I remember walking out of the huge storey building. It was a shortcut to avoid the long pathway, that made one’s destination look farther than it seems, from my department.
I had just finished a class on engineering maths and my mind was bubbling with several formulas I couldn’t understand neither could I relate them to how they helped my existence as a human being.
However, knowing them defined my existence as a student, through my grade, and if I shoved them aside, I would definitely run back to them again this time more desperately than the first.
So I allowed them take over my mind, they kept floating in my head, making me feel like one who had suddenly developed migraine. It was the cross I had to bear as a student. After all they say, “you must pay the price for success”.
Knowing, or better still cramming without understanding these formulas were the price I had to pay to graduate, to return home to parents who expected magical performance. No one ever bothered about your struggles, they only wanted to see results. It didn’t even matter how you got them, only a few questioned the process, but the rest dwelled on the end result.
While I was struggling with my weird dilemma, you showed up, trailing quickly behind me in order to catch up with me. I didn’t notice until you were close enough to say that one word, “hi!”.
I turned to my side, a bit startled. Not like this sort of thing has never happened, it had actually, a good number of times. I’ve been stopped abruptly either by someone who thought I looked like someone they know, or a course mate who wanted to know when and where the next class will hold, or an anxious faculty mate who had just seen the exam timetable. And of course the usual play boys that said the words ‘hello pretty’ with no iota of passion in their voice. They were the type that vomited their rehearsed dumb lines which I never gave second thought about, running my eyes up and down, sustaining the blinking of my eyelashes for close to twenty seconds and hissed before walking away.
“Hello!” I replied, wondering what you may want.
You said you had spotted me from upstairs where you were standing with your friends and had previously noticed me a couple of times but never got the chance to say hi.
I was a bit perplexed because I had thought I was somewhat invisible, unable to be noticed or spotted by any radar. I had thought I was swallowed up in this big world, too quiet to make a sound, too gentle to push through the crowd and too small that I feared I could be crushed one day. I had thought I protected myself pretty well to prevent strangers noticing, finding out or discovering I existed. I had thought the world only favoured the girls whose skin glowed and glossed like sunshine. They were the ones who couldn’t hide from the world.
But as you stood, next to me, with a grin on your face, I realised I was wrong. I couldn’t hide. We all couldn’t hide from the world for it would pluck us out like green leaves from its stem just to remind us that we had only it to run to and no where else and so we are all under its watch.
When you noticed I wasn’t going towards the direction of the library, you then asked, “so where are you up to?”
“I’m going towards to the Park to find something to eat,” I replied softly.
“Nice. I’m hungry as well,” you said.
We walked without saying a word for some minutes before you asked which course I was studying. It was the usual question everyone asked after a person’s name.
“Engineering,” I replied, intentionally, not being specific about the branch of engineering I was studying. I had come to understand that whether I indicated electrical, gas, petroleum, civil, chemical, environmental or any other branch, engineering overshadowed them all. I felt most people I had specified my course of study to always capitalized the word ENGINEERING, making it look and sound like the greatest thing that could ever happen to anyone, most especially a girl.
Before you could say a word, I already knew what they would be. Your eyes sized me up in awe and the ‘are you serious?’ kind of question continued to linger as you did. This expression was a default one for all who I had ever told even those in the same department as I was. They were always baffled, wondering what someone as fragile as I am, who the wind could blow away swiftly, was doing in engineering. There was no difference in your eyes. For some reason, as you stared at me, I was thankful it was a sunny day and not a windy day which might have just blown me away along with the light objects.
That was why when you asked the following questions, ‘you must really be a smart girl, huh?’, ‘what made you choose engineering?’, ‘how have you been coping?’ I answered like a professional actor whose scripts have become part of her life.
But then when you said, “no wonder you sleep in the library! I see you there everyday”, I felt the need to defend myself, to explain to you that I was only trying to avoid going back to join my roommates off campus who would start up engaging gist that will make me cover my textbooks in less than a minute into reading, and avoided inhaling the fumes from some of my neighbours who smoked weed for breakfast, lunch and supper. Not to mention the ones who played loud music with their home theatre as though they were playing it for the entire community.
As I said, in an embarrassed tone, “ no! Haba, I don’t sleep in the library and it’s not everyday I go there”, I knew my geeky look; my lanky status which my friends and family often teased that I would break like a broomstick one day, my laptop bag that dangled on my left shoulder as though it was too heavy for my body, my plain dressing in simple top and plain Jean trousers, my all back packed hair, had already given me away before I could say jack!
“That’s what bookworms say,” you said and laughed.
I wanted to tell you, it hung in my throat, that I wasn’t a bookworm and I was only trying to find my path in a world that I wasn’t sure I belonged. A world that had swallowed me up, chewed and was about to digest me. A world most persons knew me for the course I studied and not for who I really was.
I gave it a second thought, swallowed back my words and instead replied, “it takes one to know one”.
We smiled at each other like colleagues who were on the same football club, whose aim was to score a goal for the team, for our country, or rather in this case, for our parents.
We got to the eatery at the campus park and went straight to the counter to order before settling for the only available table. It was the first time, since I started visiting the eatery, a boy had offered to pay for my meal and eat across me like it was some sort of lunch date. It was actually my first date, an unplanned one, where I didn’t have to go through the trouble of picking or buying a gown, wearing uncomfortable heels that made my leg shake with bits of sweat, or even bothering about choosing to wear a light or heavy makeup. It didn’t happen like it would have in the High School Musical movies I had watched in the past, rather it happened simply, like it would in one of those American university movies I had seen. Too simple.
Yet I never forgot.
I never forgot how I battled between choosing to eat with the fork or spoon but became grateful that I chose the fork after I had finished eating the rice and it was time to pick up the hard dry beef.
I never forgot how we spoke and ate at the same time washing it down with our bottles of coke. Knowing we shared other things in common asides spending hours in the complex library, things as simple as a chilled bottle of coke, made me feel somehow relaxed around you.
I never forgot how thankful I was that you saved me from my depressed mind that afternoon, made me laugh heartily and most importantly paid for my lunch which meant I had extra cash to save for other expenses.
When you complained about the school, as we walked out of the eatery, the way lecturers taught without interest and expected everyone to give them word for word what they had said in classes and written in their confusing handouts, and you were considering leaving the country to continue your studies, my heart danced for joy. You understood my struggles and that made us connect on an entirely new level. And from that moment, as I concurred to everything you said with a “yes!!!” almost jumping to emphasize how much I agreed with your points, we began to soar on the plane of friendship.
I don’t remember exactly how we parted ways that day but it didn’t matter because I began to see more of you after that day. You came visiting often, which made me feel like an important person in the school, even though I often had only Indomie to offer you. It turned out that you knew some of my friends that were also your friends.
As I remember that day, remember you, fondly, I am shocked how time changed things, time changed us, and I wonder if there had ever been a day like that. If we had really known each other or flowed with an illusion of knowing each other. I can’t even recall if I had hugged you tightly, pressing my nose on your polo shirt to inhale your scent or shyly settled for the brotherly hug to avoid passing the wrong impression.
Yet as we remain oceans apart and you stopped saying that one word, “hi”, I wonder if you were the same person that had stalked me for months and rushed towards me with the slightest opportunity you had, leaving your friends wondering who that girl could be, who I could be.
Whichever way, I still remember you like a locked away treasure which I only open once in a blue moon to admire. Not sure if I would ever have anything to say if you eventually say, “hi”, or call my name, “Ivie…..”, making it sound like a sustained song from the other end of the telephone.
But then I keep wondering if you remember cause I do.
Written by: Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER”