Click here to read the previous chapter; Behind Her Smile – Chapter One
It was with great relief that we checked out of the hotel by 8am sharp. The receptionist bid us farewell with a smile which you didn’t need a soothsayer to tell you it was fake. I noticed her eyes seemed dull and there was a hint of a bruise beneath the sleeves of her shirt which she kept tugging down.
“Glad to be rid of that place.” Mom scoffed as we got into the car.
“It certainly isn’t going on any 5-star lists anytime soon.” Dad commented as he drove off.
Less than an hour later, we arrived at the huge iron gates to Victoria University where my parents ensured they saw me to the administrative building to begin the registration process. I felt awkward, thinking I wasn’t quite ready for this. I’d been home-schooled for two years of secondary school, from SS2-SS3 due to an incident I’d tried hard to get out of my mind. It had haunted me ever since.
“Darling, are you okay?” Mom asked, watching me carefully.
Dad grasped my hand tightly in silent support while we waited. I was directed to a waiting room where I was to submit all relevant documents for them to be assessed. I fought hard not to hyperventilate as thoughts of life away from the comfort of home and free from any form of danger took over. What if such an incident repeated itself? What if I was powerless to stop it again? What if-?
“Miss Precious Badejo?”
I looked up, startled. Pulling myself together, I got up and smoothed down my skirt. I took in a deep breath and followed the lady into her office. Few minutes later, we were through but I was asked to return to her office the following day to complete my clearance.
“Your mom and I are heading back home, take care of yourself and if there’s anything, just call.” Dad said as he tipped my chin up so he could look me in the eye.
Mom smiled and hugged me tightly and I returned the gesture, trying hard to hide the fact that I was crumbling inside.
“Excuse me. I believe this is my room?”
There was momentary silence before the noisy female chatter continued. The girls, who had paused to glance at me, ignored me once more. There were three of them and I assumed they were all my new roommates. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to have a single room all to myself and I loved my privacy.
Alright then, not the most welcoming bunch. I thought as I took a few more steps into the room and shut the door behind me. I felt my heart sink at the sight of the two bunk beds in the room, well it was to be expected but I couldn’t be blamed for hoping otherwise. The floors were cream-tiled and the walls were painted a light shade of blue. A white ceiling fan spun at the center of the ceiling, creating a gentle breeze within the room. The only surface which was free of any personal belongings was one of the top bunks.
Oh great, I was left with no choice.
“Hello, I’m Anna.” One of the girls said before she turned to throw a pillow at another girl who had earbuds in the whole time, nodding her head to music.
“What?” She asked, looking confused.
Anna tucked one of her loose braids behind her ear and jerked her head toward me.
“Oh. Hi.” The second girl said. “You must be the new girl we’ve been expecting. I’m Adaeze by the way.”
She was a slim, tall girl with smooth dark skin.
“I’m Nafisa,” The third girl smiled, flashing a set of clean, white teeth. “What’s your name?”
Her accent had a distinct Hausa lilt to it.
“I’m Precious, nice to meet you all.” I guessed they weren’t that bad after all.
“What department are you in?” Anna asked with a bit too much enthusiasm.
Her face fell at my reply. “Oh.”
“Don’t mind her, she’s been hoping for more course mates in her department.” Nafisa explained.
“Adaeze and I are both Political Science students while she’s in Computer Science.”
“Why did you resume so late? Lectures started weeks ago but lucky for you, Orientation isn’t for a few days.” Anna said, watching me curiously with her wide-set, almond shaped eyes as she twirled another loose braid round her finger.
“I had some stuff to prepare at home.” I replied vaguely, looking away.
“Give the girl her breathing space, Anna.” Adaeze said, throwing the pillow back at her. She had taken out her earbuds and turned her attention toward me. “It looks like you’re going to be my new bunk mate, so you better get settled in. We’ve got lectures tomorrow.”
“Is it just me or do weekends fly past way too fast?” Nafisa sighed, starting off another round of chatter.
