THE TEST, THE FIRST TIMER AND DANIEL’S CALL
It was test day. The students had heard the rumour but did not believe it. They sat in class, prepared to receive the usual lectures from Mr. Shonaiya, the young, austere head of the English department. Blessed with handsome features that consisted wide set curious eyes, an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, full sensuous lips that complimented and sat above a square jaw, he was considered a catch by the female students of the English department. His trendy fashion sense added to his charm and many found themselves vying for his attention at every opportunity they could get. Not that they had much luck. What he lacked in age and dowdiness like the rest of his colleagues, Mr. Shonaiya made up with a severe countenance and strict mien that always showed when he was in class.
That morning he came to class on time, his face set and unsmiling. The class rep, Laide stood beside him, her eyes wide behind glasses that were too small for her face. She appeared to give them frantic winks; signs that something untoward was about to happen but many dismissed them as eye ticks. After all, she was the perpetually nervous, twitchy bookworm with a bad dress sense none of them took seriously; a bumbling simpleton blessed with unbelievable intelligence. One eternally cursed to lumber behind lecturers, their bulky notes clutched to her chest.
“Put your notes away and get ready for your test.”
His announcement caught them by surprise and sparked an uproar, but it was gentle. A quiet remonstrance carried out in low, even tones by students terrified of getting into his bad books. They forgot to look down on Laide and looked up to her for guidance but it was too late. She wore a look of resignation, her shoulder rising and dropping in shrugs. Somewhere in the back, a voice broke out from the drone.
“Jesus! We are having a test?”
Mr. Shonaiye ignored their panic.
“Analyze the dictum ‘art for art sake’ as propagated by writers like Oscar Wilde of the aesthetic movement, juxtaposing it with the stance of writers like Jonathan Swift of the moralistic schools of literature.” He looked down at his wristwatch and then up at the tense faces of his fifty-five strong class. “You have thirty minutes.”
True to his word, he raised his hand thirty minutes later, ending the test and their torture. Watching from the door, he instructed Laide to collect the white sheets of papers filled in some cases with smudged, unsure writing and in others, bold confident letters.
“I hope for your sakes,” he said afterwards, waving the papers in their faces. “You gave me the correct answers because this test carries twenty marks.”
He motioned Laide forward and whispered something in her ears before handing over the sheet of papers to her again. Bedlam erupted when he left. Free from his imposing presence, they spoke in loud voices and some mourned in anticipation of low scores.
A splinter group broke off and followed behind Laide asking her a dozen questions as she walked down the class corridor with the papers. She parried their questions with frantic head shaking.
“I don’t know…he didn’t tell me…I can’t tell…I am not sure.”
Laide stopped in front of a door with a nameplate attached to it. At the head of the procession, beside Laide was Sylvia, a petite, dark skinned beauty who was among those that performed poorly during the test.
“Tell me now Laide,” she said, looking from the nameplate on the door to Laide’s face as the latter knocked on the door. “Is Mr. Ojo going to mark the scripts or is he just holding it for Mr. Shonaiya?”
Laide turned to Sylvia, her eyes magnified to the size of her glasses.
“I already told you I don’t know.” There was a note of frustration in her voice. “He just said I should leave the papers with Mr – good morning sir.”
Sylvia took a step back when she saw Mr. Ojo standing in the doorway of his office, his huge potbelly taking up the space between the doorframe and the door. His bulging eyes wandered from Laide, to Sylvia, to the group slowly drifting away and then finally anchored on Laide’s face.
Laide thrust the papers meekly forward. “Mr. Shonaiya said I should give you this.”
He said nothing at first. Then grunting, he plucked the papers from Laide’s grasp and peered at them.
“Hmm. I see. You had a test,” he said, a sinister smile creeping across his face. The smile turned lecherous as he gave Sylvia a probing visual caress. “Are you her assistant?”
“So why are you here?”
Sylvia mumbled an apology and backed away until she was standing at the top of the stairs leading to the ground floor. Hitching up brown trousers two times his size, Mr. Ojo returned to his office, his door closing with a loud click behind him.
An older woman who had been watching them strolled to where Sylvia stood, her Ankara dress swishing against her ankles and her drawn on eyebrows meeting in the middle of her forehead. She tapped Sylvia on the shoulder, concern in her eyes.
“Does he take you in ENG 310?”
Sylvia shook her head. “I don’t take the course.”
“So why were you begging him?”
Sylvia explained her predicament to the woman who listened with rapt attention to every word she said. The woman grabbed her on the wrist and pulled her towards the landing of the stairs.
“Look,” she said in a low, confidential tone. “I heard that the man does not have any problem. He likes women but I know someone that gave him money when he was disturbing her and she passed his course.”
