Thursday, April 27, 2017

Read Online INDEPENDENCE BY SARAH LADIPO - JAMB NOVEL 2017


The Joint Admission Matriculation Board wishes to inform all UTME Candidates that they will be tested on the Use Of English with a new book Titled InDependence" By Sarah Ladipo Manyika.


Chapter 1

One could begin with the dust, the heat and the purple bougainvillea. One might even begin with the smell of rotting mangoes tossed by the side of the road where flies hummed and green-bellied lizards bobbed their orange heads while loitering in the sun. But Tayo did not notice these - instead he walked in silence, oblivious to his surroundings. With a smile on his face, he thought of the night before, when he had dared to run a hand beneath the folds of Modupe's wrapper. Miraculously, with­out him even asking, Modupe had loosened the cloth around her waist. Of course they'd kissed many times before, usually in the Lebanese cine­ma when all was dark, but that was nothing compared to last night. And while Tayo was lost in his thoughts, his father, who walked alongside, noticed the smile and read it as excitement for the forthcoming trip.

They had set off early that morning to visit relatives, as was the tradi­tion when someone was about to embark on a long journey. They would begin with Uncle Bola in the hope of finding him sober. By midday, he would almost certainly be drinking ogogoro and this was not a day to meet Uncle Bola under the influence.

"An old man should be contemplating his mortality rather than dreaming of women," Tayo's father said, alluding to his brother's raun­chy tales, which Tayo knew his father secretly enjoyed.

Uncle B liked to joke that he was still young enough to make babies and thank the Lord God Almighty. And he did make babies - dozens of them. As for thanking God - well, that was simply a manner of speak­ing. Uncle Bola believed only in beautiful women - not Allah, Christ, nor Ogun. In turn, women loved him, in spite of what he lacked by way of height, teeth and schooling. Tayo had long since concluded that Uncle Bola held the secret to a woman's heart, which was why he looked for­ward to this visit. But on this particular morning, Uncle Bola did not seem himself. Upon seeing them, he became quite weepy, so weepy in fact that he forgot about his atheism and offered prayers to Allah, Ogun and Jesus on behalf of his favourite nephew. With tears still in his eyes, Uncle Bola gave Tayo his best aso ebi as a going-away present, and then insisted that they stay longer to take amala and stew with him.

"Here is some money for the ladies when you arrive," Uncle Bola whispered, stuffing the newly-minted pound notes into Tayo's shirt pock­et before waving a final goodbye.

Tayo had hoped to stay even longer, enjoying the company of his sentimental uncle, but there were many more relatives to be visited and several more lunches to eat. Everyone insisted on feeding them and then, just when Tayo thought it was all over, they returned home to find more relatives gathered to wish him well. Several of Father's friends were sprawled across the courtyard drinking beer and palm wine while the children chased each other in the dirt path by the side of the house.

The women sat in one corner, roasting corn on an open fire, with sleeping babies on their backs.

"Tayo! Tayo!" the older children chanted as he made his way through the throng, stopping to pick up the youngest. Tayo expected his father to usher people away, but after the day's copious consumption of palm wine, he had apparently forgotten time, preferring instead to continue boasting about his eldest son.

"Na special scholarship dey don make for de boy?" somebody asked.


"Oh yes." Tayo's father beamed.

In fact, the scholarship was not created just for Tayo, but because he was the first Nigerian to win it (such things having been reserved, in the past, for whites), Tayo's father decided that he might as well claim it solely for his son. Tayo closed his eyes while his father boasted, and thought ahead to the day after next, imagining how he would move swiftly through the crowds at Lagos Port to the ship and sail over the seas to England.

"And then to Balliol College, Oxford," Tayo whispered, thinking how grand it sounded.

At dawn the following day, the entire Ajayi family said prayers before gathering around Father's silver Morris Minor, washed and polished by brothers Remi and Tunde so that it glistened like a fresh river fish. Every­body was dressed in his or her Sunday best, ready for the photographs, and only when the cameraman ran out of film did five of them clamber into the car. Father sounded the horn and all the doors slammed shut. The key turned and turned again, but the motor wouldn't start, so everyone stumbled out again to push. Even Father helped, with one foot pumping the pedals and the other pushing back against the ground. They rolled it down the path, out of the compound and onto the road, until the engine jerked into action. Then, hurriedly, they all piled back in. The children followed the car down the dirt road, running and waving, not caring about the dust being blown into their faces, but jogging along until they could no longer keep up. Sister Bisi ran the fastest, thumping decisively on the car boot before they sped away, out of Ibadan and onto the main road that would take them to Uncle Kayode's place in Lagos. In the car, Mama and Baba sat in the front, and Tayo and his two aunts in the back. Father forbade talking in the car, claiming that it distracted him, and for once Tayo was happy with this edict, knowing that otherwise his aunts would lecture him on how to behave in England. It didn't matter that his aunts had never travelled outside Nigeria: it was their right and duty to instruct. Tayo closed his eyes and thought again about his sweet­heart and their final goodbye. He remembered the poem he had composed for the occasion and the lines that did not quite rhyme. Thankfully, in the end, there had been no need for sonnets.

By the time they arrived at Uncle Kayode's house, the car was caked in dust and its weary passengers covered in sweat and grime, but all would soon be forgotten. Uncle Kayode had a luxurious home. He was a big man in Lagos, recently returned from abroad as a senior army officer. Maids cooked for him, and large fans hung from the ceilings, whirling at high speed to keep the house cool. Tayo had never seen anything like it before.

"When you arrive in England, my son," Uncle Kayode was saying, "you must make sure to contact the British Council and don't forget to write to cousin Tunde and cousin Jumoke."

Tayo listened carefully, hoping not to forget any valuable advice, but by the time he went to bed he couldn't remember half of what he had been told. Annoyed with himself, he tossed restlessly on his mattress. For weeks he had been looking forward to travelling away from home - to having his freedom - but now he thought only of what he would miss and how frighten­ing it would be to travel alone. He took Modupe's photograph from his bag, quietly, so as not to wake his uncle, and kissed it. Reassured by her smile and remembering the events of Friday night, he rolled over and eventually fell asleep.

The next day, Tayo stood at the port, holding his bag tightly. He dared not ask his uncle another question (he had asked so many already), but he still wasn't clear about what to do when he disembarked. What if the arrival halls in England were just as chaotic as the confusion he was seeing now, with everyone shouting and ges­ticulating and no-one bothering to queue? Exasperated by the late-afternoon heat, men took off their cloth caps and flicked away beads of perspiration. Then, as the folds of their agbadas kept slipping off their shoulders, they hitched them back, rais­ing their arms like swimmers. Meanwhile, women herded children and straightened little dresses, trousers, and shirts, while hastily tightening their own wrappers and head ties, continually unravelled by heat and bustle. Tayo, like everyone else, had been standing in this crowd for hours. He smiled, but not as broadly as the day before. His parents, uncle, aunties, and several Lagos-based relatives were with him, as well as Headmaster Faircliff and some teachers from school: Mrs. Burton (Latin), Mr. Clark (Maths), and Mr. Blackburn (British Empire History), but none of his brothers or sisters had come and he missed them, especially Bisi.

