Shade was practically floating. Utibe had shown her more attention than she could have possibly asked for. He had been looking over his shoulders in her direction all through the Networking preview. His number had been different from hers but he had changed group just to be with her. He was doing exactly what she had wanted him to do in the morning. He was sitting right beside her at the moment in her group and she just couldn’t make her heart stop beating fast.
They were seated outside, as her Networking group was one of the groups asked to have their meeting outside. Plastic chairs had been arranged and there were just two wooden benches. Shade had been surprised when Utibe had asked them to sit on the benches instead of the chairs. Now, she knew why. He was seating so close to her; she would have been uncomfortable if it had been another guy. But with Utibe, his closeness was all she craved for.
Their group leader introduced himself as Engineer Solomon. He reminded them of the essence of the group, telling them they had to form networks with each other; sharing ideas, abilities, contacts, and whatever else they felt could help the other person. He told them they would have to meet at least five new participants by the end of the conference. He stated that they were going to start with ‘same-sex’ networking, explaining that there were some things that could only be learnt from the same sex.
As he said that, there were reactions, as expected. “Guys you’ll have a chance with the girls tomorrow” he said, winking, and they laughed. Before Utibe stood up, he whispered in Shade’s ears words that made her ear hot and made her heart-beat intensify. “Babe, I’ll miss you. Can’t wait to talk to you after.”
As Utibe walked away, Shade could hardly think straight. She couldn’t believe she could matter so much to anyone. As she basked in the feeling, she remembered his words some minutes back in the hall about them making out behind the dinning hall after diner. She was scared and yet excited at the same time. No guy had ever touched her before. Not that she hadn’t wanted it but she had just never had the chance. She had been hearing her friends talk about their exploits. Hers was about to begin. She could hardly wait.
“Waky, waky!” someone said, tapping her.
“Yes?” she said, rather upset her pleasant thoughts were interrupted.
“I have been sitting here a while. Guessed you were thinking…”
“Faith!” Shade said, when she looked at the face, interrupting the girl.
The girl was surprised at the familiar look Shade was giving her. “Have we met before now?”
“Look at me very well” Shade said. “FEGGI”
It was then it hit her. “It’s a lie!” Faith screamed and then covered her mouth when she saw she was disturbing others. “Shade!” they hugged each other while seated. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been okay o. Heard you moved to Calabar. What happened?”
“My dad got a job to do some constructions at Tinapa, as per native-boy connections.”
“You guys are from Cross River?”
“Yes. And we’ve been living there ever since he got the job”
“Wow…that’s good money!”
“You bet! How come we’re just jamming?”
“I had seen you earlier”
“When I danced yesterday?”
“Nope. Even before then. Abeg, forget that. We have met now and it feels so good. But Faith, what happened?”
Faith frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“You used to preach to girls. You preached to me. You were an exco in the fellowship; the only junior student then who was an exco because of your fervency.”
Faith waved it off. “Plenty water has passed under the bridge. It’s a long story.” Faith paused and Shade could see some sadness in her eyes but just as fast, the look was replaced with defiance. “I know better now!”
“If you say so.” Shade glanced in the direction of the group leader. He was looking at them. “We had better start talking networking” Shade said mockingly and Faith giggled. Shade could still see the pleasantness in Faith; that character that made many love her. Shade only wondered what could have made someone like Faith turn her back on the God she had served so faithfully.
“What are you going to teach me?” Shade asked, trying to sound serious.
“Dancing” Faith said, with a mischievious smile.
“You want to teach me those dance steps of yours? My mother will kill me if she sees me dancing like that!” Shade said, and both friends laughed.
Tunbosun had been more than pleased to know she and George were in the same Networking group again. The other girl he had been talking to was put in another group. This was her chance to get something concrete going with him and she wasn’t going to let it pass. She had hoped she would be able to sit with him but someone got there before her again. The best she could do was sit directly behind him, which she did.
Before the group leader came around, she tapped him and greeted him. She could see that from his response, he was glad to see her. That was a good sign. As the group leader, Miss Akinsanya, began talking, she mentioned something about them sharing their visions and dreams with each other and see how they could help sharpen each other’s visions. She called it ‘Vision-Networking’.
