“Do you mind” she asked tersely. She was carrying a tray, filled with edible things – Snacks and drink.
I looked around the cafeteria and I saw students eating out, having a chit-chat,and I could still see some vacant tables. I wondered why she wanted to share my table with me.
“Of course, it is free world”, I replied absentmindedly.
“Thank you”, “You are welcome”, ensued between us as she sat down on adjoining seat.
I barely scooped a spoon from my meal, fried rice, when she asked if I knew her. It was then I looked straight into her eyes; to see if I could recognize her. I realized I knew her, perhaps not so well.
“I was the girl…”, because of my hiatus in words, she tried to explain, but I retorted before she did. “That almost fell off the bridge”
Earlier that day, I met her. It was rainy and the pathway to our lecture theatre had been flooded. Students had already made artificial-bridge over the waters, from bricks and timber planks. We were taking turns to cross when she missed her steps and almost fell off the makeshift bridge; but I held her, because I was right behind her. She was excessively embarrassed to utter a word of gratitude, but the relief on her face conveyed the message, albeit unorthodoxly.
“Thank you for this morning” she uttered pleasantly. “It’s a pleasure” I replied smiling.
We ate our meals in silence after then. The waiter later brought my bill, I was still looking into my wallet, when she paid hurriedly and said “The bill is on me”. I thanked her; she was flattered.
“One good turn deserve another” she uttered gesticulating with her hands. We left the cafeteria that day without much to say. That was how I met Funmilayo Mann.
Funmilayo and I were in the same faculty, but not in the same department. She majored in Banking & Finance, while I was studying Financial Accounting. She was a swarthy-petite girl, very humble and kind. We seldom saw in class, because our lectures days were different – we weren’t intimate at that time. At a particular period in class, she accused me of not asking after her, for she had been sick. I sympathized with her and asked if it was malaria; but she told me it was way beyond malaria. I didn’t query more for details, I just kept being sympathetic her. Our relationship became more cordial, because we attended the same fellowship on campus. I became a regular caller at her place. In one of such visits, I found out she was an SS – it was shocking and grieving. I met her in serious pain, to and forth, she rolled on her bed. She sobbed in excruciating pain. Maria, her room-mate, was soothing her with warm water. She was also trying to call up her parent. I joined in pacifying her. We later hired a bus, which took her home, in Victoria Island. Funmi played a prominent role in my life. Financially, when I had money issues and psychologically, when dad turned away from my life. He got a second wife and moved out with her, leaving mom and I to wallow in poverty. Funmi would always encourage me that things would get better. She also helped out in my studies, especially in project analysis. I had a “C” grade with her help. Funmi was a rare jewel; I couldn’t just toss her away from my life. We stuck together in turbulence time. Instance of that was when crisis broke out in my school, Olabisi Onabanjo University: Indigenes were at war with students. Students were at the palace, on peaceful protest, over the spate of insecurity in the community. The local vigilante had killed a second year student. The Oba didn’t grant them audience; he later fired gun shot at them, to scare them away. Two students died in the process – and students set the palace ablaze out of annoyance. The indigenes revolted in vengeance, lives were ruined. We were within ace of death in midst of communal battle, but we escaped luckily. Funmi and I spent a night out in woods. I took her home safely the next day. That was my first time at Mann’s residence. Her parents were relieved to see us. They had been worried, since they heard about the crisis over the radio, but couldn’t reach Funmi, because her phone was switched off. They were full of gratitude to me, for bringing back their only child. They also implored me to come often, as their doors would always be open to me. Our relationship was platonic; I saw her as my sister, but she wanted something more serious. Anytime she saw me with other girls, she was always jealous. I was in my room one day, entertaining a female friend of mine – Tope. We sat down on my bed, since I had no chair in my room – we were watching a movie. She later lay comfortably beside me, so that she could get a better view of the movie, it was then Funmi walked in. I was about introducing both of them, to each other, when Funmi hissed and walked away. I was puzzled at her reaction. I visited Funmi later that evening; she was lying on the bed, facing the wall. I moved closer and sat beside her on the bed. “Funmi” I called and lay my hand on her shoulder. She adjusted and wiped off her face with her palm, before she finally turned over. I could see her face damped with tears, she had been sobbing, certainly.
“What is wrong?” I queried, seeing her in that mood, I felt concerned.
“Why can’t you love me?” she uttered soberly. I stared straight into her pupil lovingly; a strand of compassion gripped me. She was the only woman in my life and I did love her. But love was delicate for her – love has a way of torturing us and I didn’t want her to be hurt.
“Of course, I do love you”. I lifted her up from the bed – I took her into my hands – and we hugged passionately. We later lay on the bed, side-by-side, long into the night.
Sometime in November 2005, I got a tragic text from Funmi: her Mom died in the hospital. She told me once her mom had breast’s cancer, which eventually led to her death. Reminisces of her life-time roamed in my mind. I remembered when she caught Funmi and me loving up; she smiled and warned us to play it safe. The school-fees scenario was unforgettable:mom had no money to pay for my school’s fees, she was the one that paid when she heard me lamenting to Funmilayo. All was just like yesterday; she was gone too soon. From the depth of my heart, I felt death had been cruel to take her away, damn death and its wickedness.