Sylvia thanked the woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Iwanyanwu. They parted at the gate of the faculty, beside a bulletin board carrying notices from the various departments of the faculty and waved at each other like old friends. Sylvia’s smile left her face when she turned in the direction of her hostel. She had found herself in dire financial straits since the beginning of the semester and had barely enough money to survive on, where was she going to get the money to give Mr. Ojo?
The question haunted her for hours after she returned to Moremi hostel where she shared a bed with her childhood friend, Christiana on the second floor of the B block. She was disappointed to find all her roommates in the room. They all sat in different states of undress, all talking at once.
They were eleven of them in the room that was listed as having six people on the university’s website. Their legs were everywhere – hanging off upper bunk beds, spread in narrow pathways beside big wooden cupboards that made the room smaller than its original size and poking sideways from the metal guardrails of the lower beds. She picked her way through the maze of legs and found her way to Christiana who was just answering a question thrown to her by the squatter who had joined them the previous week.
“I need to talk to you,” Sylvia told Christiana, dragging her out of the room. They chose at the end of the corridor and Sylvia spilled her heart out to Christiana.
“So what are you going to do?”
Sylvia sighed in exasperation. “I won’t be here asking you if I knew what to do. You are the one that has been feeding me for weeks now. Where am I going to get the money to give the man?”
Christiana tugged down the white shorts she wore under a yellow tank top and leaned against the wall. Her eyes squeezed shut and she made the low ‘hmmm’ sound that preceded many of the brilliant solutions that Sylvia had become dependent on. She was the smarter of the two of them. Street wise, fun and always on the prowl, she knew all the tricks to campus survival and was known to be one of the brightest in her department, boasting a high GPA that left her lecturers confused.
“I know someone,” she said when she opened her eyes again. “His name is Lolu. He has a lot of connections.” She cast a furtive glance at the two friends that walked past them and waited until they were out of earshot. “I have known him for a while. He is the one I told you called me after he got my number from that photographer that took my picture at Jaja car park.”
Christiana promised to call Lolu when it was evening. Perhaps he would find Sylvia a date for the night.
“I hope it is not runs,” Sylvia said, looking worried. “I don’t like runs.”
“These are young guys, London boys. They are better than old men.”
“It’s still runs.”
Christiana crossed her arms against her chest, her expression souring.
“Do you have a better idea?”
Sylvia hung her head. “No.”
“Good, so let me talk to Lolu.”
They began a slow walk back. They were three doors away from their room when Christina pulled her close.
“Don’t collect any foreign currency. London boys can be funny. They have given three people I know fake money.”
Sylvia rubbed her arms, apprehension on her face.
“And please shave down there,” Christiana said. She laughed at the look of mortification that crossed Sylvia’s face. “You think I have not seen you dressing up? Your thing is very hairy. It’s almost as if you are keeping it so it can grow long enough for you to braid it.”
Sylvia began to laugh. Christiana joined her and they bent over, supporting each other. They howled and howled. Then they laughed at nothing until they were spent. They had begun to earn three or more weird looks when they decided they had had enough and slipped into their room.
Four young aristocrats in their mid-twenties drove past the guards at the university gate. Hunched over the wheel was Aliyu, his perfectly symmetrical face intense as he studied his surroundings. Beside him in the passenger seat was Tony, his best friend and the reason they were driving into the campus that evening. In the black BMW wagon that trailed their Silver Mercedes were Aliyu’s cousins Habib and Abu. The young men conversed loudly in Hausa about their plans for their night, their eyes fixed on the campus as it unfurled invitingly before them in hues of florescence and deep greens.
They were in a celebratory mood. Tony had won his contract with a top oil servicing company that belonged to Aliyu’s uncle – his first after their graduation three months ago from Brunel University and they decided to spend the night embarking on an adventure sold to them by an old classmate in London. Jide had provided them with a contact and advice. Now they were ready to conquer the strange and exciting world their sheltered lives had kept them away from.
Aliyu drove but it was Tony who gave directions as he talked on Aliyu’s phone with their contact.
“We are just getting into campus. You are where? Oh. Okay, Moremi car park. We will be there in a few minutes.”
They found Lolu waiting for them with the girls they had requested for. Aliyu took Lolu to the side of the car and they conversed in low tones about Lolu’s fees. Whipping out his phone from his pocket, Aliyu signed into his bank account. Lolu chanted numbers under his breath and watched with a smile as Aliyu tapped figures on his phone.
“It’s fifty right?”
Lolu nodded eagerly, his smile growing wider. “Yes.”
Aliyu completed the transfer and looked up from his phone.
“My guy,” Lolu said, grabbing Aliyu’s hand and pumping it vigorously. “You know how to keep your word sha. We should do more stuff together.” He leaned in close and winked at Aliyu. “They are clean girls. Not all these other bad girls that go to club every day. You will enjoy them.”
