An African Sunset

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1) - Chapter 3

Submitted: February 08, 2018

Reads: 22

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Submitted: February 08, 2018

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Four years ago, 54 kilometres along the Jos Road, in the wooded Bagauda countryside is the Kano Campus of the Nigerian Law School. Inside, the auditorium bustled with humanity. Law graduates from universities across the country and abroad swarm around the dry swimming pool. The campus was once a lakeside hotel. The roads are lined with majestic acacia and the D-block hostels squat daintily under flamboyant flame trees. Date palms grow closer to the lake in a sort of beachside majesty. Bougainvillea lined the unkempt shrubbery behind the hostels and around the semi-circular facilitators’ offices. The air was fresh and the breeze blew cold. It was the beginning of the Harmattan season. The grass was greener towards the lake and drier beside the roads and in the huge expanses of unused land in the campus. Despite the white colonial era buildings, much of the campus looks like an unconquered wilderness.

Everyone was dressed in white shirts and black suits or navy blue suits and black and navy blue ties. The dress code was brutally specific. Two staff members stood by the door to inspect the dressing of every one of 874 students. The long queues gradually trickled into the auditorium as students place their forefingers on the bio-metric attendance register and enter. The ritual took place every morning and at the close of classes at 4 o’clock which effectively makes closing much later into the evening.

Dr David Yusuf’s voice rose through the public address system.

“We know that many of you didn’t choose this campus in the portal, so God punished your prejudice by sending you here nonetheless…”

The class roared with laughter.

“This is one of the best among the six campuses. A serene environment is the ideal companion to the scholar. We even have a lake where, when the weather improves, you can always go and have a swim. And there are mosquitoes that will make sure they keep you awake at night to study…”

Some more laughter.

“Some say there are too many Lawyers in the country. Some have even suggested that there should be a break and universities should stop graduating more Lawyers into the system. The reality is we do not have enough Lawyers. We need more Lawyers. We need more people who know their rights and the way to enforce them. Everyone must be a Lawyer if not for anything, then for himself. As more people stand up against the oppression of a corrupt system, the system will be reformed towards the path of prosperity. We often teach you dignity because the path of the advocate cannot be anything but profound. Where people get emotional, we get practical and for the greater good of society we remain neutral arbiters…”

He had missed the orientation. Kamal went into an overdrive explaining the routine to him. “The Facilitators usually come in at exactly 9 o’clock in threes and fours and sometimes fives. Every weekday is meant for one of five courses. The facilitators will take turns lecturing on each course. Engaging and Funny ones get welcomed with claps and laughter as they come in while the boring ones are welcomed with booing and rude murmur except one beautiful lady, Mrs Humaira. She is neither funny nor boring but she’s easily forgiven because as you will see, she is quite beautiful and her English has a soothing lilt.”

Dr Yusuf continued:

“… I know some of you chose to study law only because while registering for your JAMB exams, you noticed that law has no requirement for mathematics, and there and then you found your calling…”

The class roared in laughter. It’s a laughter of acknowledgment.

“…your role in society is enormous because you are Lawyers, you are Advocates.”

Kamal has been his friend since the beginning of their 200 level at Ahmadu Bello University. Together with Khalid and Sa’id they were often called ‘The Four Musketeers’. Kamal sat in the front sit of the middle row which faced the facilitators directly and Mustapha who preferred inconspicuous spots in class, knew that they won’t be sitting together after his first day. He preferred inconspicuous places where he can dream away a boring lecture or sleep it away. Kamal understood that too.

“You don’t like this place, do you?” He asked.

“No, I don’t.”

The class was dismissed at 11:30 for tutorials. They walked to the tutorial classes and Kamal advised.

“The notice-me-or-I-die-s will argue with one another through the whole period of the tutorials so don’t worry, you don’t have to talk to anyone. I hope you brought your earpiece.”

Some students hurried past them to the block of tutorial classes to take up seats and secure their positions as group leaders. Others took the route to the supermarket, and Mustapha noticed that most of the supermarket goers are the Hausas and the Northerners.

