It was one of those job-hunting days and I was running late for one bank job test like that, scheduled for 8:00am. Swiftly, I hurried out of the house and jumped into the first bus I stopped (then, Araba buses were still in vogue, blowing head bombs as horns and causing irrelevant traffics everywhere ). But fortunately for me, it was still the early hours of the morning so the passing pickups were less. It seemed as though, all the passengers in the bus were headed the same direction and so, I was happy.
I arrived at the venue an hour early with a large crowd staring as I got down from the taxi (well, commercial buses weren’t allowed into certain parts of town thank goodness, and considering I didn’t know the exact place I was going, I had taken a taxi). I moved passed the crowd and then, settled at a corner just beside a small tree. There were no seats, so we the unlucky applicants were all on our twos, chattering away to while-away the idle time and the limpness our feet were going through. But I was guessing for the first timers, it was the tension.
Where I stood and waited, I resisted the urge to use my earpiece to that I could eavesdrop on conversations that could probably save my life in the test hall. But the lady sitting beside me was asking the dude next to us questions about the invitation that was sent to us. All those boring talks, and so I glanced away from them only for my gaze to fall on a familiar face.
I know her, my brain began to knot together
But from where? I wondered again, pulling out memory files from my head:
Events? encounters? School, University?… Class? a set before? No….Maybe… a friend of a friend?…
I kept digging but for some reason, her name eluded me. Finally I gave up but didn’t take my eyes off her, until I heard my phone beep. It was a message from one of my trackers.
This dude sef, you no go rest? I muttered as put away my phone and pulled down my shirt over my low-waist jeans.
As time stretched, the crowd of applicants grew and eventually a light skinned dude with an Afro haircut strolled out of the gate and addressed us politely, providing us with what he tagged “important instructions”. Eventually, he ushered us in but just as we were shambling towards the gate of the venue, a mad struggle ensued and then I bumped into that familiar face.
“Shela, is that you? Oh my God!” she yelled suddenly in excitement as she hugged me and looked me over.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
And I nodded at the much expected question.
But then, in a flash, I recalled her name
But the next words in my mind were:
Oh Hi bitch!
She followed me around like a lost kitten and I was beginning to guess she didn’t know I lied when I held on a big smile and asked…
“Hi, do I know you?”
“Really?” You don’t remember me. We met during service” she implored and I nodded as I moved away from the battering sun rays growing like colors just beyond the horizon. The sun was waking up but we were still here clustering around like refugees without housing camps. It was beginning to be infuriating so the sooner we were done with the damned accreditation, the better. The whole process was taking too long.
A man came and then announced the numbers we were expected to file into, emphasizing on the fact that malpractices would not be tolerated.
I scoffed. Yeah! Yeah! Another bullshit.
I was now looking at the examination number written somewhere on my invitation letter and it was like 1567. I blew a whistle and then, shook my head. I looked down at my supposed ‘friend’ who had been giggling because she had just found out that we would be sitting next to each other. Hers was 1569.
“Can I have your phone number?” she asked me bringing out her mobile phone from her jeans pocket. She had on a jeans skirt with a white sleeved shirt to compliment her fair skin and then laced wedged shoes to match. “I lost it like two phones ago” She grinned with pleading eyes. At that moment, I wasn’t sure what to do.
What the hell do you need my phone number for? I wondered warily and I guessed my eyes betrayed that question because she then added that she needed it to call me and find out if I had been contacted by the bank, “that kin thing”, she said and then I nodded. Reluctantly, I dialed my number on her phone and then let her save it.
“The test is just an hour, I heard” She informed me as she shaded her eyes with her hands and stared up at me, grinning from teeth to teeth. She was obviously not that tall, light-skinned, a little on the chubby side and not even as pretty as I was.
“So you really can’t remember me?” she asked again walking to my side as her question interrupted my thoughts.
“I was the girl LI brought to your apartment then” She went on.
Yea of course …one among others.
“Ehen? My dear, there were a lot of girls LI brought to my room then. I really couldn’t keep up with all your faces” I lied as I threw my file between my legs and pretended to fix my hair. I really just wanted her to go away.
“Really? Well, I never forgot yours. You were very nice to me” she complimented as she let a smirk paint her face.
I felt a pang on my chest and recognized it as full blown rage and knew it would only take the grace of God not to claw at her.
“Really? What’s your name then?” I asked as I glanced passed her, raptly paying attention to the numbers being yelled out by the officials at the accreditation table.
“Mary!” she announced proudly
“Oh yes Mary! I remember you now. You were the one I gave my peach blouse to wear the night you came” I exclaimed, letting a faint smile cross my lips as I blinked blindly at her.
And the very same one that stole my money.
“Yes, you remember” She laughed. “You know I never got the chance to thank you for everything. You know we were sent off immediately to our PPAs the next day. Me, I did ghost thing na. Returned to Abuja”.
