The next day, campus was buzzing with news. I heard it from Anna who still insisted that I need to interact with other people more. The news was that a few students who had skipped out on most of the semester were back on campus. Anna told me that she heard they were quite notorious and popular for throwing wild parties, the highly unsupervised kind. They were seniors who were in 300 level and upward.
“So, you’re telling me that they skipped out of school just like that?” I asked bewildered.
Anna nodded and lifted another spoon of steaming jollof rice into her mouth. We were at the cafeteria getting lunch.
“Yes, just like that.” She repeated. “I can’t explain it but sometimes it’s like the school authorities fear them.”
She animatedly waved her spoon in the air when suddenly she stopped and stared at something over my shoulder.
“I’ll catch up with you later, okay? I need to talk to someone.” She finished her meal within seconds and left me there, staring at the place she’d been seated just moments ago.
A minute later, a voice spoke behind me.
“Is this seat taken?” I looked up as the guy now stood where I could see him. He was of average height and dark in complexion with a mini-afro.
I sighed beneath my breath. When I get my hands on Anna, I’ll-
“Hello there?” He said as he took a step closer.
“Yes?” I responded.
“May I sit here?”
I nodded and turned my attention back to my food. I was halfway through with my meal so if I was lucky, I would be out of there in a few minutes. We spent the following moments in silence before he finally spoke.
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Ahmed.”
I nodded again.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” He smiled, starting to seem a bit uncomfortable.
I pitied him, really. He had no idea what he had gotten himself into. I shook my head for ‘no’.
We didn’t exchange another word until I was through with my meal. I got up and slung my bag over one shoulder, not bothering to glance at him once.
I arrived in the hostel about an hour before Anna showed up and I was fully prepared to confront her. She walked in and once she saw me, she grinned expectantly.
“So, how did it go Presh?” She dropped her bag on her bed and pulled off her shoes. “Don’t you think Ahmed is nice?”
“You really didn’t have to do that Anna.” I crossed my arms across my chest.
“He’s a nice guy.” She shrugged.
“It doesn’t mean I’m interested in getting to know him.”
“Okay, you need to chill.” She said. “I’m not saying go and marry the guy, I just thought he’s someone you could have as a friend.”
“I do have friends.”
“Where are they?” She raised an eyebrow.
“That doesn’t matter.” I snapped.
The door opened and Ada stepped in, closely followed by Nafisa.
“Woah,” Ada said. “What’s going on here?”
“Anna’s trying to set me up.”
“With a guy, is that so bad?” She looked thoroughly confused.
“I’m not interested.”
“Okay, you guys need to calm down and explain.” Nafisa said.
I quickly gave a brief version of what happened in the cafeteria. Ada looked like she was trying to hold in a smile while Nafisa didn’t try to hide it at all.
“Listen Precious, Anna doesn’t mean any harm okay?”
“She just loves to play cupid at times in the most infuriating way possible.” Ada chipped in.
“B-but I-” Anna sputtered.
“Nope, you can’t even deny it.” Nafisa raised a finger. “You should’ve seen her handwork at the party before things got out of control.”
“I just like happy endings.” Anna mumbled, twisting her braids round her finger.
“Well not everyone is up for your experiments.” Ada rolled her eyes.
Anna sighed in annoyance. “Whatever.”
“Glad we’ve sorted that out, now I can make an important announcement.” Ada cleared her throat and paused for dramatic effect. “Next week Saturday, Zach is throwing a pre-birthday party and you’re all invited.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“What?” Ada turned to me.
“Even after what happened yesterday, he’s planning a party?” I said.
“It’s kind of a way to make up for the disaster that happened yesterday. It’s strictly by invitation though so not everyone can get in.”
“I’ll go.” Anna said.
“Me too.” Nafisa seconded.
All three girls turned to look at me as they waited for a response.
“Don’t even think about skipping out of this one.” Anna said. “You need to get a social life that doesn’t revolve around your room, church and lectures.”