“Southerners take this education seriously. Their families invest in their education and make it clear to them that they are expected to pass their exams and get rich for their families. We, on the other hand, the poor Northern girls get married and forget school and the poor Northern boys become traders and dream of school. The rich Northern boys refuse schooling because learning is difficult and the rich Northern  girls go to school because schooling is glamorous,” Mustapha said.

“That is a disparaging assessment, Musty. I thought you were done with these radicalism,” Kamal said.

“I didn’t say so. It is the truth, we will remain educationally backward for a very long time at this rate. There’s this Yoruba guy in my room, Femi. His mother disowned him for spilling a course in the university and subsequently graduating with a third class degree?”

“Are you serious?” Kamal asked.

“Seriously or at least that’s what he told me. You can imagine that pressure. How can one not be serious?” He replied.

He wanted to tell Kamal about Samir and the money but for the first time he didn’t know what Kamal’s reaction will be. He opened up to him often and no one else. He wondered whether he will be judgmental and disgusted or be pragmatic about it. What he has to do was on the peak of a hierarchy of evils that quite few will agree to. In addition, it is also such a strange thing to do. Kamal always praised his ability to read people but this was different. Kamal is a meticulous person who lives his life on principles even if they are mostly permissive ones. He planned his life to the letter. Mustapha once asked him as a joke what he will eat on the next Friday afternoon, five days on and without suspecting any sarcasm he replied: ‘fried rice and omelette and some orange juice’. Mustapha on the other hand is often spontaneous and impatient about which Samir often complained that he was ‘as impatient as diarrhoea’. He found Kamal’s slow and calculating character a moderating influence to his spontaneity. They hardly agree fully on anything except deciding what haircuts to do. Since Kamal hadn’t grown a beard, Mustapha grew his and liked to leave it untouched. The contrast in their character became their bond. Both will criticize the other’s way of doing things while benefitting from it. Mustapha will retort with sarcasm or bitter cynicism at random people who were rude or unfair to them and Kamal will tell him with an approving smile that betrays his words that ‘someday someone will break his head’. Mustapha listened to Eminem and tried to get Kamal to love the sporadic and angry raps of the American rapper. Kamal listened to Celine Dion instead and tried to get Mustapha to love the singer. Both failed. Kamal himself was not always an idealist and Mustapha often found common grounds with him on moral issues except dancing to afro-beats in public during their University graduation.

He observed a group of girls coming towards the tutorial classes for anyone of them that may remotely look like her name is Furairah. There might be an Aisha or a Maryam and perhaps a Sadiya among the girls but quite certainly, there was no Furairah. There was something about girls, they tend to look like their names. Maryams are moderately tall to short and tend to be round. Sadiyas are slim and often dark and Aishas seldom grow very tall or very short or too dark or too fair. Furairah however, is a name as mysterious as it is eccentric. He knows the name but has never in his life met anyone bearing it. The mystery of it all and the edginess he felt when he thought about what he had to do created an eerie feeling in his mind. He stood beside the manicured Tulipa flowers lining the block of classes as the girls pass by in front of him. He noticed the guarded glances three of the girls gave him as they pass. They had seen him observing them from afar and he knew then that he was either been sized-up or observed for something worth talking about later. He returned a dignified stare and the girls looked away. Kamal returned from shaking hands with Danmilola and he showed him to the 5th Tutorial class where he was assigned.

“See that girl, Danmilola? What do you think?” Kamal asked.

“She looks like the human version of an ancient Volkswagen,”  Mustapha replied.

Kamal laughed. Of Mustapha’s cynicism, Kamal laughed more at the ones that insults human faces. There’s something precise about the descriptions, he said. It’s the acuity of an artist.

