FRIENDSHIP · HUMOUR · LESBIAN · SARCASM

Zuri

(This is a chapter from a book I’m working on. I hope
you like it. It was written from different women’s
experience. Any character’s semblance to real people
is coincidental. The story is set in South West Nigeria
between 2001 – 2003).

At her mother’s insistence, she had gone to spend the holidays at her uncle’s home in Osogbo. If only she’d known, she would have stayed back in Lagos.

He had asked her ma to allow her visit him in Osogbo the last time he paid them a visit. That was sometime in August, 22001. He had said it would be a good experience for a 13-year-old. At the time, she was wallowing in melancholy. She had learnt that her favourite R n B singer, Aaliyah, had died in an air crash. She had felt a connection to Aaliyah in a way. She knew all of Aaliyah’s song by heart. People in her school even said she looked like her. One of her teenage dreams was to grow up and meet the music sensation. Now that it wouldn’t happen anymore, she was very devastated. It was as if her big sister had died.

She felt that going to Osogbo would be a good idea since she hadn’t seen her cousins in a while. The last time she had seen them was at her grandma’s funeral in Auchi, Edo State. That was about eight years ago. Her mother had assured her that Uncle Eddie was a nice man. Her mother had told her a whole lot of things about him. He had seen her mother through nursing school. In fact, he seemed to be the only one who stood by her mother when her father kicked the bucket. Then, she was four years old.

She was to spend a week with Uncle Eddie and his family before coming back to Lagos to celebrate Christmas with her mother. Then, her mother didn’t own a mobile phone. They agreed that since they’d spent time apart from each other for longer periods, it wouldn’t be so bad. (Zuri attended Command Secondary School, Lagos. It is a boarding school.)

On getting to Uncle Eddie’s home, her cousins (three boys who were older than she was) and aunt gave her a warm reception. At moments like these, she wished she had a “real” family. Sometimes, she missed her dad. He passed on in an air crash. She had developed a phobia for aeroplanes. It made matters worse when she heard that Aaliyah died in an air crash.

That evening, they had shared stories about their lives. She told them about her school. She narrated how the seniors were very mean. She went on to tell them about how they jogged to the assembly ground after having breakfast. She told them that it was strange that even after doing labor on Friday, they still had another labor day on Saturday. She had promised that now she had become a senior, she wouldn’t be mean to the juniors under her.

Her cousins also told her about their schools. Only the eldest was waiting to be admitted into the university. They attended a day school close to their home. According to their father, it was good in order to keep an eye on the boys.

They went on and on with their chattathon.

It was almost midnight when Uncle Eddie and his wife asked the children to kneel for the night prayer. Auntie Amaka had prayed against the witches and wizards who flew at night looking for whose blood to suck. She repeated several times that her flesh was tough and her blood was bitter: no harm could come her way because of that. Her family chanted that with her. Zuri opened one eye to catch a glimpse at them. They were were on their knees. With each prophetic declaration, they shook and nodded their heads. It was like they were on their knees trying to please Jesus. They needed his goodness and mercy to come and pour on them. It seemed like they nodded faster and harder. They ended the powerful prayer session reading Psalms 23 and 91.

That was her first night at Osogbo. Moses, her eldest cousin, had put off the generator. The silence was welcoming. The December night was cold and she knew that she needed extra covering. Luckily for her, there was a duvet in the guest room. She was happy to have a room to herself. This wasn’t like the small one-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother in Lagos. She wondered why Lagos, the Centre of Excellence, still had homes that were almost inhabitable in the new millennium. But then, she reasoned maybe this was because her mother wasn’t as rich as Uncle Eddie.

In the silence of the guest room, she shed some tears. She missed her mother. If only she could just go home the next day. She didn’t have a female cousin here to talk with.  Her mind wandered to her friends in school. She played back some memories she had with her close gal pal, Miriam.

Miriam Meyer-Asaolu had a Nigerian father and South African mother. Miriam was what the students called a “feeler” because she paid extra care to how she looked. Her uniform was always “standing”. (That was the slang used by the students referring to well ironed).  She was precocious and sophisticated. Many students in the school liked Miriam but Miriam liked just her. This made her feel flattered. They had met two years back in the school’s sick bay which the students called MI Room. They just clicked. They were both in JSS 2 but different ams.

During break, they swapped visits to each other’s class. They would talk about boys, who said what, the teachers that got them angry, the seniors in their hostels, boys, boys, and boys.