“My social life is doing just fine.”
“Nope, it’s non-existent. That’s what it is.” Anna snickered.
My mouth tightened in irritation. This girl just couldn’t give me a break.
“I’ll think about it.” I shrugged.
They agreed to that and finally gave me some peace of mind about the issue.
That was how I found myself the following Saturday, sitting in a roomful of inebriated people and sipping from a can of Sprite. I was glad I even found any soft drink at all. I kept tugging at my blouse to feel a bit more comfortable until Nafisa grabbed my hand.
I shrugged uncomfortably without saying anything.
“Listen, I’m going to the restroom, try not to look like this is torture.” She laughed as she walked away, hips swaying despite the loose, knee-length gown she wore.
I sighed as I remembered another party I attended a long time ago.
Two years ago…
I dabbed on some of the red lipstick that Olamide handed over to me when we were in the ladies’ room and rubbed my lips together to spread the colour.
“Is it too much?” I asked nervously.
“Nope it’s just enough, you look hot.” She winked at me.
I laughed and swatted her shoulder. I’d gone along with her to Jeffery’s party that night and she had hinted at me that there was someone special who wanted to see me. I’d made an extra effort to look good that evening after taking an excuse from my parents that I only wanted to attend my friend’s birthday party. They let me go because I’d been cooped up in the house for days since we were on holiday. I adjusted the hem of my black gown and walked out with Olamide. She led us straight to a group of her friends and as I looked at the faces of some of the party goers, I realised only few of my set-mates were present. This was what was termed an ‘Exclusive Party’. It was the kind of party that was thrown by a senior and only a few selected students in lower classes got to attend. Olamide had convinced Jeffery to invite me when she heard Leo might attend. I snapped to attention when she nudged me gently to the left. My gaze followed her gesture and when I looked back at her she smiled knowingly.
“I was hoping that I’d see you here.” It was Leo and he stood behind me.
I’m quite ashamed to say that I grinned like an idiot.
“Do you want to dance?” He nodded towards the dance floor where several gyrating bodies were displaying their dancing skills or lack of it.
“Um.” I hesitated. I didn’t really know how.
“If you don’t want to, it’s okay.” He shrugged.
I sighed in relief.
“We could just talk, you know, hang out.” Leo said and I agreed.
We spent several minutes talking and I fell deeper and deeper with each minute that passed. I didn’t know what came over me, but I pulled him to the dance floor even though I was clueless on what to do. But he seemed to know exactly what he was doing and very soon we were swaying with an easy rhythm. When we were tired of dancing, he led me outside to the garden. We found a bench to sit on and I relished the cool, fresh air. Inside had begun to smell dank and nauseating.
“You know,” He started. “When Olamide told me you were coming, I knew I had to show up just to be sure it was true.”
I grinned silently and nodded.
“It’s funny how we don’t talk at school. Don’t you think we should change that?” His eyes held a teasing look in them.
“I’d like that.” I replied.
I was elated. I couldn’t believe this handsome, cool and sophisticated senior guy wanted to hang out with me. Me!
Suddenly, I felt warm when he put his arm across my shoulders, drawing me closer. I was stiff for a second before I relaxed into his hold. This felt nice. His hand drifted down to the curve of my waist and I stiffened again.
“Relax.” He chuckled.
I tried but couldn’t. My heart had begun to beat at a fast pace and I tried to sit up but he held me firm to his side. I remembered how strong his grip was the day I tripped and how he bruised my arm without knowing it.
“I really need to get going.” I whispered. “I’m sure Olamide is looking for me by now.”
“I’m sure your friend knows you’re with me, she saw us leave together.” He countered my concerns.
“Now, I’ve been meaning to ask.”
I was quiet as I waited for his question.
“Have you ever had a boyfriend before or do you currently have one?”
“What?” I frowned as my eyebrows scrunched together.
