We all felt we had won an educational lottery -“sort of”- when we didn’t have to pass through the JAMB process and still be among the Students Who Studied Abroad League; scholarship or not.
So your father, mother, uncle or aunt told you that you had gotten admission, you immediately asked where? They replied the Republic of Benin, their faces beaming with smiles. It was your first time, so, you were happy and filled with expectations. I can imagine the look you had on your face finding out there were indeed schools which said “accepted” without much effort on your part. An impossible feat, a safe scam maybe.
You know how much you struggled to attain a credit in English and Mathematics when distant relatives who tipped in a few naira felt you would never make it. At least to pay back their discouraging words, you decided to make sure you got admitted to a university. You were scared of a failed tomorrow.
You watched your friends update their status of how God did it, they just got admitted to this and that university. You frowned with a tinge of happiness and wondered if you were jealous or what we call “bad belle”. It was obvious you couldn’t wait to rub it on their faces that you were going to study in a foreign country never minding the proximity of location, “abroad was still abroad”.
Almost everyone in your small neighborhood knew you were going to a school that had America in it. You got tired of trying to spell it out to them, the name was just too long. Years to come they seemed not to accept it was Benin and always made mistakes of saying you were studying in Ghana, you got tired of correcting them and simply accepted again, “abroad was still abroad”.
Two weeks later, you took a bus to Seme border; it was in fact your first time of hearing the words ‘Seme border’, as you never paid attention in Geography class.
You sat in a bus with at least ten more people and tried not to make obvious what you were thinking- are they Beninese? You took a quick look at the young girl sitting beside you, she noticed and greeted, “Oh she is Nigerian”, you said to yourself almost spilling it out loud. Few months later in the Republic of Benin, you met people who ask the question openly, “Are you Nigerian?”. The young girl introduced herself as Rita and you replied saying Mag, Margaret but you can call me Mag. Almost immediately, she asked where you live, you felt too insecure and just replied Lagos Island in a way that seemed to hiss, “what a question to someone you’re just meeting for the first time”.
The journey was more or less quiet with you looking through the window and counting each car that passed by. They were almost 50 when you realized what a baseless exercise you had embarked on. You picked up your drawing book making imperfect sketches of palm trees that seemed not to end and the school children going to a school that you had probably seen a few yards back. However, the sketching also comes to an end as you saw the signboard just before a popular bank, it said: WELCOME TO BENIN.
Amazed at almost no difference between your homeland and this foreign country, you were caught up with a scene you will forever remember, a funny looking rusty metallic open tricycle with a man with one leg on the wheel.
As every first timer is, you are amazed at how your money tripled as you changed the currency and how everything was not really as cheap as your neighbor told your father, in your heart, you really wanted to curse him for making your father shorten your alawi. Finally, you for once felt proud of your country for being at least higher than another country.
Your neighbor who introduced you to the school simply told you to say, ‘ecole chauffeur’ to the driver and he would drive you to school, hmm…of course, with other passengers. The cab stopped at a big round about which became a favorite or should I say accustomed location to tell any bike man, kekeno, that you were going to. ‘Pekadix (PK10)’, you repeated the word as though it sounded like music when you were told.
You are lucky, you found someone like yourself looking for where to lay her head, fortunately accommodation is likened to looking for water in a beach over there. You both acquired a room and instantly became roommates. Her mother was there too, she supported in getting a big bed for her daughter which later became yours and Tracy’s, your roommate. Her mother repeatedly pronounced, “the bed is big and original, I heard there are original things here”, you and your roommate find out the true colors of the bed before the end of the semester and start looking for money to get another one.
You settled in and called your friends, the gossips first, they’d save your credit. A part of you wanted attention and you got it. You also found time to laugh and tell your friends that you saw university students wearing what looked like your school uniform. Few days later, you joined the league knowing fully well that someone might also laugh at you, an old school mate probably and then you made up your mind not to upload pictures of yourself in uniform. You soon absorb to it before your sign out.
Mag and Tracy became ‘M n T’ to friends you made in school or your favorite spot, Lait Caille joints. They said you were real and loved your sketches, they were as real as you.
Two years in school and your roommate called sick, saying she wouldn’t be resuming soon. You didn’t speak often any longer, you rather kept in touch with her mother who always said she (Tracy) was resting.
One sunny noon, her mother called to say they were coming to pick her things, you asked why, she said, ‘don’t worry’. A whole lot of thoughts went through your mind as you kept asking, ‘has she found a new room mate and they were just covering up’. Your roommate’s parents covered up for her and you knew her mother was capable of coming to pack her stuffs for her if she felt any slight fear.
Her mother came the following day and you couldn’t stop yourself from asking why she was packing her things. She screamed at you saying you were a wicked friend, Tracy had a boyfriend or boyfriends who impregnated her and pushed her to do abortions for them, she cried and said ‘she is gone’. You looked around and even forgot how to cry, the tears were not forth coming, you stood frozen.
Her mother dragged her boxes along side her elder brother, you didn’t even see them off.
The room smelled of Tracy, from her hand stains on the wall, you remembered how you both decided to paint the house together. Her teddy remained in the room placed in a way that made you feel her mother left it intentionally. You didn’t even think of the burial or her ghost lingering around. You only felt guilty for not crying but you couldn’t find the tears as much as it was hurting. You never knew she had a boyfriend.
You went to class normally, when they asked, how’s Tracy, you always said she’s fine. Your mind was far away. You decided to go to the beach, just at the end of the road, you took a walk, it wasn’t far from your house at Gbadamosi street.
You sat down with your legs crossed like you had plans for Yoga but brought out your drawing book. The voice that echoed just then was familiar, it shouted, “M n T”, you found yourself crying uncontrollably. It was Yemi, the manufacturer of the name “M n T”, he had just resumed.
-His Rule Publication