On Weekends, Zuri would go over to Flying Horse House to stay with Miriam. Miriam didn’t have a school mother. But then, no one dared to touch her because it was said that she was the commandant’s niece. Who would want to get into trouble? They would do everything together: wash, go to the dining hall, read, do their home work, and sleep on Miriam’s bed. It was much comfortable being at Miriam’s dormitory.

They would lie in bed and talk about their future. Miriam wanted to be a model. The first time she told Zuri, Zuri had laughed thinking it was one of Miriam’s jokes. When she saw her friend was serious, she was mortified. Miriam had told her that her father had insisted that she schooled in Nigeria in order to know the culture of her people. As soon as she was done, she would go back home. South Africa was home to her. Sometimes, Zuri felt sad. She wasn’t going to be around after their secondary school education. Miriam too was sad at such times. Then, they’d tell themselves that they might not be friends the next day and just laugh it off.

Thinking about Miriam this night made her break down. Miriam had travelled to the US to spend her vacation. She had promised to buy her things from New Orleans. She had hugged Miriam so tight that morning after getting their results for the term. That hug said so many things their hearts felt but their lips couldn’t say. She wished Miriam a safe trip. She asked her to think of her. Miriam had laughed and said, “Don’t I always have you in my heart? If you could see my heart right now…”
She tossed and turned in the bed. She knew she had to sleep. She tried the trick of counting down from 100. It wasn’t working. That was when she decided to spin fantasies in her head. She let her mind wander to a boy in her class. Malik. Many of the girls in her class wanted to date him. She found it absurd that Miriam had refused to date him when he asked her out. She remembered how shocked she was when Miriam told her that she told him that she didn’t want to be his girlfriend. He was one of the “big boys” in school. She still found it absurd that Miriam had turned him down when he asked her out. She liked the fact that she was the only person in the school Miriam was interested in.

Once, during their weekend sleepovers, Zuri had asked Miriam why she liked her.

“Why I like you? Lemme see. You are not like everybody. You know, you are special.”

“Why do you think I am?” Zuri played with a lock of Miriam’s hair. (Miriam had soft, Caucasian hair that felt silky to the touch).

“’Cause you are.” Miriam had responded sleepily.

“You are sleeping off on me.” Zuri had pouted.

“No… I love what you are doing with my hair. How many people would do this? See why you are special?” Miriam had turned to snuggle up with Zuri. “And you are warm, too.” Miriam was sounding very sleepy. “You’re my special fwend and I wuurrv you wike that.” Miriam had taken in a deep breath. “I love the way you smell, too.”

Miriam was like the sister she never had.

Lying in this bed and trying to catch sleep, her mind drifted to Malik. She imagined they were a couple. She knew that they would be the talk of the school. Other girls would literally die of envy. Especially Kate. Kate was a big-sized girl in their class. She had a clique who she seemed to be able to rule.

She came up imagining different scenarios and finally, sleep claimed her.

The next morning, the sound of thunderous clapping and songs of praise coming from the sitting room dragged her out of Dream World. She couldn’t tell the time. She made to grope for her wristwatch when it dawned on her that she wouldn’t be able to tell the time in the dark. She decided to join the family in their morning supplication.

They were at it for almost an hour. Aunty Amaka had pleaded the Blood of Jesus on everything they would do, eat, and drink. She had to try so hard not to burst into a frenzied laughter. How could her aunt seem to fight with everything in the world? Maybe Aunty Amaka had offended someone and was scared that they would launch a spiritual attack on her.

They prayed in the dark. She couldn’t tell the time. After the morning devotion, Moses went to put on the generator. She went to her room to wear her bra. She remembered her mother had asked her to always wear her bra if she didn’t want her breasts to sag. Moreover, her nipples seemed to be screaming, “see me!”

The day went on well. She talked with her cousins. Moses seemed to like her a lot. He was sweet and nice. He even offered to give her a feet massage. She found that it felt really nice having him press his thumb into her feet. She couldn’t help it when a moan escaped from her. He was startled. He asked if he had hurt her and she quickly shook her head while saying no. She didn’t want him to know that what he was doing to her feet got her aroused. She knew what it was to be aroused from all those novels and cheap magazines.

They had talked about funny experiences they had in school. Moses told her that he had been trying to get admitted into the university. He had spent four years at home. Zuri had told him that with time, he would get his good heart desires. Talking with Moses almost seemed like a chore to her. His command of the English language was so bad that Zuri stylishly decided to speak pidgin so he would reply in pidgin.

