Melvin finished before every other person in the examination hall; he submitted his answer script and walked out of the class without looking back; as if he had just had a blazing row with everybody in the class. He didn’t wait to cross-examine his work as he normally did; he didn’t turn to see Chinelo watching him accusingly; he didn’t notice the lecturer’s surprised gaze at him as he walked briskly across the class as if he was feeling some pressure down his anus. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to look back at his class mates especially Chinelo who always sat beside him in the class; maybe he didn’t want to look at the faces he was going to miss. He had already started missing them though he never liked them that much.
Yet he had already started missing the little times they quarreled with him; the times Chidimma the class-Rep insulted him and called him ‘Nwarigbo the big head’ though his head was not too big; the times he called his classmates “numb skulls” just because he answered a question in the class; and even the time Kelementi had threatened to tear his answer scripts if he covered them in the examination hall. He didn’t know it would all end one day. No; not just like this.
As he walked out of the Faculty of Arts “B” complex, he pursed at the middle of the “Z” shaped walk way that linked the “A” and “B” blocks of the faculty. He turned to have his would-be final look as a student at the sculptures and the two magnificent buildings, which he always referred to as the happy sculptures and the twin towers respectively. Those were the sculptures he always admired; his friends that had always comforted him in times of distress.
He didn’t seem to have noticed the roof of the building which had a “V” shape, curved inside at the center such that it formed drainage system at the center of the roof and the roof stood like the raised wings of an eagle on a flight. He stood there motionless and his face looked expressionless. He didn’t seem to notice that the student’s canteen besides the “B” complex was as empty as the walk ways now. His eyes were perhaps on the sculpture of the praying Muslim at the left side of the quadrangle or that of the baby chicken hatching from a cracked egg at the center of the faculty quadrangle surrounded with beautiful flowers just like the tree in the middle of Eden. He was not seeing the sculptures; neither was he seeing the beautiful yellowish green flowers surrounding them. He would have recalled what professor chike said about the chicken-egg sculpture during their first year orientation if he was seeing it. He would have recalled that the chicken there depicted a fresh student and the hatching from the broken egg meant the schools processes of salvaging him and releasing him from the prison of ignorance and illiteracy thereby restoring in him the dignity of man. But he was lost in his thought.
After some minutes he was revived by a hissing noise emanating from his class. The noise kept rising in crescendo as his class mates trickled out one after the other termites from a broken hole. The examination was over. The Faculty of Arts quadrangle and the “Z” shape walk way that linked the two blocks were filled with jubilating final year students of English and literary studies saying different things at a time. Some broke their pens to express their happiness. Some brought out various colours of ribbon and tired them on their heads and their wrists to identify with their various cults and fraternities. It was their final degree examination; nothing again to hide about their membership to the cult groups and fraternities. Even Matthias, the gentle boy that always preached in the class, jumped out with his red ribbons. Nobody could have believed that he too was a cultist and a Viking at that. Samuel and his friends at the other end removed their shirts and swung them like fans in the air, making various sorts of noises.
“I am finally a graduate!”
“No more burning candles!”
“No more assignments!” they chorused. Photographers were around; they took snap shots to keep the memory of their last days as undergraduate in the university alive. “When I used to be an undergrad…” someone said in a hissing whispery voice; “those good old days…” said another; “I used to take the first position in class”, said yet another, sounding like the fathers at home that never failed in schools. Melvin was still standing motionless; he was brooding over his past days in the university. He did not notice the presence of the other students; he did not notice the photographers; he did not notice his lecturer driving off in the old rust-eaten beetle he had always referred to as “nwambe”.
He did not take note of the members of Kegite club converging gradually besides the Jackson building of mass communications department to start their so called “comradic gyration”. Kegite was the club Melvin regretted not joining. He so much loved the Kegite club’s songs, their unique way of dancing and their funny so called “Swahili languaja” which he had learned to use to some extent. The kegite’s song and drums sounded so faint and sick in his head as though played from a very far distance. He had left his immediate environment mentally as the world whirled round him like a movie on backward motion. He did not notice Chioma running down to the kegites with her right index finger raised and waving in the air to identify as a “carried entity” as the kegites referred to their members. He was brooding over the past.
“Bya Melvin! Come over let’s take a shot” one of the girls called out to him, but he could not hear. He had swum deep into the belly of his thought. He didn’t notice when his class members took a group picture. A stubborn house fly buzzed around his left ear and immediately he returned to reality and slapped his ear with a very fast swoosh but missed the fly. His ears were opened once more to the joyful noise around him together with the Kegites’ gyration song. He turned to his right to see his class mates running about in merriment. The fly had flown away; he missed it. The group picture had just been taken; He missed it. His lecturer had driven away; he missed him too.
He swung back to his thought without regrets. His mind was on the situation surrounding his admission into the university; on how he struggled to secure admission; on how he managed to pay his fees till graduation; on how he stayed in the school. His first year and final year were the most trying times. He had spent some four years at home before he could pass Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) University Matriculation Examination. He had wanted to study Law but had been so unlucky that he always fell short of the cut-off score for law and his parents were not rich enough to work things over for him with money as others did in getting their choice of discipline. Maybe his parents were not enlightened enough and they had been afraid of the cost of sending their son to the university; maybe he was not intelligent enough to go for law: was what Melvin never wanted to hear. He was determined. When he took the last examination (UME), his mind was made up to take any course available. “Maybe God doesn’t want me to be a lawyer” he consoled himself. Really he wouldn’t want to hear that he wasn’t intelligent enough to study law. He always assumed himself the most intelligent boy in Nigeria if not in the entire world. “Yes it’s hard luck; sheer had luck”, he had once said.
When the UME result was released, he scored high but still short of the cut-off score for law. He cried inconsolably for two days. His mother got tired of trying to console him. “God’s time is the best Nnam”, his mother had said but Melvin wouldn’t here a thing like that. When would Gods time be? Is it when all his mates had graduated from the university? Is it when he had grown tired of school? When? When? When? Or has god’s time past and it is devil’s time now? These questions had stood like a colossus barking doggishly in his brain as he cried. His younger brother, the lastborn, sat around with him and said nothing, because he did not understand what was going on. After some times he went and fetched Melvin some water but Melvin rejected the water.
“Perhaps, I will get my first degree in any art or social science course and then study law as a second degree,” he encouraged himself without a word. “Nnam stop carrying”, was only what his mother could say. His mother called him “Nnam” meaning “my father” because he was named after his maternal grandfather though not on the grounds of reincarnation. It is a known norm in every Igbo society; even among Christians and Ndi-Omenala alike; to name children after their grandparents though such norm could be traced down to the ancient believes in ancestral worship and reincarnation.
Melvin had to visit the University of Nigeria, at Nsukka (UNN) to apply for supplementary admission into any other discipline available. He was determined not to spend any more years at home. UNN was the only school he had selected as his first and second choice for admission. His friends had always advised him to try other schools but he wouldn’t listen to them.
“That school; their cut off mark is usually too high and besides the school only thrives on past glory”, they would always complain.
“Mba, no, it’s either UNN or no university education”, Melvin would reply stubbornly.