Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Novella: La Conferencia (Chapter 40)

The hall was full to capacity. Everybody was back. It was obvious the participants were glad to be back. The Conference Director walked to the podium, clearly glad to be seeing the students again.
“Welcome back!” he said and there was a deafening applause. He went on to tell them what was expected of them that day. “I’m assuming you’ve all had breakfast at your respective organizations.”
“Yes!” many chorused but a few shouted otherwise.
“If they didn’t feed you, you would have to carry an empty stomach till afternoon.” Those who had eaten laughed at their colleagues.
When the noise had quietened, the CD continued his announcements. “I know this is impromptu”, he started. “All the fifty groups would have two minutes to tell us what they gained. I remember you were told you would all give two-minute speeches but that won’t be happening again. This would be it. Just fifty of you will have that chance.”
He scanned the audience. “So, choose a representative each for your groups that will represent you. You will be given ten minutes after this briefing to come together and agree on your representative. You would then be expected to do your presentation when your group is called.”
He could tell they were excited and he was glad about that. But to continue his announcement, he had to calm them down. When he could hear himself, he continued. “After the report, which should take about three hours, we would have lunch. Immediately after lunch, we’ll have the practice for our Sports competition tomorrow; those involved in different games know themselves. At the same time, those who are not involved in the sports are meant to meet in their respective groups to put final touches to the community projects you would be expected to execute tomorrow morning.”
He paused, taking a look as his notes as he allowed the participants make side comments on the announcements he had made so far. “We would have dinner after that”, he said. “I have good news for you.” There was a hush. “Talent Hunt grand finale is tomorrow evening.” Students clapped.
“So, we would have individual and group practice immediately after dinner. That would be all for today. I sure hope you folks will have a great time.”
The Conference Director put his notes aside. “Now, it’s time for your reports. Get together and choose a representative. We kick off in ten minutes times.” He said and walked away from the podium.
Chairs scrapped the floor as students rose, shifted and moved. They called out to one another. The day had just begun.
Eight hours had flown past so fast. George and Tunbosun walked into the dining hall, exhausted and hungry. They had just finished final preparations for their community project. It was now time to refill their stomachs. When they were seated, before the food was served, they filled each other in on how their CO went. Many had started referring to the Career Orientation as CO.
Tunbosun told George about her time in Government Technical College. She had been taken to a JSS1 class.
“Kids could be a big headache” she said.
George laughed. “I don’t envy you. I love children when they are still little but I can’t handle them when they become naughty.”
“You had better learn if you want to be a good father someday.” Tunbosun winked at him.
“Thanks for the advice.” He said, smiling. “Who was there with you?”
“Faith was, and one of Shade’s friends.” Tunbosun was sure George wouldn’t know Stanley so she decided not to say anything further.
“I was with Tara” George said, with a smile on his face.
The smile on George’s face reminded Tunbosun of the smile she had seen on Tara’s face too when she had known George would be in her group. She couldn’t help wondering how closer the friendship between the two had gotten in those two days. She wasn’t going to pry; it wasn’t her business and she had convinced herself that all she needed with George was friendship, and nothing more. She wasn’t going to allow jealousy get the better of her.
As George talked about his time at the governor’s office, Tara walked into the dining and towards them. Tunbosun rose to give her a hug, and George stretched out his arm for a handshake.
“I’ve missed you” Tara said, facing Tunbosun.
“So have I” Tunbosun said.
“What about me?” George asked, making a face.
“I saw you two days and nights running. I’m even tired of seeing your face”, Tara said, giggling, and the two joined her, laughing.
Tunbosun observed as they conversed that there was nothing out of place between George and Tara. She was impressed. What they shared seemed to be plain friendship. She was indeed proud of her friends; that was how things were meant to be. “George was just telling me of the dirty secrets of the government house”, she said, facing Tara.
“It’s really sad. I hate to remember it, least talk about it.” Tara said.
“But with people like us choosing to make a positive difference when we get there, I’m sure things will change.” George said.
“I hope so” Tara said.
“I pray you guys remember your commitments when you get there, so you don’t become exactly like them.” Tunbosun said, smiling yet serious.
That got George and Tara thinking a while.
“I’ve thought about it before. I’ve wondered if these guys didn’t have altruistic desires at some point only to change when they got to power. I guess that’s why I have Jesus; He’ll help me to exhibit self-control and live by truth.”
“Amen” his friends chorused, hoping that theirs would be a generation of godly politicians that would change Nigeria for good.
“I missed you.” Shade said to Utibe when she met him in front of the dining hall.
“Same here”, he said as they entered the hall and found a table to seat.
Shade noticed something was wrong with Utibe but she overlooked it. ‘Maybe the football practice got the better of him’, she convinced herself.