Life was nice. She wasn’t missing her mother as much as she thought she would. Her cousins had made it fun for her. They played card games. She knew she was going to miss them whenever she got home.

After the bellicose night prayer session that didn’t bear any semblance to conventional night devotion, she went to her room feeling the “hot anointing of the Lord”.

It was her second night at Osogbo. She was happy that she came here in the first place. The silence that enveloped the compound was blissful. Now, she could let her mind wander to many places. Unlike yesterday, it didn’t take long before she slept off.

She heard the hinges of the door creak as the door opened slowly. She knew she should have woken up. Something kept her on the bed. The sleep was divine. Nothing was going to pull her out of Dreamtown. She was going to enjoy the bliss.

When she felt the warm, callused palm caressing her inner thigh, sleep fled her. She knew she had to wake up to the invasion.

She woke. “Moses! What now?”

“Hey… relax. Now we can do it and no one will know.”

She was confused. She didn’t remember planning to do anything with him. She blinked and rubbed her eyes with her palm. It was dark and she couldn’t make out his face. She knew she wanted to sleep. “Moses, now, let’s talk tomorrow. Sleep is doing me, right now. We are still going out to the river, shey? And I don’t even know how to swim, sef.” she hissed.

“No… it’s the other thing.”

Zuri couldn’t understand what he was talking about. This time, the sleepy haze had cleared. She knew she didn’t make any other plan with her cousin. She sat straight in the bed and told him, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

That was when she felt his palm grope to her inner thighs. She slapped it hard. He suppressed a scream. She felt his breath on her face. He asked her hotly, “Why are you behaving as if you don’t know what I am talking about?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, joor.” She hissed. She sat straight in the bed.

She felt his weight on the space close to her. His hand had moved away from her inner thighs and it had moved to her breasts. He grabbed it with a vengeance. She had taken off her bra. Her mother had told her that it wasn’t advisable to wear her bra while she was in bed.

She felt a sharp pain. She bit back a scream. He squeezed her breasts tighter. She gasped. He chuckled softly, “And you say you dint want it? When I was romancing your leg you were enjoying it o. It’s now you now want to do as if you don’t want to do?”

Earlier in the day, she had managed his poor command of English Language. It had made sense to her why he still hadn’t gotten admitted into the university. Right now, hearing him talk into her face was disgusting. His hands were still squeezing her breasts and she was fighting him off.

A fierce struggle ensued and she threatened to scream. He in turn told her that if she made that mistake, he would tell his parents that she lured him. After all, this was his home: His parents would take his word over hers’.

She felt trapped.

She knew she had to struggle. She had read of stories like this in those cheap contraband magazines in her school. Was this how she was going to be a rape victim? She struggled to get out of his grasp. If only she break free, she would run to the door. She had heard that if a man was kicked at the lower part of his anatomy, he would be weak. She tried to aim for it but she couldn’t see the spot in the darkness. Her cousin had already straddled her. She heard her panties tear.

She felt the weight of his 20-year-old body pin her down to the bed. Lord, he reeked of the stench of dried sweat. She was filled with revulsion. His hand pinned both her hands to the bed above her head. She felt his mouth seek hers in the dark. She whimpered. She couldn’t help it when the tears streamed down her face. She pleaded with him. As she did, his mouth captured hers in a sloppy, dog-like slather-fest that was supposed to be a kiss. She almost puked from revulsion.

His hand still pinned her to the bed. His left hand deftly brought out his manhood. He roughly rubbed it against her. She felt it pulsate against her. She didn’t know how he was able to maneuver her to get the pillow from under her head. He covered her face until she thought she was going to be asphyxiated.

All at once, he impaled her in one thrust.

The pain exploded within her. She screamed but it was muffled by the pillow. She felt him slowly and deliberately come out of her. He panted in her ear. He made little sounds like an animal that had caught its prey. She didn’t know if she was to be happy that the worse was over. White pain seared through her. She shuddered.

Moses thrust into her again. This time, he went deeper than he did the first time.

The sobs wracked all through her body. She wasn’t expecting that. Pain is more painful, more intense, when you don’t expect it.
He went in again. And again. And again. And again. She thought she was going to die of pain. This was unlike anything she had ever felt in her life. It didn’t compare to the whips of the cowhide (koboko).

She didn’t have anything left in her to fight him. He noticed and he let go of her hand. He placed his hand above her head so that when he rammed his length into her, it filled her completely. He was kind enough to remove the pillow from her face. She could taste the sweat that dripped from him. She bit his shoulder.