He wondered how Furairah will look. She may have a light complexion and the svelte and gracile look of a Fulani girl or the darker and dainty look of a Hausa girl. She had to be beautiful. He felt the apprehension build up within him at the thought that she may be homely. Samir did obsess over an averagely attractive girl, Rabi at F.G.C. Jos and endured all mockery from his friends but he held on to her with the desperation of first love. When he lost her, he held on to the thought of her. Samir was handsome and gentle and despite his pimply face, he had a matured and agreeable features. And despite his broad forehead and a straight masculine face, Samir was jovial. He was the son of a legend who founded a new drug in the field of veterinary medicine. Samir once brought a magazine: Who is who in Nigeria, where his father’s name was written as one of the 100 top great people in the country. The genius he may have inherited from his father seemed to have been suppressed by a dominant strand of idiocy. Samir wasn’t known for his courage either and he was always putting Mustapha forward to cover him up in tough situations. When he tried to get him to face his own problems, he toughened up and made it clear to him that as his best friend, Mustapha had a moral obligation to stand up for him and back him up. It all started when they fought bullies together, escaped the persecution of senior students together, ate together and slept on the same bunk. Mustapha knew that Samir has not yet overgrown that part of their lives even though they have lived separate lives for more than half a decade. In the school hostel they shared their food and Samir may have borrowed some money from Mustapha that he never paid back. The thought of that slightly eased Mustapha’s mind. Samir has a moral obligation to help him out too, and if his foolish obsession with the love he lost means he sponsors Mustapha’s Law School program, then all is fair in brotherhood and friendship.

He walked to Gamzaki supermarket and bought a snack. He walked down past the canteen to see the lake. The lake was clean and clear and sparkling in the sunlight. The trees swayed to the early Harmattan winds. Squirrels chased one another up and down the date palm trees. He inhaled the fresh lake breeze and tried to see the other end of the lake. Farther to the East, a dysfunctional water station dipped its rusty pipes into the lake, and to the West, the water seemed to meet the heavens in the far off horizon. It circled round the shrubbery and formed a swamp behind the D-Block hostels. Two passionate lovers in what looked like the beginning of a new romance colonized one of the poolside huts. Again, he wondered what he would do if he finds her already in a relationship. He will call Samir and tell him so. He hoped she is.

He saw Asiya and Hafiza coming towards the lake and he turned around to go back to the auditorium. He had talked to Hafiza and exchanged greetings with her while Asiya was close by yesterday. He knew Asiya will be hoping to find out if he deliberately ignored her, so he decided he doesn’t want her to be sure just yet.

Hundreds of ethnicities blended in the black on white array of suits, a well ensemble microcosm of Nigeria. The Hausa and Northern girls took up most of the seats at the right-front segment. They were distinct in the way they modify the dress code, introducing little white veils or mini hijabs to the dress code and getting away with it. Some wear springy black skirts that tend to rotate to the opposite direction when they turn briskly. Many of the Ibo girls and Eastern girls struggled with the dress code. The idea of wearing a skirt below the knees is discomforting, and the efforts of the student affairs staff to censor immodest dressing often invoked irritation and short concealed hisses. There was always a lady in the queue who makes frantic efforts to pull her skirt lower down the knee as if it was made of elastic fabric. There were also those who appear to forget to button-up the top buttons on their white shirts. There’s heavy make-up, wig attachments and attached eyelashes that the staff kept warning against. Faced with a complexity of sensitivities the officials began to make gradual compromises and letting the girls have their little deviations.

The male students didn’t get it easy at all. Most are generally dress code abiding. The exceptions were elderly Hausa males who can’t seem to find a suit that is not oversized. They prefer suits that have some remote resemblance to a Kaftan, big and roomy. Since they are generally rule abiding, bearded and pot-belly-scratching family men, the staff seldom bother them. This is especially so since, there is no rule against dressing against trends. The tall and thin ones among the men rotate within their suits. When the facilitators first entered, Mustapha examined their suits and he felt relieved that they understood the concept of well-fitting suits.

