I can bet you don’t know who Ayo is. Well, I will tell you. I am an engineering student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife , currently in my second year and resident in the famous Awolowo hall of the university. There are four halls of residence for males-Awolowo, Fajuyi, Angola, and ETF. Each hall of residence has blocks of buildings where the students live. I reside in block 2 in Awolowo hall. In my room,number which I will not reveal, there are twelve occupants. Six of us are legal occupants. Legal means you are allocated the room by the school authority and you stay there for that academic year. The left-over six are squatters, some who in the past academic year were legal occupants and others who moved in with their legal friends. Legal also means that you have a free bunk on which you can place your mattress. Squatter on the other hand means that you have a free floor on which you can place you mattress to sleep on after each day’s activities. There are other occupants who do not fit into any of these categories. These are the rats[rabbits would be a better name, going by their size], the cockroaches, spiders and the other living things you are likely to find in a ghetto. Due to the poor conditions under which we live in the halls of residence, we jokingly called one another in-mates. For us, the word does not evoke feelings of criminality or deviancy. Instead, we see it as a term to describe fellow comrades in the struggle for a life without struggles. And so while I can freely say that Ayo is one of my in-mates, a squatting in-mate at that, it would be an insult on us to regard the rats or cockroaches as our in-mates. Ayo is not just a fellow in-mate, he also shares a common faculty with me. For while he tries his luck in the mechanical engineering department, I am the one who thinks that electrical engineering is the course that will best put food on a table on which my wife, three or four kids and I will be seated in the nearest future. And if God answers my prayer, which is that the Nigerian power sector continues the way it is till I come, then I should call a thanksgiving and give out free drinks.
The event about which I write happened two weeks ago. On that fateful tuesday evening, while Power Holding people held the light and the taps in the halls of residence were yet to start running, events in the galaxies conspired with Ayo to snuff the life out of me.
The day before, I had prepared a meatless dish of rice and beans, a concoction sort of, which I hoped would take me for a day or two. These days I cook and eat with caution. My food reserve is few days away from being depleted. My pocket money too. That one usually finishes earlier than I can imagine, which makes me wonder why there is so much of the month left at the end of my money. But I give honour to whom it is due-my dad, whose penchant for lateness in everything makes me the most starved student in the Ile-Ife campus. Any one who waits on my dad for money must learn to wait forever. But that is a matter for another time.
I ate part of the food monday night. Tuesday morning I was rushing to catch up with early morning classes so eating then was out of my schedules. Skipping breakfast, the most important meal in the day as I am told is nothing new to me nor to thousands of students here. It is just one of those sacrifices we are bound to make in the quest for knowledge. I however managed to warm the food before I hurried off to class that morning.
Tuesday afternoon, between the time it took to finish one lecture and the time to start another one, I placed a call to my dad to make my request known. With my dad, you learned to weeks ahead before your money finishes. As a grade twelve primary school teacher who is a stickler for accountability and frugality, he included every of the family needs in his quartely budget. What this implies is that my brother Chinedu who studies in Nsukka and I sent our personal budgets earlier than usual in order for it to be included in the quarterly budget. Failure to do so in time meant that you had your proposal postponed till the next quarter. None of us can afford such a joke.
He picks the phone and I hear papers rackling on the background. Maybe his headmaster has given him the payment voucher for that month to prepare. Halways did,citing the reason that he has a very good handwriting as an excuse, as if a good handwriting would make the accountant add a penny to your salary. That one is not my business, all I need is money. And how the money comes is not my concern, I have integration and Binomial theorems to worry about, for goodness sake.
“Yes, what is the matter?” He said before I could say how good the afternoon was to him. On the phone, Dad is always brief and sounded bussiness-like. There is no time to exchange pleasantries. Those are luxuries that network providers reserve only for the rich. And my dad is not rich.
“I need some money sir.” I announced, and waited for the bad news. But he defers it by some seconds.
“when will your money finish?” He asked, with a dubious calm.
“My money is finished already Sir.” I returned with calm, equally dubious. Saying anything else will reduce the chance of the money coming by half. And that would leave me half-dead. With my dad, we learned not to tell the truth always. The truth hurts. The truth delays your pocket money by some weeks or even months.
“I will send you money by the end of next month if the government pays”. He ruled. “I nu ihe M kwuru? Did you hear what I said?”
“But sir, I dont have…..” The line was dead before I could let the words out. And I knew he would not call back. Calling him again was out of the question. Dad would advise me to use that money to take care of some pressing needs or he would accuse me of having so much money as to spend it calling. I wondered what makes him think I have so much money when he only gives me little. Such a funny man, the only man that ends a call with “I nu ihe M kwuru? Did you hear what I said?” without caring to know get an answer. I wished I could shout back in the phone that I did not hear him. But will he care? It is something like this that makes me think of investment, that makes me want to see a money doubler immediately. It is only sad that money doubling is not such an honest business, nor is the stock market. Else, I would invest my money in one of these areas and see them grow into millions and me, into a millionare. But the affairs of life do not always fall into the smooth groove of our plans and strategies. And since that is so, let me continue with my story.