“You know, a guy and girl-”
I waved his explanation away. “I know what it means.”
“So, have you?” He asked again.
I gave him a quiet and hesitant reply but it seemed to be exactly what he wanted to hear because his eyes lit up with a strange light.
“Perfect.” He smiled. “You’re perfect.”
“Come on girl, look alive.” Anna jerked me back to reality when she tapped my shoulder. “This is not a mourning ceremony. Try to interact with people and stop warming the seat with your backside.”
“Who’s your friend Anna?” A guy said as he approached us from behind.
Yes, she had said all that, even mentioned my backside in the presence of a strange guy who just happened to show up at the time.
“Precious, this is Kolade,” She said. “Kolade, meet Precious.”
I eyed the guy beside her and froze when I recognised him. I’d seen him in class before. He was the guy who spoke to me after Mr Essien’s class but didn’t introduce himself.
“Ah, we meet again.” He offered his hand for a brief handshake which I accepted.
Anna looked between us questioningly.
“We met in class.” I explained.
“Great, that means you two already have something in common.” She gave me a meaningful look and I narrowed my eyes at her. Not again.
“So, I will leave you two to talk, I think I hear the dance floor calling me.” She walked away with a smug smile on her face.
If there was one thing I’d learned about Anna by now, it was that she didn’t like to listen. The girl was absolutely stubborn.
“You don’t look like you want to be here.” Kolade said as he watched me carefully.
“It’s just not my scene.” I shrugged as I looked around.
“So what is your kind of scene?” He said as he air-quoted the word.
“Less crowded, less noisy, less…” I paused and looked at him. “Shall I go on?”
“No, I think I get the point now.” He chuckled.
“Do you want to, I don’t know maybe go outside or something?” He gestured towards the doors behind him.
I froze upon hearing that and glanced at him sharply.
“Hey, calm down. I just thought we should be able to hear ourselves talk without shouting at the top of our voices.” He raised his hands as if in surrender.
“I’d rather not.”
I could tell that he was a bit annoyed at my reaction but I didn’t feel like soothing his ruffled feathers. We sipped our drinks in silence that nearly became unbearable.
“Why are you so prickly all the time?”
“Excuse me,” I said in surprise. “This is just the second time we’re speaking to each other.”
“And I can’t say that it’s better than the first.”
“You don’t have to force yourself then.” I shrugged.
“Listen, if it’s because you think I’m trying to get you or that I’m interested or something then you don’t need to worry about that.”
I tried not to look concerned by what he was saying.
“That’s it, isn’t it? You’re trying to ward off male attention.” He sounded amused like he just discovered a huge secret.
“Why’re you still here then?” I looked up at him.
“I’m here because I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”
“Well, have it with someone else then.”
Just as the words left my mouth, I rolled my eyes, looked into the crowd and saw a face that I’d hoped never to see again. My grip went limp and moments later, the can fell from my hands and the contents spilled onto the floor.
“Hey, watch it.” Kolade yelled and sprang back when the drink splashed onto his shoes.
I ignored him as I stared at the face in the distance. He was standing by the door, looking like he owned the place. Two imposing guys stood on either side of him and their eyes surveyed the room with disgust. I froze when his eyes drifted past me, only to return a few seconds later.
“Now I have to go and clean this up.” Kolade grumbled as he walked away.
Right then, I nearly begged him to come back, for him not to leave me alone, especially not when he was here. What was he doing here for heaven’s sake? Why did he have to ruin everything all over again? I began to feel a familiar bubble of panic and anger with each step he took further into the room. He stalked towards me with purpose, his eyes glinted with mischief and wicked intent. I couldn’t remember what I ever saw in them that I once thought was beautiful and charming. He stopped right in front of me and leaned down to whisper the words that sent dread creeping up my spine.
“My precious,” His warm breath blew over my ear as he whispered. “We meet again, I’ve missed you.”
