The famous chant that depicted an impending demonstration woke me from my nap one fateful afternoon. I had stayed over on campus with one of my friends so I could enjoy the uninterrupted power supply as exams were almost upon us. I read all night and up until a few hours into that morning. My eyes were red, partly from anger but more from having had my sleep cut short.
I stepped out of the room to listen to the address by the union representative; the Congress ground was directly opposite my friend’s room, there was no way I could sleep through all that noise. Since I couldn’t beat them, I did the needful.
I learnt that Saturday afternoon, that we students would refuse to participate in the exams starting the following week unless the results of the previous semester were first released. ‘They can’t be serious’, I thought; the same exam I was slaving away for? A part of me knew I was the unserious party here, for two reasons: first, I wouldn’t be slaving away now if I had been consistently reading and secondly, the union was not known to threaten or make vain protest declarations.
The union’s “peaceful demonstration” was the most violent I had ever seen in all my 6 years at the university. The smell of burnt tyres filled the air, my intestines growled in protest of the choking air and the yet again elongated years of study. It was my 6th year in the university studying a 5 year course – events happened in real time, I was preparing for the 2nd semester of 300 level and no I didn’t fail at any point.
How the school Registrar was able to get a bulletin out amidst the chaos is commendable, they must have printed the notice of the umpteenth ‘closure till further notice’ from an outside location. The only lecturers I really sympathised with were the ones who needed to go for cleansing after being bathed with freshly-voided urine while discharging their duties dutifully.
I grabbed my bags and stuffed them with the few items that I had arrived with the previous day. I made for my rented apartment in town as quickly as possible to avoid the waterloo of soon to arrive red-beret officers. I met my roommate who didn’t have an issue with candles still reading when I arrived my room. He was yet to get the memo. For a while, I wondered if I should let him continue reading or break the news to him. I chose the former as I couldn’t recall any serious reading sessions he had that semester, it would do him some good. His phone was always switched off and dismembered at times like that when a crash-programme was underway. He was at my mercy, and I delivered him eventually the next morning. The punches I received that morning were not a few.
In the period of time our school last went on such an indefinite closure, my youngest uncle got married, put his wife in the family way and threw a big naming ceremony party before we were recalled. Neither myself nor my roommate was willing to return home, but we needed supplies – in lay terms, food! Going home was too unattractive as we would have to explain for the 7th time since admission, why we were home from school. I remember the look on my neighbour’s face the last time, it was obvious she didn’t believe my story. She must have told her son to start avoiding the dropout nextdoor. Their TV set must be broken or their family taboo was ‘listening to news’ , I thought.
We still had food but it wouldn’t have lasted a week especially as we had nowhere to go and nothing to do. A 2-minute call I received 3 days after the shutdown made the situation further depressing. A missionary who stayed with us every time he came to town for a crusade was at the other end of the line. The last time he came, I had assured him of our readiness to accommodate him at his next visit. “What would we do now?”, Steven, my roommate asked. Couldn’t God have informed him that this is a bad time, that we are broke and hungry? Ignoring Steven’s rhetorics, I considered cooking up an excuse for the man of God, and silently wished it would be one of those crusades where they had to fast all through!
In the weekend that followed, our guest arrived. Bro. Rejoice was unstoppable when it concerned sharing God’s word and exploits and the different mighty works from his journeys. Steven and I independently wondered why God wouldn’t do one of such exploits in our predicament. “The God I serve is able to and will do even so much more for you two who always accommodate me all the time”, Bro. Rejoice prayed. I had never heard Steven say a louder ‘Amen’ in all my 6 years of knowing him. I countered with an even louder ‘Amen’ as if in a contest. Bro. Rejoice beamed at our response as Steven and I grinned knowingly to ourselves, if only he knew the hunger that was about to descend upon his soul!
That morning he arrived, we had just one large tuber of yam as the only food material in the room, along with some oil. I cooked it at noon, and shared it into 3 just as our guest was arriving from the morning session. Brunch is ready, I announced. Steven, who had been fake-sleeping jumped to life at the mention of food, while I also helped myself to what seemed to be our last meal. Bro. Rejoice was flipping pages of his Bible as we ate, he likes attending to his food only after the third invitation, I knew him for that. He’ll reject your food or tell you not to worry the first 2 times and agree to eat as if not wanting to waste your efforts at the third. He never used more than 3 minutes to eat no matter the size and quantity of the food served, I remember timing him once or twice at his earlier visits. That day, I wasn’t in the mood for repeated invitations, so I paused my hand mid-air on one of those hand to mouth trips and declared to him in the most assertive manner, “this yam is the only food available in this room this weekend and if you do not intend to fast through your forthcoming sessions, you had better start eating now!” I didn’t realise what I had just mouthed as I left 3 adults shocked after my speech! He stopped flipping his Bible and started eating, 2 minutes and 40 seconds later, his plate was clean. It was Steven, not I who timed him.
We spent the succeeding 2 hours in the room in the most uncomfortable silence ever. I, on my part regretting my speech; my roommate disappointed and surprised I let the cat out of the bag and our guest sorry he bothered us. I was worried the man of God would return with food items after his next session, and I didn’t want any of that. As Bro. Rejoice announced that he was leaving for the next session, my mouth got ahead again and I wished him a great time as I announced to him that I was joking the other time and it was only a prank to make him eat before the food got cold. I even bragged that a plate of beans and dodo would be waiting for him when he returned! Bro. Rejoice’s wide smile bade farewell as Steven’s inquisitive and unapproving stare welcomed me back to the room’s reality. “It was bad enough that you spilled our predicament without tact, now you’ve totally created chaos with your promise”, Steven said. Don’t worry, the Lord will provide, I said. My intestines growled in mockery of my assertion, Steven laughed.
It was 6 pm and Bro. Rejoice was to arrive any moment from that time. In that moment, I regretted my lies. Had I not lied, Bro. Rejoice might show up with food and avert our imminent extinction. Approaching footsteps halted my thoughts, my heart accelerated as my brain surfed for recipes for another well-cooked lie. My heart skipped as the door knob turned but found its rhythm again when I saw Farouq make his way in. Farouq was Steven’s course mate who was the only other student who stayed off campus in our street. He too had refused to return home but changed his mind after a week. Steven had no hesitations asking Farouq for help as they talked. That’s one of the reasons I came, Farouq explained. I have foodstuffs that will be feasted on by rats and cockroaches before I return if I don’t give them out. I came here to check if you guys were around so I could bring them, I really would hate to return to see them wasted.
It was that day I knew that God doesn’t have to attend to a person’s needs through someone of the same religion. Myself and Steven dressed up and followed Farouq to the bounty, Mohammed did not have to come to the mountain, the mountains moved to the bounty!
That day, the Farouq I hardly exchanged more than greetings with became my friend too, not just Steven’s. We returned with 2 paint buckets of rice, 1 of garri, 1 of beans, a sac of potatoes, 3 tubers of yam and one loaf of bread. And to my bewilderment, Farouq ran after us with a bowl in hand; a bowl he forgot to add to the bounty. It contained beans and dodo which his girlfriend had brought earlier but he decided not to eat as he was about to embark on a night journey home. I gave Steven a prophet’s look, the Lord has provided I mouthed as Farouq ran off.
Later that night, Bro. Rejoice helped himself to a warmed plate of beans and dodo while we watched with empty plates of just devoured meals before us and filled hearts within us. And we ate happily ever after.