The road to Nsukka was alive with hills and mountains of different sizes. Melvin could see some smokes coming out from the hills up in the sky. They made him think about the volcano his secondary school geography teacher talked about that could destroy a whole community. He hated geography class. He watched as kites hover over the hills. “Maybe they are looking for their mothers head as told in the folktales”, he thought and sighed. He faced his front as the bus turned left at a ‘WELLCOME TO THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA’ sign board at Opi. He thought they had got to the school but the place did not look like the place he stopped at the first time he came to Nsukka. The driver stopped and only one passenger alighted and the bus joined the traffic once again. The excitement in his heart made the journey feel too long like a week’s journey. He couldn’t wait to get to Nsukka and see his name on the supplementary admission list. He had planned to buy himself a bottle of Star after seeing his name on the list.
He got to Nsukka at exactly 10.20am. There was no drop of rain in Nsukka too. He needed not inquire from anybody for anything this time. He joined an okada straight to the admissions department. As he walked down to the notice board from the Okada Park, he looked at his shoe and thought how red the shoe would look at the end of the day with the red soil of Nsukka caked on it. People searched for their names on various notice boards as usual. Melvin squeezed into the crowd to get to the board. Somebody nudged him violently as he pushed through but he didn’t care. He heard somebody call him a fool yet he didn’t turn. He was not afraid of anybody not even of the dreaded cultists. He scanned the names on the list with his index finger running through them like a blind on brailles, not minding that other people were also searching for their names on the board. As far as he was concerned, no other human existed on earth but him and him alone. His index finger ran slowly through the list to the end of it. He couldn’t find his name. He was stunned.
He couldn’t notice any other person around him not even the curses they rained on him. He scanned through the names again for a second time, the third time, the forth, the fifth… He checked the scores of the names listed; 190, 195, 200, 215, 170, 180 and so on. His score was higher than all that. Something must be wrong somewhere. Omission? He scanned through the list once more. There wasn’t any difference. He couldn’t move. He squatted there, mouth agape. He didn’t notice the young girl bending by his side. She scanned and saw her name immediately and jumped off jubilantly and her lest elbow pushing Melvin. He stumbled down with his buttocks on the ground. The girl ran out showing neither remorse nor a knowing that she had touched someone. Melvin stood up gently and dusted his buttocks carelessly. His head felt woozy. He moved slowly with confusion. He didn’t take notice of a woman watching him from the right corner of the board. He could not control the stream of hot tears that grouped around his eye balls now and made them glassy. The tears ran down his cheeks hesitantly like early morning dews on coca yam leaves. He couldn’t control his nose that had begun to run too. He didn’t want to cry before such a crowd, but the tears would not stop running. He stuck an arm into his pocket, reaching for a handkerchief that was not there. The arm stayed there, weak and withered. At that instant the world was one big hole in which he alone lived. All hope seemed lost. Melvin worked slowly, one step after the other as if counting them. His gaze was fixed to the ground like a kid searching for a lost coin. As he trotted down, he kept thinking of what next to do when he would get to Aba; how to contend the shame of reversing the I-dey-school life style he had already started living. His eyes were drenched with tears though he didn’t want to cry. His heart was heavy with discordant thoughts. His mind could not articulate any thing. His head drummed with excruciating aching pains around his left eye with accompanying whistling sound in his skull. Soon he felt being trailed. A woman had followed him as he left the premises. He was already going home. On a lonely path leading to the Okada Park, the woman stopped him.
“Hello! I am Mrs. Kelechi Nwodo, a final year student of the department of linguistics here”.
Melvin looked at the woman confused. The words she said couldn’t penetrate through the cacophonous whistling and drumming sounds in his head. The stream of tears gathering in his eyes could not allow him see her face clearly. The tears now ran uncontrollably down his cheeks to his chest. He couldn’t stop them. The woman handed him a new handkerchief.
“Wipe your tears. I know how you feel. Perhaps I might help you. Give me your name, your UME registration number and the…” He was dazed near madness and couldn’t hear the last words she said. The only thing he heard was “perhaps I might help you” and that was the only thing that made sense to him. He raised his face to see the woman’s but couldn’t see her clearly. The face was hazy in his glassy eye balls now; changing from that of a woman to a girl and to a man and back again. Melvin ran the handkerchief through his eyes that had turned red now to clear the tears blurring his vision yet the tears kept flowing unabated. It was not a dream. He wanted to say something but he couldn’t think and his lips felt gummed together. Some white mucilaginous saliva drew up and down his slightly opened lips like glue fastening the two lips. He would have screamed if the lips opened. He would have thrown himself backwards and yelled like a mad man till the drums in his head stopped. He held himself and his heart palpitation increase like the heart was about to jump out of the rib cage. He was struck dumb. He dropped his hand into his back pocket, brought out his wallet and handed the woman all she requested of him. He didn’t care what the woman needed the name for, but he wanted to be left alone and “perhaps I might help you” was the only thing he wanted to remember. All he wanted was an admission into the University of Nigeria and nothing more mattered to him. On a normal day, he would have hesitated. He would have thought the woman a ‘Sugar-Mummy” searching for a Sugar-Boy gigolo; or he might have thought her one of the ogwu-ego people. Now he wasn’t in the mood to think anything but his admission; nothing else made any sense.
“Okay, I stay at Block E3, Room 210, Zik’s flat hostel, so you can come there tomorrow evening for feedbacks”. The woman said with a stress on the “stay” as if to inform him it was not her home but a make shift students hostel. The woman’s voice rang like a noisy nursery school bell in his ears.
“But…aunty I am…travelling back to Aba because I don’t know anybody here to stay with”. Melvin replied and broke down and started crying. He cried very loudly that even people from the admissions building could hear him but nobody cared. It was a lonely world and in it were only Melvin and the strange woman right before him. The woman drew him forward and he lean on her soft shoulders and wept and wept and wept till the left sleeve of her TM Lewin shirt got drenched in his tears. In the middle of the sobs he felt the weight in his head reducing and remembered the Mr. John Nwachukwu he met at the restaurant. He searched for the address he gave him, it was still intact.
“Okay…aunty there was a guy I met the other day I came, let me see if he can harbour me.” He stuttered amid sobs and white foamy mucilaginous saliva drawing up and down his lip and brought out the address. The writings were still clear though the paper was badly rumpled.
“All right but be careful though and don’t cry again. It is going to be alright” the woman advised and continued: “Anyway, if you don’t succeed, come down to Zik’s flat hostel and ask for Mrs. Kelechi Nwodo, I will introduce you to my younger brother at Alvan-Ikoku Hall. It is necessary you don’t go eh…”
“Thank you aunty, I won’t” Melvin answered and watched the woman as she turned leaving, walking like a movie star, shoulders held high and hips swinging madamishly. She turned and bed Melvin bye and flagged down an okada and left towards the direction of Zik’s flats hostels.