She couldn’t explain it. He seemed so perfect. Everything about him tripped her. The way he walked, talked, smiled and perhaps frowned which he rarely did. It was never a dull moment with Emeka. He put the ‘L’ in laughter. He could crack your ribs till they snapped and hurt you. He would take your heavy heart laden with worries and make it as light as air with his jokes.
Cindy watched him that day as he performed ‘just a lil bit’ by 50 cents. He adored 50 cents a lot it almost seemed like an obsession. He swayed and moved around the stage as he performed his favourite song by his favourite artiste. Cindy watched and admired him even more. She wanted to go to him after his performance to say that he did a brilliant job up on stage, and may be even more. She got up from her seat and made the first step towards him. She stopped suddenly, just a few steps away from where he sat drinking from a bottle containing water. He seemed tired from the performance, but surely that wasn’t why she stopped. It wasn’t the first time she tried to express how she really felt about him. She’d had a crush on him since they were in J.S 3. They were in S.S 2 now and two things remained the same, well, three things: they were still in the same class, she still had a crush on him and she still couldn’t tell him how she felt about him. She would steal glances at him in the classroom, in hallways and in the dining hall.
The following week there was a football match. Ronik, the school Cindy and Emeka attended, was to play a neighboring school, Chrisland. The two schools were arch rivals with superb squads on either side. However, Ronik had an edge for this particular match; they were playing at home on their own field. Emeka was a top striker on Ronik’s football team. He had scored several goals for the school. He was a hero sought of, and that made Cindy very happy. She always enjoyed watching the school team practice. Emeka always impressed her with his dribbling and goals. She couldn’t wait to see him do the same against Chrisland.
It was 12 noon that day and classes had already ended because of the match that was slated for 2 p.m. At exactly 1.30 p.m, Chrisland’s football team and a small number of supporters arrived in a minibus. They looked very confident in their outfit: yellow jerseys with beautiful designs and numbers written behind each player, over plain black shorts. They looked like champions.
Ten minutes later, Ronik’s team emerged from the dressing room beside the pavilion. They walked through the neatly mowed lawn that marked out the basketball court. The ovation that greeted them was ecstatic. A pair of eyes was fixed on a particular player; he wore the number nine jersey for Ronik. It was Emeka, and the eyes were Cindy’s.
Thirty minutes into the game and no goal had been scored. It seemed like an evenly matched encounter. No team wanted to give in to the other. They played through the first half of the match without a goal to either of the teams.
It was ten minutes into the second half of the match when team Ronik had a break on the left. There was a perfect pass from the defense to the midfield. They moved the ball around very quickly, allowing the strikers to settle in their positions. There was a true pass to the player on the number nine jersey, Emeka. He moved the ball to the right a little, trying to create enough room to take a clear shot. He did that successfully and hit the ball very hard with his right foot. All eyes were on the ball moving with a velocity that was comparable only to that of light. It hit the back of the net quicker than it took for him to return his foot to the ground. GOAL!!! The screams were deafening, the crowd went wild.
Field play continued afterward with Chrisland trying desperately to equalize. They put much pressure on Ronik’s defense that the coach had to send the midfielders back into their own half. It was just ten minutes left to play when a certain player started to stagger sluggishly on the pitch. He stopped briefly to stare at the ground for a while, with his hands pressed firmly on his chest and a tight squeeze on his face. He was panting severely, gasping desperately for air. The noise of the crowd began to die down gradually as they observed the player on the field. The other players noticed him as well, they stopped play and ran towards him, calling for medic at the same time. He slumped to the ground before they got to him. He fell with his face to the ground. His jersey number showed clearly as he laid on the floor. It was jersey number nine- Emeka.
The medic and many of the players tried to get him to stand up, calling his name and tapping him, but he did not respond. They checked for pulse and heart beat, but they found none. The medic made a call to the clinic to make quick arrangements to rush him to the hospital immediately.
Meanwhile, someone was running uncontrollably from amongst the spectators seated at the pavilion watching the match. It was Cindy. She ran to where Emeka was lying on the floor and knelt beside him, she grabbed his right hand. It felt cold already. Tears were flowing down from her eyes already. She placed his hand on her already wet cheek. Her tears were very warm. She rubbed his hand softly on her cheek and then she bent to whisper something in his ear. “I have something to tell you”, she says. “I’ve always wanted to tell you” she continued, amidst sobs and plenty of tears. She whispered some more words into his ear and the medic asked her to leave as the vehicle was ready to take him away. She was about to let go of his hand when suddenly, he gripped her firmly. He blinked rapidly as he tried to open his eyes. His mouth opened before his eyes as he said very weakly. “I’ve always loved you too.” They take him away to the hospital.
Ten days later, Emeka returned from from the hospital never to play football again, but began a journey of love with Cindy. “You brought me back Cindy”, he said to her as they walked in each other’s arms to the dining hall for launch after school.
In loving memory of Emeka Igweneme who died last week, as a student in Covenant University while playing football on the field. We were high school mates.
I miss you dearly…