Author’s Note: I got the idea for this series in the loo, roughly an hour and a half ago, because I was internally debating whether to post a novella I worked on sometime back, in a series, now that Forever & A Day has been wrapped. And then I thought how nice it would be to do something gossipy and sassy for a change — I’m currently reading Lauren Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada”, so there! —as opposed to dark and murdersome and mysterious. And then this idea dropped into my head with the ploop! of my waste in the toilet bowl.
I would have waited till next week to post this, enough time for me to decide if it’s a story worth telling, but I’m afraid if I wait that long, I may never post it.
I don’t usually write light stories without some form of mystery at the heart of it, and this is stepping well out of my comfort-zone, but I plan on growing on the job —damn you, Lauren Weisberger!
I don’t have an entirely good feeling about this, and I don’t know, for the life of me, how I’d weave this story (except that there’d be no murder) but I am committing myself to finding out with this post.
Here’s to faith in ourselves! Slainté!
Sat, Sep 27, 2014 9:36:41 PM
You know how you walk into a new environment, a new compound for example, and everything seems big and vast to you, until it all becomes familiar, and you realise that the big-ness and vastness was all in your mind, reported by an unaccustomed eye? Well, that was how it was for me on my first day in Holy Mary Mother of God University; a private university in Ihiala, Anambara state, which I had never heard of until two weeks ago, five days before I’d come down to it from Lagos for an interview; and now, here I was a short while later, rolling in my big box of clothes while my aunt helped with my duffle-bags, totes, and mini luggage; living the dream of every post-JAMB Nigerian teenager/young adult/ not-so-young adult. I was strolling, quite casually, into my university undergraduate years, in none other but the Holy Mary Mother of God University, Ihiala: the first private university in Nigeria, which just also happened to be the first Nigerian university run by a Catholic Priest.
Walking through the school gate, manned by security men in blue uniforms that were pleasant as feral dogs, I had no idea what I was getting into, and had I known, I probably would have turned back. I was so happy to be in university, because sitting around on the couch in front of the TV watching another year roll by so I could write JAMB for the second time was just unthinkable! Why? Because I was smart! Damn brilliant! The poster-child! The straight-A’s child! The one who had 68 out of 80 in the Unilag post-jamb exam for the year 2006 —which by the way was the highest score recorded for that year. I freaking had 267 in Jamb, and I’d written the exam with gun-totting soldiers and policemen watching over me in my centre at Sir Etham’s Air Force Base, Ikeja. But I’d done well, and it wasn’t my fault that nothing in the country worked, and that irrespective of the fact that you had earned a university admission in a state where you were born, where your parents pay taxes, and where you have lived all your life; things like “catchment areas”, “long-legs”, professors’ list, dean’s list, V.C’s list, still came to play, long long before merit, if at all.
And so, I was glad that I didn’t have to bear the humiliation of repeating it all again: the exam, the enquiries about my JAMB score from people I barely even knew, the standard —almost desperate —”have you gotten admission?” by friends of my parents who wanted to be sure their children weren’t the only ones scrambling for JAMB “special centres” every year, and required the pool of parents to university-admission-seekers to grow, so they could all sit around and bitch about the educational system in the country that had gone to pieces, the government that had failed, the ridiculousness of private university fees; all the while casually forgetting that with their scores, most of their children might not have gotten admissions even if all the departments in the universities across the country were manned by Deeper Life pastors.
Luckily for me though, my father was just as desperate as I was for me to get into university, and just like a magician’s trick, he’d pulled the Holy Mary Mother of God university out of a hat.
“Have you heard of the Holy Mary Mother of God?” He asked me one night, a few days after the first admissions list for Unilag had been posted, and my name wasn’t on it, and he wasn’t so sure anymore that “you will get admitted! It is your right! They can’t deny you that! We don’t need to “runs” anything! You’ve earned it! Your jamb score meets the cut-off, and you were the highest in their post-jamb. That should put you on some sort of priority-list.” Well, it didn’t put me on a priority-list, or on any list for that matter, and I think it had dawned on him at that point that we were running out of options.
He’d informed me on the night before that, that he had made a few calls, had been put in contact with a Professor Name-Withheld, who was a lecturer in the Law Department at the University of Lagos, and that he had spoken with the man on the telephone, and then met with him in person, and that the Professor Name-Withheld had demanded two-hundred and fifty thousand naira to “see to my admission”, which my father had told him he was ready to part with (at this point I was delightfully shocked at the actions of my very principled dad) but on the condition that Professor Name-Withheld gave him a 100% assurance that he could, and would “deliver”.