At the mention of ‘dream’, Tunbosun remembered the dream she had had at night, and she suddenly became cold all over. She hadn’t shared the dream with anyone and it had been eating her up. It wasn’t the kind of dream Miss Akinsanya was talking about but she knew she had to let it out before it sucked up all the strength she had left.
She decided she would share it with George. She both had a feeling that he would have some good counsel for her, and she also felt it might connect them both. Both feelings appealed much to her. The moment she heard the leader tell them to choose a partner, she leaned over and spoke to George. She wasn’t going to let anybody beat her to it this time. “Can we be partners?”
George smiled. “That would be nice”. She had never seen him frown. She wondered if anything could upset the guy. As others looked for partners, she stood up, picked her conference file and moved in the direction she had been longing to go. She hoped it would be worth all the effort. ‘Tunbosun, I don’t understand you anymore. George had better be worth this childishness you’re displaying’, she said to herself as she took her seat beside George Ahmadu.
Uche found it so hard to believe. After talking with all five participants that he was assigned to, only one of them had read a book in the past three months. He sincerely wondered what they had been doing with all their free time. What he had shared with them was the passion for knowledge. That was his greatest gift and he felt it was the best networking possible. Without meeting great minds in person, anyone could still learn from them by simply reading their books. That was Uche’s philosophy. In the past three months, he had already read 10 new books and re-read 3 books.
However, he also discovered that there were things he didn’t know and needed to know. One of the guys he met knew how to design websites; another knew how to play musical instruments. A rather shy girl he talked with knew how to bake and cook all sorts of recipes. Even though shy, when she talked about her cookery experiences, he could see that she really loved cooking and baking. That just reminded him that everyone is different, and life is full of interdependence.
Confirming his thoughts, his group leader, while rounding off the session, asked them to say to each other, “I need you”. Uche would have been reluctant to say that if it had been another day, but now, he knew better.
When the session ended, they were told to take a short rest before dinner. As Uche made his way to the hostel, his mind drifted to his friend in the hospital. ‘I wonder what skill or gift Fatima would have shared with others if she had been here’, he thought to himself.
“Na maximum enjoyment for Utibe this evening!” Uche heard someone tell another behind him, interrupting his thoughts. He slowed his pace so they could walk past him. He then kept up with them from behind to hear what they were talking about.
“…he said Shade had told him earlier that she is a virgin” the shorter one was saying.
“Na her luck be that.” The tall, fair and muscular guy said. “By tonight, she’ll be just like anyone other girl, nothing special.” The guy paused, then added. “I have never told you something before”
“What’s that?” the short one asked.
“I respect those very serious Christian girls that won’t let you come close, not to talk of touching them. I usually don’t bug them.”
“Sounds strange coming from you”
“Yes. They remind me of my baby sisters. Pure, undefiled beings that need to be cuddled and protected, rather than harmed.”
“So, why are you intent on getting Tunbosun by force?”
“Okpara, are you deaf?” the guy said, and Uche noted the name. “I said, serious Christian girls, not moralistic girls. With what she wore yesterday, and how I saw her move occasionally at the songs played last night, I know Tunbosun is not that type and I’ll have her.”
“You said you were going to have five girls this conference; what of the remaining four?”
“I’ll start tonight” the tall one said and Uche could tell from the reaction of the one called Okpara that he was surprised.
“That is not possible. You haven’t talked much with any girl yet.”
“I know the easy types. I’ll be one down –four to go by the end of today. You just watch and see”
Uche felt sick to his stomach. He had heard enough. He stopped and allowed them walk far away from him. ‘When did girls become sex toys?’ he asked himself. He wished the Okpara guy had mentioned the taller guy’s name but he hadn’t. He would need to know his name incase something terrible happened and the culprits needed to be identified. He decided he would try his best to find out the guy’s name. As he replayed their conversation in his mind, Uche’s heart bled for whoever the victim would be.
As Uche was about continuing towards the hostel, he heard his name and turned. It was George, with the girl they had met earlier, with whom they had cleared lunch plates. They were some distance away, walking towards him. It was then it hit Uche. “Isn’t her name Tunbosun?” he said under his breath. ‘Weren’t those guys talking about a Tunbosun?’ Uche desperately hoped there were more Tunbosun’s at the conference. He looked at her as she approached with George. ‘Oh no! Not this pretty, intelligent girl’. He couldn’t imagine that tall guy ruining this girl. He only wondered if there was anything he could do to stop it.