“I heard that Odili postgraduate hall has been rejuvenated, and there is no more influx of undergraduate students.” Ken tells me.
“If so, I will consider living there throughout my postgraduate programme.” I respond.
What he tells me actually is true: the nuisance from the undergraduate male students in Eni and Alvan halls has ended. Eni and Alvan, adjacent to each other, are the two complexes used as undergraduate male hostels in the university. When I was an undergraduate, students living in Eni and Alvan often came to Odili, the only postgraduate hostel in the university, directly opposite Eni to watch TV in the lounge, or to play monkey post soccer in their quadrangle as if theirs wasn’t enough, or to play snooker and table tennis at their balcony.
There is now a maximum of two persons per room, unlike before when undergraduate male students would illegally occupy some rooms in Odili. The hostel wardens really seemed to be working now, unlike before when their jobs were sinecure.
I am standing in front of Odili, looking around the environment: the woman who sells garden egg is still there, the girl who sells popcorn is pregnant again upon she always lamented about her predicaments after her husband became crippled, there is now a restaurant built with wood and zinc, covered with tarpaulin on one side, occupying the area where the bambara nut sellers used as their square, and I wonder where those women are now. If they were now dispersed, they would increase the prices of the bambara nuts. I loved the competition that existed amongst them; it led to price reduction, and they tried their best to prepare delicious bambara nuts.
I can hear noise coming from the far end of Eni. Few students are shouting, “Thief! Catch him!” The students who are in a queue at the tap that ran very slowly now realize that their help is needed to capture the thief who is about to exit the hostel in that area, they become alert and catch the dark shirtless young man whose body is oily and slippery as one of them says. In a jiffy, there are about one hundred students downstairs, at the tap, some are taking pictures of him; a few persons beat him before the security come like vultures that have found a carcass to take care of the situation. The thief is lucky that there are few students around, if not, he would be left at the brink of death before being handed over to the security. Summer break has just begun, and all students, but the pharmaceutical sciences and veterinary medicine students whom calendars are different from the other students are on vacation. Leaving a thief at the brink of death is better than death which is be the fate of any thief caught in a female hostel. A lifestyle, not too far from jungle justice was given in the male and female undergraduate hostels, the worst being the female where it was certain that the thief would be beaten to death.
I am in awe that this kind of sadistic and callous justice is still given in this university. Today is my first day in this environment ever since I left the boys’ hostel when I was an undergraduate, and what just happened today makes me muse over the most inhumane treatment I witnessed in Eni, starting from the very first day I moved in there until the day, when two blameless young men were beaten up – the same day I began to live with my friend off-campus.
* * *
I moved into Eni as an undergraduate fresher because I had no alternative then. The dull and dirt-like multi-coloured paintings was the first reprehensible feature I noticed. The mucky smelly gutters made me realize that human beings could adapt to foul smell. The doors of most rooms didn’t have knobs, and I felt the jinx of being robbed someday while asleep. The broken windows let me know that it was inevitable to spend my evenings in the hostel without mosquitoes singing me lullaby, and sometimes, one of them would end up finding solace in my ears. From the beginning of the semester, even when lectures hadn’t fully begun, I began to see students going for night class to read, giving more consideration to if they had their blankets in their back pack more than their books. The conjugated hanging red and black wires were permanent decorations in the rooms, and in the corridor and a few at the stairs. A tall person who wasn’t familiar with the building walking about the corridor at night could kiss a wire, and might be unfortunate if it were a naked wire. That week I moved in, I heard that a fresher who was resting his arms on the iron railings at the long passage was electrocuted, and was rushed to the hospital. Each room had a capacity for up to five legal occupants, but the occupants of each room could literally, make a football team, and some, even with substitutes. The foams are spread on the floor, and we lay in them head-toe. Bed bugs usually terrorized my sleep at night, until the worse came – bush rats that began scraping our big toes at night, until we learned to sleep wearing socks. The sight on the restrooms appeased my uneasiness. So, the only option left was to breathe at intervals whenever I was urinating due to the pungency of urine, and dash to any nearby bush to defecate. The bathrooms were manageable as long as the toilet soap had good fragrance. Actually, the hostel wasn’t always dirty, there were cleaners who breathed life into the hostel, but it only lasted a few hours; after most students were done with their lectures, it would return to ‘normal’ as expected.
Genuine and sham news fly so swiftly in the hostel, and one outstanding thing about their hear-say was that no story was changed; it would remain as it was originally told until it reached the nth person. Students in the hostel share ideas on different subjects; from academics, religion, sports, music and entertainment, politics and economics, and they are known to perform better in academics than boys who lived off-campus. There were many games and sports team that one could join in the hostel: soccer, cricket, volley ball, basket ball, lawn tennis and table tennis. Boys in the hostel didn’t mind brushing their faces against each other’s perspiring armpits to secure a spot in the viewing lounge during an important football match, and would scream on top of their voices whenever a chance was missed, or a goal was scored. The first time I watched a football match in there, I couldn’t breathe fresh air because some boys were hanging around the window that was meant for ventilation. And for the period I lived in that hostel, I never heard that someone fainted in the viewing lounge, including me, surprisingly. Everything in the hostel was fun or would eventually be turned to fun, including their occasional protest when they were not supplied with adequate power or water.