I wanted to yell at him, to slap his irritating face and make him feel all the pain I endured over the years but I was paralysed with fear. It gripped my limbs and made me spineless. After all these years since the incident, I was face to face with Leo again, yet I couldn’t even form a simple coherent sentence. I shrank away from him, struggling to breathe but it seemed the oxygen supply simply wasn’t enough, my chest began to constrict and right there and then, I had another panic attack, something that I hadn’t had in nearly a year. Dark spots clouded my vision and before I knew it, my body slumped to the ground.
When I woke up, I was in the campus medical centre. I laid there on the bed for a few minutes until I remembered what happened and felt depressed all over again. Why couldn’t he have remained wherever he was? Why did we have to cross paths again? I cried silently as I regretted my decision to come here. Any other university where I would never see his face would be heaven right now. I heard footsteps approach the door and tried to wipe away evidence of my tears but I knew my eyes would still look bloodshot and my face will be blotchy.
“Is she awake now?” Someone whispered as two people entered the room.
I briefly thought of pretending to be asleep but decided against it. I watched my roommates Anna and Nafisa walk into the room trying to make as little noise as possible.
“Oh, thank God you’re alright.” Nafisa breathed in relief.
“One minute you were fine and standing on your own two feet and the next thing we knew, you were flat on the ground.” Anna said as she took a seat beside the bed. Nafisa stood beside her, peering at me intently.
“Did it have anything to do with…Leo?” She tentatively asked. “I mean, you were fine before he approached you.”
I didn’t want to talk about it so I changed the topic.
“She’s still at Zach’s place. A fight broke out just a short while after you were carried out.”
It seemed parties were jinxed on this campus.
“What caused it?” I asked.
Anna immediately looked animated as she prepared to narrate the incident.
“You wouldn’t believe it. In fact, it happened like a film trick. When you fainted, you drew a lot of attention. People started gathering and asking what happened to you. Some wanted to brush it off as you having a bit too much to drink but Nafisa, Kolade and I swore you’d only had a can of Sprite all evening.” She paused for breath. “When Zach, Ada and some of his guys came over, they saw Leo with you, Zach confronted him and before we knew it, some of Leo’s friends came over too and they all began exchanging punches. I would’ve said Zach fought for your honour but we all know he’s crazy about Ada, so I think there’s something more going on between those guys than we know about.”
For a moment I took in all she said and tried to make sense of it. A fight couldn’t have broken out just because I fainted. Anna was right, there had to be something more.
“I didn’t realise Leo was a student on this campus.” I said slowly.
“Oh he is, but he’s rarely on campus. He recently came back with the other people I told you about who’ve been AWOL since the beginning of the semester.” She eyed me carefully. “Why? You sound like you know him.”
“He’s just familiar that is all.” I muttered, hating the fact that I’d embarrassed myself like that in front of him.
Later when I was discharged and allowed to return to the hostel, I stretched out on my bed and shut my eyes. I desperately hoped that it was a nightmare and nothing more. I fervently wished that Leo would disappear into thin air or back to whatever hole he had crawled out from. I got out my phone and called Sylvia, she would understand.
“Precious, how’re you?”
“I’m not fine.” I answered truthfully.
“What’s wrong?” She asked urgently.
There was a moment of silence.
“Did he touch you or did he do anything to you?” Her voice was firm.
“No.” I whispered.
“Good, stay far away from him, do you hear me?”
“Remember, he has no power over you. Don’t let anything disrupt your life again.”
I felt silent tears run down my face as I listened to Sylvia’s words. My skin was covered in cold sweat and I tried as much as possible to slow down the pace of my breathing.
“If there’s any emergency, let me know or better still, get in touch with any trustworthy university authority.”
“Okay, I will.”
When the call ended, I shut my eyes again and tried to block out the memories that threatened to surface. I wondered how long it would take for him to find me on campus and what I would do if that should happen.
To be continued…