Kogi State NYSC Camp
Batch “A”, 2008
It had been a long Tuesday afternoon. They’d all been on various queues since morning, pushing and shoving and hissing at each other. He was vaguely conscious of her standing in front of him. There was a fresh surge of complaints and grumbling and shoving and suddenly, her foot landed on his big toe. Hard.
“Sorry!”, she’d cried immediately, turning a sincere look on him.
“No problem,” he’d heard himself say. “I’ll forgive you on one condition.”
“What?”, she’d asked, a small smile lurking around the edges of her small, full lips. She wasn’t sure if he was serious or taking the piss.
“Marry me,” he’d said, with a straight face.
Where the hell had that come from? Was he crazy?
“Are you crazy?” she said, releasing the hostage smile.
“I’m serious, now. Marry me.”
The guarded, wary look in her pale brown eyes told him that she really did think he was a bit mad.
“I’m Nonso,” he’d said then, with a big grin on his face, trying to salvage the hint of friendship she’d initially shown.
Her hand in his caused him to smile whimsically at it; it was so small and felt so soft. He wanted to hold it forever; in good times and bad. Especially the bad. They completed their registration that day sometime before 6pm.
It was inevitable that they become friends. It was destiny that they had a lot in common, and were compatible. It was the perfect cinch that they made each other laugh and could tell each other anything.
Two weeks after she’d attempted to dismantle his toe, they’d stood under a tree, talking, waiting to be chased into their dorms at lights out.
“One week to go,” she’d said idly, scratching a bit of bark off the tree trunk.
“I’m working my posting. I’m definitely going to Ida. You know I want to teach in their Polytechnic.”
When she kept silent, he prompted again, “Should I work yours too? Come to Ida.”
“No,” she said simply, her head bent.
“You’re coming to Ida. I won’t work it for you, but you’re coming to Ida.”
“I hear you, Prophet,” she’d said, and they’d laughed, leaning into each other.
Their eyes locked then, and all mirth faded. They swam in the intense connection pulsating between them, forgetting all else. They stared at each other, lost, for an interminable length of time. And then, submitting to this strange force that seemed equal to gravity, she took a step closer and placed her head on his chest. His arms rose to hold her there securely and he felt her fingers grasping at his t-shirt. When the whistle indicating lights out finally sounded not too far away, they reluctantly allowed their bodies unlock from their perfect fit and shakily whispered their goodnights.
They each went to bed that night with a dozen unanswered questions swirling around in their heads. Just before he fell asleep, he wondered what they were getting themselves into. They were both dating other people, so what had just happened? Even as he thought this, he knew that it was over between him and his girlfriend back home…
* * *
This time, the jostling and shoving was even worse than it had been during registration. Nonso stood off to the side, his eyes on Chiamaka, waiting for her to collect her posting letter. He had already gotten his; he was on first-name basis with the official handing them out in his platoon.
Finally, Chi pushed her way over to him, frowning in the heat and general discomfort.
“How far?”, he asked, suddenly realizing that this could be it; he might never get to see her again.
Chi pushed her hair out of her eyes, straightened out the letter and quickly scanned it. Gasping, her head shot up and her huge brown eyes locked with his. Saying nothing, he touched her arm lightly, aware that his breath had thickened and his heart was pounding itself to a stupor.
“Ida”, she said, simply.
Even as he felt the joy and relief flood his system, he still took the letter from her, to see for himself. His smile involved every part of his face.
“Come”, he said, “the bus is this way.”
* * *
Nonso remembered all that now, as his right pants pocket burned a perfect square into his thigh. They were due to pass out in exactly six weeks, and he would take no chances.
He took her out to dinner, nervously wiping his hands all through the meal. Sitting on the floor back at his place, he cleared his throat cautiously.
“Are you OK? You’ve been a bit funny today.” Chi looked at him, partly concerned, half teasing.
Staring into his wineglass, Nonso said nothing.
“So-so m?”, Chi’s concern was fully blazing now as she looked down at him, a frown of worry creasing her face.
Turning slowly to face her, he took her hand in his, looking earnestly into her eyes.
“Chi, I’m no smooth talker. I never have been. I love you,” he said, even as he finally opened the little box. “Marry me.”
She stared at the ring, then searched his face, her eyes wide and glistening, her wine glass abandoned by her side.
“Yes”, she whispered, a huge tear breaking out of her left eye and rolling down her cheek.
He held on to her then, and he had never loved anything, or anyone, half as much as this.
“Nonso” and “Chiamaka” have two delicious little girls, and are still very much in love, even though work and responsibilities cause them to live in separate parts of the country.
Thanks for letting me write your story, “Nonso”!