Putting the paternal disappointment inside my school bag[ for I will have time to think about it later], I decided not to attend the last lecture for the day and return to my room to eat. My brain was already holding a secret meeting with my legs to demobilise me. I had to act fast or else have myself to blame. The brain is such a serious mimded organ that it is always safe not to take it for granted. I can postpone seeing a doctor over a HIV status issue or a blood group analysis, even though I pray I will be negative when i finally go. But you see the brain, the stomach and other sensitive organs of the body, I can never take them to for what they are not. I could always copy the notes from generous classmates.
I left for the hostel, with plans running on the reserve energy in my brain. I will eat, go and have a bath, study a little and then go for fellowship meeting by 7pm. I hardly went to fellowship meetings before but now I do. Exams are fast aprroaching and apart from the spiritual support I need to carry on, I do not want to miss out in the welfare packages given by fellowships during exams. These include foodstuffs like rice, garri, beans and sometimes money. This is the reason why I attend three fellowships on campus not because I am a spiritual zealot. Sombody praise the lord!
I got to my room to find four of my room mates in. Ayo was there, and there was Olamide the microbiologist, Deji who studies the soil and Bankole the room clown who was in English department. I bellowed an “ekule oh” greeting in my igbo-inflectioned intonation. My friends say I am slow in learning the Yoruba language so these days I am putting extra efforts to prove them wrong.
“Igbo man!” Bankole called out with a mischievous smile. It was what he called me. What they called me. I had no problem with being called an Igbo man. My only problem was that the way they called it made it sound like “Igbo”, Marijuana. But that only made me laugh at him, at myself, at marijuana. But today there was no strength to laugh, I only made a meaningless sound of approval and went straight to my cupboard to quench the fiery hunger I had been playing hosting to since the day broke. The pot was there as it was when I left for class in the morning. There will be no time to even warm the rice or remove my cloth. I searched the lower chamber of my cupboard to find a metal spoon, willing to be put to use.
I reached out to the pot. It came forth so easily, without any iota of resistance. My heart skipped a beat. I got the message clear. Somebody had eaten my food. I did a quick mental check to know who it could be that has done this evil to me and what rewards should await him. I imagined gripping him by the neck, carrying him off the ground and letting him experience how the force of gravity works on objects under its influence. I was boiling inside, and each time I boiled I found it hard to speak out. My words get swallowed by the raging anger and I stammer.
“Who ate my-my foo-ood?” I stammered, directing the question to no specific person. There was a brief silence and then Ayo spoke up.
“Igbo man”, he called smiling. I wanted to tell him I was not in the mood to be smiled at. But he spoke first before I did.
“Nobody ate your food”. He said grinning meaninglessly. This was no time for joke and I hate to be taken for a broomstick.
“So, Adebayo, You are a nobody?” I asked, warming up to action. It is the first time I am calling his full name in a long time. I pulled off my shirt. Adebayo sensed danger and had to quit playing games.
“Igbo man, see your food oh” He said pointing to a corner of the room where we cooked.
“A hungry man is an angry man.” Deji said and they burst out laughing.
“I warmed it for you.” Ayo interjected, amidst laughter.
I did not believe that. I moved towards the pot. If I found out that this was a joke, then Adebayo should be prepared for the mother of all fights. I opened the pot to find my mixture of rice and beans intact. I was surprised.
“Igbo man!” Ayo called again. “See here, your fellowship brought these foodstuffs for you”. I turned to look at what. Rice, beans and garri in three different black nylons stared at me. I didn’t care to ask which of the fellowships brought it. I was too thrilled for words to start asking.
“Wow!”. Did not my pastor say that God works in a marvelous way, his wonders to perform? This was indeed an unexpected miracle. I was going to give a testimony in church the next Sunday.
It seemed fate was not yet done with me. As I stored the foodstuffs away and sat down to meal, my phone beeps, signaling a message has been received. I take the phone and was surprised to see a credit alert from GTB. Great God Almighty! Ten thousand had been deposited into my account by my elder brother who does business in Lagos. I had called him few weeks ago to ask for money but he had told me what Igbo businessmen tell their siblings, “Market no dey go. We no dey sell anything here oh.” Had it been I was born before him, I would have recommended that he closed the shop and go back to the village to lend a helping hand in farm works. But then I let him be.
My readers may at this point wonder what the hell I am getting at. Where is the bloodshed, the killing, the dying in this story. Who is Ayo and how did he kill me? “Ayo” is a yoruba word that means joy. The happenings of that fateful tuesday evening injected so much ayo into me that I sang, danced and celebrated. Joy is such an intoxicating emotion that it choked life out of me. And here I am, standing before my beloved brethren to declare that the joy of the Lord[ayo oluwa] is my strength.