I was glad to be ignored this time around as I arranged my stuff into the empty wardrobe. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a table or chair of my own so I knew I had to be ready to improvise. Once in a while I would feel curious eyes watching me but when I turned to look the girls would just give me a small nod or smile and continue their gist. I had just stuffed all I possibly could into the wardrobe when a few girls walked in with barely a knock. I looked up in irritation, nearly forgetting that the room wasn’t mine alone.
“Anna, I’ve come for the wardrobe oh.” A tall, dark girl announced. She stopped short when she saw me.
“New roommate?” She asked the girls.
They confirmed it.
“But you promised you would give her the wardrobe today.” Another girl spoke up, folding her arms.
“Now someone else has come to claim it just like that.”
I remained where I was silently, automatically figuring out that neither of the girls was a fresher like I was.
“Sorry BB, but she just came today and she was assigned to our room.” Anna said, shrugging apologetically.
I was made to clear out the wardrobe. Everything that I’d neatly arranged just a few minutes ago, I’d dumped back into my box and sat cross-legged in the corner of the room, trying hard to keep my annoyance in check. Eventually, the girls had a change of heart and left the room, without the wardrobe. It was then I knew that furniture was a scarce commodity in our hostel. That I got a wardrobe was a miracle on its own. I spent another half hour rearranging my belongings, foregoing the artistic effort I’d put into the task the first time. Later in the evening, the girls went for dinner and invited me along but I wasn’t quite ready to step out of the room yet so I declined and made do with my provisions. I savoured the little time I had to myself. My phone rang and I set down my bowl of cornflakes to answer it.
“Hey Sylvia, that was quick.” I was impressed.
“Of course I need to check up on you, how’s it so far?” Sylvia replied and a smile was evident in the tone of her voice.
“No mental breakdowns, I’m fine.” I replied.
“Okay dear, take care of yourself and remember if you need anything-”
“Just call.” I completed her sentence and we said goodbye.
I rinsed the bowl and cleared up anything else of mine that wasn’t yet in place. I was in need of a shower so I ventured out of the room with my bucket and bathing items to locate one. There were four bathrooms in total with two shower stalls and toilets each but I imagined that there would still be rush-hour mornings. Once I was through, I returned to the room to get ready for bed since I had nothing else to do but I couldn’t sleep, not even when it was past midnight. I knew it was normal for me, being in a new place but if I wanted to be early to class, I had to sleep and I had only 5 hours left to do so.
Not the face! I thought as my hand slipped and my head almost went slamming into the desk.
“I’ve received many comments about my teaching technique but it hasn’t been compared to sedatives yet.” The baritone voice was filled with disapproval and a hint of humor.
My eyes snapped open and I stared, half-dazed at MTH101 lecturer as he if was an apparition. Maths wasn’t my favourite subject but it wasn’t enough to put me to sleep. I was running on barely 3 hours of sleep and I’d gotten to class late because I was too shy to get dressed in front of my roommates, ironically, they had no problem stripping down and getting dressed. I’d stood there moisturising one portion of my body for as long as possible, trying to buy time. When they’d finally left the room, there I was in a towel with only well moisturised arms to show for all that time and I was nearly late to class.
“N-no not at all sir, I’m sorry.” I stuttered, discreetly wiping the corner of mouth for any sign of drool. Thankfully, there was none.
He regarded me for a moment before gesturing for me to get to my feet.
“Remain standing until I say otherwise.” He said before he turned to the board to continue the lecture.
“Isn’t he so dreamy?” A girl whispered behind me.
My ears pricked in curiosity and I turned to glance at her. She was a chubby girl and had a baby face that made her look sweet and innocent.
“I just want to wrap him up and take him home with me.”
Okay, not so innocent.
“Maya forget it. He’s our lecturer for God’s sake.” A girl behind her hissed in annoyance.
I think I just choked mentally. The hiss was a bit too loud because it attracted the lecturer’s attention.
“Who was that?” He asked as he turned around to survey the hall.
Students giggled mischievously, drawing his attention away from the actual culprit.
“I repeat, who did that?”
“Sir, I think it came from over there.” A male voice spoke up.
I turned to find one of the students pointing directly at me. From what I remembered about secondary school, everything about him screamed teacher’s pet.