Tayo shook his head wistfully, staring at the liner, the Aureol, which towered high above them like a vast white giant with hundreds of porthole eyes. You will be missed, he told himself, recalling the rumour started by friends that a particular Lagos girls' school - the one whose pupils occasionally visited his old school - was in mourning over his departure. He glanced around for these girls, but all he saw were family, easy to recognise in the matching clothes worn specially for his send- off. The men's agbadas were the same aubergine purple as the women's short-sleeve bubas and ankle-length wrappers. Tayo's mother had chosen the material, fine Dutch waxed cotton, embroidered in gold thread at the neck and sleeves. Tayo had wanted to wear his agbada like the rest of the family, but Father insisted on western attire, claiming it more appropriate for an Oxford-bound man. So instead of loose, flow­ing robes, Tayo wore grey flannel trousers, white shirt, school tie, and a bottle green blazer that stuck to his skin like boiled okra. His agbada was neatly packed away in the trunk with extra clothes, the Koran, the Bible, half-a-dozen records, and several large tins of cooked meat with dried okra, egusi seed and elubo.

"Jeun daada o, omo mi. F'oju si iwe re o, de ma jeki awon obinrin ko si e lori. (Eat well, my son. Pay attention to your studies, and don't be distracted by women)," Mama whispered, tugging at his shirt sleeve.


"Yes, Ma," he nodded, turning to face her as she adjusted his collar - it needed no tweaking but that was her way. He hugged her tightly so that her head tie brushed against his chin, and the weight of stone and coral necklaces clinked against his blaz­er buttons. It took him back to his childhood days, when he was afraid of thunder and lightning and would rush to his mother's arms to bury himself in the reassuring scent of her rose perfume, tinged with the smell of firewood and starched cotton. He squeezed her again before his father called him away.

"So long, my son," Baba spoke in English, which was his custom when in the presence of expatriates.

Tayo held out his hand and was surprised when his father pulled him into the voluminous folds of his agbada and held him there for some time. Baba then started sniffling and fiddling with his handkerchief behind Tayo's neck, which compelled Tayo to cough and break Father's hold so that they stood for some moments, disen­tangled but silent, each searching for something to say.

"Now, Tayo," Headmaster Faircliff interrupted. "You're off to be a Balliol man."

"Yes sir." Tayo nodded.

"You ought to be jolly proud of yourself, Tayo, and soon you'll return to lead your country and make our school proud." He grasped Tayo's hand and threw a friendly slap across his shoulder.


Tayo nodded again, feeling strangely irritated by the man whom he normally admired and felt indebted to for the scholarship.

"Right then, off you go," Mr Faircliff ordered, releasing Tayo, and pointing to the gangway.

Tayo turned to leave, holding tightly to the large canvas bag that hung from his shoulder. Mama had assured him that in it was all that he needed for the voyage - a few changes of clothes, a bar of Palmolive soap, a tin of kola nuts, some dried meats, a map of England, chewing sticks, and Uncle Kayode's old winter coat.

"Write to me as soon as you arrive," Father called.

"Yes sir." Tayo glanced back at his father before making his way slowly up the steps. He waited for his father to shout one last instruc­tion, but it never came.


Chapter 2





Dear Baba,

Greetings from England and dry land! And what a journey it was, Baba, with that mighty sea constantly slapping against the ship and spraying the deck with salty water. There were many days when we saw no land at all and no other ships, just dolphins and flying fish, and once a group of sharks attacked our dolphin friends, turning the water red. Occasionally, we passed another ship and our captain would blare his horn loudly, saluting the vessel while we waved, but usually it was just us and that endless, frightening sea. The waters were particularly rough when we entered the Gulf of Guinea, and the notorious Guinea current. They were also rough in the run up to the Bay of Biscay, but the worst was entering the Mersey Estuary from the Irish Sea. From a distance, the Irish Sea was cloaked in fog so that we could not see the rough, heaving waves that are legendary among mariners. Mind you, this was the only time when I succumbed to seasickness (and everyone suffered from motion sickness that day!).

On board the ship, I made friends with two students, Mr Lekan Olajide from Ogbomosho and Mr Ibrahim Mohammed from Kaduna. The three of us were well received by the Captain, and even invited to the first-class cabin where the British Broadcasting Corporation was making a film about Nigeria. Perhaps we are already famous! Sadly, Mr Olajide and Mr Mohammed were not Oxford-bound, but we have exchanged addresses, and in this way we re­main in touch. The boat made several stops along the way at Takoradi, Mon­rovia, Freetown, and the lovely Las Palmas. Once in Liverpool, they tugged us into the harbour and I travelled to London, and then up to Oxford where I am now in my college rooms.


My first two weeks at Oxford have been busy and filled with invitations of all sorts. Yesterday, I had tea with my moral tutor and sherry with the Master. Today, it was a new members' drinks party at the West African Society, and chapel was followed by sherry in the Old Senior Common Room. I have also been introduced to a British Army Colonel, a Brigadier, and a Lord who dined in college. King Olav's son (from Norway) is a student here at Balliol, too. As you can see, there are many important persons at Oxford, which is part of what makes it such an impressive institution.

In other ways, though, Oxford is not as I expected. The sun sets by 5.30pm and I am told that it will set even earlier in the months to come. This, and the fact that darkness descends so slowly, are so strange for me. The people can be a little strange, too, and on the whole, not terribly friendly. I have come to the conclusion that because the English are a minority in Nigeria, they are obliged to be cordial in our country, whereas their true temperament is somewhat cold, much like their weather. You will also be surprised to discover that in this country, people do not greet each other in passing, not even Balliol men. In fact many Balliol men do not look very distinguished at all. Some sport long hair, and bathing is not a daily occurrence on account of the cold. The tutors look more distinguished, but many are surprisingly ignorant about Africa. I am grateful to Headmaster Faircliff for his letter of introduction to Professor Edward Barker and his wife, Isabella, who have invited me to lunch next week.

I am also excited to report that I have met three other Nigerians at the university: Mr Ike Nwandi, who is reading History, Mr Bolaji Oladipo, reading Law at Magdalen and Christine Arinze who reads Modern Lan­guages at St. Hilda's. We live and study in the colleges and each has its own library and tutors. I am also friendly with Percy, my scout. He is the man who cleans my room every day, and has been most helpful in explaining the origin and meaning of certain English customs. Can you believe that he ad­dresses me as 'Sir'? Life is different here, but a great adventure. I intend to join the college football and table tennis teams, and also the West African Students Society. I will, however, devote most of my hours to reading, start­ing with Kant and de Tocqueville, as well as many other notable scholars for my tutorials.