When I arrived finally at Funmi’s place, she was already devastated. She wept greatly; it was an enormous loss for her, for nothing in the world can be quantified with motherly love. Mariam and I were pacifying her, when Mr. Mann arrived from the hospital. He was silent all through; he was still shocked by the death of his wife. There was nothing anyone could do – death is an inevitable price we all have to pay. Funmi weathered the storm well, but there was a major set-back in her life. Her health continuously deteriorated, she really missed her mom. She would fall sick 2-3 times in a month. Mariam was a true friend, she cared for her every time, since they lived in the same vicinity in Victoria Island. However, Mariam had to leave for youth service, later that year, leaving her at the mercy of no one. Someone like me was always there, when Funmi’s father had gone for a business trip. Funmi’s dad dealt in oil, there was serious opening at oil sector, internationally, so he hardly stayed in the country. While he was away, I was always caring for Funmi, he would only have to send money when it is necessary. Along the line, Mr. Mann re-married – he felt I had my life to live and it was necessary Funmi to have a mother again. Funmi’s step-mother was worse than the devil. She constantly maltreated her when her father had gone on business trip. She attended cherubim and seraphim church; she and her fake prophet had Funmi incised severally on her body. The held a notion that Funmi was an Ogbanje and that was the reason why she was always in crisis – because her spiritual-group wanted to take her away. At sometimes, they even beat her up, all in the name of deliverance. Funmi was sobbing when she told me in school, on our day of resumption. I was full of vexation, I truly wish to do something , but clearly, there was nothing I could do. I then asked about her mom’s family, if she could go leave with them. She shook her head and said “No”. She told me her mom had none, because she was an orphan, she got married at the orphanage. My spirit drooped; life had taken different tolls on her. Her mom was an orphan – she died and left her vulnerable to wickedness of the world. It was the most tragic story I ever heard. I just kept on comforting her and I also promised I would always be there for her. At the end of that session, I was called up for service. Funmi wasn’t listed for youth service, because she had problem in some courses: her health had caused her another set-back. She was lugubrious not only by not going for service, but also by her step-mom inhumane attitude towards her. She had absolutely been neglecting Funmi at that time, every time she had crisis. She would lock her up in her room; Funmi would roll in pains, until I came to her rescue. She was pensive about my going; I just kept encouraging that God would come to her aids.
Two days before my departure, I got a distress text from Funmi, it read “please help me”. She had sent it probably at mid-night, but I didn’t see it until morning.
I left Ikeja hurriedly that morning without having my bath. Traffic was terrible on the island; I didn’t get to Funmi’s place until after 4 hours. I banged at gate impatiently until her step-mom finally opened up the gate; she was obviously just waking up from bed. She wanted to accost me for intruding rudely, but I didn’t care, I just dashed off to Funmi’s room. She was in serious pain; she was lying still, trying to hold up the pains. I carried her immediately into the waiting cab outside.
“ Kunle… I am in pains, she wailed,… I don’t know why this happening… to…me” she stuttered. Her body was steaming and her eyes were red, she moved restlessly on my lapses, bringing out whitish substance from her mouth. I tried rubbing my hand all over her body to sooth her, it didn’t help a hoot. She just cried and rolled all through our journey to the hospital.
A bed was wheeled out for us, it was done almost immediately, I guess her dad had called the hospital before we got there, since it was their family’s hospital. I called him earlier on our way to the hospital. They took her to the emergency room, where they gave her injection and took a sample of her blood, the pain subsided for some time, so they moved her to ward 208, the female’s ward. By the time the set her drip, she was crying of pain again. Her legs were shaky and her breathing was heavy, so they connected her to a life-support machine. They later told me to leave for the reception, so that they could run more test on her. It was at the reception her father called again, to ask after her well-being and if the step-mom had arrived. I told him she was getting better, and her step-mom must be on her way. The result from lab revealed that WBC had sky-rocketed over the 50,000, so she had infections, which explained the whitish substance. Her temperature was high, because she also had malaria. I later went into the room to stay with her. Although she was still in pains, she was a bit calm at that time. She was napping when I got in. I was trying to cover her legs with the bed-sheet, when she woke up from her sleep.
“Sorry, how are you doing” I queried.
“Better, thank …you” she twisted a little, she was about to turn back to her previous position, when she screamed again. The pains had come back agonisingly, it totally consumed her.
I was about to press the bell when she held my hand. “Thank …you, thank you for all the …love” and she closed her eyes finally.
“Doctor! Doctor!” I shouted and the doctor came running into the ward. They ushered me out of the room. My ears were deaf to the world; I could only hear the clock ticks, if it would only count on for her.
”I am sorry, we lost her,” the doctor said regretfully, as he walked out of the ward hopelessly.
My eyes were filled with tears; I was unconscious of my surroundings. It was the wailing of her step-mother that stirred me back to life. I hissed at her hypocrisy and walked away, down the stairs and out of the hospital, brooding about Funmi’s life-span that had been filled with tragedies. She was like a candle blown away by wind of life, Certainly, my life would never be the same again; I would roam the world in absence of my only love. Olufunmilayo! You will forever remain in the bosom of my heart.