Aliyu thanked him and ushered the girls into the two cars. One of them had caught his eyes but she had gone into the BMW with his cousins. She was dark, just as he liked his women and had a hesitant quality about her that drew him to her. Her dress clung to her body, revealing every curve and he could not help mentally undressing her as she walked past him, smelling of a moderately priced lavender and vanilla perfume. He sent a short text to Habib before they started the trip back to Ajah.
The dark one, she is mine. Tell Abu.
Habib sent a text back with a grinning emoticon.
I knew you would choose her. Greedy bastard.
They sped fast to the Island and drove later that evening into the house Aliyu lived with his parents who were now back in their Tofa, Kano country home for a month long visit. The girls split between the men, Aliyu taking the girl he had chosen, upstairs to his room. He showed her the shower, making it clear he wanted her to take a bath before she climbed into his bed. She collected the towels he handed her and disappeared into the bathroom. He watched Discovery World in the dark while he waited, condoms scattered on the bedside table. She emerged after some minutes, her clothes in her hands and her eyes unsure.
“I’d like to hang this somewhere,” she said looking at the short hallway that had his walk in closet. He helped her with a hanger and found an empty compartment to put her dress. He realized he did not know her name when she stood beside his bed, nervously clutching the towel to her body.
“What’s your name?”
He gave her a friendly smile.
She climbed into bed with her towel, looking at him as she did. He was puzzled by her behaviour but said nothing, concentrating instead on turning down the volume of the television. His clothes came off and he returned to the bed, pulling down the sheets she held on to with stiff fingers. Aliyu felt awkward for the first time that evening.
“Have you done this before?”
She stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“You mean sex?”
“No…I mean – ” Aliyu stopped. “Wait, you are not a virgin, are you?”
She shook her head. “No, I am not.”
“So, you have never been out like this before.”
Lolu had been right. She was a first-timer. He smiled at her, trying to coax a smile from her.
“Relax okay? I don’t bite.”
She laughed nervously and then twitched when he touched her. He kissed her for no reason and then decided that he liked the kiss, deepening it until she relaxed against him. Her breasts peaked under his touch and he marveled at their perfect roundness. Soon his ear was filled with her erratic breathing and soft gasps. He went down her body, parting her legs.
“Wait.” She tried to pull her legs together. “What are you doing?”
He pulled back a little but his hands remained on her thighs.
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s just…” she bit down on her lower lip. “I have never done it before.”
“It doesn’t hurt.” He tried to give her a reassuring smile. “Relax.”
She went back on the pillows, slowly loosening her muscles until her legs framed his face. He kissed her lightly, gently circling her slick folds with his tongue. Her hips bucked when his tongue wrapped around the center of her core. His hands reached up and found her breasts, gently massaging and kneading them. She fell into rhythm with him, moving with every thrust of his tongue. Unable to control himself anymore, he tore a condom, dragged it over his arousal and sank deep into her. His thrusts were sometimes aggressive and other times when he looked into her eyes, they turned gentle. Confused at his reaction to her, he tried to avoid her eyes until he reached his peak.
They found themselves, strangers again after he pulled away from her. He was first to go to the bathroom and he came back, freshened and polite.
“You can go now,” he said, nodding to the half opened door. She returned to bed and turned her back to him. He was kept company by voices from the television and when he had his fill, he turned off the television, keeping to his own side of the bed.
He reached for her again when it was dawn and the sun had not broken from the clouds. He touched her like he had done the previous night, bringing her to ecstasy the second time while he found his own release. She dressed in the bathroom and refused his offer of breakfast. When it was time to pay her, he found himself doing something he had not planned for. He went to his walk-in wardrobe and picked a single note off the stash he kept in a secret place. She stared at him with a frown when he showed her the money.
“I don’t want that,” she said, looking at the floor. “I want real money.”
It finally dawned on him what she meant and he left the room in search of his cousin, Abu. He returned and gave her more notes this time. She pushed the money into her bag.
His driver took her and the others back to campus and afterwards the foursome met downstairs in the living room and compared notes. Abu looked up from the bowl of cereal he was eating to Aliyu’s face.
“Wait, why did you need me to give you ten thousand?”
Aliyu sat, leg dangling from the arm of the expensive tan leather sofas in the living room. He answered Abu’s question, trying not to laugh. Abu spat out his cereal. Habib and Tony looked at him in surprise.
“She did what?”
His laughter breaking free, Aliyu shook his head. “She turned down a hundred pounds and collected ten thousand naira.”
The others joined him in laughter.
“Oh…oh Lord,” Habib spluttered. “Is she local or what? Who turns down pounds for naira?”
Aliyu sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe she just didn’t trust me.”
“I will keep her if I were you,” Tony told him, a mischievous smile on his face. “Nothing is as sweet as a woman who doesn’t know the value of money.”
Aliyu laughed again and looked down at his phone. He had her number already stored in his list. He had enjoyed every bit of his time with her, even the awkward silences. They would see again. That was settled.
Daniel let Folake kiss him goodnight and ran down the steps to his car. He drove like a maniac to Ikoyi where his sister and niece waited for him on the steps of their duplex with identical scowls that turned playful when he kissed them.
“You were late,” Sarah his seventeen year old niece said, hissing through her braces as she loaded her suitcases into his boot. “Mummy almost decided to get an Uber for me.”
Sarah was in her second year at the university of Lagos where she studied law. She was gregarious, charming and permanently stuck in a happy place. Daniel enjoyed her company and graciously accepted the fatherly role that was handed to him since her own father was nearly absent from her life.
“Sorry. I had work to finish up.”
Sarah gave him a sideways glance, fingers wrapping round the ends of her braids.
“You work on Saturday evenings?”
“Sometimes,” Daniel lied, squinting at the bright headlights flashing at him from his rearview mirror.
Sarah grinned, flashing him a mouthful of silver.
“But I heard mummy say you were with Folake. So how come you are now saying you were working?”
Daniel pretended not to hear her, pursing his lips as he overtook a truck. Taking a cue from the silence in the car, Sarah changed the subject. She told him about the new friends she had made during the semester, the expectations of the father she spoke to once in a while and a young man in electrical engineering department she had taken a liking to. They stopped in front of a freshly painted house in the staff quarters where Sarah lived under the watchful eyes of his sister’s friend and her husband, a lecturer at the university. They were Sarah’s godparents and treated her no different from their own children even though she opted to stay in the boy’s quarters.
“Okay, here’s the thing, you need to leave boys for now and focus on your studies.”
“I am a serious student uncle Daniel,” Sarah said rolling her eyes. “I will be fine.”
“Not if you start dating now. Relationships are distracting.”
“Do you get distracted from work because of Folake?”
“I am never distracted by women.”
“So why do you think I can be distracted? Because I am a woman?”
Daniel groaned. She had taken to espousing strong beliefs in feminist ideals in the last two months and made sure to tell him off whenever he crossed an imaginary red line. He found himself mildly frustrated and amused at the same time whenever she expressed strong sentiments in support of gender equality.
“No. It’s not because you are a woman.”
“Good.” Removing her seat belt, Sarah threw her arms around his neck and gave him a noisy peck on his cheek. “See you next week.”
He drove away only when she had given him a final wave and disappeared through the front door of the house. The usual sight of frenzied activity greeted him as he made his way out of the campus. He found himself looking out for her, even as he laughed at the absurdity of his action. The odds of finding her among the crowd were slim. There was a good chance he would never see her again.
Yet he did.
She stood out from the sea of people laughing and moving around her. Her hair was piled on her head and she was dressed in blue jeans and a red top that sagged off one shoulder. She was with someone, a young man. They stood under a street light, the branches of a nearby tree casting shadows around them. They cut the picture of an ideal campus couple and he looked at her with a worshipful sincerity that brought a smirk to Daniel’s face.
He watched them from where he parked, hidden by the tinted windows of his other car, a Honda he purposely chose because of his trip to campus that evening. He had been hiding from her and now here she was, happy and carefree with someone else. Daniel called her for the fun of it, his left brow rising when he saw her make no move to answer the phone. Curious, he waited to see which way they would go and was oddly pleased when they parted not far from where they stood. He restarted the car and drove slowly away.
“You had a call,” Tobi said as Ejiro opened the door to their room. “Can you at least carry your phone with you every time you leave the room. I am not your secretary.”
“Sorry,” Ejiro said, collecting the Samsung phone from Tobi. “I left it to charge because the battery was low.” Her eyes brightened when she saw who had called. “Daniel called.”
Tobi watched her carefully. “Yes. I saw his name.”
“I should call him back.”
Tobi shook her head and shrugged out of the short sleeveless dress she had worn to a date with a local car dealer in Surulere.
“Don’t call him back,” Tobi warned, wrapping herself in her towel and grabbing her bucket from under their bed. “Stop making it easy for him. If he wants you, he will call you again.”
Ejiro decided that Tobi was right. Even though Tobi was younger than she was by a year and she lived a lifestyle different from her own, she found herself looking up to her for advice when she needed it. It was Tobi who had given her comfort when she needed it and steered her in the direction of a blossoming relationship with Abel, a 300 level philosophy student that made her laugh. She would not call Daniel. She went with that resolve to bed and tried not to acknowledge the butterflies that filled her stomach every time she thought of Daniel.