…..(continued from WELD-LOCK 1)
My background was somewhat similar to Funke’s, at least in strictness and discipline. We were just two -my big brother and I. My parents were both Teachers. Dad was a school Principal, who made flogging us so routinely we looked forward to it. Mum was a Primary school teacher. Hers were the spontaneous slaps you could be at risk of, standing within her arms’ length. I grew not trusting her hands with any object within reach, while rebuking us. Anything could be hurled at you- a pot or even a stool. Our offences ranged from failure to write corrections to sums we got wrong in class, to lending out our textbooks without permission. Losing them was death. Because you’d show my Dad where in his yard, he planted the tree that fruits naira notes.
We had our bags inspected everyday, and Mum was always sniffing around my bag for love letters, and other possible incriminating materials. We dared not break any of her china wares, our feeding allowances of many days would go for it. I was free to play football so long Dad wasn’t around. Coming back from the football pitch those days to meet him already home, had gotten my fate sealed for the night. It would be a sure date with the rod of correction, (which in reality was more of a belt or wire or some other strange ropy material than rod).
Dad had a big monochrome television, the one with the sliding door. Watching the NTA network news with Dad was compulsory, after which we were made give a summary of the news bulletin. We hardly watched other T.V programs, except ‘The New masquerade’ or Ken Saro-Wiwa’s ‘Basi & company’, apparently when he was in a good mood, or not around.
In all my brother are I were thoroughly bred, so that we rivaled the girls of our age-group in cooking and housekeeping. In fact at the age of 11, my hand was already so dexterous on the pestle, I often did make a lumpless, fine velvety pounded yam meal for the family dinner.
Leaving high school was big deal. It meant freedom from a life controlled by the jingle of a mere bell, and morning assemblies that run like church services. There would be no more school uniforms and white socks, we were outgrowing them already. It would of course mean no more pesky class teachers too. Our teachers as at then had been self-ordained on a no-going-back mission, to clip our ambitious, ego-driven adolescent wings. School was thus getting more hostile as the days went by. We’d heard of the campus world where birds fly the skies unrestrained, untamed. We yearned for that so desperately, our break into the free world.
The outside world turned out to be way different from our fantasies. It wasn’t consistent with our daydreams of sliding into the best available university, to go pick up your birthright- the choicest course on a golden platter. The admission market was tough. Back then, Tope Alabi’s “Aye le” track would’ve made much sense.
In the outside world, the real world, what we thought to be the strong covalent bonds that held cliques and friends together, were soon revealed to be mere tender strands, that snapped easily with time. Every man now a singleton, was for his own, fighting for his life, for a footing in the university.
A few of us got lucky the year we left high school, not up to half of our set. These got admitted into various tertiary institutions- colleges, Polytechnics and Universities across the South-west.
I gained admission to study Dentistry in the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I had feared my chances of landing medicine was slim, so I opted for Dentistry with a lower cutoff. (My score in JAMB was to eventually scale the cutoff mark for Medicine).
A sizeable number of my then group of friends were admitted too, a couple in O.A.U, some others in Ibadan. Funke gained admission to study mechanical engineering at U.I. It was nothing surprising, she was a beast in the physical sciences.
It was the era of no phones. NITEL was the closest option to that luxury. But it was at best for the homes of the privileged, or some government offices. The commoners would have to endure long queues to make phone calls at NITEL service centers. NIPOST was the in thing then, though with the rigmarole in getting letters right on time, plus the inefficient transit. We really had no choice. Contact was mostly via letters. And so for most of us school-leavers, we thus had to lose contact.
I managed to write a few of my former classmates letters. Some replied, but we couldn’t exchange letters for more than a couple of times, before losing contact again. Meeting old schoolmates back home wasn’t so much possible too, due to the peculiarity of my program. There was not so much a space for breaks from school, and when we luckily get one, it was usually a quickie.
Towards the end of premedical year, my first year in school, I decided to write Funke. I wasn’t expecting anything from that though. Just wanted to give it a shot. Imagined we could strike off as friends from there, and who knows…? Well, I do now.
The first letter I wrote Funke wasn’t actually first really. I had in the ‘heat of it’ back then in high school written her an anonymous letter. It was heavily soaked in a concoction of affectionate poemy lines, word pun, and metaphorical expressions, that would get any girl love-drunk, and high up in cloud 9. It was the entirety of my literary prowess I invested into it.
I had planned to sneak it into her bag or under her locker sometime, and leave her to figure out the writer. But that was a plan that never left the cavity of my head to materialize. I would be so close, get all jittery again, back out and postpone doing that. Told myself it was going to be after our SSCE exams. Could even strike a deal with one of her friends to help out. It was all a lie. I didn’t move an inch close all through.
I had my last chance on the Valedictory service day. I had determined I would even do it myself- walk up to her and hand it over to her in person. I had even taken a bold step taking my seat behind her during the program. But even though I was a star that day, clinching so many prizes in various categories, I couldn’t just muster that courage. I honestly knew not even Dutch courage from alcohol would give me enough confidence.
To make matters worse was her Dad being the chairman of the day. What finished me were those penetrative, red tinted, fiery eyes of his, peeping from behind his trademark bifocals, towards my direction from the rostrum. It looked to me like those were giving me a stern warning to flee already. I had to watch helplessly like a castrated dog, a few meters away as Funke’s father ferried her off, in his old, smoky, noisemaking Volkswagen. As I watched the car disappear into the distant horizon, I cursed my stupidity.
I refused to part with the letter, I had tucked it into one of my suit’s many pockets Only God knows what my mum was looking for ransacking my clothes, when she stumbled on the letter. I was like the proverbial animal for burnt offering, that had already willingly daubed itself with fuel. Trouble. My initial effort to deny the authorship of the letter, got me a deafening slap intended for my succulent cheeks, but landed wrongly on my neck. With a drop of urine in pant, I confessed profusely.
Mum did well enough to keep it all away from Dad though. I never understood why. She hardly did that. I guessed she understood telling Dad was sending me to the hangman’s noose. But I never went unpunished. She made me assume one of those killer postures- ‘kowtow’, as punishment for a couple of hours. I despaired of life, moaning and groaning in the pool of my own sweat and tears.
Things did change when I got into the university. I was 18, a young adult. I earned some respect from my parents, and there was less intrusion into my private affairs.
That Thursday afternoon, I put finishing touches to my letter to Funke. It was supposed to just be one introductory letter, on a very platonic note. I had painstakingly scripted it over some 4 days though. It was needed. I posted it using the post office in school and awaited the reply, with bated breath and fingers crossed.
It was 4 weeks, I checked up at the post office, there was a reply…(to be continued)