I never planned to leave the hostel because I was already adapting to it. I still maintained my cleanliness and we slept in mosquito nets, I had carefully found the neatest bathroom and urinary, and the best time to fetch water to avoid being in a twenty-man queue for a single tap waiting to fetch water that sometimes ran with the same diameter and velocity of men’s urine. I thought that there was some sort of unity and understanding that existed amongst the students in there; they subconsciously learned that what was good for any hostel inhabitant was good for his fellow whenever there was a misunderstanding with an external entity. However, The day I left the hostel was the same day the hostel inter-series monkey-post football competition began. The quadrangle was used as the venue, the moment that I really was enjoying.
The quadrangle was about 30 m by 60 m, It was half-time, and a draw between the two teams. Music was played in the background and then instrumental when a strong vocalist appeared and gave a powerful rendition. My roommate, Celestine and Anselm who were playing for our series, and might be substituted in for other players came out of from the urinary, dragging two boys from the bathroom, hitting them on the head, and calling them, “homo,” an abridged and offensive word meant for homosexual male in Nigeria. Before I knew it, many other students joined and started beating them, too. I heard Celestine say, “I heard an unusual noise coming from the bathroom at the extreme, we gently opened the door, and caught them kissing and touching each other’s penises. They didn’t even realize we were looking at them until after a few seconds.” The second-half which was about to begin was delayed, and the two men were brought down to the quadrangle even after their denial. A few persons confirmed that they had caught one of them in secret places many times, doing suspicious things with some boy.
Their picture was taken, and posted in different groups, and in a few minutes, they began trending in the school.
I never knew that Celestine who seemed to be very considerate and somewhat level-headed could do such a thing. Anselm’s wasn’t really surprising, but what struck me was that Celestine was even more exasperated than Anselm. I wished I could tell the boys to let the young men be, but I was scared that my face might be slapped many times if I tried to destroy the unity they had in disgracing those two young men, and the fun they were deriving from it.
Around 6 pm, when the match had ended, and Anselm and Celestine have had their bath, I tried talking sense into them, “The only thing I find disgusting was their making out in that smelly place. Seriously, those guys were born like that, or perhaps, they are a consequence of some inevitable environmental factors. Sexuality is not a choice, you know. It is like choosing one’s gender ...”
“Bullshit!” Another roommate of mine, Joe interjected when I was explaining to, and obliquely reprimanding Anselm and Celestine of what they had caused.
“Alright, but they shouldn’t have been beaten. After all, those guys were not guilty of any form of harassment...”
Joe interrupted me again, now in Pidgin English, “e don do!.” “It’s enough!.” “Is it normal for a man to kiss his fellow man? Why were they not created women? Be careful here o. Don’t take this stand when having this kind of discussion with other people here. Boys here can be crazy.” I agreed that they really were crazy, including him.
“The problem here is that you people think it’s a choice. This is similar to the days when twins were being murdered, like it’s a choice to be twins.” I stopped talking when I realized that Anselm and Celestine had fallen asleep. Celestine was already snoring, while Anselm’s mouth was opened as usual whenever he was sleeping. Joe was now immersed in what he was reading, wearing ear piece, and I could even hear the music he was playing. There was no one else was in the room then apart from us. Before long, Ken, my classmate came to my room to collect the padlock he had bought for his apartment, and told me that he’d leave his uncle’s boys’ quarters for his apartment, off-campus that day. Immediately, I made arrangements with him to stay together, as roommates – something that I never thought of before, because hostel was becoming more fun.
There was nothing that propitiated my mood more at that time than Ken accepting my becoming his roommate, and renegotiating with his landlord. As a normal student in the university hostel, my property were my clothes, books, camp gas cooker, a kettle and two small pots. I packed, and left the room and the hostel that evening. And I never walked past the hostel whenever I was going to class till I graduated, even though the route was closer to my department. After that very day, I started having a single story of boys in the hostel, a kind of sentiment I attached to them – irrational.
* * *
I now realize that I wouldn’t like to live opposite Eni, reminiscing the worst day I spent in school. I imagine how I would treat an undergraduate student that would come to fetch water at Odili when as expected, they run out of water.
“Uncle, buy groundnut.” A tattered teenage girl carrying a rust enamel tray containing boiled groundnut says to me. She says “uncle” in rising tone as to which many Nigerians call their relative uncles. It occurs to me that I am not supposed to be standing here, too. I am going to look for an apartment agent. I ignore her, and walk down the road, heading to the second gate, I receive a notification. I have been given a full scholarship at State University of New York at Buffalo. Thank goodness! I will not do my postgraduate study here.
I smile and the security man at the second gate called, “Oga!” I look at him. Other people passing are staring at me, too. Perhaps, I had smiled widely which made him call me, or whatever it was that made me express surprise and ecstasy and excitement. He said in Pidgin English. “Bless your boy as God don bless you.” “Bless your boy as God has blessed you.” He is wearing a cosmetic smile, and I am forcing a grimace, and now, pokerfaced and stolid.