It was common place for the big boys to show a little of their boxers whenever they had the opportunity to, and Stanley did not spare at all; he showed a lot. “Oh boy! I wonder how good guys from other schools are” he said.
“We’ll soon discover” Okpara responded.
“I’ll be playing football, I’m not in basket ball like you guys” Utibe said, the last of the trio said.
“You dey miss. Na b-ball dey trip the girls. You wear your sleeveless jersey, flexing your muscles and your height. Without them saying anything, you can see they are tripping already” Stanley said.
“It’s the small girls that are tripped my football stars. “ Okpara chipped in.
“Na you sabi o! I enjoy playing football. That’s what matters to me, not really the tripping of girls’ part.”
Stanley laughed. “You will soon change your mind when you see the girls flocking around Okpara and me in no time.” He paused and then added deliberately. “And, you know what?”
“What?” his friends chorused.
“I will get in between at least five of those girls’ laps before the end of this conference.” Stanley said confidently, with a grin.
“Stanley; you’re my man!” Okpara exulted.
“How will you do that in this place? They’ll catch you” Utibe said, rather dubious.
“You be small boy o!” Stanley said, mocking his new friend. “We have our ways. My brother was here last year and told me how the boys did it. I must do my own; no dulling at all”
“Who will you start with?” Okpara asked as they approached the basket ball court.
“I’ll start with that Tunbosun girl that you told me about” Stanley said, facing Okpara, and could see Okpara was pleased.
“That girl so humiliated me in school. I felt like a fool among my friends. I’d bragged that I could have any girl. They tested me with Tunbosun and she had me good. I hope you won’t be humiliated too.”
Stanley scoffed. “I won’t blow my trumpet anymore. Actions speak louder than words. You just watch me.”
Stanley and Okpara stopped at the court to watch guys that had already started making shots. Utibe turned, heading towards the football pitch. He wondered if that was the kind of life he wanted; using and dumping girls. He had always had close female friends but never asked for more than friendship but the moment he got here and heard what the boys were bragging about, he had felt a need to feel among.
That’s why he had talked to Shade at the dinning hall earlier in the day. A boy had dared him to do it, and he wasn’t ready to be called a slacker. He wondered how far he would have to go to win the approval of the guys around. He looked forward and saw boys joggling soccer balls. He momentarily discarded the thoughts and jogged towards the field.
‘Wow, this guy is good.’ Uche thought to himself. He had been sitting near the basket ball court for minutes. Boys soon came and started playing. He watched them and was fascinated at the fun they were having. He wasn’t a sports person, but admired those who found pleasure in whatever they were doing, as he found pleasure in reading.
He recognized one of the players as the boy Fatima was chasing a few minutes ago. The boy was good, hadly missed a shot. Uche wondered why Fatima was nowhere near to cheer her friend. He turned to see if she was anywhere near, but didn’t have to look too long. She was standing right behind him. He was so taken aback, he couldn’t speak.
“Looking for somebody?” she asked rhetorically , which her trademark smile. “I see you’re enjoying the game, didn’t know you were a fan.”
“No, I’m not”, he was saying when she came around the seat.
“May I?” she asked, motioning towards the seat.
“Sure” he said, as she sat beside him. He ask her why she hadn’t made it to the dinning in time as agredd but decided against it. He didn’t want to start up the conversation. If she wanted to talk, she would have to be the one to start.
And as if Fatima heard him, she turned slightly to face him. “I’m sorry for not making it a few minutes back”
“It’s okay” Uche said, plainly, not looking at her.
Fatima seemed to take the cue and kept quiet. There was silence between them for a while which made Uche feel uneasy. He pretended to be watching the game but his mind was searching for a way to ensure they continued from where they stopped at the lecture hall. He looked at her for the first time since she sat and saw she was lost, watching the game.
It was then something caught his attention. She had long hair. ‘How come I didn’t notice earlier?’ he asked himself, knowing he was fond of females with long hair. It was then he remembered that she had been wearing her beret earlier, as it was part of her school uniform. They were asked to wear their school uniform during lecture sessions.
His sister had the longest hair he had ever seen, and he took pride in it while he could until he lost her; a loss he was still yet to recover from. He noticed he was staring at her and he called himself to order. Looking back at the boys playing, he asked, “You like basket ball?”
“Since I was a kid. My brothers are all basketball players.”
“Really?” Uche asked, genuinely surprised.