“Your friend is an excellent cook. I learnt so much from him.” Shade said, excited.
“That’s cool” Utibe said, plainly.
Shade wasn’t going to play along anymore. “Utibe, watsup with you? You don’t seem fine. Are you okay?”
“I’m good”, he said.
Shade wasn’t satisfied and she was about pressing him some more when she saw a tall figure walk in their direction. It was Stanley. She didn’t know what to make of his coming. She looked at Utibe and saw he was staring too. As he got to her side, he went on his knees without a word and that caught Shade off guard.
He didn’t wait for them to recover from the shock of seeing Stanley on his knees before he continued. “Shade, I’m sorry”, he said.
Shade looked into his eyes and what she saw was far different from what had been there on the night he tried to force her. She saw pain, regret and sadness there. It was obvious he was fighting the tears. Shade was stunned.
“I am sorry”, he said again. “Please forgive me”, and this time a tear found its way out.
Shade was too stunned to speak. She placed a hand on him. He looked up and she nodded. She then tried to speak past the lump in her throat and all she managed to say was. “Okay”.
She looked at Utibe and saw he still seemed uncomfortable. Whatever was wrong with her friend was obviously something very bad.
She returned her attention to Stanley. “Please stand up”, she said. It was then she looked round and saw some students were watching the drama. They obviously didn’t know what was going on but it was a sight. It wasn’t everyday they got to see a fine boy kneeling to beg a girl, with tears in his eyes. It was like watching a stage drama; just better because it was real.
“Thank you” Stanley said when he stood up.
“You’re welcome”, Shade said still shocked.
“Please thank Tunbosun and Faith for me. They led me to Christ yesterday.” Stanley said.
A smile spread across Shade’s face. Now she understood how the miracle had taken place. It was a pleasant thought knowing Stanley was now born-again. She was again awed by God’s great mercy. If she were God, she would have never forgiven Stanley and removed his past of sin. But she wasn’t God and she was glad she wasn’t.
“I’m so happy for you.” Shade said sincerely. She looked at Utibe and saw that he seemed even sadder than before but he reached out all the same and congratulated Stanley.
“We’ll see you tonight then?”
“Yes”, he said, with a weak smile. “I have to go now.”
“Aight. Bye” Shade said.
“Bye” Utibe echoed.
As Stanley walked away from them, with a calculated gait, not the proud and nonchalant type of days back, Shade could only smile. God indeed had the power to change anyone even the worst of sinners. If he could save Faith, and then save Stanley, no boy, girl, man or woman was out of His reach. It was amazing.
“They’ve just called our table” Utibe said.
They stood up and went for their food. She had never seen her friend this pensive and uneasy before. They were soon back to their table and Shade was going to get it out of him.
“What’s eating you up?” she asked.
“Nothing”, he lied. “Please let’s eat.”
“I’m not going to eat until you tell me what is wrong with you.”
Utibe looked at her and knew she meant every word she had just uttered. “Please, can we-”
“No. Now or never” she said.
Utibe dropped his cutlery and stared at them.
Shade was surprised at herself at how vehement she was sounding but she knew she had no other choice. She had to act this way or her friend might kill himself with whatever he was worried about.
“I have a confession to make” he said.
“I’m listening”, Shade said. She was about getting scared but she calmed herself down. She couldn’t imagine what Utibe would want to confess about that would have made him so moody.
“I did something I wasn’t supposed to do.”
Shade hated suspense. That was why she disliked watching soap operas. Now, Utibe was making her feel nauseated. He had better cough out what was on his mind on she’ll spew on him.
“I saw a girl at my CO” Utibe paused.
Shade’s fingers were already shaking. She wanted to tell him she didn’t want to hear anymore but she knew that was too late now. ‘Did he ask her out?’ she thought. That thought alone was enough to break her heart. It actually seemed to be breaking already. She stilled herself. She needed to hear the rest of it.
“I really don’t know what I was thinking. I’m so sorry Shade.”
“What did you do?” she said, barely above a whisper, her heart in her throat.
The seconds before he spoke seemed like ages to Shade. When he finally did, she was glad she was seated. She would have fallen otherwise.
“I did with her the things we said we wouldn’t do with each other again.”
He had finally said it and Shade didn’t know how to express her grief. It was a blow so hard; she didn’t know how to react to the pain. She just sat numb and quiet, her eyes gradually filling and the tears spilling out. She wondered if she was grieving for herself or for her friend for doing what was wrong. She didn’t know the answer to that.
There were so many questions she wanted to ask but she knew the details would only break her heart the more. There was only one question she knew she had to ask; a question that she would always wish she had asked if she didn’t.
