, Ifeoma, three student supporters and a staff were about to leave the school premises for the 6th Annual National Secondary Schools’ Bible Quiz Competition, hosted this year by Royal College, Lagos.
The principal had asked them to leave two days earlier, so as to get to Lagos on time on Friday morning and have a whole day to relax and prepare. Getting to Lagos on the same day of the competition, she felt, would be stressful for the participating students. A staff, who once lived in Lagos, recommended that the crew check into Excellence hotel at Ogba for the night, stating that it was quite affordable and decent.
Most students were in class having lectures but a few were in front of their classes, watching the school bus which was parked in front of the principal’s office, waiting for their colleagues to leave. The principal stood beside the bus. She prayed with the students and asked them to leave. “I believe in you dears. Go, make your school proud. God help you” She said as she stepped back from the bus.
“Amen. Thank you ma” the students replied.
As the bus eased out of the school, Chuba felt a knot in his stomach, a combination of emotions; excitement and anxiety over the competition. Ifeoma, on the other hand had butterflies in the stomach but for all too different reasons.
The accompanying staff sat with the driver in front of the 14-seater bus. The three supporting students sat at the far back, while the two contestants sat in the middle row.
“This is a dream come true. I almost can’t believe it’s happening” Chuba said, beaming.
“Same here.” Ifeoma replied.
They talked a while about what they expected to see and experience at the competition. Their friends joined in the gist. When they seemed out of gist, after about two hours of traveling, Chuba faced Ifeoma. “I think we should look through our notes again.”
“In the bus, can’t it wait?” she asked, smiling.
“It’s not my fault; I just want to be super ready.”
“That’s okay.” She pulled out her note book, put it on her lap and opened it. Chuba pulled it a little to his side and held the end of the book closer to him, while she held the other end. They read silently through their joint jottings in the book. As Ifeoma read trough, she couldn’t help admiring her own hand writing. Many people had appreciated her writing, many but Chuba. She knew he liked her writing, because the few times he was either sick or representing the school, making him absent from classes, he had always told her to help him copy his notes. Those were moments she cherished; writing in Chuba’s book. But why he never passed a comment or compliment, she did not know.
Now, this was another moment she was going to live to remember. She and Chuba having as much as 72 hours together, at least, except for moments when they would sleep in different rooms at the hotel. It was more than she could ask.
“I had even forgotten that story about Eleazar, the Son of Dodo. Why did you underline that part?” He said tracing a line she’d ruled under a phrase and in the process, his fingers touched hers slightly and rested there awhile, at the end of the drawn line. She could hardly breathe; she wished the moment would last longer. She noticed Chuba wasn’t talking again. ‘Could he be feeling this God-blessed attraction too?’ she thought to herself. She looked up at him and saw he had a questioning look, not a ‘lost-in-your-eyes’ look she had hoped to see. ‘Oh Silly me! He’s waiting for the answer to his question’. She was disappointed.
He repeated himself. “The reason for this line?” he said, now tracing the line back to the beginning. At least, now she could think clearly without his fingers touching hers.
“I just had this feeling it was going to be asked.” She finally said.
She nodded. “I also think there’s a new verse we should memorize.”
Chuba yawned. “Guess I need to sleep a while, my eyes are heavy.”
“How many hours did you sleep last night?”
“Barely three.”
“Then, you really need to close those eyes.” She said sincerely concerned for him, content to have him close by even if they weren’t talking.
“We’ll memorize it later. Okay?”
“What’s the scripture, by the way?” he asked, eyes already closed.
“Psalms 68:5”
“Okay” he said and slouched on the seat. Ifeoma, on the other hand, closed her book and stared out the window. She was never one to sleep on a journey. And they forgot all about Psalms 68:5.
Shola stirred in bed. She sat up and stretched.
“Good morning, sugar! Hope you slept well?” Professor Toriola asked, looking at her through the mirror of his wife’s dressing table, which he had converted to his reading table.
