by Elect Alenkhe
It was a seemingly ordinary Thursday afternoon, only that it seemed the Sun was bent on showing off her strength with no pity for the people underneath her. A girl sat, relaxing under the shade that one or two trees provided her somewhere on campus, precisely at the Faculty of Arts’ car park of the University of Benin in Nigeria.
And as she sat quietly, enjoying her own company (or not!), a man who looked to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s came along. She greeted him warmly, as she found him oddly familiar. He also seemed puzzled about her, and they spent some time questioning each other and wracking their brains to find out where they had met.
Soon, they cracked the puzzle. He was no close acquaintance or old friend as she had suspected, but only a face she had seen a couple times around the part of campus where he worked. But even after this discovery, he did not continue his journey to wherever he was previously headed. No. Not until he had shared a personal and somewhat intriguing tale with this young lady who he had stumbled upon, on that fateful Thursday.
Many years ago, he was a young man with his whole life ahead of him. And as a step towards achieving his life goals, he travelled all the way from Anambra (a State in the Eastern region of Nigeria) to a village, turned town today, known as Irrua in Edo State (in Southern Nigeria) to write his WASSCE*. Contrary to what people say about the Esan tribe, where Irrua is located, he was very well received and treated with great hospitality by the people he met there. He bonded well with his landlord’s family, especially the man’s daughter, who was a beauty to behold.
*WASSCE = West African Senior School Certificate Examination
After one month, he had completed his exams and it was time to leave and return to his home. But the young daughter of his landlord pleaded that he takes her back with him to the East. She had grown to like him very much. She admired his devotion to God. His willingness to give anything she asked of him endeared him even more to her. How would she cope in his absence? Who’d be there to help her? He was going to leave her, and then her life would revolve around working at her father’s poultry and farm.
Even her family wished he would stay back. One reason, amongst others, was that before he came into their lives, the chickens at their poultry house were dying at an alarming rate but for the one-month period he spent with them, that ugly tide had been averted. He must have brought some good luck with him. Perhaps, his God was not only seated on a high throne in Heaven, but also was right there with him in Irrua.
But he had to go!
And that girl (then a Secondary School level 2) student, pleaded so much that he had to delay his trip. Her Aunt had a meeting with him where she also tried to appeal to him, begging him to take her niece with him. The other family members, too, felt they could trust this young man with their daughter.
He was troubled and at a loss on what to do. What would his family say if he brought a girl home? What about his future? He had not been to University or found his footing in life yet. Had he been settled or had a source of living already, he’d have very willingly taken her with him, away from her life in the village, and given her a new lease of life. He wouldn’t have feared the consequences. But how would he ever, ever take a woman home now?
On the day he left, she held tightly on to his bag and to him, weeping profusely. Sadly, she had to let him go in the end, and go without her. He wasn’t going to stay.
Time passed, and one day, he was on a journey passing through Esanland again and made a stop at Irrua. He arrived at her family house, bringing with him stuff that he thought she would like. But she wasn’t at home and neither was any member of her nuclear family that he knew. Her cousin was there, but they couldn’t communicate effectively due to the language barrier. Disappointed, he left a note for his friend, and went on his way.
He has not set eyes on her since and although decades have passed, the memory of her – that dark and very pretty young girl – begging him not to leave, is still fresh in his cerebrum like bread straight out of the oven in the eater’s mouth. He is sure that her family married her off immediately after secondary school. And he imagines that maybe she has a bunch of kids already. With nostalgia trailing his voice and her picture in his head, he said to his attentive listener, “she was dark and very pretty”.
After he shared his story and they had said their goodbyes, he left. But then he came back to her with something wrapped in a branded polythene bag. It was a drink, and maybe he gave the ‘drink offering’ to appreciate her for being such a good audience while he told the story. She was touched by his kind gesture.
Interestingly, the girl to whom he recounted his story is a native of Esanland herself. She is also a writer, and unknown to him, she found his story intriguing enough to share with you. Are you still wondering who the mysterious listener-girl is?
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am her.
I love conversation and a good story anytime. And talking about kind gestures, I now look out to meet other people who would share their stories with me over a cup of coffee, a plate of catfish pepper soup or even a bowl of chicken and chips. I have a habit of taking mental notes during conversations with people, and I recommend that you practise it too.
Back to the story, I hope they find each other someday soon. I also dare to imagine the possibility of his dear long-lost friend somehow stumbling on this story, and of it becoming a seed to produce a sweet, beautiful reunion!
Elect Alenkhe is a fresh graduate of Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Benin. However, she’d like to be known foremost as a writer. She believes her writing ability and disarming smiles are her superpowers with which she can change the world. She’s also the founder of The Amazons’ Community, a membership platform for young ladies aged between 13-25.
The featured image is of proud Esan girl and the author of this blog post, Elect Alenkhe.