Jipocho Williams was not prepared for what happened in the library that evening.
He stretched and covered his mouth to hide a yawn. I don try, he concluded as he looked at the neatly scribbled longhand that filled a sizeable part of his exercise book. One hundred pages, to be exact. Unlike many of his fellow hustlers who had embraced the digitalized writing order he did not use a laptop. For him, it was only useful when the manuscript had been completed and had to be processed for the publisher. Biro and notebook brought the characters to life in his head; they made him feel how he imagined God must have felt when he was creating the world.
He looked up and nearly fell off his seat in shock. A dark-skinned, full-bodied woman in jeans and T shirt had just emerged from the reference section, a heavy tome clasped to her ample bosom. She was walking opposite his corner.
Jipocho was one hundred percent lost as he stared. Let it not be her, a part of his mind prayed as the other part screamed her name.
An inexplicable power must have emitted rays from his dark-brown eyes because she turned and for a nano second and almost dropped her book as their eyes locked.
‘‘Jipocho!’’ she gasped.
‘‘Eno!’’ Jipocho did not know he had spoken aloud.
Nothing else mattered. Nobody else existed. Jipocho did not realize he was on his feet, moving towards her. Eno was barely conscious of the fact that she was walking like a toddler, her big, black eyes shining with unabashed emotion. Librarian staff and users were used to many things in the ultra-modern hall of the Chief Monsuru Ayeni Post-Graduate School Library but a woman dropping the Oxford Dictionary of Politics on the floor, running into the arms of a tall, boyish-looking man with a big head and both of them bursting into tears as they burrowed into each other is not one of them.
‘‘Na Nollywood movie.’’
‘‘ E don do.’’
‘‘Go to the love garden.’’
‘‘Find a room for bongi.’’
‘‘Please, we are reading, not romancing.’’
‘‘E ya, you don see your pikin papa.’’
Jipocho and Eno ignored the eyes and the comments.
‘‘Where are your books?’’ Jipocho asked.
Eno silently pointed at a cubicle hidden behind a huge shelf. No wonder I have not seen her, Jipocho thought. He gathered his things and followed her out.
‘‘Let us go to my place. I have a room in the PG hall of residence,’’ Eno said.
Jipocho did not hesitate.
Their paths first crossed nearly twenty-five years ago. They were students at Government Secondary School, Shendam, Plateau State. Jipocho was in JSS 3; Eno in SS1. It was during an inter-house sports practice. Both had proven to be the table tennis aces of their house in the singles intermediate category and were paired up for the mixed doubles. For some crazy reason – which he later confessed to her that it was his sneaky admiration of the movement of her behind as she strained and dived to receive and place her shots and the effect on his imagination – Jipocho’s shots became increasingly wide and erratic. Totally fed up, Eno flung her bat at his head. She narrowly missed. A quarrel ensued and Jipocho brandished his fists. But their house master intervened and later took Jipocho aside to give him a man-to-man advice.
‘‘Boy, ikebe no dey finish.’’
‘‘Sir?’’ If he were Caucasian, Jipocho would have turned red. The young teacher maintained a poker-face.
‘‘I saw you, son. Please focus on your goals and in due course all the girls will darken your doorstep. The world is waiting for you.’’
The pair went on to play the doubles and won the gold medal in their category.
The romantic side of things started in earnest during the inter-house games proper. A couple of SS1 boys who had very strategic interest in Eno decided to impress her with macho displays of power by punishing that lanky junior boy who thought that because he was another Atanda Musa, he could talk carelessly to their beau. But even as a teenager, Jipocho was a no shit-eater. When the seniors confronted him he stood up to them. Eno broke up the altercation and told the bigger boys off with words that would have turned the ears of a Marine Sergeant purple.
The friendship grew. Eno was a year older. Both were from Duke Town, Calabar. Both had a flair for arts subjects and went blank whenever the Mathematics teacher showed up. The only sport they enjoyed was table tennis. It seemt to be nothing more than adolescent romance till Eno got to final year and Cupid did overtime.
By now Jipocho was a handsome, strapping lad. His tennis wizardry and outstanding record in all arts subjects gained him favor among the girls. He chased a few but he just could not fathom what it was that kept drawing him back to Eno. She was undoubtedly sexy but she was by no means the most beautiful girl in the school. That thing made him refrain from anything beyond stolen hugs and kisses though on many occasions he saw the frank invitation in her eyes.
It was on the night of the film show organized by the School Authorities to ease the tensions of the preparation for the WAEC examinations by the final year students. Students in SS1 and SS2 were permitted to come to the film show. Two movies were screened: ‘Things Fall Apart’ and a heartbreaking American romance set during the Vietnam War years titled ‘The Promise of Love.’ Even many male teachers were moved by the movie.
When the show ended, Jipocho and Eno, both boarders, strolled out together, holding hands. Maybe it was the movie; maybe it was the arrow of the baby god; maybe it was what they had long repressed in their young, burning hearts. Whatever it was, they saw it in each other’s eyes.
‘‘I am thirsty,’’ Eno said quietly.
‘‘Me, too. I have some juice in my bunk.’’ Jipocho’s voice was deeper than usual. As the newly appointed Sports Prefect he had a room to himself.
Once the door closed behind them they did not hesitate. Time was scarce. Their lovemaking was fast, frenzied and furious. At a time like this none of them remembered their Biology lessons. Eno sneaked back to her hostel, smiling all the way. Jipocho slept dreamlessly.
Eno missed her period that month. The WAEC exams began two days later. She did not write them.
TO BE CONTINUED