BLINKERED- GRACE OCHIGBO
Lara walked towards my direction wearing a bubble gum sleeveless button- down shirt on a well ironed blizzard blue trousers. She placed a smile firmly on her brown face, holding her sunshades and handbag with so much grace as she approached where I sat. Her eyeballs were glancing straight at mine. I felt really uneasy “what is this girl up to this early Friday morning?” I asked myself.
Lara has never liked me or am I just drawing incorrect conclusions? I can’t say! But never has she been soft spoken towards me, in fact her attitudes around me are so appalling. Even Jerry knew about it back then when we were still together. I don’t know why she disliked me so much but I can guess it’s all because of Yours truly, Jerry. I have gotten into problems a lot of times with Jerry’s die-hard admirers who see me as their blockade and the cause of their frustration.
Jerry and Lara have always been friends though, from childhood I guess. They are really fond of each other and attend the same church. I used to feel a little insecure about Jerry’s closeness with her then, even after he assured and gave me his word, I still held this jealousy stuck up on my inside. That sounds typical of ladies, right? Expectedly, I now see them together most of the times, these days. Maybe they have stepped up their relationship, who knows?
Now here is Lara, climbing the stairs of the lecture hall to the spot where I sat. Or rather, where I always sit. I bent my head pretentiously moping at the book in front of me. And just when I thought I would get a slap on my face, she slide past my seat, looking at me with a corner of her eyes.
“Ojone guess what?” She spoke loud enough for me to hear, to the lady sitting two seats away from me. Thankfully, our lecture for this Friday morning isn’t holding and you know how students can be at these moments. Everywhere was noisy, even as exams were fast approaching already. While others were deeply into gist, others were running in and out of the lecture theatre and for those that read all through the night, they were deep asleep even amidst this noise.
Ojone has been engrossed in chats on her phone all along since morning before Lara came to meet her. She dropped the phone and adjusted in her seat as Lara seem to have some serious gist for her. It’s better termed ‘gossip’ if you asked me. Lara and Ojone are best of friends. The thing is, we are so few in the class so every of my course mate gets to form a clique of two or three persons. I seem to be the only exception in the class. You may think am anti-social but am friends with all, just not so intimate with anyone in the class. Like a president of a country in West Africa said ‘am for everybody and am for nobody’! Maybe that’s me but it could be boring at times like this one, when you are hoping someone will tip you with a little gossip to cool off. It’s rather unfortunate for me!
“Oh! Wow! You mean he did? Jerry proposed?! Oh my God! Am so happy for you” Ojone screamed as Lara showed off her hand. This attracted the attention of the whole class including myself. I turned to look at Lara and I was bewildered as I sighted a glistering ring on her middle finger. Lara was blushing uncontrollably as she kept wriggling her hand to display her beautiful engagement ring
“Jerry asked me after church service on Sunday if he could take me out for dinner on Thursday night. Of course, that’s a frequent thing for us so I didn’t hesitate at all o, I didn’t even suspect anything. Not knowing yesterday night was going to be special. Waiters came with trays and dishes immediately we took our seats. I looked at Jerry ‘I haven’t ordered anything! Did you order for me or what?’ He didn’t even answer me and looked away as the waiters dropped them on our table. I still didn’t suspect anything” Lara explained loudly as the whole class became so quiet listening to this exquisite love tale. Lara didn’t sit, she just continued “Jerry just kept gazing at me romantically after the waiters left but I didn’t want to run ahead of myself. So I gently opened the supposed plate of meal and I was startled to see only a little red box in it. Jerry immediately picked up the box and opened it, I saw this beautiful sparkling ring dazzling from inside the box” she displayed her hand even more now, gesticulating every statement she made “he got down on one knee and asked sweetly ‘Lara, will you marry me?’ You already know my answer right!” Lara concluded her tale giggling excitedly
“Yeah girl!” Ojone explaimed raising her hands high as she got up quickly to hug Lara
My heart broke while Lara narrated the story. Jerry? Propose to the same girl he told me was like a sister? Well, it’s possible. I mean a sister should become a lover when the lover leaves, right?. I wasn’t feeling alright about this at all. It felt as though my muscles were no longer glued to my bones. Every joint in me felt broken. I watched silently as many of my course mates came to embrace Lara, cheering and congratulating her one after the other. I was struggling to hide my jealousy inside me, she must not know am unhappy about what has made her so happy.
Lara danced over to my seat and held my face. “Aren’t you happy for me, Tonia?”