“As well as you allowed me to” she said, yawning. She wondered how the man could sleep at 2am and be awake, reading at 5am. He was a very intelligent and hardworking academician. But in morals and manners, he was messed up. She couldn’t wait to be out of the mess she had gotten herself into.
She became his girl in 200-level when she had problems with her Law of Contract, JPL 201, course. He helped her after she agreed to his terms. Her grades had never been bad after that. It had been one year running and she could see he was already tiring of her, which for her was good news. She had heard that he now slept with other students. She had been the only one for a while; that was a good sign of exit – she wanted to have a life.
She didn’t know that a blow was coming straight for her face in a few seconds.
“I have a friend I want you to meet” he said, now turning to face her.
She smiled tiredly. “I’m not in the mood for friend-making, Prof”
“I’m sorry Shola, you don’t have a choice”
“I don’t?” She looked confused. “You’ve never forced me to meet any of your friends before. Rather, you shield them away from me, so they don’t bother me.”
“Life dear!” He said smiling. “Life is change. Change is life. The rules have changed.”
She didn’t like the direction of the conversation.
“It’s a personal favour you’ll be doing me dear.”
She was getting uncomfortable. ‘And who wants to do you a favour?’ she thought.
“I need a large loan from him for my next research. And he needs collateral”
“Meaning?” She was afraid of what she would hear.
“He asked to have you as collateral till I repay.”
“And you agreed?” She couldn’t believe she was having this conversion. She had become an item to be tossed about.
“Yes I did. I had no choice!”
“Oh yes! You had a choice. What has gone wrong with you Prof?” she shouted at him.
He smiled. “Easy now Shola. That is not going to help matters. I would repay and you’ll be back to daddy”
“You must be out of your mind sir. Have you had a drink already?” she asked, visibly shaking. He only smiled without responding to her questions. That was another thing that drove her mad about him. He never seemed to flinch; like nothing ever hurt him, but he was hurting her terribly.
“How can you sell me so cheaply?”
“Twenty-five million naira is not cheap my dear.”
“That’s how much you’re asking for?” the thought of that large sum of money immobilized her.
“What if you can’t pay back?” she asked, not sure if she was asking for her own benefit or his.
“I would repay, trust me!”
“What if you can’t!” he screamed through her gritted teeth.
“The question should be ‘what if I can’t repay all?’ because I definitely will repay most of it.” He looked at her but she was staring angrily at him. “Okay, if you won’t ask, I’ll answer you anyway.” He walked over to the bed, put his arm on her. She flinched, but he persisted all the same. “Then, I would really miss you dear because you would have become Alhaji Musa’s girl” He said, pecked her on the cheek and returning to his reading.
She was too stunned to speak a word. Two thoughts numbed her; One, she was going to become another man’s pet; starting all over again. And two, she was now moving from an adulterous intellectual with family abroad to a polygamist billionaire with family most likely in Nigeria.
She got up, dressed up and made her way towards the door without saying a word.
“You’ll be meeting him tomorrow night at the Mauline Resort. You know the consequences of your failure to do that, right?” Professor said without looking away from the book he was reading.
Shola sighed, knowing fully well what he meant and walked out.
Bayo was seated on his bed, with Amaka’s head on his lap. Such was the case when Thomas Baderin was around. They could never do anything inappropriate in his presence. ‘Pastor T’, as they usually called him was an exco member in his campus fellowship, Evangelical Christian Union. He had embarrassed Bayo and Amaka a couple of times when he caught them doing their stuff. The only times they were comfortable where on Mondays and Thursdays when he had exco meetings very late into the night. He had won their respect however, by the way he lived. He was reading on his bed, so they kept their voices low.
“Thanks for the pounded yam yesterday.” Amaka said without looking up.
“You have no doubts about my culinary skills now, do you?” Bayo said looking down at her.
“No. What are you going to cook for me today?”
“You see! You’re now getting spoilt. Have I become your cook?” he said, pulling her nose.
