Creative Nonfiction

No one believed that Chiugo would become popular on campus when we were fresh men. She was small and had a poor command of English. After our first year, first semester exams, she metamorphosed; she became popularly known as African Queen and became the first female students’ Union President on Campus.

My friends were weird; they were known for things like: promiscuity, being cocky, belligerence or being too religious. Chris, my next-door neighbour and friend was notorious. Austin was exceedingly good. Chiugo was one of my friends, too. In fact, she was the first person I knew in my department, we met right from the period we did our clearance. She had sunken eyes and her flat nose accentuated her protruded huge black lips which was barely shut, and she often exposed her black gum. Her head was too small despite the black weave-on she usually wore. The pimples on her face made her light-skinned face look variegated.

Our families lived on the same street in Aba, though we never met ourselves until we got to Nsukka, it brought us closer as we reminisced on a few things that happened on our street. We also talked about Aba. After she graduated Secondary school, she married a business man who was into recycling of plastics, gave birth to a daughter who passed away when she was three. Since fifteen years, she didn’t conceive, her husband brought in another woman home who gave birth to a baby boy, he transferred the management of the clothing business from Chiugo to the other woman. So, she left after her mother had convinced her to go get a degree. Her father didn’t support the idea of she, abandoning her home, but she had to make something out of her life. Her mother paid her first year fees and died the next week after she had a car crash on her way back from their Hometown meeting. Now, she planned to sell Aba-made foot wears in school to help her with expenses. Chiugo was quiet and discussed with no one in our class, but me. She was thirty-six, the oldest person in our class and, I probably was the youngest in our class at sixteen. 

In the morning, before we sat for General Bio 1 exam, she came to lodge, a few minutes away from hers to duplicate a ten-page material Prof. released. She wore a long polo and a short and it was the first time I saw her legs – the only sexy feature she had. It seemed she had borrowed them; they were big and time for her slender body. I wondered how she was going to read or decipher or memorize the Embder-Meyerhoff's Pathway before noon. It hadn’t occurred to me then, that students including I had super-human ability to read several pages of a book just before an exam. I was at Chiugo's back and watched the tall, chocolate skinned lady gaze at her. She broke this rapt attention when she walked up to Chiugo and whispered, “You are very ugly.” Emeka, Ngozi and I heard the whisper and turned towards her with disdain. She walked a few steps backwards and perhaps, noticed that we had scornfully looked at her, returned and said in a hushed tone, not a whisper now. “I mean, this your make-up is too shouty, it makes you look ugly.” However, Chiugo looked worse that day; the thick red lip-gloss she wore made her look like a little witch. I expected everyone to be talking about the tough exam we had written, instead, they discussed Chiugo who was called “ugly” and I wondered how everyone knew what the invigilator had called her just a minute after we ended.

It was on that day, that I knew people called her “African Queen”. Everyone had known her as African Queen because most of them said something like: “How would that woman tell African Queen that she’s ugly in her face.” Until that day, Chiugo turned her ugliness to advantage. 

The next session, Chiugo left off-campus for girls' hostel – Eyo Ita Hall. After lectures and during weekends, she’d sell footwears at the ground floor lounge. People started referring other female students to buy affordable footwears at Eyo Ita, and when they got there, the girls there would either refer them to the lounge or her room. 

When we had Peace and Conflict classes, we were asked to buy a novel at exorbitant price which was only available in the Bookshop. She travelled to Onitsha and bought hundreds of the pirated copy and sold to students at a price which was roughly one-seventh of the price we would have purchased it. Almost all the second year students in Biological and Physical sciences bought the book from her. Her popularity grew, she became a political figure in our department – Industrial Chemistry; during any departmental election, if she told you, “I’ll arrange the girls” for you, you were bound to win the elections. No one ever knew when she “arranged the girls” or how “she arranged the girls”. They never gathered in a place or had an online meeting, but one was sure that eighty percent of girls in the department would vote for the person she “arranged” them for.

Chiugo's first year’s results weren’t excellent, they were just good. Later in the subsequent years, she studied the lecturers, but others studied their outline. She studied every lecturer's past question and read for a few hours.. We studied, but she learnt to make good grades. If she couldn’t answer a question in an exam, she would confidently copy from her neighbours' answer sheet, that if one were an invigilator, one would think she was teaching her neighbours exam conduct.

After my classmates convinced her, she decided to pick a form to run for the Students' Union Vice President, she went there, had an abrupt change in mind and filled the form for Presidency. After screening, she became a potential candidate. This time, her husband died, having not traditionally divorced him, she participated in the burial, and it consumed a week of her time. 

Chiugo was sleeping in her room when her neighbours shouted, “African Queen!” She was asked to go to Students' Affairs; students were waiting in front of the building to hear the new Number One Student speak. She didn’t campaign, her name campaigned for her and those her girls “arranged” themselves for her. Her voice and actions were the opposite of her stature.

We knew she did well in her studies, but she wasn’t regarded as one of the best. She never attended or assisted in class tutorials. She was mostly interested in her business and school politics. When our degree results came out, she was among the four girls who bagged a First Class Degree and everyone including I was surprised. 

She came back home and received a warm embrace from her father which she had longed for since last four years.

August 14, 2020 22:18

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