He was startled. He slapped her in return. This sent her head spinning. She saw tiny white dots. She couldn’t cry: the tears wouldn’t come.

Her cousin raped her.

When he was done, he just chuckled. He told her not to tell anyone. “It was you that was giving me green light. I was on my own o.” She heard the door close quietly after he had left the room.

Zuri didn’t have any tear left to shed. She was broken and torn inside. She didn’t know how she was going to fix herself. Inside, she was like a town ravaged by an earthquake. All she knew was that she was leaving this house the next day. She was going to tell her uncle that she wanted to go to her house. She wasn’t a prisoner here. If she spent another night here, Moses would do the same thing. She couldn’t tell her uncle. He wouldn’t believe her. No one she told would believe her. Who was going to believe her? They would ask her why she didn’t scream if she didn’t want it. She had once heard one of her neighbors back at home say that girls actually lied that they didn’t want to have sex. This made them say the men they had invited to have sex with them had raped them. She thought of the events of the day. She couldn’t remember hinting that she wanted to have sex with her cousin.

She thought of so many things. In the end, she hated herself. She hated herself because she blamed herself for the calamity she put upon herself. She shouldn’t have become close pals with her cousin.

As usual, the thunderous clapping woke her from sleep. “Hypocrites,” she cursed. She felt sore everywhere. Her legs felt heavy to her. She knew she had to wash the bed sheet. She would burn her nightie when she got home. She didn’t want a reminder of last night.

When she left the room, she didn’t bother joining them in the sitting room to pray with them. If they asked her, she would say her menses stained her and she had to wash the bed sheet. It was that simple. Then, she would tell Uncle Eddie that she wanted to go back to Lagos.

Washing away the humiliation was a Sisyphean task in comparison to washing the blood stain on the sheet. She had lost her virginity to her cousin. He had taken it from her against her volition. He had violated her. She knew she wasn’t going to tell anyone, not even her mother. They’d say it was her fault. They’d say she was the one who seduced him into her bed. She knew how the victims were always stigmatised. This was going to be her secret.

Her thoughts swam to Miriam’s shore. Now, Miriam wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her. Miriam was her closest friend and she would have to lose her. She just couldn’t be friends with Miriam without telling her what transpired between her cousin and her. If she told Miriam, she would be judged. Zuri made up her mind to steer clear from her. “It is better to leave than to be left,” she sniffed as she poured the water from the laundry. It was dark outside but she knew she had washed the blood stain away. She had washed the bed sheet like a maniac. She vented her anger on the poor sheet. She wished she could pour away the sorrow like that. She realised it was going to live with her forever.

Uncle Eddie sent for her on his way to work and asked her why she didn’t join them for the Morning Prayer. She just blurted, “I want to go home today.”

The man was taken aback. He couldn’t comprehend why his niece who seemed to be having a great time wanted to leave.

“Why, my dear? Don’t we treat you well? I know you are home sick. Your cousins have always wanted to have you around. If you stay for one week, you won’t want to go back to Lagos.” He said jocosely.

She didn’t crack a smile. “I want to go home today, sir.”

“When I come back, we will talk about -”

“Uncle, I wan go my house, na. Shey na by force. I want to go home.” She didn’t mind if she raised her voice at him.

He was stupefied. He coldly told her that he would talk to her when he came home in the evening. Zuri couldn’t help it when she broke down into tears. She begged him to take her to the park. She told him she needed to go home that day.

“When I come back, Zuriatu, you will talk to me. I am like your big daddy. Wait, ehn?” He knew something was fishy. He made to put his arm around her shoulder but she moved away from his reach. He was confuzzled. He didn’t say anything to her.

With that, he entered his car and zoomed off. She was standing in the dust. Chuka, her cousin, sneered at her. Or was it a sneer? She felt like they all knew what happened that night. Mortification made her dash into the house. She was grateful that the door had a good lock. She knew that no matter what anyone said, she was going to sequester herself in the bedroom.

Aunty Amaka had tried to make her leave the confines of the room. She had screamed at the woman telling her to get away from her. Aunty Amaka let Zuri be and didn’t bother checking up on her for the rest of the day.

Uncle Eddie sent for her after eating supper. She didn’t give him any explanation. She just told him in a cold voice, “I want to go to my house.”

He eventually agreed without pressing further. He was even miffed at her attitude. He tried asking what was biting her. She just couldn’t bring herself to tell him that his son had raped her.

The next day, Uncle Eddie took her to the park and she was home bound. She finally let out a sigh of relief when she got back home. She didn’t tell her mother anything that happened. She knew pain and shame was going to remain with her for a long time.

She had grown distant and remote. Sometimes, her mother had to call her name more than twice before she responded. She decided to escape her reality by constructing a fantasy world that was perfect.

She knew that one way or another she would get back at her cousin for doing to her what he did. It might not be any moment soon but she would get back at him. She became paranoid when the guys in her neighborhood tried being friendly with her.

Everyone knew that something had changed about her. She wasn’t the girl they used to know not so long ago. Her mother had tried to talk to her but she still wouldn’t say anything. She didn’t have the will to live. She just went through the days with mechanical precision.

She was numb.

On getting back to school, the numbness and emptiness didn’t fade. Later in the evening on resumption day, Miriam came to her dorm.

“You! I missed you,” Miriam had hugged her. She couldn’t even return the hug. She was indifferent. It was like a rock that pumped ice replaced her nice, soft heart. She tried hard not to squirm. Miriam let go and sat down on Zuri’s bed. (Zuri was a senior and her bed was on the down bed space). “How are you? You look tired, though. I would have come earlier but I felt you needed to unpack your things. I couldn’t wish you a happy new year. You know, one day, we wouldn’t have to be so far from each other and I wouldn’t just stop at saying “Happy New Year” to you.” She went on excitedly. When she noticed Zuri wasn’t replying, she pulled her to the bed. “You this bongo! Come and sit by me. I really missed you and you are acting like nothing.”

“I want to be alone.” Zuri just said without emotion.

Miriam was worried. She had never seen her friend like this. She scrutinised Zuri’s face. She knew something was amiss. She knew she was going to find the underlying cause of this. She put her arm around Zuri, “Tell me, what’s wrong, Cherie?”

Zuri gave laughter devoid of any trace of mirth. “You went to Paris, too?” She turned to stare at Miriam.

“No. why did you…” then realisation hit her. “You thought I went to Paris. Funny. So, you are home sick? You have never been home sick. What is bothering you?”

“Miriam, why won’t you understand I just want to be alone? I need to be alone. You are always around me. You know what? Go and be with other people, too. It’s not like you are my mommy or anything.”

“Okay… I guess this is a bad time. We will do this later when you…”

“How about we do this never? Just leave me alone.” With that, Zuri yanked Miriam’s hand off her shoulder. “Just go.” She said quietly.

Miriam was flummoxed. She obviously wasn’t expecting this from her best friend. She knew that something was wrong with Zuri. This wasn’t her Zuri. Maybe with time, Zuri would get over whatever was eating her up.

Zuri watched Miriam leave. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Miriam what had happened to her at Osogbo. She was like those girls who got what they deserved for being friendly to boys. If she told Miriam, she would say, “You shouldn’t have been close. You even let him massage your feet. That was an invitation to sex. It was your fault. We can’t be friends anymore.”

That thought made her heart break into smithereens. It was better if she left Miriam than Miriam leaving her. She just felt it would be better if they didn’t say anything to each other.

She was too numb to feel miserable.

Miriam had taken it pretty well. She now belonged to a clique of the “big girls” in SS 1. They ran into each other in the dining hall, on assembly ground, in prep class, almost everywhere. Whenever that happened, it was always awkward. This new development was like what she watched in those Hollywood movies. Once, she had smiled when she compared her new friendship status to one she had seen in the movie, Save the Last Dance. There were moments where the heroine, played by Julia Stiles, would meet the hero in the school hall way after their “big fight”. The soundtrack was KC and JoJo’s Crazy. Now that she was sad, she understood the lyrics of the song. Then, she’d remind herself that Miriam wasn’t her boyfriend.

At first, Miriam had made attempts to talk with her. But then, one of her new friends would have something exciting to tell her. Miriam’s attention would be channeled to the new gist. Zuri couldn’t even feel that pang of loss that people feel when they lose someone so dear to them.

Almost two months into the term, it happened that they sat on the same table in the dining hall. (Ten people share a table. Five students sit on a bench opposite the other five). Miriam sat across the table. They stared at each other. Zuri could see the hurt in Miriam’s eyes. She wished she could just reach across the table and tell her everything.

She felt melancholy wash over her anew.

That was the first time she was feeling anything in almost three months. She managed to smile. Miriam just stared at her like she never knew her. Sitting across Miriam, she noticed that Miriam was skinnier than before. One of her new friends whispered something to Miriam and another girl in the clique. They laughed at it. Zuri knew that wasn’t the way Miriam laughed. It was contrived.

They were hurting. She couldn’t even eat the food. She would have left the dining hall but she didn’t want the RSM to order her back. The man would just say “you are a fool” in his well-pronounced Yoruba accent. She was scared of his beady eyes. No, she was going to place her head on the table and pretend she couldn’t eat because she was ill. She wondered what Miriam must have told her new friends about her. It was the usual thing that when two people stopped being friends in their school, they went on to tell other people about each other’s secrets. That was an unwritten rule in Command Secondary School, Lagos, at the time. She didn’t know if Miriam had wagged her tongue to her new friends.

Four days later, she went to see Miriam. On getting to Miriam’s area (corner, as it is mostly called) she saw Miriam sitting on her bed with a girl from The Clique. She stood there for some seconds before Miriam noticed her there. She looked up and caught Zuri’s gaze. They just stared at each other. Miriam had seemed engrossed in what the girl was telling her. She didn’t want to disturb their conversation. She just turned on the balls of her feet and walked away.

On walking to her dorm, she knew that was it. Miriam had another friend and it was none of her business. Moreover, she was the one who asked her to leave. Maybe that was how it was meant to be.

She could hear the tintinnabulation of the bell. It was lights out. The strokes were lone and sad. The bell mirrored her soul. She fell in her bed. She said the perfunctory “good night” to Joy, her school sister (the girl who shared the opposite bunk). They were both in SS 1. They had warmed-up to each other at the beginning of the term. She closed her eyes so that sleep would take her. Luckily, there was electricity. The fan was on. She felt a shadow block the light. She knew it was Joy. Joy was fond of walking around at night.

She felt the warm palm on her arm. She could never mistake that touch. It was Miriam. There stood Miriam in a state of dishabille. It was adorable.

“Mohammed, the river has come to you. And the river is crashing with you tonight. I am here with my pillow. We are gonna have pillow talk. You don’t have to say anything. I just miss my best friend. I hate my life right now,” Miriam was on the verge of breaking down. Her hair was down. It framed her face like those actresses she used to watch in Hollywood movies.

Zuri made space for her. When she felt Miriam lying so close, she felt at ease. Maybe she would be able to tell her what calamity befell her.

“Can I do this?” Miriam asked putting her arm around Zuri’s waist.

“You already are.”

Miriam giggled. “I missed this. I told you that you are special?”

“I am not special anymore.”

“You are. That is why I am here.”

“You won’t understand.”

“Try me. Please.”

“Miriam… I don’t know.”

“You don’t know how much I have cried because I missed you. Those other girls are not like you. You make me… happy. Do you know how I feel having to ask your classmates how you are doing? They ask me why we don’t talk and I tell them we are playing a game to see how long we can be without each other. I just laugh it off. Maybe they know I am lying to them. Zuri, why don’t you want us to be friends? You are the only person I feel comfortable with. I don’t even know why that is so. I have-”

“You remember I told you that my uncle invited me to his house?”

“Yes,” Miriam nodded. She was staring into Zuri’s eyes. They were sharing the same breath. She brushed a lock of hair from her eyes. That was when the electricity went off. The girls that were still awake hissed. Some cursed. Others snored.

“My cousin raped me.” Zuri said without emotion. She couldn’t even see the expression on Miriam’s face. She didn’t know where it came from but the tears flowed from a place of pain. Pain she had held on to for so many weeks. It was as if a dam burst. She couldn’t stop it.

“I am so sorry.” Miriam held on to her tighter.

Zuri wept.

“Is that why you didn’t want to be my friend? You thought I wouldn’t like you again? You thought I would judge you? You know I am not like that. Why didn’t you say something? I’m sorry, dear. You just had to keep all that inside. I should have talked with you. I should have stayed with you that day. I’m such a bad friend.”

Zuri just went on with her sob-fest.

After a while, when Zuri didn’t have anything in her, she muttered, “I felt it would be better if we stopped being friends. You will still be my friend? I can’t see you. This stupid NEPA people just had to take the light. So, now you know what happened to me, will you still be my friend?”

Miriam didn’t say anything for almost a minute. “Mimi… Are you sleeping?”

“No.”

“Then, talk. You will still be my friend?”

“I won’t,” Miriam said.