I wait anxiously for news from home, and for some letters. My greetings to everyone, and please tell Mama that her food has served me well (I have made several friends by sharing it with chaps on my staircase). English food, with the exception of custard (like ogi) is not too appetising. Please greet Auntie Amina, Uncle Tunde, Auntie Titiola, Auntie Mary, JJncle Kayode, Uncle Joseph, brother Remi, brother Tope, sister Bisi, sister Kemi, sister Fatima, and all the family.


Yours truly,


Omotayo

PS - As my colleagues find it difficult to pronounce my name, I am now known as 'Ty' for short.


Dear Son,


We received your letter, dated 27th October, two weeks hence. We are delighted to know that you arrived safely and in good health. Praise God! It was most interesting to hear of your experiences in Oxford and I have in­formed colleagues at work about your meeting with King Olav, the Lords, and the army generals. They are duly impressed. In your next letter, you will please apprise me of the precise names of these gentlemen so that I can provide complete statistics to colleagues and Uncle Kayode.


We are all well here. Thanks be to God. Bisi received highest honours for Geography, and Biyi made school prefect. So you see, the Ajayi family continue to excel in their studies. Marvellous. We are looking to you now to make us even more proud. Meanwhile, things in Nigeria are running splen­didly. The independence celebrations (three years of independence now!) were quite fantastic. In short, there were many fireworks, dancing, eating, tutors look more distinguished, but many are surprisingly ignorant about Africa. I am grateful to Headmaster Faircliff for his letter of introduction to Professor Edward Barker and his wife, Isabella, who have invited me to lunch next week.


I am also excited to report that I have met three other Nigerians at the university: Mr Ike Nwandi, who is reading History, Mr Bolaji Oladipo, reading Law at Magdalen and Christine Arinze who reads Modern Lan­guages at St. Hilda's. We live and study in the colleges and each has its own library and tutors. I am also friendly with Percy, my scout. He is the man who cleans my room every day, and has been most helpful in explaining the origin and meaning of certain English customs. Can you believe that he ad­dresses me as 'Sir'? Life is different here, but a great adventure. I intend to join the college football and table tennis teams, and also the West African Students Society. I will, however, devote most of my hours to reading, start­ing with Kant and de Tocqueville, as well as many other notable scholars for my tutorials.

I wait anxiously for news from home, and for some letters. My greetings to everyone, and please tell Mama that her food has served me well (I have made several friends by sharing it with chaps on my staircase). English food, with the exception of custard (like ogi) is not too appetising. Please greet Auntie Amina, Uncle Tunde, Auntie Titiola, Auntie Mary, JJncle Kayode, Uncle Joseph, brother Remi, brother Tope, sister Bisi, sister Kemi, sister Fatima, and all the family.

Yours truly,

Omotayo


PS - As my colleagues find it difficult to pronounce my name, I am now known as 'Ty' for short.


Dear Son,

We received your letter, dated 27th October, two weeks hence. We are delighted to know that you arrived safely and in good health. Praise God! It was most interesting to hear of your experiences in Oxford and I have in­formed colleagues at work about your meeting with King Olav, the Lords, and the army generals. They are duly impressed. In your next letter, you will please apprise me of the precise names of these gentlemen so that I can provide complete statistics to colleagues and Uncle Kayode.

We are all well here. Thanks be to God. Bisi received highest honours for Geography, and Biyi made school prefect. So you see, the Ajayi family continue to excel in their studies. Marvellous. We are looking to you now to make us even more proud. Meanwhile, things in Nigeria are running splen­didly. The independence celebrations (three years of independence now!) were quite fantastic. In short, there were many fireworks, dancing, eating,and general gaiety. We were proud and now the government is working for increased Nigerian leadership. Indigenous responsibility is what we call it. Rumour has it that a Nigerian will soon replace our Chief of Police, and we hope so. God willing. And yet some white men here are still thinking they own our land, not acknowledging that it is a new Nigeria. In short, to keep you informed I send you forthwith these articles from The New Nigerian and The Daily Times newspapers. I have underlined, for your benefit, the important points.

Your mother is preparing her trip to Mecca. She informs me that she will offer special prayers for you when she arrives, and that upon her return, she will dispatch henceforth to you some additional provisions. In short, she would like to know how much to send for your esteemed colleagues. It is most encouraging to bear your news. Write again immediately upon receipt of this letter. Read your books, and always remember that you are an Ajayi man. Don't forget the Ajayi motto - 'In all things moderation, with exception of study.'


God bless you, 

Your father,

Inspector (Mr) Adeniyi Ajayi


Chapter 3

All that Tayo knew about Mr and Mrs Barker, prior to their first meeting, was that Mr Barker and Headmaster Faircliff had been at Oxford together in the 1940s and that Mr Barker was a history don at St. John's. Tayo presumed, on this basis, that the two men would be similar - that Mr Barker, like Faircliff, would be highly intelligent, pompous and patronising. Tayo was surprised, therefore, to discover that the man was not at all as he expected, and even more surprised to hear Mr Barker freely joke about his old friend as a colonial 'type' and a remnant of a dying era. Mr Barker was nothing like Faircliff; he was softly-spoken and married to a much younger (and very attractive) Italian woman who preferred to be called Isabella rather than Mrs Barker. The couple had no children of their own, but seemed to have adopted a number of foreign students at Oxford. Isabella cooked wonderful meals in a way that reminded Tayo of his own mother, while Mr Barker talked politics like his father. Mr Barker had visited Nigeria on several occasions, which was what made Tayo feel so at home from the beginning.

Today, the Barkers were having a drinks party for foreign students at their house on St. Giles. Isabella welcomed Tayo with the usual hug and kiss before whisking him through the kitchen and into the garden where everyone else was gathered. Tayo felt disappointed that they had to mingle outside rather than inside where it was warmer, but it seemed to Tayo that this was the British way. People spent all day talking about the weather, complaining about how cold, damp and miserable it was, until the sun poked its head around the clouds, and then everyone cheered up and started talking about lovely weather. But 'lovely' to Tayo could only be warm weather, not this cold, pale orange sun sitting high up there in the sky. He was thinking of an excuse to return indoors when he spotted his friend Bolaji standing next to a striking-looking woman. He had only ever heard of one Nigerian woman at Oxford so he guessed it must be her - the famously beautiful third year, Christine.

