This Man Doesn't Remember Me ~ Hajara Wodu




In the year 2003, I- a freshman DE student, who had no idea anything else could be tougher than the A-Levels hell hole I had just emerged from, totally brainscathed- met a man. If you were a DE student, you had to juggle between five courses with your own classmates, and six, with 100 level students.
No one gave a fuck if one or two of your lectures from both classes clashed. You had to roll with the punches. Really, you had no choice even as you slumbered and woke up with a start, trying to stay afloat, and constantly adjusting the Confusionist label that always announced your physical appearance. You didn't, not when you were offered admission when half the semester had already gone and the school was on mid-semester break.
My first time trying to locate my class, I barged into the office that housed the many, old security officers of the entire Kongo Campus, "Your class...er...is the security office. Go there" was what I had been told.
There are levels to confusion, you see; one which embarrasses you but tells you sometimes it's okay to be. And then there's that which rattles your entire being into the new knowledge of the profundity of the stupidity that its manifestation birthed, moments after it happened. You're left speechless by the intensity of your own confusion-inspired hand-falling, when in the stead of locating your class, they thought you came to report yourself for being a patriotic freshman nuisance.
On one of the many days of having to face the so-much-books-to-read demons, so I would at least, upon resumption from the mid-semester break, pick it up with the rest of the class where the lecturers left off with them, I thought I had to hit the library.
The quiet there had, within days of frequenting, begun to ease tension and reshape focus. Then one afternoon, a fellow confusionist, scratch that, a worse one- because her head was renaming courses that were named probably when she was still wearing diapers- came to me, said hi, and said she wanted badly, a partner to read and share ideas with.
"Okay, this course is this, and that is that, they're taught at this and that level, and we must take them all at once", I began to explain to her. Just then, a baritone voice that defied its tiny, late-fifties, male frame, strolled by, and dragged "Maintain.......absolute.....quiet....." along with him as he moved past us. We went quiet, and my new friend scurried back to her seat....
....then not less than seven minutes following, I flew out of my own skin when the same voice stole behind me and growled a deliberate "...ness...!!!" into my left ear, like a lion. It jolted me in a worse way than the pricking of a pin would. I was disorganized the rest of that day. I was mad, but too confused about my studies, to react. I simply eyed him, packed my books and left. He was one of the Law librarians.
He would do it a second time, even as I had no one I was talking to that day. I didn't understand how somebody would announce "Maintain absolute quiet...", say nothing afterwards, go round the library saying nothing the entire time, only to come and growl a "...ness..." into my ear. He stole behind me again and did it, but because I wasn't having none of that shit any more, I flew off the handle, stood up to him, and yelled "What da fuccckk!!!! Don't do that again sir. Ever!!!" in his face.
Everyone around shot me the disapproving "Eeww, look at her, Muslim "Hausa" girl, shouting 'what da fuccckk'" look. I had a handful books on my table, but none of them had a single fuck in it that I was ready to give the judging on-lookers. It was relieving, my little outburst, but a smirk crept upon his face as I gave him that piece of my mind, and there I knew he was having fun doing it.
Days after, I began to sit where I could see him if he walked in to the section where I was, for rounds. With my face permanently frowned, he would want to approach me, but on wiser thoughts, he would stand inches away, smile, grin, then call me "My darling", expecting me to smile back. How e wan take happun na! I would eye him, give him the cold "Nothing will make what you did go away" shoulder, and then return to my reading. He did that for weeks, melanging three endearing odd words into a phrase only conservative people use. I mean, what da fuck does "My coco sheen unforgettable sweetness" mean?
I was either eyeing him, looking away or keeping a straight face. None of all he did worked, so he became hostile every time I had to go to him to borrow library books. It was my time to have fun, and that table I turned on him sparked the shege we did to each other from then on. The man would go round, go to where he spotted me earlier, be sure I must have gone for a break or lectures, pick the books I borrowed from the library off the table, hide them and tell his colleagues to keep mum about it.
First time it happened, it was with Black's Law. I cried my eyes out that day. Because really, from whom was I going to ask for money to replace a costly Black's Law and a few law reports that belonged to the faculty library, all of which they said I lost, more so that I had just been sent money for books weeks before? I cried to no end in the library and he watched me ask everyone around, paying me no mind. I went back to my cubicle seat, cried so much I slept off for a long time. His "...ness..." jolted me back up yet again, but I was too weak to even eye him. He sat beside me, stretched the very Black's Law out to me and grinned. "Can we kiss and make up now, my coco sheen?"
I clenched my fist from a sudden rush of anger and new strength. E pain me pass before. I was the only one this man was being "evil" towards. I didn't get why.