I grinned widely and got up almost instantly.. ” Of course I am, I am very happy for you” I hugged her. “Congratulations dear, may he love you deeper”. I prayed, not totally from my heart anyway. I knew deep down I have lost something precious and unfortunately, I lost it to Lara.
“Thank you Tonia, thank you! We will come see you officially soon… for counsel, you know?” she mocked, winking at me. She wriggled her waist again as she moved rhythmically back to Ojone’s seat. I kept on smiling. I knew she meant to spite me at all cost. I wouldn’t let her get at me, I can’t give her that joy. Am not someone that can keep emotions locked in, tears already began welling up on my eyes so I picked up my phone and gently walked out of the lecture hall. I could hear clatters, scornful laughter and jests behind me, but I didn’t look back.
I had to leave this environment now. I needed somewhere to cry.
“A penny for your thoughts, Beautiful?” Akoji’s voice startled me.
I didn’t notice when he quietly took his seat beside me on the concrete seats in our faculty’s resting place, courtesy of our students union government. At least this is one good use of the union in this school aside their protests and fights for one right or the other. I have been here, lost in my thoughts and staring vacantly into thin air with my earpiece firmly plugged in my ears. I was listening to Dido’s “life for rent” while discussing silently with my heart, I didn’t even see when Akoji sat beside me until he spoke.
I jolted instantly and turned to look at him with a smirk.
Thank God once again, no lecturer came to the class till now. With the havoc Lara had wrecked on my mood, I wouldn’t have been able to understand nothing. I had to go to the rest room to cry and came here afterwards, seeing it was empty and free. I needed some privacy, I needed the cool breeze under these trees to blow the fact into my brain. The fact that I have finally lost Jerry. Well, I walked him out in the first place but it pains me that I’ve lost him to none other but to her, whom I regard as my greatest rival.
Akoji placed a hand on my shoulders as I unplugged the earpiece from my ears. I’ve always known him to have the best succour for every situation at all, his words could calm a raging storm. That was the magic he used to straighten things out between Ben and I yesterday. He was so soothing that I couldn’t refuse his pleas on Ben’s behalf . But I can’t tell him what is wrong with me now. It’s crazy enough that am crying because my ex proposed to another lady. I can’t tell him that it’s hurting me that my ex has finally let me go and moved on. Damn it!! I can’t tell him I still have affections for Jerry! Akoji always wanted Ben and I to be happy together, talking of whom I haven’t heard from since he ran off to attend to emergency last night. I dare not let Akoji in on this!
I somehow figured out the best response for him. I started by smiling at him, that is at least my most powerful tool, it has worked wonders for me a lot of times.
“I guess my class was too rowdy for me jor! You know am allergic to noisy environments, they won’t just stay quiet once a lecturer is not in class” I lied
Akoji stared at me with searching eye as though trying to pick every detail, from my voice to body language to everything. He could almost tell I wasn’t saying the truth so he got up and squatted in front of me
“Tonia, your eyes are red and swollen! Your handkerchief is soaked and has turned brown with makeup stains” he started, holding my right hand and still searching my eyes with his. “none of these has anything to do with your noisy class, and you know it! Please talk to me…” he said with pleading eyes
I began to soften deep within as he spoke and was beginning to feel like I should just break out and cry once more on his shoulders, like I should just vent it all out but I couldn’t. In fact, I mustn’t. I didn’t know what to do and my brain is presently failing to supply me with a convincing answer for Akoji. It is now I realised the web I’ve been caught in. Someone had better come to my rescue… on time too.
“Hi!!! Akoji” someone called out to him while advancing towards us
We immediately looked up to see a tall, fair and slender lady walking towards Akoji and I. More like catwalk. Her face rang a bell in my head but I couldn’t just place the exact place I’ve ever seen her. She looked very ravishing on her Sheinside bright-green, body fitted short dress and silver Charlotte Ruse shoes, I don’t seem to know the designer of her Cadmium-red handbag which she clutched so majestically in her hand in a way that one may think it was made exclusively for her. But in all, her dress sense is classy, talking from experience as the first daughter of a fashionmonger, pardon me. She appears to me as one of those hot models on this campus judging from the much elegance she portrayed even in her walking steps and of course she looked like she has been swimming in some Nigerian currencies. Akoji immediately got up from his squatting position and adjusted his T-shirt. I heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God!, at last am free from his piercing words” I muttered beneath my breath.
“Hey Chenny!!, our number one Agbani Darego, so good to see you dearie. Been a while, how are you?” Akoji said excitedly giving the beautiful lady a light side hug as she came to stand in front of us.