There were familiar faces around from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He got dragged and entangled into a conversation with an Ibo group of how it was never their choice to be at the Kano Campus and how sheer bad luck and misfortune brought them to Kano. They have heard rumours and news of insecurity and Boko Haram violence in the North and hostility from the Northerners and they wanted to find out how true it was. Most are not interested in knowing or listening to the explanation that say it was not true. About hostility from Northerners they were all ready to agree that the Northerners are not hostile after all but almost the friendliest people in the country. However, all appear to be absolutely convinced that there was no security in the North as far as the Boko Haram are detonating bombs in mosques, churches and markets no matter how far away and removed that happens.

Then, there was the complaint from the Southerners that the Northern girls don’t want to be touched, they don’t offer their hands to be shook and don’t want their backs to be patted. Mustapha thought of a sensitive way to explain that in the North, there is a different meaning to personal boundary. There was comparism drawn between the Northern girls and other non-Northern Muslim girls who are more ‘civilized’. He turned away from the crowd and from Ahmad who has been giving him a speedy review of all the textbooks there was at the bookshop:

“There’s Bob Osamor or Hambali to choose from in Criminal Litigation, Bhadmus in Corporate Law Practice which is out of print and Dadem to definitely buy for Property Law Practice…”

A buxomly girl sat beside him.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she answered dragging the ‘i’ endearingly.

“You are beautiful,” he said.

He knew the effect of a simple and sincere compliment on girls. He will be sitting through the remaining three hours beside her so he decided to make a friend of her, and it may be good practice for when he eventually meets Furairah.

“Thank you,” she said and asked, “what is your name?”

“Mustapha”

“Wow, I love that name. Are you a Moslem?”

“Yes.”

“What tribe?”

“Hausa”

“But you don’t look Hausa.”

“That’s what people say. Where are you from?”

“I’m from Delta. What about you?”

“Kano.”

She stared at him in disbelief, studying his face. He looked at her squarely and asked:

“How do you find Kano?”

“The people are friendly but the weather is harsh. It’s freezing.”

“It’s the Harmattan, in a few months when the heat comes you will be wishing for the cold.”

“And the food here lacks variety. The only rice they sell is Jollof rice or fried rice.”

He listened and spoke a little to keep the discussion going. He had realised that girls like to talk about themselves. When she likes a person, she will tell him about her hobbies, about her journey to the Law School, about her family, what her family thought about coming to school in the North and other chit-chats in between.

The facilitators came back from their recess  and took their seats at the podium. One of them stood to address the class. Queen continued with the gist nonetheless, telling him how exquisite Delta cuisine is. She gleefully boasted that she can cook seven different types of rice dishes and out of genuine curiosity which he soon regretted, he asked her what they were.

She cleared her throat and started: There was Banga rice, Coconut rice and other types of rice whose names he forgot as soon as she mentioned them. She listed them and proceeded to explain the recipes. Most of what she said was endurable until she began to explain how to cook each of the seven dishes in good detail emphasising the importance of stirring the rice in just about the right time. He spent the second part of that day listening to Queen and Mr Haden simultaneously and learning nothing from either. In the echo of the public address system and Queen’s fluent insistent voice, he, for a moment, forgot about Furairah. Kamal leant backwards in his seat and asked him:

“Is that chick teaching you how to cook fried rice?”

“Yes, in painful and excruciating detail,” he replied.

Mustapha remembered the horrified look on Kamal’s face when he once came to his hostel room in ABU and saw him frying eggs with palm oil. Kamal’s cooking was like everything else about him, calculated and meticulous. He often got worried that Mustapha while cooking stew, will half way through it decide he doesn’t want to cook stew anymore and rig it into a half cooked Jollof rice that will have a prohibitive smoky taste.

“That girl knows what you need, you should listen to her,” Kamal said.

He began to scribble a poem. Several years later when he thought about how it all started, he will remember the poem.