I had to have a strike back, and it was picking the library key from where he usually kept it without getting noticed, if he had to step out and there was no one around to hold forth for either him or some other officer. Perfect that he was the only one on duty that day. I picked it the second he was out the door and I went away, to the adjoining library for other faculties, to study. I returned hours later, to find him seated downstairs looking distraught. I dangled the key in his face with all the innocent facial expression I could muster, and I went "Sorry Coco Whatever sir, I thought this was my room key". It was one moment Michael Jackson's Speechless would have started playing right from its chorus, if the now-famous Nigerian funny video clips (where a facial expression is matched with the perfect song, or exclamation from another video) were the rave then. I walked away with a smirk I made sure he saw. We were even. Or so I thought.
Years down the line, up until my final year, he wouldn't leave me alone. He would walk up to me during rounds and actually growl in my face and grin and call me "My smoothening pomade". I was tired, so I let him have the time of his life. He was always picking on me, a la tough love cum obsession. It was first off-putting, then amusing....
.
.
...until it was no longer either. I stopped seeing him around. It was such a relief, but I began to wish to heavens he was well and strong enough to so much as whisper "...ness.." into my ear one more time, just one more time, when one day he specifically sent for me from Shika, where he had been on admission. His colleague had sought me out at the faculty that morning, told me he had been very ill and that he had asked to see me. I left my concluded meeting with my supervisor hurriedly that instance, and I was shattered into fragments when I beheld him truly bed-ridden. He looked intensely at me and that was it.
He couldn't even talk. I sat there all day, his hand locked frailly in mine, as if to assure me he had compiled a new edition mischief to play on me when he returned to work, and I would smile at him, as if to say "Please call me coco sheen or pomade or score shoe sef, here, and now, for that's all that matters. Hell, growl even. Please", but I never had the words. I was leaving for Law school in a matter of weeks, and I was not going to see him anytime soon. It was hell letting go but I stayed a few more.
Once while he was asleep, I was making enquiry from his doctor about the series of medical examinations, test results of which the Council of Legal Education had instructed we had to present upon arriving school, otherwise no registration would be allowed. I was asking if I could do mine there at Shika, and when the doctor described one of the tests to be a deliberate peeling off of my skin(like when you want to do skin grafting), the mere thought of the pain made me shout "yeh.....tashin senses!!!", the man woke up and with a whisper, went "Maintain.... absolute..quiet..................nessss..", and I leapt in joy, as if I had already made the Bar Finals I hadn't even begun undergoing the drilling of. I left for school days after and it was gladdening to follow up on his recovery. He had no idea I had gone away, until his caregiver called me one destabilizing sunny Enugu day in 2009, to tell me he was sick again, had stopped talking, but had written a note he believed had to be for me.
"You have left me again. You left me twenty years ago....ending my world. I found you at my workplace years later...And we were cat and mouse again. But now you're gone again. Why do you taunt me so?"
I didn't quite get how I came to be in the mix that was the mystery of this note, but I had to go see him. And I did, time after time, even if I had to go from another end of the country. He was a lonely, lonely man, who was losing himself to life and age and ill-health and cruel withering.
Retirement came a few years ago and he was worse for it. He would ask to be taken back to where he worked, even if it meant just sitting at a special spot, staring into nothingness, saying little or nothing the entire day, and be taken back home after close of work. There was no severing his ties with the library. He wasn't having it. It was a thousand times more a healing circle, than anything an empty house had to offer. Or one a home for the old and frail could guarantee. I would call to have the phone held to his ear, but he would say nothing. I would always hold on, listening to his breathing. Just that, for an hour, and I would be good, before I went to see him again soon.
His caregiver has been constantly kind, even when he could and should have walked away. A great guy.
September last I was back at school and had to see him first. I raced straight to the library, to his favourite spot, took a chair and sat right across from.
I, as always, took his hands in mine, played with his fingers and did the talking the entire time. His strained gaze would follow the stripes on my dress to where each stopped or cojoined another, and it would trace them right back, stopping to continue the gaze down our locked hands.
I told stories of all our fights, right in that library. Searched his tired eyes for signs that he remembers. Or would smile. Or would make to talk. Even mumble.
But his face was expression-less. Always. For days. I returned, each day, and told each memory. But...
He didn't talk. He never talked.
As I tried to hold back tears and the unthinkable thoughts dashing in and out my mind, of That Moment it won't be him not just talking.
I sat there, scared to death itself, re-reading his note from years ago, making a failed attempt at a peek into how deep a dirge pain and loss had written him, and I am wondering...
I am Hajara Wodu.
I am unforgettable.
But this man.
He doesn't remember me.

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Hajara Wodu is a Guest Contributor at The Arts-Muse Fair.

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