“I am always fine, Akoji. Thank you. Been travelling a lot lately. How is everything going?…” She moved forward and offered me her hand, I took it, smiling back at her. ” Is she the one?” she asked further before Akoji could respond to her initial question winking jeeringly at him as she took her seat beside me
“She is my friend Chenny, C’mon! Must you always be fussy?” Akoji exclaimed as Chenny sounded suspicious with her question. He moved to join us, taking his seat beside Chenny.
“Sorry Ladies, Chenny meet Tonia Abuh, 300level, Microbiology ”
“Aww!!” Chenny exclaimed. “So nice to meet you Tonia. Am Ojochenemi Philips, but everybody knows me as Chenny, 300level too, Accounting”
“Wow! Nice to meet you too, you are beautiful!” I complemented while giving her a quick hug.
She blushed shyly and was about giving her compliment too when Akoji cut in on us
“Since when did you become modest, Chenny? I mean, its unlike you. It doesn’t even befit you…” He mouthed, eyeballing Chenny before facing me “Don’t mind her o. She is just being unnecessarily modest here. You are meeting one of the top models on our campus Tonia. She is the present ‘miss campus’. You should have heard something about her, I guess? She is everywhere, everywhere as you are seeing her”
“Akoji, stop this exaggerations please” Chenny nudged him, laughing
“Miss campus?!’ Wow! Yea I knew the face was familiar, I must have seen you a lot of times on bill boards and posters. So honoured to meet you in person your highness” I bent my head mimicking homage. They were both laughing at my drama when I picked up my phone and earpiece.
“Let me get water over there, please” I said, just to excuse myself. They started talking and laughing like old friends who are catching up. It must have indeed been a long time they last saw.
Akoji and Chenny were so engrossed in their discussion that they didn’t notice when I got back. I’ve been hearing horrible things ever since I sat down here beside them quietly. My mind also is trying to articulate what Chenny is saying, and regarding who she was actually talking about? It had better not be the same person I know. I listened on with full attention
“…Akoji, I truly got the best therapy for my tired body, big time! Trust me” Chenny rattled on, unconscious of her environment, laughing out really loud.
“You haven’t changed, right?” Akoji replied with sarcasm in his voice amidst broad smiles.
“Enough!” I screamed out angrily, cutting their conversation when I couldn’t bear it any longer. My ears were already full, their discussion hit me hard like slings. They stopped and both turned to face me with bewilderment.
“Tonia, you-are-b-a-c-k!” Akoji muttered inaudibly
“Chenny, I thought you will need this” I said bluntly, handing her the second bottle of water I bought and ignoring Akoji’s question. Clouds of tears were gathering up on my eyes again and Chenny mustn’t see this. Fortunately, she was more concerned about her gist that I interrupted than what I was giving her.
“Aww! Thank you Bae” She quickly collected the water from my hand without looking well at me and faced Akoji trying to proceed with the initial conversation but he winked at her to stop and she understood immediately.
“But Akoji, you see say this girl body sef set die ba?” Chenny asked Akoji in pidgin English trying to change the topic. She immediately turned to face me, using her eyes to gauge my thighs.. “Consider joining campus modelling network o, am their leader and I like you already, so you won’t have much challenge. But de koko be say, You go learn to dey pay your bills to de appropriate quarters, you know na, student leaders and judges alike, play your cards smartly even if it’s not well, and you are good to go girl!” she screamed raising her hands up in the sky.
Akoji became dumb from when he realised I’ve been listening to them all along. Perhaps he was wishing I didn’t get to hear the horrible sides of their conversation. But I did, in fact, all of it! He made sure his eyes didn’t come in contact with mine as I stared unblinkingly at him. ‘And this Chenny of a girl will soon be needing a padlock for her mouth’ I thought to myself
“Bae must use what she has to get what she wants o…” Chenny was still talking. I got tired, I was fed up with every inch of today. I used my handkerchief to prevent tears from falling off my face.
“Excuse me please!” I said angrily, my voice was shaking as I yanked her hands off my thigh and stormed back towards the direction of my classroom building.
At this point, Akoji knew better than to follow me. Chenny didn’t seem to know what went wrong, or rather what she said wrong. She couldn’t understand why I left that way
“Akoji, I talk bad ni? Why the babe dey vex? Wetin dey pursue her?” Chenny asked continuously without waiting for any response.
Akoji was caught off guard. He couldn’t say anything, his mind was lost far away, in fact, he didn’t hear Chenny’s questions. All that mattered to him right now was what my next action would possibly be considering all I’ve heard. Chenny noticed Akoji was absent minded and slapped his hand hard
“Akoji, wetin na?” she asked shrugging
Akoji instantly readjusted and got up.
To be continued…