“Oh ok! No wonder no one knew where you went” I retorted nodding to an understanding. When I had been confused about how my money got missing, I had gone straight to the LI. But even the yeye Li refused to help me. Probably she’s here thinking I never figured it out, hence all the fake smiles she was now dishing me.
I heard my number and raced to the accreditation table, thanking God for the little break. Her presence was unraveling me and the fact we were going to be sitting close to each other wasn’t helping either. Every fiber in my being wanted to take her somewhere empty in the building and beat the nonsense out of her- For putting me through hell after being as she had said, “very nice to her”. The money she had stolen had been meant for my little sister who had been involved in a motorcycle accident and needed an immediate surgery to keep her legs alive. I was supposed to send the money home the same day I realized it had vanished, which had of course left my sister crippled. Because my parents had been counting on me to send it, they didn’t bother to run around for it but by the time they did, it was too late.
My poor sister! I thought sadly, blinking back the tears that were threatening to flood down my cheek and then, sat on the seat inscribed with my examination number.
“Did they say we can use calculators?” I heard her ask as she took her seat beside me. 1568 was absent and I could see her grinning at that fact.
“I don’t know” I answered trying to hide the sobs from my voice.
“Ehen? because I didn’t bring my own o. Did you bring yours?” she asked again. I nodded. Something inside me wanted to scream, grab her by the neck and just strangle her but instead a smile crossed my lips.
Soon, the examiners strolled in and handed us the question papers. The answer booklets soon followed and we were asked to shade the answers with the use of a pencil with other questions being poured out like water and then everything felt like Jamb all over again. The only difference however was when I took jamb several years ago, my little sister was two years old and had her legs working, but now she was maimed for life and I tried to waive the memories.
Not now! I queried myself, not now.
The timer was set: 1 hour
I scrambled through the pages, eighty questions. Those were the very same number of questions prying my mind at the moment. Eighty questions… No, make that a hundred. The mathematics were thirty- questions, like if there were four persons visiting, how long would it have taken to tell that one was going to hold your sister’s future in her hands? And all that shit.
English was also thirty: there were antonyms and synonyms. Questions like the opposite of Good is? Simple questions like, the synonym of Hate is? Of Pain? Of Truth? Of Pretense? Of Trust? Antonyms of forgiveness? Theft? Fill in the right words like “She wore my _ dress”, then there were options of what the right spelling of peach color could be. I shaded what I thought were the right answers desperately trying to push aside the rage boiling within me.
“Forgive, learn to forgive Shela” my mother had said…
Well Yea! She was always the religious one!
I had spent the past three years blaming myself; trying to forget her face, her name and for the better part of those years, it had worked, well until now. I felt my phone beep; there was no time to look at it so I ignored it. From the corner of my eyes, I could see her bending over, and crushing her stomach with her pencil in hand.
The timer said 30minutes left.
“Hmm…” I thought to myself and went back to the questions in front of me. What would happen after the test?” Do I let her go and keep pretending and holding on a fake smile like I didn’t just meet the person that stole my sister’s fate. I let my mind spin round the thought and then flipped to the next page of questions. There before me was a strange diagram I had never seen before. The mirror reflection, the summarized paragraph said with a bold instruction to read through it and answer correctly.
Timer now read 15mins left
I didn’t read it instead I stared at it. I had twenty unanswered questions left and this new page contained about twenty more questions. I stared hard at the diagram. Her face was shaded in different angles and I was expected to answer twenty questions on how to place them correctly to fit the right image. I spun the pages several times and I couldn’t find the right fix and so, I decided to guess.
“A minute more” I heard one of the examiners yell and I began to shade harder and quicker. I can’t let her leave. It would be wrong to let her just walk out of here without answering my own questions. Questions I pray to God she would be able to answer correctly if not it wouldn’t just be my fists or limps she would feel. She would feel this HB pencil deep inside her neck.
The examiners rushed over and took our papers. I sighed and glanced at her side. She was still bent over with her head on the desk and her paper on the side. The examiners took hers as well but she made no move. She must be praying I thought as I walked over to her seat.
Probably praying for her life.
“You know, prayers wouldn’t help you” I whispered into her ears but there was no response.
“Hey, I’m talking to you” I pushed at her arms resting beneath her head, only to feel the coldness of her skin against my palms. I halted and then held my breath. Oh no!
Spinning around, I raced out of the hall with my file stuck beneath my arm as I realized what had just happened. She was dead! Mary was dead!
But how…? why…?
I knew those were the questions I was never going to wait around to find the answers to, so I raced out of the building and jumped into the first taxi I saw but just as I felt the weight on my chest ease and the sweat on my face dry out, I brought out my phone and right before me on the screen was: