As I woke up that cold January morning and used the back of my hand to remove sleep from my eyes and spittle from my mouth, Demola, my classmate and friend entered the room and wickedly drew the covercloth from my body, allowing the harmattan feast on my fresh flesh.
The covercloth was actually my mother’s native ‘Iro’, the wrapper she tied around her waist which came with a matching native blouse.
She used the clothes as her New year cloth in 2005 and after it began to fade, she converted it to covercloth and I inherited it from her. It was the same covercloth I used to ward off mosquitoes while reading at night, preparing for my WAEC and JAMB exams.
But Demola, my friend didn’t know all about that.
I guess the joy of the News he was about to deliver made him forget all courtesy and history.
When I finally opened my eyes and saw it was him who came to disturb my sleep, I frowned at him and shouted my most pungent ‘abuse’,
‘Guy! Wetin dey worry you!’
He didn’t even mind my frown, he laughed and removed the pillow from under my head.
As my head dropped on the part of the matress where my drooping saliva had soaked wet in the night, I shouted at him again,
‘You too dey disturb person sef!’
‘Wetin you want now, I no cook o’, I told him.
Always in his white siglet and his Nigeria Super Eagles shorts, Demola had the habit of arriving on time whenever I cooked.
And gladly, whether I called him to eat or not, he would dip his hand in my bowl of food and eat.
But today, he wasn’t thinking about food.
He brought a news, a good one.
He told me there will be induction ceremony for newly qualified Medical Doctors in the school that afternoon.
It is not as if they pasted the news update anywhere; students just knew how to sniff out such news and spread them fast.
Immediately I heard his News, I rolled from the bed and sat on the matress, itching to learn more.
The leftover sleep that clouded my vision ran away quickly as I sat up to listen to him and make plans.
These ceremonies always ended with the Reception, where they shared food freely to everyone who came around.
We, my friends and I, usually go together as a Squad, each of us with his bag on his back. As a rule, we never eat in these ceremonies; we just collect and keep in the bag.
We would then move from one canopy to another and collect our wraps of food and drinks and leave that canopy for yet another one.
Most often, we didn’t even know who the celebrants were, neither did we care. All we wanted was enough food wraps to last us till the next day.
Some ‘badbelle’ celebrants and their parents sometimes spoil our show- they serve foods in flat plates and ensure everyone ate right there in the canopy- while they waited to collect their plates.
As I looked at Demola yet again, I fell in love with the guy all over again; he just knew how to save a brother.
Two cups of Garri and one satchet of OMO detergent was all I had at that time and one can’t use detergent as Sugar, so I didn’t have any plans to eat for that week.
I shelved all the plans I made the previous night to visit my Fellowship President that morning and drop the hunger-inspired SOS messge.
I decided to go to class on an empty belly and from there, head to the canopies and get free food.
The receptions usually started around 1pm.
I looked into Demola’s eyes once again and with the way he smiled, he could see I had come up with a grand plan.
I stood up from my bed, put my arms around Demola and smiled broadly like a prosperity preacher.
Towards the end of the last class for that day, my stomach began grumbling and complaining that I was neglecting it.
I tried telling it to wait for a while but it didn’t seem ready to listen.
I placed my right hand over my belly like someone doing deliverance and prayed to heaven that the stomach turning stops.
Even though I was a born again Christian, my prayers were not answered.
The grumbling did not stop.
I struggled till the end of the class and as soon as the lecturer said ‘See you in the next class’, I stormed out of the class.
I forgot to wait for Demola, Emeka and the other members of my Squad.
It was a big mistake.
When I got to the open field in front of the School Auditorium which was designated for the reception of the Induction Ceremony, I met canopies and chairs in them.
The coolers and big food flasks were also present but the reception had not started and therefore, foods and drinks had not started moving from hands to mouth.
The New Medical Doctors were still in the hall, listening to speeches or doing whatever- I didn’t care.
Each canopy had their food containers under lock and key. I was shocked when I saw most of the plastic containers had been drilled and padlocks made into them.
Hunger followed me about like flies after a small boy’s shitty buttocks. And I frantically searched for a canopy with a fat woman who would be benevolent enough to share the food even without the celebrants.
There was none.
I had to be patient by force.
So I waited; not that I had any choice. I sat under one canopy with a woman who wore matching clothes with two or three other ladies which I guessed to be siblings of the celebrant.
I reasoned that if they had enough money to sew special cloth for this small ceremony, they should have excess food.
About thirty minues later, they finished in the hall and the celebrants arrived with their shiny suit and convocation regalia.
I was already dozing in hunger when they arrived and I sat at alert and waited.
As the food containers were removed from the open car boot and brought in, I noticed strange faces coming nearer. Students filed into the remaining empty seats, all armed with their bags on their backs too.