There was a short silence. “I thought you were going to ask me a question” she said, smiling.
“You must be a mind reader. Why not just answer the question since you already know it” Uche said, now warming up to the conversation.
“My brothers are not short like me. Two of them are of average height, and one is as tall as George”
“George?” Uche asked, confused.
“Oh sorry, I just assumed I was talking to someone who knew him. He’s the guy with a Lakers jersey,” she said pointing in his direction. “He’s my closest male friend in school. He’s like a big brother to me.”
“Hmmm” Uche said, and was surprised at the ease he felt, knowing there was nothing extra between Fatima and the George guy. “He’s very good. His style of play is nice.”
“Yes. He plays like Coby Bryant.” Uche made a face that reminded Fatima he wasn’t a basketball fan. “My bad. I’m sorry. Coby is an NBA star. George copies his moves.”
“I see” Uche stole a glance at Fatima hair again and was about to comment but thought it would be forward of him. So, he decided to keep mute, but not before Fatima saw his expression.
“You want to say something?” she asked.
“No” he lied.
Fatima frowned. “If there’s anything I hope you’ll get to know about me, it’s that you do not lie to Fatima” She raised an eyebrow and tapped her finger. “So, out with it, Mister!”
Uche smiled. “Wanted to say I like you hair!” he said, barely above a whisper. Uche felt very silly after saying it, especially because Fatima just smiled at him without a word. ‘I wonder what she thinks of me now’ he thought.’
Without taking her eyes off him, Fatima responded. “Thank you Uche. That’s the nicest thing anybody has said to me since I got here yesterday. Thanks”
“You’re welcome” he said, breathing easier now. This was his first time having a quite lengthy conversation with a girl that didn’t have to do with library books or assignments, and it felt quite good.
“You’ll make a great husband and dad in the future” Fatima said.
‘Where did that come from’ Uche thought. ‘She couldn’t have been referring to me. I would make the worst husband and father; that’s why I cannot even marry’. He however felt he needed to respond to the compliment. “Thanks” he said.
Fatima could read in his response that he didn’t believe what she said and she could only link it to what he had refused to talk about earlier in the day. “Please tell me!” Fatima said.
Uche was confused. “Tell you what?” The girl just never stopped to amaze him. He wondered where she was going with this again.
“What you didn’t want to talk about this morning. Why you haven’t been able to laugh in a while” she paused, looked at him and added, “Why you think you would be a terrible husband and father.”
Uche’s eyes filled immediately. She had hit his softest spot so acutely. He blinked back the tears but not fast enough. A tear made its way down his cheek.
“Please let it out; tell me”
Fatima’s voice carried so much concern, Uche nearly choked on the tears screaming for release. All he could do was nod his head. He would tell Fatima what he had never told anyone for the past three years.
“Goal!!!” Shade shouted at the top of her voice, sincerely excited. Utibe’s team had just scored. Spectators had chosen sides and she had been the most ardent supporter of Utibe’s team of six.
When they got to the Sports arena, she had begged Tunbosun to take a stroll round the arena with her, claiming she just wanted to have a feel of all games played. The moment Shade spotted Utibe playing football, she had told Tunbosun she didn’t want to stroll anymore, that she felt like watching football.
Tunbosun, who had known what her bunk mate was up to all the while, refused to comment. She left her there and continued the stroll, hoping her friend wouldn’t do anything stupid.
Shade however had infact overdone her support. Utibe had noticed her a while ago and made her aware he had noticed her, looking at her every now and then. With the goal his team just scored, he looked at her and winked. She screamed the more!
A few minutes after, the whistle was blown. Sports time was over. Utibe talked briefly with his new friends, his team mates, and then walked straight up to Shade.
“Thanks for the support”
“My pleasure. You guys were good” she said, as they started heading towards the hostel.
“I have to agree with you, I enjoyed the game myself”. With Shade so close, he remembered what he and his friends had been discussing on their way to the sports arena. He decided to give it a try. He stopped walking and stared at her a little.
Shade wondered what was wrong. “What?” she asked.
“You look beautiful” he said, not taking his eyes off her.
“Thank you” Shade say, flushed. She couldn’t hold his gaze. She was going to faint if she did.
Utibe could see Shade had already tripped. ‘I didn’t know it was going to be this easy’, he though to himself. ‘I’ll have to ask the guys what next I need to do. I might just be lucky with Shade. She doesn’t look like someone who will tell me no’. The more he thought about it, the more excited he got.