They were talking literature when Tayo joined Bolaji's small circle of friends who stood by the back door, which was at least warmer than standing under the apple trees where everyone else had congregated. Bolaji was in the process of arguing that Shakespeare was the greatest author of all time while others argued for Tolstoy and Homer. As Tayo listened, it became obvious that the group knew much more about literature than he did. Even Bolaji was able to roll out an impressive number of liter­ary theorists in support of his position.

"What does Christine think?" Tayo asked, curious to hear her thoughts for he knew that she read Modern Languages.

"Poets are the greatest writers," she answered.

"And why?" he asked, knowing that the safest way to avoid being questioned himself was to do the asking.

He noticed, as Christine talked, that she appeared quite serious: never smiling, de­spite the fact that the conversation had taken a jocular tone. Tayo had heard men say that Christine was arrogant on account of her beauty. Others thought it was the result of her having lived in England for such a long time. It was rumoured that both her parents had been to school in England and she had been sent to boarding school as a child. Whatever the reason for Christine's apparent seriousness, Tayo was determined to make a good impression on this beauti­ful woman. She spoke eloquently, like an actress, poised and confident so that Tayo quickly lost track of what everyone else was saying until he heard someone say his name.

"What do you think, Tayo?"

"Me?" he replied, stalling for time. "I think, if I had to choose, it would always be Shakespeare - the sonnets," he said, with the sinking feeling that someone would now ask him to say more, to explain or, God forbid, name a favourite sonnet. To avoid further questions, he mentioned in passing that one of his old teachers had been a poet.

"Christopher Okigbo was your teacher!" Christine exclaimed.

Later that evening Bolaji marvelled at Tayo's good luck.

"Did you see how she lit up when you spoke of Okigbo? She even smiled!"

Tayo laughed, pretending not to have noticed, but of course he had; ev­erybody had noticed.

Tayo did not see Christine again until they bumped into each other the following Monday as she was dashing out of the Covered Market. He invited her to have coffee with him at the Cadena the next day, and to his surprise, she accepted. It was all he could do to stop himself from grinning while say­ing goodbye.

The following day he was struck by how made up Christine looked. She was the sort of woman who would always look attractive, but it seemed to Tayo that she had put extra effort into styling her hair and adding rouge to her cheeks. He didn't care for the rouge, finding it artificial, but the fact that she had gone out of her way to look good for him was all that mattered. Per­haps she really did like him, he thought, while she talked again about Okigbo and some of the other new Nigerian authors. He asked her why she was so interested in these writers. Wouldn't it be more interesting to talk about other writers that she must know from around the world? No, she replied, insisting that her knowledge of Nigeria and Nigerian writers was not good enough. It seemed to matter a great deal to her what other Nigerians thought of her. If only she knew how in awe of her they all were! Tayo was beginning to think that she was sharing things with him that she might not have shared with others, when she changed the subject and asked him how many girlfriends he had.

"So far I've counted five," she said, referring to the number of women who had passed by their table to say hello to him.

Tayo tried to laugh it off, but Christine wasn't laughing. It took some days to convince her that he wasn't the playboy she took him to be. Each time they ran into each other she would find a way of commenting on his female friends, but because she was still talking to him, Tayo grew bold again and asked if she would like to come to his rooms for coffee. On Friday night she came, and this time, when she made yet another dig about his so-called girlfriends, Tayo decided to play along. Rather than be defensive, he told her all about his teenage fantasies of Indian women and how he used to go to the Lebanese theatre in Ibadan to watch Indian films. Unable to understand Hindi, what else was he supposed to do but look at the ladies? Christine laughed a lot this time, which gave him the courage to turn serious and tell her how beautiful she was. He still half-expected to be pushed away or for her to say something about how silly and young he was, but she didn't, so he grew bolder and took her hand. And then, because she didn't resist, he drew her close for a kiss. For the rest of the term, they spent as much time as they could together. Often, they took walks by the river and now it wasn't only him telling her about his background. She shared hers with him, telling him more about her family. There were moments when Tayo felt guilty about Modupe, but he reasoned with himself that he and Modupe had been too young to make promises to each other. Three years was a long time to be apart at their age and now, when he re-read Modupe's letters, they struck him as childish. Modupe was just a girl. With Christine he had gained confidence, so much so that he no longer felt the need to talk about long-term commitments as he had done with Modupe. He was, after all, only nineteen, and now that he had won the chase with Christine, he still hoped to meet other women and further expand his horizons.



Chapter 4

Vanessa cursed herself as she and her friends left the pub. A wet October night was not the time to have worn, of all silly things, a strapless dress with summer sandals. And what on earth was she doing splashing through rain and stubbing her toes on paving stones as she ran towards Balliol? Who was this person whom everyone was talking about as though he were a god? He was supposedly good-looking, from an aristocratic family, captain of boats at Balliol, and a million other marvellous things, none of which meant much to her. Certainly not the aristocratic bit, but she had to stay with her friends because it was late and too dark to walk back to college on her own, even though she still felt tempted to try.

When Vanessa and her friends arrived at the party, someone was thought­ful enough to lend her a towel. She dried herself off, realising only then that the men who stared were looking not at her dress, but through it! "Oh well," she sighed, feeling tired already. "Let them look."

"Care for a drink?" someone asked.

"Would love one." She took the glass and drank the wine quickly.

"I'm Charlie," he smiled, "and you?"

"Tired."

"Well tired is no good," he said, laughing. "Let me get you something." He took her empty glass and returned with a full one and a jumper.

"Not a bad match," she said, and smiled at his choice of clothing. "Oh, look who's here!" Charlie grabbed her hand and pulled her along.

"Mehul, meet..."

"Vanessa," she offered, shaking free of Charlie to greet the newcomer whose handshake was firm but a little too lingering. What was wrong with these Oxford men? Still, she liked the deep tenor of the man's voice and watched him as he wandered off, stepping gingerly over empty wine glasses, toppled bottles, and a body sprawled drunkenly across the floor. It was rare that a man's looks made her stare, but he was Indian, or possibly Arabic, with dark, shoulder-length hair and eyes that reminded her of Omar Sharif. Everyone seemed to recognise Mehul, or at least pretended to know him as they slapped him on the back in inebriated greeting. Apparently he was a well-known artist.

"He's terribly good-looking, isn't he?"

"He is." Vanessa nodded, trying to remember the woman's name, but by now she was finding it difficult to think straight. The woman was in the same college as her. That much she remembered.

"They say he's a prince."

"Really?"

So, a prince and an artist she thought, until seeing that it was someone else the woman was referring to. And God, he was good-looking, too. Tall and dark, with beautiful hands that gestured as he talked. Oh no-no-no, Van­essa thought to herself, when he looked her way. She was a little drunk, but still sober enough to care about looking bedraggled in front of a man like him.

