*Instances of Nigerian English not enclosed in quotation marks are present in this story. This is deliberate.
ABU is the pet name of my beloved alma Mater, the famous Ahmadu Bello University of Zaria. This noteworthy spring of learning presented to every individual privileged to pass through, a microcosm of life broken into different interesting episodes. My experiences on Abu’s terrain were typically varied. The social scene it offered, the religious events it supported and the academic environment it engendered all led to the evolution of a much more cultured Chemo.
I studied architecture at Abu’s Department of Architecture popularly known as ‘architorture’ for the gruesome backbreaking and sleep-depriving discipline it instilled in the students through its tutors. There was no rest to be found and when it came, it was prized like the desert oasis to a thirsty traveler. Our pockets were perpetually leaking; the numerous assignments that had to be well packaged milking them dry. The first and second years of our higher education were difficult times as we had to juggle the enormous stress our academic work placed on us, with the self-imposed task of dimming the ‘rock and catch-fun’ dreams we had crafted from home. The latter was necessary if we were ever going to leave Abu’s territory with degrees we could be proud of. In spite of all these, there came streams of light mid-way in this dark tunnel we trudged in. Our skills began fetching us small ‘change’ from those miserly clients unwilling to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for the professional services of established architects. We could now afford to take girls to the best restaurants on and off campus as well as live in well furnished rooms or houses. For the business-smart and well-connected ones, the ‘change’ was even enough to buy cars! It was common knowledge back then that archi-boys were the big boys on campus.
Paradoxically, even though the infamous name architorture would suggest that our lecturers were beasts by nature, they really turned out to be quite approachable. They were comparable with our elder brothers and uncles back home who we could confide in when faced with difficult problems. We joked, shared ideas and developed concepts together in the studio on those days we had design classes. I particularly remember a design class we had in my third year with one of our female lecturers. She took it upon herself to dedicate a considerable part of the allotted time to edify the boys on the need to value and yearn for inner beauty. This coming from a very attractive lady married with children, we really had no choice but to appreciate the wise words being passed down.
I clearly recollect the camaraderie that existed amongst all Abu’s architecture students. The times spent in the studio helped to ease the stress that accrued from the last-minute attempts to meet deadlines. We would chat about the different mannerisms of our lecturers; share movies, music and software; and talk about our social lives in general. There was always loud and beautiful music playing from powerful sound systems that prevented you from falling asleep. Our studio became a secondary social centre attracting students from all over the school who desired to read, work or hangout in the hip environment engendered in our studio.
The religious atmosphere on Abu’s grounds was quite charged. For those who took the spiritual realm seriously, Abu presented them a divinely fertile ground for the nourishment of their hungry souls. Praying grounds could be found at every nook and cranny to cater for Muslims who, by religious obligation, had to pray five times daily. The praying grounds and smaller mosques needed to be as close as possible to each department so as not to disrupt the academic requirements of the school, hence their large number. On the Christian front, numerous campus fellowships co-habited with the larger non-denominational Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) body. These were the breeding grounds of very creative Christian dance, rap and singing groups which thrilled crowds to no end. One such group was YWAP (Youths With A Purpose). Their dance performances were electrifying enough to shock out wild screams and adulation from the congregation. Some of their slow ballet-like dances accompanied by soft music were heart-rending; reminding you implicitly of your imperfection and the need for redemption. ‘Blue roof’, the large multi-purpose hall built by the Catholic church on campus was the venue for most of these concerts and later became an icon that represented social life in Abu’s land.
On the social scene, Abu didn’t allow the wild side in his kids to really manifest as obtainable in other institutions due to his surroundings. Nonetheless, the imaginative and creative spirit of Abusites (the collective name of all Abu’s children) sublimated our social cravings into much more exciting versions of social life. Drama village, the earthen-built theatre for staging the plays of Theatre Arts students, presented us an alternative kind of entertainment reminiscent of the village moonlight plays of times past. The drama students were simply amazing in the way they improvised with objects around to regale us with their very creative stage plays. Parties were held every other weekend at exotic spots off campus and were publicized by uniquely attractive posters that would be likely unmatched in any other institution in the country. As a graphic designer myself, I designed posters that had people talking excitedly for quite a while.
Then the girls. There came no night you wouldn’t find boys milling around the girls hostels. The school policy of not allowing boys access into the female dormitory threw up all manner of scenarios that were meant to cushion the effect of this isolation. One such development was ‘The Market’; the large frontage of a particular hostel-Ribadu, that became a hot spot for all manner of toasting, sweet talk and hooking-up at night. In the early years before the coming of mobile phones, it was a normal sight to see boys at The Market hustling to get the attention of girls, who were on their way to the hostel, so they could help call out the lady they had come to see. It’s absurd what many of these ladies did with their power. Many times they would scream at you to leave them alone, insult you like you had no future ambition or simply snub you. Some others took it to an even more infuriating level. They would listen to you attentively as you reeled out your request, promise to do your bidding and simply walk into their own rooms like nothing ever transpired some few minutes ago. You would be left counting your fingers and toying with your small beard as you waited patiently for your girl who would never come.
Some boys were lucky to have the ladies they wanted to see inhabiting the rooms on the facade wing. Within this group of lucky boys was a sub-group of somewhat unlucky ones. They were the guys who had to scream out the room number of the lady they sought because the room was located on the last floor. Shrill cries like “89…! 89…! Dupe!” were common.
