Imagine my shock when I saw them. She was dressed in shorts that did justice to its name and leaned slightly on the doorway laughing at something he said. He was standing at the doorway with his hand familiarly on her shoulder smiling affectionately. The next thing she left and he went back into his office. It was brief but that moment was frozen in time for me. I could not get it out of my head- that air of familiarity, the touching and the easy camaraderie. A lecturer should not be seen talking in such a manner with a student especially in the week preceding the exams.
I had seen her many times. She was in one of my classes which changed every eighteen months but with 146 other students in the two classes I taught I did not have the luxury of knowing her name. She caught my attention because of her clothes outside classes. Medical students did not dress in such an unbecoming manner- skirt hiked up to show her gorgeous well tapered legs, transparent blouses and clothes deliberately worn tight to emphasize her tiny waist and voluptuous figure. She had the good sense not to wear them to classes so nobody could say anything. Very often while other medical students read in the library one would find her in front of the television in the campus café with a book on her knees and her eyes on the television.
He was the Head of Department. We had both worked as interns in the same Teaching Hospital and I remember then that he had a stream of delusional ladies with dreams of marrying a medical doctor hanging around. Age tamed him but a dog is always a dog. Rumours of him with the ladies filled departmental gossips.
I could not help myself and sought to know her name. Her mother I found out was a senator in Abuja. I knew her type. A few of her kind had passed through the school. They bought their way in. But remaining in the system was harder. They rarely made it to the finals.
The written part of the exams went in a flurry. I pored through scripts trying to decipher hand writings. Marking was the toughest part of being a lecturer. There was a deadline to meet and by staying awake till 2am I succeeded in grading all my papers.
I was relaxed when the oral exams began. It was fun and infuriating at the same time. A cloud of students hung around the department bent over books and discussing in small groups while waiting to be called into the rooms. It was unlikely any of them would be asked what they were reading at the moment but they clung to that small chance. The students came into the room I shared with Dr Osazu, a colleague, looking petrified. Some forgot to breathe. We did our best to calm them down. Asking about their names and exam numbers seemed to help them. Quite a number did well. Very few were disastrous like the student who forgot the foramen of magnum was the opening in the base of the skull and started talking about the stomach or the one who almost blinded himself in an attempt to describe the orbit of the eye.
I was glad when it ended after two days. We gathered in the common room of the department for a meeting before endorsing the results. Professor Abimbola the external examiner from University of Abuja seemed a bit tired while Dr Udoka from University of Benin was still bright eyed. The rest of us in the room were members of the Department.
“It’s been a long day and I wanted to thank you all so much.” The Head of Department riffled through papers.
“You had quite a number of bright students. Are you thinking of awarding any distinction? Is there any of your student deserving?” Prof Abimbola was sitting forward and rubbing a spot on his jaw.
“Em we have not awarded any since the inception of the school.”
“There is always a first time. Did anyone meet the cut?” Dr Udoka’s voice rumbled as though emanating from his chest.
The HOD started to hand out copies of the result. “Number 17,25 and 58 have done quite well.”
“I say we invite them.” Dr Udoka’s voice was matter of fact as though it was his prerogative.
“Three students you say,” Prof Abimbola’s list was in front of him but he did not look at it. “How well did the students do in their oral exams.”
Dr Onyema who taught neuro-anatomy leaned into his seat like I did choosing to watch rather than participate.
Dr Osazu sat forward poring through the sheets as if his opinion mattered in the decision making process. “six, six and eight”
“Anyone with a six in routine oral exams cannot survive a distinction viva. Let us see the student with the eight. Perhaps you might award your first distinction yet.” The Professor rubbed one palm over the other.
The HOD summoned the office boy with the bell. “Let’s have our tea and have somebody send for Lucy Anene. Tell her she is expected here by 1pm for a distinction viva.”
I turned sharply to look at the HOD at the mention of that name. I sensed his nervousness in the way he shifted the paper he held from one hand to the other. I knew then what must have happened. Even he could not have anticipated it would go this way. He must have given her the questions not expecting her to do this well only to have her excel beyond his imagination. I wondered how he would explain the great discrepancy when she came in here. Sheer luck must have been on her side during the oral exams. A small smile came to my lips at the drama about to be enacted.
Dr Onyema looked at me strangely and I gulped down the small laughter bubbling in me.
Her eyes were huge when she came in and her body stiff. She was even more beautiful with the little girl quality her fear gave her. Her white lab coat all buttoned up touched her knee and I found myself wondering what outrageous clothing she had on beneath it since I could see no hemline peeking out.
She greeted us with a soft voice almost straining our ears in our bid to hear her.
The HOD introduced each person. He opened the floor with his question about the course of the radial nerve. I almost snorted. Every medical student knew that. If he thought we were going to award our first distinction on that question he needed a rethink. I looked at the Professor and waited for him to ask a question but he waved us on. Dr Osazu asked her about the blood supply to the brain, Dr Udoka about the foramen of morgagni.
I could take it no longer. It was like a conspiracy. “Tell us about the histology of the pancreas.” My voice came out a little harsher than intended and I felt everyone stiffen.
She answered my question without a pause in the same soft flowing way she had the others.
“The spinocerebellar pathway?”
“The retroverted uterus?”
Each question got an answer. An answer deeper than what I knew which had my colleagues nodding in satisfaction and looking at me curiously.
“Congratulations young lady.” The Professor spoke before I could ask the eleventh question. “You may go. I hope you did as well as this in your other papers”
There was a loud silence at her exit. I didn’t know where to look so I fiddled with the papers on the table in front of me.
Mercifully the HOD rang the bell and asked that our lunch be served.
“That young lady impressed me greatly during her orals. That was why I did not ask her anything. She reminds me of your sister. I was with her earlier this month at National Hospital.” The professor used to be the HOD’s tutor.
The HOD who had lifted his glass for a drink put it down. “Luce is her daughter from her wild teenage years. She thought sending her here under my eye would help tame her. As if! The girl won’t even acknowledge me as her uncle. She warned me quite sternly not to let anyone know we were related until she was through with my class.”
“In that case congratulation is in order,” the Professor said.
“Yes, it is.” The HOD looked at me over the glass of water he once again lifted to his lips.
I gulped feeling quite foolish. Perhaps I could explain my behavior away as the effect of hormones when they asked.