The next morning Vanessa woke up shivering and with a throbbing head­ache. Every time she moved her head, the pain got worse so she lay still, trying to recall where she had been the night before and what she had done. She couldn't remember how she had managed to get back to her college and swore to herself that she would never drink so much again. She hadn't intended to get drunk but part of the problem, she realised as she got a whiff of burnt toast from somewhere down the hall, was that she hadn't eaten very much. The food was so terrible in college that she had taken to skipping meals. She lay still for a few more minutes, hoping for some sun to brighten the room. Then, the relentless ringing of Oxford bells began. She tried fold­ing the ends of the pillow over her ears to block out the noise but that didn't help, so she gazed at the fireplace, wishing it could light itself, when she spot­ted the lump on the floor. "Shit," she whispered, grabbing fistfuls of blanket. Thinking it might be a rat, she cautiously craned her neck and squinted for a better view. "Thank God," she muttered. It was only last night's clothes lying in a crumpled heap - her red dress and Charlie's jumper that she had forgot­ten to return. She pushed back the blankets, got out of bed and searched for her slippers and dressing gown before padding across the wooden floor to her desk. She took her notebook and hurried back to the warmth of the bed, plumping her pillows so she could sit up comfortably against the wall. But then she remembered something else. Music. She had to have music. She slipped out of bed again and picked out Bob Dylan's The 'Times They Are a Changin' from her record collection.

'The trouble with Oxford men', she began scribbling on her notepad; or better still, 'The trouble with men' Either way, there would be no confusing which article she was referring to, given that 'The Problem with Women at Oxford' had been published in the same student paper for which she now wrote. She jotted down a list of ideas and then changed her mind. She would write to her best friend, instead.




Dear Jane,

I've just spent a frustrating hour trying to write something on the sta­tus of women in Oxford. If only you were here then we could talk about it, but by the time you receive this I will either have written the article or abandoned it. Perhaps part of the problem is that I'm trying to write this piece in response to a silly article arguing that Oxford women are to blame for distracting the men (as though men have nothing to do with their own distractions!). In any case, I think I've now decided not to bother writing a response. I'll write a totally separate piece on the ways in which we're treated like second-class citizens and how it must change (can you tell that I'm listening to Dylan?).

And now, after all of that, how are you? I miss you so much and can't wait to see you in London next week. You haven't told me what your rooms are like. Do you like them? I love my room, with its view of the college gardens. The birds love it too and each morning I'm greeted by a choir of finches and robins who sit in the tree outside my window and serenade me sweetly, which is far more pleasant than the clanging of college bells. Do please tell me that you are not cursed with the same at Cambridge! Everyone says that after a while one stops hearing them, but I can't see (hear!) how that's possible-

Have thus far made two friends in college, Gita (from Kenya), who reads English, and Pat, who is a physicist like you. Pat's father is a Balliol scout, which must make it terribly uncomfortable for her among the more snooty girls here in college, such as the Roedean girl who speaks incessantly of family connections and refers to Churchill as 'Uncle Winston.' Silly girl!




Vanessa readjusted her pillow and took another biscuit, reflecting for a mo­ment on her own family. It was far more posh than she cared to admit. She had a grandfather in the House of Lords and a father who talked endlessly of his time in the colonial service. At least there was Uncle Tony and Mother, who didn't believe in taking themselves too seriously.

I've signed up for the Labour Club, JACARI (Joint Action Committee Against Racial Inequality), and the college music society. Maybe more if there's time. And you? Do tell me whom you are meeting and all the things you are getting up to at Cambridge. I'll be dreadfully unhappy if you tell me that all you're doing is work.
Write to me soon!!
Lots of love
Nessa xx


Vanessa folded the letter and glanced at the clock. Twelve noon. Lunchtime, but college food was overcooked and flavourless. "Dreadful, dreadful," she muttered, looking down at the empty biscuit tin and feeling sick. Time for a cigarette, one small consolation for being away from home, but not as good as Mother's roast beef with horseradish, or lamb with mint sauce and rosemary- flavoured potatoes, peas, carrots, Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart, apple pie...

"Oh stop it!" Vanessa berated herself.




Chapter 5

Tayo hummed to himself the tune of Count Basie's One O' Clock Jump, click­ing his fingers to the rhythm as he stepped out of the Hall into the cold. He lifted his shoulders and drew the tips of his coat collar tightly beneath his chin. All around was the lazy English drizzle which floated aimlessly in the air, like harmattan dust - only worse. Nigerian rain always fell with purpose, in serious torrents, watering the earth and then stopping; in England, drizzle lingered for days.

Tayo tugged again at his collar and kept walking. As he crossed the quad, he nodded to some young men on their way to dinner, who looked surprised that he would acknowledge them. They each wore their gowns, as was mandatory for Hall and tutorials. The lengths of the gowns varied according to a student's performance in entrance exams. Tayo felt thankful not to be a fresher again, with first-year anxieties only exacerbated by these visible markers of alleged intelligence. He still worried about work, but not at all about his social life, except for today as he thought of seeing Christine after the long summer break.

They had had an argument just before the summer holidays and a few weeks later Christine sent him a letter telling him that their relationship was over. She had taken offence at being called clingy and had accused Tayo of looking for an excuse to court other women. In Tayo's mind he had only been trying to tell her that he wasn't ready for a long-term commitment. He didn't want to make the same mistake he'd made with Modupe, but neither did he want the relationship with Christine to end. He kept hoping that Christine would change her mind but as the weeks went by with no word from her, and as he began to meet new people, he decided that perhaps the break had been a good thing.

The room booked for the West Africa Society meeting was in the basement. It wasn't the best of rooms - cold and damp - but it would do. Someone had set up the film projector so that all Tayo had to do was rearrange the furniture. He rubbed his hands, wondering how it was that English people never seemed to feel the cold. He concluded that it must be genetics, as he pulled out the chairs and pushed the tables against the wall for food and drink. College rules limited refreshments at these meetings to hors d'oeuvres, but nobody ever took this seriously and Tayo had started to dream of spicy jollof rice with fried chicken when Christine arrived with Ike and Bolaji, carrying the food he was dreaming of. They exchanged animated greetings in Pidgin, which was their language of fun - a verbal jazz of broken English interspersed with Yoruba and Igbo, and a good dose of gesticulation.

'Wetin you cook?' Tayo asked, circling his hands above the food that Chris­tine had brought. 'Na jollof and dodo I dey smell so?'

"Comot!" Christine slapped his wrist.

"Ehen. Na so e be? Okay-o!" Tayo surrendered, laughing as he walked back to the film projector. It was a good sign that she was joking with him.

"Don't worry," she called after him, "I've made special jollof with dodo and moin-moin."

"Special for who?" Ike asked.

"For you, my darling," she said, not looking at anyone, in particular.

"For me?" Ike crooned, draping an arm across her shoulder.