Quite a number of Abu’s girls took it upon themselves to display the various intimidating shades of sophistication. The chicks at the top echelon of the campus social strata made sure intending toasters bagged either a degree in Persistence or a Diploma in Chasing Shadows; the unlucky ones ended up with the two at the expense of their mainstream studies. I heard tales of ‘hot’ chicks who would only go out with a guy that had a car to his name; a sleek one at that. You might have been very handsome and intelligent with a veritable mastery of poetry. You might have been the nicest guy on earth. These were unimportant to these girls; these qualities were just icing on the cake of material wealth. On the flip side, there were also those amazingly attractive girls that money seemed to irritate. The cars, the cash, the phones, the nice clothes; these worked no magic on them. They preferred to be like God who shows mercy to whom he desired to show mercy.
There was one particular set of girls in the top echelon that was distinct. These were the malo chicks; cream-coloured, slow-walking and extremely attractive Hausa-Fulani ladies who were usually from incredibly wealthy homes. They were the type of ladies you could day-dream all day about; inventing scenario upon scenario of a sweet life together. I fashioned quite a number of fantasies in my mind at different times placing the malo chick I desired at the epi-centre. I would envision myself taking her to my mother, getting married to her and siring very cute kids through her. Many of them spoke impeccable English with a very stimulating voice and so I would add audial components into the fantasy mix, imagining her talking to me as she bends over and plays with the hairs on my chest, while I lay back on the soft sofa, slowly absorbing the beauty of her words as they swim over to me in the cool waves of her lovely voice. These fair ladies of northern extraction were the perfect embodiment of the vision my mind had crafted of the ideal woman.
However, there were two factors that made the possibility of these fantasies ever coming true very slim. The wealth surrounding many of them, coupled with the way it was ostentatiously flaunted, was very demoralizing. It simply sapped away your male ego. What is more, they were Muslims and I was a Christian. The complication here should not be difficult for the discerning mind to decipher.
You can imagine how I felt then when I met Julia (not her real name). She was a half-caste; a very beautiful one at that, slim and could excellently pass for a Fulani girl. In fact, I thought she was one at first until I found out her name. I couldn’t believe it was possible. It was like the stars had finally aligned in my favour. It seemed those embarrassing prayers to God for answers to this one fleshly wish; getting married to a very beautiful lady after the kind of the Hausa-Fulani breed, was finally going to be answered.
We became pals the third time I came across her and quickly became very good friends. We talked on the phone every day. We exchanged countless text messages. We hooked up once in a while and gisted about so many things. She was very intelligent and a good conversationalist so we never ran out of what to talk about. Then something happened.
I fell in love with her.
It was inevitable. I knew it would happen at some point (after all I had wanted it to be so from the beginning) but hadn’t expected it to be this soon and intense. I had reasoned we would be friends for a long time during which I would study her properly; but that was not to be. I dreamt of her at night and had visions of her by day. Thinking no longer followed a straight logical path even when serious problems were to be brainstormed to their solution; it always had to meander to pay Julia a visit.
Julia was beautiful. She had this brand of beauty that stunned you into silence. Her lips were not pink, neither were they red; just something in the region of peach that invited you teasingly to take action as they bobbed up and down, and swayed from side to side to form words. On those frequent times her lips stretched to produce a smile, they unwittingly set my brain and retina on a collaborative photo shoot that imprinted memorable images of her in my head. Julia was classy and spoke the English language perfectly with a voice that had the gentle power of lulling you to sleep. My pocket bore the brunt as it had to release funds continually to procure recharge cards for my phone. Her eyes were charm factories. The amazing way they switched from Chinese-like slits to the large sparkling eyes of baby dolls was simply beautiful. There was no way those eyes would ever look at me like that and ask for a favour that I would refuse. It was never going to happen. Never.
And so the scheming began. I sought to balance the equation and make the now lop-sided friendship quickly catalyze to mutual romance. Poetry, my old time friend, was quickly conscripted into the personal army I had formed to bring about this catalysis. Text messages became less prosaic and more lyrical. Phone calls were longer and soft toned. We were becoming really close. Then something great happened.
I asked her out and she refused.
It was a great shock that jolted me from the beautiful dream, the sweetness of which I had felt would climax in due time. Sweet dreams were not usually this short for God’s sake. It was devastating. I charmed her the more; sweet-talked her into seeing the bliss we could finely weave together. I tried to convince her that we were both destined to yarn a special, ageless and mutual love story to the world but she still wouldn’t accept me on the strength of that argument. On and on it continued for two full calendar years without any success. I was too close to her she said. Like a brother.
Like a brother…. That well-worn excuse. I wondered if it was my fault. Had I wasted too much time in watering the ground before planting the seeds? Was the ground a mirage? I thought of those little deeds of Julia’s that I had construed as green lights signaling me to make the move. So we weren’t going to weave and live out that great love story anymore?
When the time was ripe, Abu my loving father bequeathed me two academic degrees and unwittingly added two emotional qualifications; a first-class degree in Persistence and a distinction in Chasing Shadows. I was finally out in the larger world with four certificates; two intellectual ones to help me in my quest for material things and two visceral ones for my future dealings with Eve’s kind. As I meander through this rough maze of life, I would always remember the varied lessons I gleaned from my father Abu; that old but dearly beloved sage in the tiny town of Zaria; that rare gem famous for being the greatest and largest university south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo.