September marked the end of the holiday. It marked the end of waking up to his parent’s absence and his breakfast carefully served on the dining table. It also marked the start of his journey through the University. When Chima browsed the internet and saw his name among the list of admitted students, he dashed into the supermarket, freeing shirts from cloth lines and trying different sizes of shoes.
University was a place where young people had the freedom of choice, a place where one was subject to less scrutiny and he longed for that place. His parents contributed to this longing because they seemed to accommodate everyone — friends, family, colleagues, people with whom Chima felt uncomfortable. But it wasn’t their visit that annoyed him, it was that they came with unresolved issues, with the intent that his father’s money would solve them. Once, a week after his father’s election, faces he did not recognize had began to troop into their house asking for Eselụ and immediately he knew they were family. Eselụ was the title his father had taken at the last Ọfala festival. But it wasn’t his idea. It was the idea of these men and women who came regularly seeking financial aid because one of their sons had an accident or because their daughter was going to a secondary school. They said that no one in the family had taken a chieftaincy title and it would accord them respect if somebody finally did and that that somebody had to be his father. His father had reluctantly agreed and on the day of title-taking, it was Chima and both of his parents together with his Aunty Nneka that were seated on the stage with none of their kin present to partake in their glory. When they were probed, they simply said that they had no money to buy gifts and so decided to save themselves the shame of coming empty-handed. Chima was not surprised. He was surprised however at his father who handed out brown envelopes, all the while gesturing them to stuff them into their bags lest his wife sees them. It was the kind of father he had— a man for whom family was everything.
Chima began classes on the very day that school began. The lecturers here were nothing like the teachers from his secondary school. They brandished books that they had authored, threatening failure should their books not sell. It did not matter to Chima, though. Stories like this were not alien to the ears. He had heard of the unprofessional ways with which these people handled students. They did not grade you on the basis of your knowledge of a concept. They graded you because you wrote the exact words contained in the shallow notes that they had given and they became offended when you proved to be more knowledgeable and so Chima resolved to do just what he was told. After his semester exams, Chima began to move from office to office seeking redress because they said his scripts were missing. It was then that beards began to grow on his face. Once, he had appeared before the school panel and was denied audience because he had too much hair. The final resolve was for him to repeat the year because there was no evidence as regards his last semester examination. But the God of students was not done with him and so one afternoon, Chima was summoned by the panel. He followed suite and there he was shown hardcopies of his exam papers. They apologized for taking so long and for this, Chima was surprised. He was grateful, however and went home with eyes full of joy.
An eighteen year old Chima came to love his life in the University. He loved this place where he had ownership of self. School was fun with the young girls with flamboyant hips and eyes that beckoned on him. But he did not like to be seen wooing them. He loved instead to engage them in vague discussions and he derived joy in seeing them restless, their chests rising— a clear evidence that they too shared the same dark passions as him. His first party was a birthday party where the celebrant had dared him to kiss a boy. Chima did not do it. He had not attained such level of craze or maybe he simply did not want to kiss the boy. And so in order to save his crumbling ego, he fumbled out money from his pockets and dropped it inside the glass jar. It was in the University that Chima had his first sex. It was here that he grew burdened by a guilt that later transcended to admiration for oneself.
Back home at St. Francis cathedral, Chima was the mass server that held out the communion plate during mass. He persevered in his religious duties till the day pornography became his addiction. He started to go for confession every Friday and came home sober only to retire to his phone at midnight thrilled by the performances that he saw. It was an unending cycle and so one day he decided to be true to himself. He stopped going to church.
That afternoon when he met Adaeze, the girl with whom he sustained a three weeks relationship, it was raining and lectures had just begun. She was slightly the same age as him and it made things a lot easier. Adaeze had dated men and she did not waste time in telling him and for this he felt he had some growing up to do. But she desired him because in the following days when she woke up in his bed and exchanged morning kisses, she had moved into his apartment. They went to school clasping hands, not minding who was staring at them. At night they watched soap operas and he fell asleep on her bosom. Each day, their love blossomed into something bigger until the day Adaeze disappeared. She had scribbled down words on paper, hid it inside his drawer and left it there for him to find. Chima stood there looking at the neat handwriting on the paper. It was hers. She said she did not mean to hurt him, that he was a good person and that she did not want to compromise that goodness. Goodness, Chima thought. He wondered where those words had come from. Suddenly he became sad. And then he was angry. He tore the paper into tiny bits, emptied them into the toilet bowl and flushed them. A month later, they met again at a friend’s Matriculation and they pretended that nothing had occurred and between them was an air of things unsaid.
One day, in his penultimate year in school, his Aunt Nneka called to say that his parents had died. Chima was at the basketball court when the news came. Aunty Nneka did not begin by saying that life was a journey and that death was a price everybody was to pay. She simply put it that his parents had died. They had boarded a flight to Enugu but midway through their journey, their plane crashed. Chima asked of their bodies and she said that the victims were charred beyond recognition but the police was still investigating. But he came home the next day to stare at the remains— at the faceless bodies that once belonged to his parents. Week after week he was summoned by members of the extended family in preparation for their burial. On the burial day, everything belonging to them was handed over to him —keys, land documents, bank ownership. No one dared hold anything back. Not even his hungry relatives. They looked at him with wounded eyes and for this Chima loathed them. He hated that they looked at him with pity, that they suddenly became too caring, asking few questions, cracking stale jokes but careful not to offend him.
Few days later, armoured vehicles drove into their house and from them alighted men in tailored suits. They said they had orders from the state house to lock up all the houses belonging to the ex-commissioner, saying that he had a pending case of embezzlement before his demise. Chima used to wonder how these things happened to people. Yet there he was, suddenly homeless.
He knocked on Aunty Nneka’s door the next day and she welcomed him. Aunty Nneka was poor but she made sure he lacked nothing. The following months were his worst. His mind blurred at the thought of school and his life began to slip away. He began to sneak out at night and to come home gaunt, smelling of weed. He grew tired of staying with this aunt who had five children and received a widow’s mite as a salary. And so he retired to his apartment in school. Even in his solitude, Chima did not find peace. He could not let go of grief. Eating became a burden. Sleeping became a burden. Earlier on, he had received a letter from the student affairs department, asking him to resume school lest he is withdrawn but he did not reply. When he began to contemplate suicide, he thought of running into an expressway so that a truck would hit him. But it wasn’t the kind of death he wanted. He imagined a slow death, an excruciating death. He wanted to feel what his owners felt. And so he bought rat poison from the rodent shop. He did not drop a note. He simply undressed himself and paced in his room and as if performing some sort of ritual, he began to relieve the memories of his mother, memories of her fighting his teachers because one of them had injured her son or of other parents telling her that she was spoiling the boy. But she had not set out really to spoil him. It was that she could not bear to see her only son come home with bruises all in the name of discipline. Chima put on his clothes and joined the crowd outside. From a distance, the Catholic students could be seen performing their monthly ritual of saying the rosary. He sat down and watched their faces. Faces full of meditation and hope. Finally, he stood up and left.
Okolocha Mmesoma Linus is a student of Pharmacy at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria. He resides at Nnewi with his parents. Most of his works have been published on Facebook and has drawn quite some readership. He enjoys storytelling as a hobby and looks forward to becoming an acclaimed writer.