 

Beautiful Oh! Beautiful

So aloof; so far removed

Yet so generous like an African sunset

When you beckon, beloved saint, I shall with candour embark on a fervent quest

Like an enchanted pilgrim, I shall don on a saintly shroud and embark with ardent haste

Like an earnest hermit, I shall forsake my impure world and cast aside my wretched pelf

Like a demented sailor I shall sail the farthest seas and brave the stormy tides

For your fond caresses and seductive smile

And if you yearn for peace I shall fight for a world without scorn

And at your feet I shall pay homage with great ardour

...

“Let me see,” a girl that was sitting beside him said. She stretched her henna-dyed hand brushing his tie in the process and grabbed the paper. She read through it and while looking straight ahead, asked:

“It’s beautiful. Is it about love?”

“Not necessarily”

“What do you mean?”

“Poetry can mean different things to different people.”

“So what is the poem about, really?”

“I honestly can’t say. I don’t have anything specific in mind.”

She looked at him with undisguised interest. He doesn’t want to be dragged into another painful discussion. The girl had sat beside him in the morning and looked straight ahead with the aloofness of a Northern girl until he spoke to Queen and complimented her. The girl had then turned to look at him. It was a quick assessing look. He wondered what she was thinking. Perhaps she was wondering why he didn’t compliment her if he was going to compliment a random girl sitting beside him. She kept the paper as if it had always belonged to her and for the rest of the day, she looked straight ahead at the facilitators. Mustapha’s interest in her grew rapidly. He was fascinated by strange people and for a brief moment, he wondered how she can turn out to be Furairah. He studied the stoic face, the sophisticated attitude and the tall features. He decided that she wasn’t.

For the rest of the week, she came to sit next to him, said good morning while looking straight ahead and makes the minimal possible conversation during the class. When he scribbled anything on a paper, she would, without asking, reach out for it and inspect it. He learnt her name on the fourth day: Na’imah. Mr James called her to answer a question in front of the class. Students have to introduce themselves before answering Mr James’ questions as a rule. The class looked on as she took the microphone. She darted a quick look at Mustapha as she said her name. She answered the question splendidly and as she came back to her seat, Mustapha noticed a faint smile on her lips. It wasn’t the sheepish smile of the embarrassed or the elated smile of the self-exulting. It was the knowing smile of the philosopher who has revealed the details of a small mystery that he had deliberately withheld.

She sat next to him some days and when she doesn’t, she comes around in the afternoon after the midday break. They will sit quietly for a while then begin a spirited discussion about poetry and novels.

“Have you read 100 years of solitude?” She asked.

“Yes”

“What do you think of it?”

“It’s hallucinating.”

“What?” She asked smiling.

“My head kept swirling around the story, I couldn’t stop reading it and yet I don’t want to have to read it again,” he said.

She laughed heartily.

 “You read the English translation. It’s more captivating in Spanish.”

“Do you speak Spanish,” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered and said, “I want to write and direct movies.”

“You are in the wrong auditorium of the wrong institution, Madam,” he said.

She laughed again lightly.

“Yea, I know. Will you write a screenplay for me?”

“No,” he answered without a thought.

Since Asiya, Mustapha has resolved to never do a favour for a woman without getting a favour in return, yet he felt a little grieved that he has said no out rightly to Na’imah. She turned to him mildly surprised that he had turned down her request without a second’s thought. He did not see her for the rest of the day and subsequent days afterwards. He looked around for her in the sea of faces in the auditorium, but his glances always met the shrewd glance of a girl. She was dark and petit. She left a small can of yoghurt and shortbread polythene package she was eating on his seat during the tutorial classes. The girl was sitting on his seat when the morning tutorial ended. When she saw him approach, she stood up to go to her seat leaving the rubbish on his seat. Mustapha took the can of yoghurt and shortbread polythene package and followed her. He dropped the thrash on her desk, next to her books and handbag and said, ‘I think you forgot something, madam.’

The expression on her face had remained the same since: hostile, shrewd and defensively unsmiling. She wouldn’t turn her eyes away when he looked at her and when his eyes met hers, he gets the feeling that she has been staring at him for a while. He thought if she was Furairah then he has already failed.

***


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