Tayo stared in shock for a moment before lifting the reels from the steel containers and attaching them to the projector, willing himself to be calm. A few seconds later, casting another glance their way, Tayo saw that Ike's arm was gone, and Christine had started laying out the food - her back turned to him. She wore a grey woollen dress, long-sleeved and tight across the hips. He thought of the times when he had placed his hands around that tiny waist and spread his fingers over the curve of her hips. How dare Ike! Tayo continued to stare, watching Christine balance on her stiletto heels as though they were a natural extension of her legs.

She turned and he looked away, knowing she had sensed him watching, even though the room had filled with people. After a few more moments of tinkering with the projector, Tayo stopped to mingle and welcome new guests. As usual, several pretty women smiled at him, but he wasn't in the mood. Let Bolaji entertain the women while he talked to the men. He greeted a Nigerian, some West Indians, and several English students before the meeting began. At least the turnout was good, which served as a temporary distraction from thoughts of Christine. The President made the initial introductions, and then Tayo played the film on Nigeria.

Tayo had not had time to review the reels beforehand, and so it was a relief to find that the film played smoothly. It started with a brief history of Nigeria's Colonial rule, which served as the backdrop to a much longer treatment of Ni­geria's recent independence. There were shots of Nigeria's artisans and village life, as well as modern scenes depicting technological advancements, including serial shots of the Kainji dam and the new Niger Bridge soon to link the com­mercial town of Onitsha with the ports. Tayo felt satisfied with the film, which tnded on a positive note for Nigeria's future. As the credits rolled and lights Were turned back on, it was Ike, as usual, who spoke first.

"That film is a disgrace. Where were the Nigerians?"

Tayo raised his eyebrows, somewhat taken aback but not entirely, as he knew where Ike was likely to go with this. Ike had lived in England longer than most Nigerians at Oxford and now had a tendency to interpret British pronouncements on Africa as racist, or at best patronising. In his first year, Tayo lbund Ike's reactions extreme but he was used to them now and the longer Tayo fimained in England, the more he saw Ike's point of view. Had it not been for Sffce's behaviour with Christine, he might have nodded in agreement. 4 "And I don't mean showing photographs of Nigerians, as in some anthropo- fcfical study of Africans in their natural habitat," Ike continued. "I mean, why fcfcn't Nigerians directing these films? Or, at the very least, why aren't we nar- feting them? And why must film-makers always start with the colonial period Ife if that's where Nigeria's history begins? Why not the 10th century with the fcnin and Hausa kingdoms or, if one must start with whites, how about the jbvr trade?"
"Okay, Ike, we all know our history," Francis interrupted.
"But we don't!' Ike retorted. "I'm willing to bet that you know English his­tory better than your own Ghanaian history. You spout English law, but what can you tell me about the Akan and their legal system? And if colonialism is finished, why do British people still speak for us as though we are children?"
Tayo glanced at Christine, wondering what she thought of Ike's tirade.
"What do you propose?" Francis challenged Ike. "You want Nigerians to seize control, just because they're Nigerians. You can't just take Africans with no experience of Westminster-style democracy, and expect them to step in over­night. If you ask me, independence came far too early."

"Well, the question surrounding the timing of independence is certainly a topic for future meetings," Simon interjected.

"Oh Simon!" Tayo thought to himself. When Simon spoke like this, it made Tayo think that Ike had been right to object to Simon's nomination as President on account of his being British. At the time, Tayo had supported Simon, as a friend and also as a matter of principle. But Simon was naive and increasingly out of touch with what Africans were thinking about their continent. No sane African would waste time revisiting the timing of independence.

"We could invite Margery Perham back for a debate with Sir Hugh Trevor- Roper," Simon continued.

"No, I don't think so," Tayo answered, remembering his first and only en­counter with the history professor. Ike had warned him not to bother with the man, but Tayo had been new to Oxford and naively thought he could win the professor over by the power of his argument.

"What you're suggesting, Simon, is precisely what I'm talking about," Ike snapped. "Why must we always invite British people to talk about Africa's fu­ture? Don't we have enough brilliant people of our own? And as for brilliance, this certainly doesn't apply to Trevor-Roper. Anyone saying Africa makes no contribution to history or culture is not only racist, but stupid. And by the way, Perham's no better with her patronising nonsense."

"That's not a fair assessment," Simon protested, reddening around the collar because, although he did not say so, everyone knew that he was related to the woman.
"Perham may be conservative in her politics, but surely not patronising?"
The question dangled in the air for a few uneasy moments.
"Any other ideas for speakers?" someone asked.
Names were proposed and the discussion moved on, but as soon as someone suggested the topic of negritude, Ike was back.

"And this is the other problem. Negritude is an ideology of the elite, com pletely devoid of meaning for the masses. No, you must listen," he insisted, responding to grumblings from the floor. "Negritude is an ideology suggesting, that Africans are blessed with a soul and not reason. They would have us be lieve that Africans can sing, dance, and feel, but not think. To merely emphasise the supposed African capacity to hear rhythm only supports the racist views ol people like Trevor-Roper and Gobineau."

"Hence an excellent topic for discussion."

Everyone's eyes turned to the female speaker with the long brown hair swepi over one shoulder. She had not said a word until now, but Tayo had noticed her earlier and had the feeling that he had met her somewhere before.

"I think it could be argued," she was saying, "that proponents of negritude, like Cesaire and Senghor, don't just see African culture as Africa's only offering to western civilisation, but rather one of many contributions. Also, isn't it Seng­hor who speaks of the importance of cross-cultural breeding?"

Tayo smiled privately at the look of shock on Ike's face and wracked his brain for where and when he had seen this woman previously. She had to be from St. Hilda's, but what did she read? A historian perhaps or a classicist? He would have to find out after the meeting.

"I don't believe we've met." Tayo extended a hand.

"Vanessa Richardson. Pleased to meet you."

She stood a few inches shorter than him, fixing her gaze on him so that he found it impossible to let his eyes wander down the rest of her body. He had to content himself with her face and eyes, which were blue and clear like a child's, and the colour of her hair he now noticed was more golden than brown.

"My name is Tayo. Tayo Ajayi. Ty if you like."

"Yes. Tayo Ajayi."

"You pronounce it well." He smiled, liking the fact that she opted for his full name. "And thank you for your contribution to the discussion. We need people like you to take on our radicals."

"But I didn't add much. Besides, I thought the other speaker made some valid points. What do you think?"

She slipped her hands into her pockets. He admired her dark brown coat with its large chestnut buttons, and thought how stylish it was.

"I thought I should give others a chance to expound," he said. "Although I was going to take you up on your point about cross-cultural breeding."

"Oh were you?"