She looked at him as he yet stared at his hands. “Did you…” she couldn’t even finish the question.
Utibe looked at her with sad eyes and shook his head.
Relief flooded Shade’s heart. She had never known she cared this much for the boy. They were just friends but the thought of him sleeping with another girl was killing. She was glad he hadn’t done that but still hurt that he had even touched a girl in the first place.
She wiped her tears. “Utibe, why?” she asked without looking up.
He didn’t respond.
“Why?” she asked again.
“I don’t know” he finally said.
After a long silence, with their food going cold, Utibe made the request he knew he had to. “Please forgive me, Shade.” He paused. “I’ve asked God to forgive me but I also need my friend’s forgiveness. I need you to forgive me. I’m really sorry.”
She took her time to respond but she eventually did. “I forgive you.” She said and could literarily see relief flood Utibe’s face.
“It will never happen again.”
“I sure hope so.” Shade sighed as she made her next statement. “Please keep yourself a virgin for your wife; whoever she will be”
That statement hit Utibe but he knew that was the way things were. They were just friends and Shade was reminding him of that to help them keep things in the right perspective.
“I will”, he said.
“Thanks. That would make me most happy”, Shade said, sincerely.
“Thanks. Your pardon means a lot to me.” Utibe was finally able to smile.
Shade was happy for him and thankful God helped her with the initial hurt and shock. There was one more fact she needed; one she had forgotten to ask.
Shade called Utibe just as he picked his cutlery and he looked at her. “Who’s the girl?”
Utibe’s smile immediately faded.
“What’s her name?” Shade asked, looking as unaffected by her question as she possibly could but saw her words were hitting Utibe below the belt. She hated to take them back but needed to know who had almost gotten Utibe. She was silently thankful to God that Utibe hadn’t gone all the way with the girl, yet she wanted to know who the girl was.
Utibe wasn’t still talking.
“Her name, please” she demanded.
“Christiana” he finally said.
Christiana was cutting her meat when she looked up and saw a very familiar face walk towards her. He was looking like someone who wanted to die; who life was being drained out of. She smiled. ‘You’ve not seen anything yet’, she thought to herself.
“Hi, Uche”, she said.
He sat beside her and seemed at a loss for words. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Do you think you did something wrong?”
“I’m confused. I really don’t know. You’ve been avoiding me for two days now.”
“Really?” Christiana asked, smiling. She was enjoying herself.
“Stop this jokes! I’m serious” Uche had raised his voice a little too loud as a few students stared at him. He calmed down a little. “Please tell me if there’s something wrong I’ve done.”
Christiana didn’t respond.
“I haven’t been able to eat all day. I’ve been wondering; trying hard to think of what I did or said to drive you away and I still haven’t figured it out yet.” He paused and stared at her as she ate, acting as if he wasn’t there. “Christiana, I’m sorry”
“You didn’t offend me.”
“So why this?”
She looked at him then and could see his eyes were glassy; she was really killing him emotionally. She didn’t know he would be this affected by her withdrawal. She wondered what he would do when he got the complete package.
She had been amused by his intelligence when they were on their CO. Uche was indeed called to be a doctor. She had almost changed her mind about what she wanted to do with him then but she remembered what her mother had told her when she was a kid and their father walked out on them.
“All men are the same; wicked and heartless. Never give your heart to any”, her mother had said. Experiences she had had in life had further confirmed that statement. It was with that resolve that she carried on with her plans.
Christiana looked at the boy sitting next to her and she wanted to laugh. ‘Uche, you will never be able to be the neurosurgeon you want to be’, she thought to herself.
He was still pleading with her. Christiana was getting tired. It was time to get rid of him.
“Hey stop!” she spat and Uche froze. He had never heard that voice before. Her voice had always being lovely and endearing but not now. “Do I know you?” she asked.
Uche just stared at her. He must have thought he was dreaming.
Christiana eyed him. “Did you ever think I could possibly like you?” She sized him up. “Someone like you with someone like me. Did the picture ever fit to you? I just wanted to have my fun and I’m done with you.” She would keep the joker till later; this was enough for him as she could see the guy was already falling apart.
She stood up, glared at him and hissed into his ears. “We never met.”
With that, she walked away from him, taunting him with her body movement as she walked out of the dining hall. ‘Let the poor dog like his wounds’, she thought as she walked away victorious. She would look for a bad boy to get tonight. The tall Hausa guy would be her next target. ‘I’ll get you tomorrow’, she thought to herself as she remembered how the tall boy had been staring at her the day before their Career Orientation.
‘Christiana, you’re too bad!’ she praised herself as she scouted for any unsuspecting guy who wanted some fun.

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