“Thank you Dayo,” The lecturer then turned to me. “I’m sure you’re new here and I really don’t expect this sort of behaviour from you. I’ve changed my mind; you shall remain standing for the duration of the class.”
I said nothing and cast a deathly glare at the guy who landed me in trouble. This wasn’t what I expected for crying out loud. How was this any better than secondary school? I was glad that I’d opted for home-schooling during the final years of my secondary education.
“Even the way he scolds is just so attractive.” The girl behind me whispered quietly.
I clenched my teeth together in annoyance. Not another word.
After class, all I wanted to do was disappear to my hostel but that hope was shattered when someone stopped me at the exit. I raised my head and was met with a pair of dark, intelligent eyes that regarded me silently.
“What’s your name?” He finally asked.
He was so far the first student to ask for my name without introducing himself first.
“Precious.” I replied as I took a step away from him.
He noticed my gesture but said nothing about it.
“Back there, what happened? Why didn’t you speak up?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you didn’t do it.”
“Does it matter?” I retorted.
“Well it does if you care about your reputation.”
Right then, I didn’t care about much other than leaving that place.
“I’m just saying, you should speak up for yourself next time, rarely would others do it for you.” He turned without another word and left me standing there.
I realized he never introduced himself.
“I heard you were rude to Mr Essien in your Maths class.” It was the first thing Anna said when I walked into the room. She and Ada were in the room, but Nafisa was not around.
I just stood there wondering how on earth she had gotten that piece of news.
“Don’t look so surprised,” She laughed. “News travels fast here.”
“I wasn’t rude, it just a misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve used that line before.” Ada commented, smacking her bubble gum as she walked past me in tiny denim shorts.
“Listen, Mr Essien has a bit of a reputation around here.”
I said nothing and waited for her to continue.
“Nearly half the female population of this campus is crushing on him.”
“Ew.” I wrinkled my nose.
“I agree.” Ada said from her side of the room. “He once tried to convince my parents that I needed a tutor because I was failing maths. The fact is, I wasn’t but he always failed me.”
This piqued my curiosity.
“So, what did you do?” I asked.
She smiled slowly and paused in her act of smacking her bubble gum. Judging by the smiles they all had, I guessed it was a story they all knew.
“During a test in class, I duplicated my answers, so I submitted one and held on to the other. I gave another maths lecturer on campus to mark them, I told him I was practicing some questions, you know preparing for the exams. When I got my script from Mr Essien, I failed but my script from the other lecturer was excellent. That’s when I was sure something was up.”
“Wow.” I was impressed. “So, did you confront him?”
“Girl, he doesn’t even look at her twice now.” Anna said.
“Asides that, let’s just say, I have my ways.” Ada smirked.
My stomach chose that time to grumble loudly. I guess it was time to finally pay the cafeteria a visit. During the walk there, I pondered on just how easy Ada had made it sound. Was it really that easy?
If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was standing right in the middle of the third world war and neither side was ready to surrender.
“Madam, I tell you say I want jollof. Give me sharp, sharp!”
“This one na meat?” A stout-looking guy growled, holding up a plate of food.
“Man no fit die of hunger now!”
I turned at the sound of the piercing feminine voice to find a tall, curvy girl bedecked with an expensive weave and black body-con dress. I looked down at my jeans and T-shirt. Apparently, when it comes to matters of the stomach, appearances don’t matter. I didn’t realize I was staring until our gazes clashed.
“E be like say I dey follow you talk?” She snapped in my direction.
My eyes widened and I looked behind me.
“You think na play I dey play?” She narrowed her eyes, taking a few steps towards me.
It was then I realized just how intimidating girls could be, especially a hungry one. She was right in front of me now, staring at me with her dark eyes, lined with kohl that made them look even more threatening.
“Babe, I don get your food.” A tall, dark guy walked up to us and gently took her by the arm as if he knew he was holding unto a ticking time bomb.
I sighed in relief as she walked away and quickly joined a fast-moving queue, making sure to keep my eyes straight ahead of me and avoid anyone’s gaze. I’d nearly forgotten what it was like to be among so many different types of people but I had to be prepared to learn all over again.