Zuri felt her heart drop. She had let it all out. Good enough for her, she felt better. If she was going to lose her friend, so be it. In the end, she had got herself back. If Miriam was going to tell her new friends what happened, she would come up with her own story. Miriam’s grip was tighter now. Miriam moved closer. “Friends don’t do this.”

She felt Miriam’s soft lips claim hers’.

She was dazed. She didn’t know what to do.

Miriam stopped. “So, I think I love you. These days just made me realise that. But, you don’t have to love me back. I’m okay with us being just friends.”

Zuri tried so hard to suppress a laugh. “The problem with you people who weren’t born in Nigeria is that your eyes are too open. I couldn’t have imagined kissing you. When I think of kissing, I just think of boys.”

“You never thought of kissing me?” Miriam giggled.

“No, jare. It is strange.”

“Oh… you didn’t like it then? Have you ever done that before?”

“Done what?”

“Swim in a shark-infested water. Of course, have you ever kissed a boy before?”

“Oh, that? No. But wait, my cousin tried that. kissing is not like I used to imagine. Those book writers just lied about it. Have you done it before?”

“What?” They giggled. This was the way they teased each other.

“Fry and eat stones for breakfast.” They suppressed their laughter.

“That was funny. Zuri, I missed you. Those girls are nothing like you. You are special.”

“I know. So, just answer. have you kissed a boy before?”

“Yes. And I want to kiss you.”

“Eeewwkk…” Zuri cringed in the dark.

She felt Miriam move closer to her. The softness of Miriam’s lips almost sent her reeling. This wasn’t like what she felt with Moses. This was soft and warm. Peaceful.

She kissed Miriam. Zuri felt Miriam smile against her lips. Somehow, this didn’t feel wrong to Zuri. That was when she decided to do it. She remembered the lines of some of the Harlequin novels she had read. She decided to act it out.

She held Miriam’s lips in hers’ and this elicited a moan from her. She knew they had to keep it down. They didn’t want to wake the hostel. She couldn’t believe all the sensations she was feeling. It was as if a jolt literally went down her spine. She shuddered. How could this little contact elicit that response in her?

Miriam knew what she was doing, too. Her tongue caressed her lower lip. She couldn’t help but moan again. She opened her mouth. She wanted to feel Miriam’s tongue in there. she needed it. it was a primal need. The moment the felt Miriam’s tongue brush against hers, she couldn’t help herself.  Her hand went on to caress the softness of Miriam’s body.

She didn’t understand why she got aroused just hearing Miriam’s sighs of pleasure. She knew she wanted to hear more. Her palm went up and through the fabric of Miriam’s pajamas shirt, she cupped her breast. The feeling was intense. It felt like velvet. It was soft and warm. Miriam gasped. That was the moment Zuri made up her mind to touch her.

Her hand caressed Miriam. She revered her body. This time, she was kissing Miriam’s neck and Miriam had softly gasped. Zuri traced the kisses down to her breasts while her hand found her.

The feeling was exhilarating. The warmth pulled her in.

“Zuri,” Miriam gasped. “Kiss me, Zuri”

“Okay.” Zuri wanted to watch her. She wanted to know how she made Miriam feel. Suddenly, she was having a strange feeling of being powerful. She knew that when she touched Miriam in a certain way, it would evoke a response in Miriam. She loved the way Miriam responded to her.

That night they made love.

Zuri began to look forward to it. They were head over heels for each other. Zuri loved that Miriam loved her. She loved her back. This was her first time falling in love and feeling something this intense. She felt wanted. Knowing that Miriam needed her was intoxicating. They were everywhere together. They held hands in public. Sometimes, when they visited each other’s dorm, they cuddled up. Sometimes, they stole kisses. During the sleepovers, they upped the ante.

This was the best thing to ever happen to Zuri.

She hated the holiday. But, she got to talk with Miriam on the phone. It was 2002 and her mother had bought a mobile phone. Miriam would call her almost every time. They couldn’t wait to see each other. Once, they made plans for Zuri to visit Miriam at her home. Miriam had said, “I need to reconnect with you… somehow.”

The visit had gone as planned. Not only did they see each other, they felt and tasted each other.

At this point, Zuri had got over the hurt of her cousin raping her. Life made sense once more. They had been lovers for months. They made plans for after school. Miriam said she could convince her dad she loved Nigeria and they would get to be together in the end. Their future was good together.

When they resumed school for SS 2-second term, they were so happy to be together after the Christmas break.  Miriam had gone to the United States of America for the Christmas holiday. They had missed each other.

The term rolled so fast.