"Yes." He laughed, remembering now where he'd seen her. It was at Charlie's place. She was the woman in the little red dress, but too engrossed with the In­dian man for him to have paid much attention because he, unlike others, would never dream of taking someone else's girl. Not that Ike had really taken his girl, given that he and Christine had already broken up, but he still felt annoyed.

"Come and eat." Tayo pointed to the table at the back and winked at Chris­tine. "My friend here cooks the best Nigerian food. I'm sure you'll like it. We have moin-moin made from beans, and..what else?" He paused, realising he had no clue what else went into the preparation of such things. "We also have »' plantains, which we call dodo. They're tasty and sweet like bananas. I'm sure f> you'll like them. Try some," he urged, handing Vanessa a plate, and catching the ' pleasant fragrance of her hair. He liked the way she helped herself to good-sized t portions, not the cautious amounts that English people usually took. ' "So did you come with a friend?" he asked, as they moved from the table.

"Is that a requirement?"

"No, not at all," he said, bemused by her wit.

"I came on my own." She smiled.

"But we don't!' Ike retorted. "I'm willing to bet that you know English his­tory better than your own Ghanaian history. You spout English law, but what can you tell me about the Akan and their legal system? And if colonialism is finished, why do British people still speak for us as though we are children?"

Tayo glanced at Christine, wondering what she thought of Ike's tirade.

"What do you propose?" Francis challenged Ike. "You want Nigerians to seize control, just because they're Nigerians. You can't just take Africans with no experience of Westminster-style democracy, and expect them to step in over­night. If you ask me, independence came far too early."

"Well, the question surrounding the timing of independence is certainly a topic for future meetings," Simon interjected.

"Oh Simon!" Tayo thought to himself. When Simon spoke like this, it made Tayo think that Ike had been right to object to Simon's nomination as President on account of his being British. At the time, Tayo had supported Simon, as a friend and also as a matter of principle. But Simon was naive and increasingly out of touch with what Africans were thinking about their continent. No sane African would waste time revisiting the timing of independence.

"We could invite Margery Perham back for a debate with Sir Hugh Trevor- Roper," Simon continued.

"No, I don't think so," Tayo answered, remembering his first and only en­counter with the history professor. Ike had warned him not to bother with the man, but Tayo had been new to Oxford and naively thought he could win the professor over by the power of his argument.

"What you're suggesting, Simon, is precisely what I'm talking about," Ike snapped. "Why must we always invite British people to talk about Africa's fu­ture? Don't we have enough brilliant people of our own? And as for brilliance, this certainly doesn't apply to Trevor-Roper. Anyone saying Africa makes no contribution to history or culture is not only racist, but stupid. And by the way, Perham's no better with her patronising nonsense."

"That's not a fair assessment," Simon protested, reddening around the collar because, although he did not say so, everyone knew that he was related to the woman.
"Perham may be conservative in her politics, but surely not patronising?"
The question dangled in the air for a few uneasy moments.
"Any other ideas for speakers?" someone asked.
Names were proposed and the discussion moved on, but as soon as someone suggested the topic of negritude, Ike was back.
"And this is the other problem. Negritude is an ideology of the elite, com pletely devoid of meaning for the masses. No, you must listen," he insisted, responding to grumblings from the floor. "Negritude is an ideology suggesting that Africans are blessed with a soul and not reason. They would have us be lieve that Africans can sing, dance, and feel, but not think. To merely emphasise the supposed African capacity to hear rhythm only supports the racist views <>l people like Trevor-Roper and Gobineau."

"Hence an excellent topic for discussion."

Everyone's eyes turned to the female speaker with the long brown hair swepi over one shoulder. She had not said a word until now, but Tayo had noticed her earlier and had the feeling that he had met her somewhere before.
"I think it could be argued," she was saying, "that proponents of negritude, like Cesaire and Senghor, don't just see African culture as Africa's only offering to western civilisation, but rather one of many contributions. Also, isn't it Seng­hor who speaks of the importance of cross-cultural breeding?"
Tayo smiled privately at the look of shock on Ike's face and wracked his brain for where and when he had seen this woman previously. She had to be from St. Hilda's, but what did she read? A historian perhaps or a classicist? He would have to find out after the meeting.

"I don't believe we've met." Tayo extended a hand.
"Vanessa Richardson. Pleased to meet you."
She stood a few inches shorter than him, fixing her gaze on him so that he found it impossible to let his eyes wander down the rest of her body. He had to content himself with her face and eyes, which were blue and clear like a child's, and the colour of her hair he now noticed was more golden than brown.
"My name is Tayo. Tayo Ajayi. Ty if you like."
"Yes. Tayo Ajayi."
"You pronounce it well." He smiled, liking the fact that she opted for his full name. "And thank you for your contribution to the discussion. We need people like you to take on our radicals."
"But I didn't add much. Besides, I thought the other speaker made some valid points. What do you think?"
She slipped her hands into her pockets. He admired her dark brown coat with its large chestnut buttons, and thought how stylish it was.
"I thought I should give others a chance to expound," he said. "Although I was going to take you up on your point about cross-cultural breeding."
"Oh were you?"
"Yes." He laughed, remembering now where he'd seen her. It was at Charlie's place. She was the woman in the little red dress, but too engrossed with the In­dian man for him to have paid much attention because he, unlike others, would never dream of taking someone else's girl. Not that Ike had really taken his girl, given that he and Christine had already broken up, but he still felt annoyed.

"Come and eat." Tayo pointed to the table at the back and winked at Chris­tine. "My friend here cooks the best Nigerian food. I'm sure you'll like it. We have moin-moin made from beans, and..what else?" He paused, realising he had no clue what else went into the preparation of such things. "We also have ■ plantains, which we call dodo. They're tasty and sweet like bananas. I'm sure ¥ you'll like them. Try some," he urged, handing Vanessa a plate, and catching the pleasant fragrance of her hair. He liked the way she helped herself to good-sized * portions, not the cautious amounts that English people usually took. ' "So did you come with a friend?" he asked, as they moved from the table.

"Is that a requirement?"

"No, not at all," he said, bemused by her wit.

"I came on my own." She smiled.

"Really?"

"You sound surprised."
"I am. How can such a beautiful young lady be without an escort?" It was meant to make her blush, but it didn't.
"And why is that strange?" She held his gaze. "Don't tell me you're one of those men who believes women need protecting."
"Oh no, it's the men, Vanessa, who need protecting from fighting over you." He smiled but then decided he had gone too far with the fighting bit and ad­opted a serious tone to ask about her interest in Senghor.
"It's the combination of poet and politician that appeals to me," she replied, resting her fork on the plate.
"He's different, and I like that. I suppose that whether being in touch with one's feelings is African or not, I'm all in favour of it, be it Senghor or novelists like Forster or Woolf."
"Ah, the Bloomsbury group. So you must also be an admirer of Maynard Keynes?"
"Absolutely. And you?"
"I admire his economics, but not..." He paused, distracted by the noise com­ing from the other end of the room.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I seem to be keeping you."
"Oh no. They're just being too loud, and I don't fancy seeing the Dean, but now I've forgotten what I was saying."
"It was your hesitation concerning Keynes."
"Oh yes, I think I was going to say that I questioned his lifestyle, perhaps his morals."
"But that has nothing to do with his economics."
"True, and no doubt you will tell me that Keynes was a man in touch with his feelings."

Tayo found himself staring at the fullness of her lips. God had definitely blessed this Englishwoman with some other country's lips. A shame though, that the rest of her was covered up. This was the other problem with England being so cold - women always bundled themselves up. Just as he was about to say something to that effect, she started coughing.

"Here," Tayo reached for a glass of water. "I'm sorry; our food is spicy, isn't it?" But before she could respond, another uproar of voices burst upon the room.
"Oh goodness! Here's the Dean. Will you excuse me for a moment, Vanessa?"
Tayo put down his plate and gently touched her arm, telling her he would be back. Once the Dean had left, Tayo berated his friends.
"Cool down Tayo! Noise never hurt anyone," Ike replied, dismissively.
Tayo shook his head, mildly irritated. He looked for Vanessa and found her buttoning her coat.
"You're not leaving, are you? I was just beginning to enjoy our conversa­tion."
"Just beginning?" She smiled.

"Well, yes." He laughed."I was clinging to your every word, even as you coughed, so you must at least allow me to walk you back to your college. As a believer in feelings, I'm sure you wouldn't want to hurt mine, would you?"

"No," she smiled, "but I've got my bicycle so I don't think feelings come into this."

"Then I'll take you to the porter's lodge. This is a dangerous college full of crazy Marxists, including our Master." He was keen to make a good impression, but seemed incapable at that moment of anything but a silly grin as he extended his arm and guided her out of the door.

They stepped out into the still damp and foggy evening, and crossed the main quad, passing in front of the dimly lit Junior Common Room where a student band was playing dreadful music to a drunken audience of freshers.

"Well at least that should keep the Marxists out." Vanessa laughed.

"Terrible." Tayo winced. They walked from the old building, past the por­ter's lodge and onto Broad Street, where Vanessa had left her bicycle.

"It was nice talking to you, Vanessa -1 hope you come back." He steadied her bicycle as she got on and waved goodbye, watching for a moment as she pedalled away."Tayo! Tayo! Tayo!" Ike grinned when Tayo returned. "Quite a stunning girl you found there."

"You dey craze!" Tayo tapped Ike on the side of his head.
"And a white woman, too," Christine added.
"Anything wrong with that?" Tayo asked.
"Yes, so what's wrong with white women?" Bolaji asked. "I want to know, too."
Everyone else had gone and the four of them were tidying up.
"I didn't say anything was wrong," Christine replied.
"But you implied it," Bolaji added.
"Well," Ike laughed, "I certainly think something's wrong with black men always going for the so-called English honey."
"Hey, I was just doing my job by talking to the new members," Tayo replied. "Don't vex me now, abeg."
"So you're feeling guilty as charged?"
"Don't mind him." Bolaji dismissed Ike with a flick of the hand.
"But Christine, I think you need to explain what's wrong with English wom­en."
They had finished straightening the furniture and were sitting around the film projector. Tayo was putting away the reels.
"I never said anything was wrong with English women, I just don't under­stand why you men always fall for them, that's all. When do you ever see white men coming for black women?"

"So you want a white man?" Tayo asked.
"No," she snapped, glaring at him. "Not everyone's like you, Tayo."
"Ohhhhh!" Bolaji whistled.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Tayo persisted, ignoring the laughter from the others.
"Well, you obviously noticed her."
"Meaning what? That you never notice other men?"
"Look," Ike insisted, placing a hand on Christine's shoulder. "Let's carry these plates outside. We don't want to get locked out of college."
Tayo kept quiet as he fiddled with the films that he had already finished packing.
"Tayo," Christine called, lingering after Bolaji and Ike had left. "Why don't you come to my place for some coffee and we can talk."
"That sounds nice. A happy threesome - you, me, and Ike?"
"Are we jealous?"
"What's there to be jealous of?"
"Your choice," she shrugged. "And for your information, Ike won't be there. So maybe I'll see you later."
Whenever he stepped into Christine's flat, Tayo thought of home, never quite knowing why. Perhaps it was the smell of Christine's cooking that reminded him of Mama, or the fact that she frequently played Highlife and Juju music. Perhaps it was now simply nostalgia for what used to be. Whatever it was, he had missed it, and by the time he arrived, Christine had put the kettle on, and the flat felt invitingly warm after the cold and damp of outside. They exchanged news of their summers and while Christine got the mugs and the milk, he stared aimlessly around the room.
"You can sit if you like." Christine waved at the table. He sat and picked up one of her books.
"I think you might enjoy that one," she said, watching as he flipped through it.
"And I suppose that this Lonely Londoners will tell me why I shouldn't look at English girls?"
" Oh don't be silly." She laughed, handing him a mug and sitting down at the other end of the table.
"So why am I here, Christine? Why me and not Ike?"
"I wanted to talk to you, Tayo."
"Why can't you talk to Ike?"
"Why do you keep bringing up Ike?"
"Well, it looks like you and he are..."
"Are what?"
"Are some sort of couple."
•"And if we were?"
"Well are you?"
"What do you think?"
"I really don't care."
"Then why do you keep asking?"
"Why do you keep avoiding an answer?"
"Because Ike has nothing to do with this. I just thought I could talk to you as a friend."
Tayo waited for her to finish speaking, watching as she stared blankly across the room.
"I feel scared," she said. "I'm scared about my next tutorial, I'm scared about exams, I'm scared about what my parents will think if I don't do well." He stood up and went to sit in the chair next to hers.
"Christine, you're going to do fine. You'll do fine in all of those things, and you've always done well."

"But that's the point, Tayo." She glanced at him. "I've always done well, which means that everyone now expects me to continue doing well, but what if I don't?"

"You will."
"But I won't," she said, shaking her head. "It's just luck, Tayo, and everyone else is so much brighter than I am. It's only because I study so hard"

"Please don't cry, Christine." He moved his chair back so he could reach and hold her arms. "And just look at these tears - they're soaking up my shirt!" he said, trying to make light of it. She lifted her head and because he didn't know what else to say, he started wiping the tears awkwardly with his thumbs. She smiled a little as he pulled her face to his and, without intending to, he started to kiss her. It seemed the only thing, the best thing, to do under the circumstances.

1 comment:

  1. Please does this book have only 5chapters? If not how do I get the others?

    ReplyDelete

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