I regretted not stacking five chairs together and sitting on them all. That way, these boys won’t be here to shorten my ration or reduce the probabilty I had of getting food.
One of the boys came near to me and asked if they had served already.
I wanted to lie that they had finished the food so that he could leave but I remembered my Christian faith.
I was starting to get very angry as the boy called someone on the phone and told him where we were seated. But as I remembered I was a child of God, I quickly forced myself to laugh
Soon, about ten minutes after one man came to give speech, they started to serve.
The man preached but I didn’t hear a single thing he said; it was until the final ‘Amen’ that I paid attention.
As they began to serve, I followed each server with my eyes, hoping they see my gentle face and notice my dim and innocent eyes.
As they started food distribution, I put on my best behaviour and smiled so they wouldn’t know I was there for the food.
I even stood up, went to the Celebrant and shook his hands.
‘Congratulations sir!’ I told me; I called him ‘Sir’ even though he was clearly my agemate.
When I returned to my seat, they had served my row and were in the next.
As I sat there like an orphan, I looked around, wondering who I offended for my luck to be working against me like that.
As I looked to my left, I spotted a sister in my fellowship who was seated not too far away with a plate of food in her hands.
The way she held the food, you would think it was the book of life.
She secured the thing like her Salvation.
I quickly shifted my gaze from her since I didn’t want her to think I came for the food.
But she already saw me.
She stood from where she was and came to greet me.
‘My head usher!’ She laughed as we greeted.
I smiled sheepishly like someone who farted in a public place and tried covering it up.
‘So you too are here’, the sister taunted me.
‘Ah! My sister, ”rejoice with those that rejoice” saith our Lord’. The bible passage came to me naturally.
And my stomach made a sound similar to ‘Amen’ as hunger increased.
The scent of the food in the sister’s hand punished me for a while.
I peeped into the nylon in the her hands and saw it was fried rice they shared.
Fried rice was my favourite food.
And it pained me doubly.
‘Have you been served?’ She asked.
‘I haven’t been served jare, but food is not the main thing here. I am just happy to see these new set of successful students’. I smiled again as I deceived myself.
It was that day I realized I could really act any role in a drama.
She said she would help me tell them to serve me and I told her not to worry.
I silently prayed that she ‘over-worry’ and help me out of my hunger.
It seemed Heaven took pity on me as she insisted she would help me collect and stood up.
‘This sister is a good wife-material’, I noted.
I sat there and waited for her.
I began counting the number of iron rods that supported the canopy just to keep myself busy.
I continued waiting for Caring Sister to come until they began sharing toothpick.
One of the servers offered me a toothpick and it took great might for me not to slap her face.
I put my hand in my pocket as I asked for grace to overcome the temptation.
It seemed the devil really wanted to use her for she asked me the second time.
It was then I was really vexed.
‘You didn’t serve me rice, you didn’t serve me malt, now you bring toothpick?’ I looked into her eyes as I said this.
I then stood up and went to the rear of the canopy to look for my caring sister.
I didn’t see her there.
I looked around, I still didn’t see her.
I realized I had been left all alone like the biblical Jacob and most of the boys that came to collect food had gone too.
I shook my head and smiled in pity. If you saw me that day, you would think someone persecuted me or slapped me unjustly.
I didn’t cry but I began wondering if the ‘devourer’ was working in my life. I tried to recall if I paid my last tithe and realized I did.
With strong sorrow, I left that canopy and tried another.
In all the canopies I went to that day, they had finished serving and some were already packing the chairs.
In one of the canopies, as hunger wanted to literally kill me, I asked if they could spare me just a bottle of water.
The man looked at me and saw the deep sadness in my eyes and the hunger in my face.
He handed me two bottles of water and I thanked him profusely.
‘Hope you have transport fare’, he asked as I turned to go.
Because of the way I looked, he had mistaken me for one of those stranded poor beggars.
I smiled and told him I was a student of the school and he was shocked.
Hunger is a fool! I can say that again.
As I headed home, I called Demola and asked if his luck faired better than mine.
It did. It really did.
He said he collected four plates and that he had been looking for me for the past one hour.
I didn’t even bother to explain more. Before I cut the call, I congratulated him and told him to reserve one plate for me.
He laughed his rubbish laughter and mocked me before he said he would drop two plates in my room instead.
Wherever that guy is, may heaven bless him.
He saved my life.
As I headed home, I saw that my caring sister from afar.
She had three plates of rice in a pink polythene bag.
I was able to count because of the outline of plates that could be traced on the bag.
She looked towards me and turned away like Peter on the way to Calvary.
I realized that she wasn’t a caring sister afterall.
She was worse than a false prophet!
‘Hunger and Fried Rice’
(Excerpt from the autobiographical book I am writing about my University days