Professor Name-Withheld couldn’t give any assurances. My father is a businessman through and through, and when he deals he likes to make it clear that if you mess with him you’d be sorry, and I imagine Professor Name-Withheld, an academic whom I’d like to think had more sense than greed, decided he couldn’t mess with that, and so they reached an agreement: “deliver” and you’d get twice the amount initially agreed —half a million naira. But despite this arrangement, my father was still wary Professor Name-Withheld might not deliver as agreed, and so the Holy Mary Mother of God University was a Plan B. But it didn’t sound like it when he’d first mentioned it.
“Is that a trick question?” I asked, halfway confused, amused for the other half. “I attended Block Rosary throughout my childhood. We live next door to a church, I listen to mass every morning from my bedroom, Mom makes us say the rosary in Igbo… How is Holy Mary Mother of God supposed to be alien to me?”
My father gave me one of those exasperated looks that said he’d had a long day, had no time to deal with a Clever Clogs, and to check back on Sunday when he had long naps and nowhere to be —besides church, for two and a half hours max. “I was talking about the university…”
He sighed. “Holy Mary Mother of God university.”
“Is it in Rome?”
“No, in Ihiala. Anambara state.”
“Clearly, I haven’t heard of it. What about it?”
“Your Aunty Juliet called from Onitsha today. Said she heard they are conducting interviews at the school next tomorrow”—
“But I didn’t fill it in my Jamb form. I had no idea how unimaginative people could be with names until a few seconds ago.”
“It’s not a problem. Your aunty Juliet said it doesn’t matter if the school isn’t one of your university choices for Jamb.”
“So, what kind of school is it? Is it new?”
“It’s a Catholic university. And no, it’s been around for quite sometime.”
“A Catholic what? But I went to a Catholic secondary school! I can’t handle another round of daily masses. I plan on sowing my wild oats, and being a very bad child for a change, and I can’t do that in a Catholic university.” I’ve always been able to say anything to my parents and get away with it; things neither my siblings nor any of my older relatives who live with us, can pull off without some sort of punishment, or a berating at least. My mother says it’s a gift, but not to abuse it, because she might be in a mood one of these days and I just might find myself sailing out of the window with my foot in my mouth. I believe her. You would too if you know her.
“Ok, that’s fine then. In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t have a garden. This house is surrounded by rock-hard concrete. You’re welcome to try and sow your wild oats there, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”
“But I thought you said the Professor at Unilag”—
“Was talking out of his hat, yes. I’m not too sure about that one, and I don’t think it’s wise to put all our eggs in one basket.” I liked it how my dad always used “we” and “our” while speaking about my admission. For some reason, knowing how invested he was in my life, and how much more he was willing to invest, literally, made me feel more loved than having him hug me and say “I love you” at the airport, before he boarded the plane on one of his trips to North-America or Europe.
“So, what do you think we should do?” I asked.
“I think you should go down to Onitsha tomorrow. Go for the interview the very next day, and let’s see what happens.”
“But I haven’t even packed.”
“It’s only going to be a few days. No one’s expecting you to move out of the house. A few clothes, and all your textbooks if you can lug them around.”
“Is the interview oral or written?”
“I think it’s a little bit of both.”
“What if I fail?”
At this, my father, with his blind faith and confidence in me, which both frightens me and pushes me to excel, said: “I know my daughter. You cannot fail an exam.” There! And it wasn’t a pep talk, or something he said to give me a boost. He actually did believe it.
Luckily for me, I aced the exam. Almost everyone did, as I soon learnt. So long as you looked decent i.e you didn’t look like a cultist, an admission was yours if you could afford the school fees, which was expensive. It wasn’t all that expensive when I first got in —somewhere between a hundred and two hundred thousand, closer to the latter than the former —but before long the school fees would start to skyrocket, on a yearly basis, to the point where my school fees would be enough to put a little village of SSCE-holders through the public school system.
But on that first day, I was glad. And more than a little anxious. New environment, new faces, room mates, and their terrible habits. I was wary of all the adjustments I’d have to make, and wary that I would get off on the wrong foot with all of my room mates and have to snob them for the rest of the academic year.
Let me make it clear that I wasn’t worried my room mates wouldn’t like me. I was only worried I wouldn’t like them, and that I’d put all my efforts into making them as uncomfortable as I possibly can, miserable —if I can swing that —and that all of it would be exhausting.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am a pessimist, and there is no shortage of cynicism in my blood. I am very confident and independent, the sort of confident that comes from having no friends, and becoming comfortable in isolation. I really don’t care what anyone thinks about me, and so long as my daddy thinks I am fine… And my mom, and my siblings, and God; and so long as I can keep listening to good music, and keep quoting Amy Winehouse, I am fine, really.
My name is Adaora Ekejiuba, and you’re about to start a five-year journey with me.
If I didn’t mention it earlier, I got admitted into Law. At Holy Mary Mother of God University Ihiala, Anambara State.
Am I the only one who thinks that’s such a horrid name for a school?