We never knew that the reason she gave us the keys to her office was to carefully move our apparatus and reagents to the Project Laboratory. She wasn’t much of a talker and she barely answered our questions if later, we could decipher the solution. We entered her office in the morning after a long walk in the tiny showers, hoping to set up a four-hour reaction before lectures began for that day and realized that the magnetic stirrer and reflux condenser were no longer on top of the wooden table near the window we performed our reactions. Those apparatus couldn’t pass through the window because the spaces on the burglary were thin, so I couldn’t think of window men coming at night to steal them. She demarcated her office into two with a thin wood. The inner one was used as a mini-lab where she basically worked on imine compounds and her previous project students worked there under her close supervision. The other part was her office where she did her paper works. Sam sank in her chair and plugged his laptop charger to the wall socket, connected to the Wi-Fi and continued with his usual downloading of Nollywood movies.
“Sam, the stirrer and condenser are not here o,” I said to him, now holding the handle of the upper locker and motioning to pull it. “It is locked. I think she locked them here. We looked at each other in bewilderment, then he brought out his phone from the front pocket of his trouser. Sam was blunt and straight forward. He wasn’t diplomatic and didn’t like beating around the bush. Earlier, I thought that she had hidden them so that we wouldn’t damage them. She had seen us – Sam particularly, break glass wares everyday we carried out reactions.
“We can’t find the stirrer and reflux condenser, ” he already placed the call.
“Sam, now, carefully pack every other thing you and Patrick are using for practical to the Project Lab. Drop my keys with Nneka, the Secretary.” She said. Sam was someone meant to be communicating with her; Her statements were succinct, too. Initially, I was worried about how we would communicate effectively with her; she barely talked and most times, responded with, “mmm” for yes of “mm mm” for no or “mm?” for a question – like “what?”
“We are still making use of the condenser and, and…”
“The other things you need are in Abuja.” She interrupted. “Those apparatus are for general use.” She hung up.
I stole different volumes of Prof's solvents for Solubility Test so that we wouldn’t spend much purchasing them and I was sure that she wouldn’t find out about it. Sam and I carefully packed everything we needed inside a Ghana-must-go sack and transported them to Project Lab. Sam held the sack and I held the two beakers which contained compounds crystalllizing out from the cold solution of the solvents. We walked down through a thin path leading to the backyard of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital whose path led to the backyard of Abuja building where the Project Lab was.. Sam's sight on a box-head Rottweiler terrified him that he left the sack off his grip, it fell and I heard a noise, resounding. I wondered what he damaged this time and I was so angry at him. I was scared too, The dog snarled at us but its stationery position indicated that it was chained.
“She’s scared of cancer, you know. It was yesterday when she heard that someone in Australia who worked an pyrazolone compounds died last week just after his research fellow died some time, last month.” I said to him. When we got to the lab, I realized that it was a metallic retort stand that produced the sound the sack fell.
I didn’t particularly like working with my classmates in the project lab. Yes, it was more fun and entertaining. The first day we worked in there, we spent fourteen hours, but performed just a reaction for four hours. There were two reflux condensers and two magnetic stirrers available, so different groups took turns in performing our reactions and I presumed our practical not to end pretty soon. While we were waiting for the cold dilute acid to precipitate the pyrazolone derivative from the reaction system, Sam told me that he'd travel home for the holiday for his grand mother's burial. That meant that I was going to be the one to prepare the four imine compounds. “Alright, no problem. You should be back before fortnight.” I said to him.
“Two weeks? I'll be back before then nah.” I even preferred working alone to working with him. We incurred more expenses while working together due to his ineptitude: the damaging of the three-necked flask and reflux condenser twice, burning of the electric stirrer and wastage of a reasonable volume of absolute ethanol. I regretted it when I agreed with what Prof had said – the burden of all damages would be shared equally by us. He was reasonable though, sometimes he replaced the damaged items without my knowledge. Even at that, I preferred working alone. His ideas or contribution towards our project were either too fantabulous or bad.
We had only two weeks for the holiday which would begin the next two days. The holiday was short to make up for the lost periods when the Academic Staff Union embarked on strike the previous year. I didn’t want to experience staying alone with the whistling pines and thieves as my neighbours during school holidays. I also couldn’t also feign sickness as an excuse to travel home because she might come to the Medical Centre to see me. I had made up my mind that I'd travel home and spend the holiday with my family, so I slept over it and thought of causing interruption to the power transmission to the Project Lab.
I didn’t even reconsider what I was about to do; they were seven groups of students carrying out their project practical in the lab with us and they were prepared for the break – the short vacation. I was sure that the power interruption wouldn’t be fixed till school resumed. Apparently, Prof couldn’t ask me to carry the small departmental generator to the lab because most offices were locked. I called Henry, my roommate to interfere with the power in the lab which wouldn’t be easily resolved. Henry was an Economics student, most of the conjugated red and black hanging wires in the hostel was Henry's handiwork. He could improvise in fixing electrical faults. Of course, he'd be better off interrupting power supply. Whatever he did, I didn’t care as long as the source of termination wouldn't easily be detected. It was in the evening when Henry did it. The following morning, I called Prof to tell her that there was a power outage in the lab and I was sure that she wouldn’t tell us to return to her lab; her health couldn’t be compromised and she had travelled to Enugu. We couldn’t get her office key, too during the holiday.
“Hmm. Anyway, you have to wait till it’s fixed. It might just be something temporary.” That day, I traveled to Awka. I was sure that the power wouldn’t be restored till after two weeks. Perhaps, Henry would still be the one to fix it.