“I like it when you pull my nose”
“There are many things you like me doing to you” he said, smiling and was about to touch her but a quick glance in Thomas’ direction and he changed his mind.
Amaka turned her head and scowled at Thomas, without speaking a word. Bayo saw her expression and smiled. ‘See the power I have over her. If she hadn’t given-in to my demand for sex, I won’t have this power. Now, she needs me for that pleasure and can’t do without me. Na wa for desperate-love-seeking na├»ve girls!’
“I would be traveling to Lagos tomorrow” he said stroking her hair.
That got her rapt attention and she looked up. “Why?”
“I have to be at a Bible quiz competition?”
She let out a mock laugh. “You! Bible competition?”
“I’m not participating, I’m going as the outgoing National Champion” Amaka was still smiling. “It might be hard for you to believe but I won it last year.”
“You must have bribed the judges,” she said, turning her head back.
“I didn’t need to. I was really good. In fact, I’m still good! I was brought up in a strict and loving Christian family. I was always winning sword drills and bible quizzes in primary school and Sunday school. It continued to my secondary schools until I started trying out some stuffs in Senior school.” He smiled. “Baby, you know what I’m talking about?”
“Leave me jo!” she giggled.
“But the knowledge was still there and I brought my school many awards. The biggest one I ever got was this one I just told you about, which I won this time last year.”
“Interesting story”
“You could say that again!”
“You’re coming back tomorrow, right?”
He smiled again, knowing what she was thinking. He had slept with her the same day he met her. He had met her crying at the main bowl of the Sports Complex. He comforted her, cheered her up, psyched her and in a matter of hours, she was in his arms, believing his love story, which he had told several other damsels-in-distress. They had made out everyday since then for the twelfth day running. Now, he was about to travel. He could imagine her fear.
“No. I would be coming back on Monday.” It was an intentional act on his part. He wanted her to become desperately and madly in need of him. That was absolute power.
“Where are you going to stay?” she asked, now in a low tone.
“At a friend’s place”
“Who’s this friend?” He could see fear in her eyes. She was actually asking ‘Is this friend a guy or girl?’
“Sunday, one of my old school buddies.” He lied but saw the relief she felt as he said that. He was going to stay over in Sunbo’s place; his former class mate and bed mate. She was his partner in the quiz last year and they were both going to decorate the new winners at the competition the next day. He had called her and told her he was coming over. As the first born of the family, and with her parents abroad, she didn’t need to get permission from anybody before she approved.
Bayo looked forward to seeing her again. It had been about nine months since they last saw each other; when he had ditched her. She was the second girl he ever dated, after Moni, but she was the first girl he slept with. He knew he would have to beg her for forgiveness when he saw her but that could be arranged. He was sure that with a few of his smooth words, he would have her for the two nights before coming back. ‘This is going to be a great weekend indeed. Reunion with Moni and Sunbo’ he thought to himself, proud of his exploits.
“Bayo!” Amaka tapped him. “I’m talking to you” He had forgotten all about the girl whose head was on his lap.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was thinking of something.”
“What?” she demanded, frowning.
“How I’d miss you. Men! I hope I don’t die there O! Can’t think of being without you for two days” he lied again.
She smiled, showing her perfect white teeth. She was a pure dove before he soiled her. A sad smile curved his lips. ‘It was bound to happen someday’ he convinced himself.
“I was just telling you the same thing though you didn’t hear me because you were thinking the same thing. How sweet!” she said, smiling up at him.
“So, I guess we should make this night a special one, abi?”
“Let’s take a walk to Spices, have a good meal and then we go to my friend’s place at quarters”
“Bayo!” she said, smiling as she sat up.
“That’s my girl.”
Bayo got his purse and wore a shirt over the singlet he had been wearing. As they made their way out, Amaka said bye to Thomas, who responded with a slight nod. After that night, another chunk of Amaka’s heart would automatically be lost to Bayo as is always the case when man and woman come together.

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