One day, after the second term exams, the house captain of her house, Octopus House, came to her class to call her. She was told the commandant wanted to see her. She wondered why the commandant would want to see her. This was the first time she would ever get summoned to the Admin Block. She felt a twinge of trepidation.

On getting to the commandant’s office, she saw her girlfriend. She smiled at Miriam but Miriam was cold. That was when she saw the other faces there. The commandant was sitting with her house mistress and matron. The matron, who was a washed out, bigoted church-goer, entered a two-thousand-word rant about how it had been called to their attention that she and Miriam had a lesbian relationship. The woman just went on and on like if she shut her mouth Jesus would cancel her name from the book of life.

The commandant dismissed them after listening for about thirty minutes. Zuri and Miriam had denied having an unlikely relationship. It hurt Zuri the way Miriam lied that she wasn’t in love with her. For Zuri, lying about the best thing that had ever happened to her was heart-wrenching. What was wrong with her relationship with Miriam? What was her crime? All she ever did was fall in love with the only person that understood her; someone she could share her dreams with; someone who stood by her through her sad moments and celebrated the happy ones. She knew that she would talk with Miriam when the commandant was done.

“I said go,” he barked at her.

She trembled. She saw Miriam flinch. “Later,” she mouthed to her. She saw the tears welling in Miriam’s eyes. She smiled to reassure her. She wished she could hold her in her arms and promise that they would be fine. She wanted to tell her so much that she loved her and was still crazy about her. But, she couldn’t. The commandant was there glowering at her. She shuffled out of his office.

Later in the evening, she went to talk with Miriam.

“Miriam has gone home this afternoon. Shey she didn’t tell you? Her father came to pick her.”

She was flummoxed and angry at Miriam for not saying anything. Her bunk space was empty. She pieced two and two together. She walked away like she was in a dream. A bad dream that she needed to be woken from.

Her father had probably withdrawn Miriam. She didn’t know how she coped till she got home for the holiday.

She tried calling the number Miriam gave her but it wasn’t going through. She hoped Miriam was okay.

She fell into a spiral of melancholy.

Her mother was bothered. She promised her mother she was okay.

She resumed school for the third term hoping that maybe she would see Miriam. The reality hit her hard in the guts. Miriam wasn’t coming back. This affected her badly. She wasn’t interested in anything.

She hated everyone. She vented when she had the chance. In the end, she failed her NAEC exam. This was a mandatory exam students in SS 2 had to take before they got promoted to SS 3. She didn’t want to repeat the class.

She convinced her mother she wanted to change schools. She couldn’t go back to that school that denied her of her right to love whomever she wanted. Life was miserable without Miriam.

In the end, her mother acquiesced and she started attending a day school that was only a bus drive from her home in Agege.  She felt she could get over Miriam. She never did.

Miriam was the only person she ever felt anything so intense for.

She tried to find Miriam on Facebook now that she was older. It seemed Miriam wasn’t on Facebook. She never told anyone about Miriam. She felt their relationship was special and it should remain with her.

Sometimes, she wondered if somehow she’d ever meet Miriam.  She once read something about emeralds. The thing about emeralds is that they always find their way back to their owners. Miriam was priceless to her. Maybe someday they would bump into each other. She needed closure.

She couldn’t fall for anyone after Miriam. She had a boyfriend during JAMB lessons. Whatever they had couldn’t compare to what she felt with Miriam. She was with him for three months. She had met a girl in her first year at the university. It felt okay. But, it wasn’t Miriam.

With Moyo, she felt something close. Moyo had told her nothing would go on between them. She had preferred to remain friends with Moyo. That way, she still had her close. They had become close friends. The same was the case with Ije. One of the reason she remained friends with them was that they hadn’t had anything of a sexual nature with each other.

Somewhere deep inside her soul, she wished she would meet Miriam. Sometimes, she dreamt of her. Now she was older, the dreams were becoming vague. The last time, Miriam was working on her Fine Art assignment on a drawing board while sitting on a bunk.

Once in her journal, she wrote, “You swept me off my feet 13 years ago and I can’t even touch down after all these years. I am still loco over you, Miriam. I hope you are doing fine wherever you are. But I also hope you are as unhappy and unfulfilled as I am. I hope you haven’t found anything close to what we had. This way, you’ll make effort to find me somehow. I wish you can surprise me one November 13 and come knocking at my door. Then you’d tell me it’s my birthday surprise: That you are my birthday surprise. I can only wish that you can find me somehow. Please, Miriam.”

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