Present: My mother and I were outside. We were chatting while she tried to read a magazine simultaneously.

PHCN had done their primary assignment; interrupted power supply. The generating set was undergoing servicing at Shogo's workshop. My laptop still had not got over its battery problems. So immediately the bulb over my head went off I quickly put the computer in hibernation mode and went outside. It was the usually stuff: we talked about what happened while I was away. Who died, who married, who put to bed, who moved away, the latest scandal; in short, we dissected other people's business without gossiping. We processed news internally, not spread. Three people died in my absence, one mysteriously and unexpectedly. It was a sad story. The fellow probably took his own life, but nobody knew for certain. Fola owned a Peogeout station wagon which he used to run a small transport service from Lagos to Abuja. Being the only vehicle he had, the car which he acquired used, quickly wore out and became unfit for the road. Faced with unemployment, he ran around looking for another source of income. But armed with a worthless certificate from a technical school he regretted attending, Fola soon realized he was no employer's dream recruit. Except Adigwe, the local bricklayer who took him with opened arms. But Adigwe was not the ideal boss. He wanted to be a pastor but his drinking habit and chain-smoking put off any potential congregants, even if they could somehow overlook his well-documented sexual escapades. Adigwe was the vermin of our community. The bricklayer, happy to get a source of cheap labor, exploited Fola as much as he could. He would withhold Fola's pay even though it was less than the going rate of laborers for as long as

he could. Fola began to drink; cheap locally made gin and his eyes bulged and turned red like his boss. Yet his problems did not vanish. His sister, a tailor who was approaching menopause but who nobody was willing to marry tried her best to get him off Adigwe but since Fola needed to make money, he stuck to his boss. And got worse. He no longer cared for his appearance: he wore his work clothes everywhere and for the most part kept to himself. Then his neighbors noticed he seemed to have disappeared. His door was locked tight, no amount of knocking brought any response. When his sister was notified, she authorized a carpenter to bring down the door. Fola was right there, sprawled out on the floor, several days dead. Nobody wanted trouble so the police was not invited. He was quietly buried in an unmarked grave. Theories abounded. Fola poisoned himself, drunk himself to death, got ill. There was no autopsy to confirm who was right and since he remained dead whatever version one believed, life went on. I was touched by the sad end of a cheerful and easygoing fellow who life dealt a rough hand. Fola's sister had resumed her tailoring business but she now went about with a sad face. Nobody got married but people moved away, including a family that sold their house, a rarity in our community where folks fiercely guarded their properties. They suddenly moved to a rural area where they did not have neighbors for miles in any direction. It baffled everybody because the family never looked like they craved their privacy. A lot had happened behind my back, which proved that my community would move on without me. I didn't know whether to be happy about it or not. I wondered how all of these fitted into the single semester I was away.

My sister, Judith, finished preparing dinner and came out to join us. She also contributed stories - mostly negative - from her own section of the community. More and more of her schoolmates were getting pregnant or into other troubles. Two ran away from home. Some half a dozen local boys that terrorized the neighborhood by stripping cars of their parts during the night had grown more daring, they now took whole cars. Another boy managed to secure a professional contract with a Russian soccer club without even playing in the local league. The latest scandal involved a neighbor who abandoned his family and took off with the nurse he engaged to care for his aged mother. The nurse too had to give up her husband and children for a new life. Then the gate opened, with more noise than usually announced the arrival of Jude, my brother from the office. It was Jude though, with his trademark bag over his shoulder. The bag contained his most precious, his laptop. But the machine was hardly on his mind today, he was excited. He was breathing in quick gasps, evidently he had raced all the way home from where the Okada had dropped him. What was on his mind must be huge. "Hi mom!" He did not wait for my mother to respond before turning to me. "George, guess what! Bruck called me today." Well, Bruck was my brother's classmate in the university. After a bit of manipulation of the Accommodation System, they became roommates in their final year. I lived with my brother so I also lived with Bruck. Bruck (his nickname) was a character you would not forget in a hurry. He was a clown in his own right. But he was still submitting job applications from his father's house in Abeokuta, where he called my brother from.

"Bruck saw Shola today and Shola was visibly in the final stages of AIDS!" In that instant, memories hit me hard. And I cried "This is the end of Bode's uncompleted story!" My brother took two steps backward before stopping, which was appropriate since he was going back in time.

The Year my Brother was in Final Year: It was another of those tiring days. I was in my second year in the university, the worst period to be an engineering student in OAU. I had been in lectures from 8 am to 5 pm, with no break in between. I was hungry and tired. It would have been easy to walk into New Buka and stuff my face but I was determined to eat cook everything I ate. At that moment, cooking felt like moving the hill behind Old Market. So there I was, hungry and doing nothing about it. Bruck and my brother walked in, and I could hear them bidding good bye to a third companion in the usual manner that would make any mother scream; "rest in peace!" Anytime there was a test, my brother and his classmates suddenly got closer. Class tests when announced in advance had this bonding effect as they formed groups for 'cramming' (swotting) sessions, cramming was easier when other people in the same predicament were cramming beside you. I wondered whether my own class would transform into the same thing in my own final year.

As Bruck put away his books, he remarked to me "You survived today again!" We all knew my busiest day. He then turned to my brother. "Jude, looks like your brother is going to live to see the end of the semester" "Against your prediction" My brother too was putting his books away. Bruck had declared at the beginning of the semester that I would join the exodus out of the department (we were all in the same department) and school despite that he knew I was a first-class student, going by my 100-level results. The mass exit came from students that landed on 'Road 1' (Road 1 led out of the school so it became symbolic to getting booted out of the school for poor academic performance) or those that based on what they passed through in their first year, decided that engineering was too hot for them to handle, even though they were yet to take any actual engineering courses. This group of student would flee to the Social Sciences where, as if to confirm their fears, they would rock the place initially but then gradually cool off until they became just as pitiable as they were in their former departments. I asked my brother whether Bruck really meant what he said but he replied that I should take the comment like he meant it. "Still plenty of time for my prediction to come true though" Bruck was not one to give up easily in anything. "Ah! We are a hard fighting bunch" my brother boasted. "Nothing stops us, not even negative predictions from roommates" "We 'll see."

I was too tired to join in their banter, even though it was about me. But I knew I was going nowhere, I was going to get a certificate with ‘Mechanical Engineering’ printed on it. One of Bruck's ‘gals’ called and requested his presence and he rushed out to answer the summons, with my brother shouting after him he should not get carried away and forget about the test tomorrow. Such was Bruck's way with girls. With superhuman effort, I got up and kick-started the process of organizing a pot of rice. It included securing the nearest electric cooker, thereby ruining another fellow's dinner plans. The cooker was four rooms away and it was among the most sought after, it didn't make use of manganese coils, which vastly enhanced its reliability. As such the cooker was never idle. As a user got ready to ease off his pot, another would be getting ready to mount his own pot while a second-in-line user would be inquiring of what the user getting ready to cook was going to have for dinner so as to know the time-frame to incorporate into his own plans. I only had to wait for the current user who was half-way. In the meantime pots and other accessories had to be washed. That would require hauling water in a bucket from a tap two blocks away. Which would also require getting hold of an empty bucket. That was the life we led in the hostels, semi-ownership of properties, although the rule was restricted to non-consumables or utility items like buckets, bathroom slippers and knives. Problem arose when roommates tried to extend the unwritten rule to items like money, cellphones and food items, which was often.

I poked my head out and scanned the corridor for a bucket I could grab. But there was Bruck returning. He entered the room and flopped on his bed. We did not ask before he told us what happened. "That girl is seriously unserious" he began. "Can you believe she called again and told me she no longer needed me? Just like that!" He crossed his legs and declared "I will cross her out of my list" Bruck maintained a mental list of girls he assumed could not do without him. It was an impressive list because it contained columns for the exact dates he met them and other details. Of course, Bruck would do no such thing, it was simply impossible for him to strike out an entry on the list. All the girl had to do was roll her eyes and flash a smile and she was back in his favor. Entered Bode. He was a medical student, same level with my brother. He lived in a flat offcampus with some other medical students. A lanky fellow notwithstanding, he had come a long way from his rookie year when he was so slim that he earned the nickname 'unit of length'. Anytime Bode had news, he came straight to our room. What we did to earn that honor I didn’t know. We would suspend whatever we were doing to hear what he had to say. He had told us of impending clashes between students and locals and how the clashes were nipped in the bud, the VC's successor even before the acting VC knew it, classmates' escapades in town, lecturers hooking up with students, etc. He just had a nose for news. So I began to wish the current person on the cooker was boiling stones.

He pulled the only chair in the room and sat down. "Guys, did you know what I saw today?" Of course we didn't know. If we did, he wouldn't be here, as Bruck pointed out. But that was Bode's way of introducing his gossips. I suspected that he would open the same way if he ever came to reading the evening news. "Well, I went to so-and-so place this morning....." "Who is so and so?" Bruck fired at him. He did not tolerate the concept of privacy. "I am not revealing", Bode deadpanned. "Then get the hell out of this room. When you bring gossip, bring the whole thing." We formed a tighter circle around Bode. It was rare that he refused to divulge the subject of his news and when he did so the gossip was hot. Bode did not get the hell out of the room. Rather, he continued "These guys are my classmates. I went there to retrieve my Anatomy DVD. There was a girl among them and I wondered what her business was so early in the day. But they were making a fuss over her." "Maybe she was retrieving her own anatomy" "I had to persist to get the story because they were so freaked out." "Did the girl freak them out?" "Relax Bruck, you will know why they were freaked out. What actually happened was that the girl came from Abeokuta to pay a surprise visit on......" Bode caught himself just in time before

spilling a name. We hoped for more slip-ups. " see one of them, her long forgotten secondary school old flame. That one had left for UniOsun to spend the night with a naive girl and had turned his phone off in anticipation of the romp that would later ensue. But she came so late that they could not turn her back. Now instead of putting her up with a female colleague, the guys offered their female guest to spend the night with them. She agreed." "She agreed?" My brother was amazed. "Yes, she did." "Oh, stupid. Did she feel comfortable sleeping among all those guys?" "The question is whether she slept at all" "She had insomnia or what?" "If it was insomnia, then there won't be gossip for you. I don't know who started it but all the guys ended up getting between her legs, except one of them." "That was gang-rape." "Not exactly, the guys claimed she consented. No resistance, no cajoling. Nobody forced anybody" "In that case, there is no problem. I just wish I were elsewhere last night." "I doubt you will wish the same after you hear the rest of the story." "So why were they spooked after a pleasurable night?"

"Because they saw the girl in a different light. The trouble began when they noticed her clothes were oversized. Her veins stood out creepily like pieces of wire. She was emaciated, like she was starving. Her cheeks were sunk in. She even had a slight cough. When she opened her mouth, they realized she had thrush." "What's thrush?" my brother wondered. I had not been reading medical books for nothing. "It’s sore spots on and under the tongue, isn't it?" "Candidiasis of the oral mucous membrane, seen in immunocompromised patients, characterized by creamy white plaques resembling milk curd. They bleed when stripped away" Oh, well, I was still proud of myself, despite that I had been humbled by a technically superior definition. I wondered if Bode could say that much in my own field of study. "She also had rashes and complained of shortness of breath. But they did not notice these things until this morning." These descriptions looked like what I had read about but for a moment, I couldn't put them all together. When I did, I cried "Stop right there! These are symptoms of HIV!" The others turned to Bode for confirmation, proof they were not fascinated by medical volumes. "Oh. Really what don't you know about my profession?" Bode asked me sarcastically. "Well, a blood test will ultimately confirm that. But our guest sure looked like an HIV infected person"

We all cursed in unison, but different expletives, the worst belonging to Bruck. Some of us got up and kicked a bed or table. Few things induced more shock than learning that guys you saw everyday had become HIV-positive. You tried to imagine if they would be around in another five years. If they would live to complete their studies. You visualized what they would miss when they were gone. I quickly calculated that they might never get married nor hold their grandchildren in the hand. I even pitied their parents. "You saw the girl?" "Yes, I did. She was about to leave when I got there." “Didn’t they use their friggin’ eyes? I mean how can you lay a girl with HIV?” Bruck asked "Did your friends use protection?" That was the last hope. "Well, it was a spontaneous thing. Everybody wanted a part of the free ride. I am not sure they used anything. And they are not my friends, just classmates." Of course, when your guys had HIV, they ceased being your friends. "How many of your classmates were involved?" Bode thought carefully before answering because he knew we would explore every clue to unravel the identities of the unfortunate guys involved. But he answered anyway "Like ten or so" "Oh boy. Ten guys to a single girl. That's not a healthy ratio. What kind of girl was that? A hooker?"

"So you mean like ten of your classmates probably have HIV." My brother calmly said what all of us was trying to deny. It was hard to imagine that while I slept a flat-full of guys that I knew were busy shooting doses of HIV viruses up their bloodstreams. "Please tell us you have been joking." "I have not been joking." Bode assured us. "Do you know what you are talking about? Some guys getting HIV!" "Isn't it true that not every sexual intercourse with infected people leads to infection?" "So they say in the textbooks you shouldn't be reading." "So your friends, sorry, your classmates stand a chance of not being infected" I just wanted to hang on to something. This was like hearing the death-sentence passed on a friend. For a long time, there was silence until Bruck asked directly for the names of the unfortunate guys. "Sorry guys, but I don't want this becoming the talk of the campus." "We know how to keep secrets. We will spread it anyway, with or without names. And the news might hit campus through other gossip-mongers" “That’s not my headache.” Then Bode turned to me “I don’t expect to find this on your departmental editorial board” I just joined the departmental press and I had turned in several

write-ups that generated more than modest interest. I was gradually coming to rule the bulletin board, despite my stressful academic workload. "Did they tell the girl she probably had HIV?" "Nobody gave a damn about the girl. They were scared of their own HIV-status." "What about the guy that kept his trousers intact?" "He was absent from class. He was busy arranging for another accommodation." It was the next day that I remembered my plans to cook rice. Sometimes hunger, like some emotions, grew wings.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful