‘My mum’s favourite,’ he says. ‘She would be mad if I didn’t wear it today.’
He’s standing against a slab, his eyes gazing the laboratory. His legs are drawn together as though responding to a military command. It’s easy to spot him when you enter. These days, it’s easy to spot people. You only need a snippet of their physique – the guy with half-burnt hair, the lady who wears blue mascara, always. You are imagining this lady, with a blue mascara, pink shirt, the type that screams, ‘Queens are born in March.’
Our guy doesn’t wear mascara. Or burn hair. His black shirt is likely sold, buy one get one free. He’s wearing a Gucci sandal; a quick scan reveals five other students donning the sandals, they’ve become viral, those sandals with red and green straps, a tawdry mimic of the original brand.
You were vexed the first night you stumbled upon a conversation involving those sandals. It went somehow like:
Ha, egbon mi. Good evening sir.
Who is the egbon? Your boy is gentle o. See as you dey fresh. Gucci sandals.
You visited a cobbler the next morning and beheld the sandals, and you returned home thinking how rotten the world was getting.
So, sandals are not it. It’s not the guy’s backpack too. Yet, when you entered, you smelled him, the way a hen on heat smells a cock many miles off. He was making some payments, compelling you to linger some rows back until he was done. You waved him over and asked how much the dues were, and he, been the type of person he was, said, ‘We are paying #3,500.’
You smiled and said his shirt was nice.
‘My mum told me to wear it,’ he said.
‘I don’t understand. Do you stay off campus?’
He meets your eyes. ‘No. I was given hostel space. Since last week.’
‘That’s nice.’ He nods along. ‘How come your mum told you to wear a particular shirt?’
A frown digs into his face. You think, perhaps, this is the point where you retrieve your backpack and head the other direction, only for him to produce his phone. They are the big ones, with silver cases. He taps quickly and says, ‘Here.’ You know it’s a timetable. Sectioned into rows and columns. You marvel at the combination of attires – blue jeans and a white shirt, shorts and sandals (make sure it’s the Gucci sandal).
‘Your mum sent this?’
‘She’s a fashion designer,’ he says, simply.
You peel the expression off his face and analyze. He’s not defending his mother. He’s not endorsing it. He reminds you of Kambili, robbed of innocence, naïve, beautifully naïve. You think of days when Mother suggested you wore this to an event, and how you revolted, and how you both almost fought.
‘That’s nice,’ you say, again. You are beginning to repeat words. It’s time to go. ‘Well, in case you need anything, you can always holla, okay?’
He shifts. ‘You are in what level?’
‘Posi,’ he says.
You are learning few things about him, how he’s the student who doesn’t complain if the lecturer throws a class for 7pm, how he’s not fully established in what he wants and what he does yet, how he’s not a fan of the name, Posi, but because he still lacks roots, because he has not been washed with messages like feminism and freedom, he cannot call his dad and say, ‘Give me another name or I kill myself.’
‘I’m afraid,’ you tell Debbie.
‘God has not given us the spirit –’
‘Of fear. Do you ever change?’
‘Not for you,’ she replies. Her smile blooms. You head towards the bus-stop, hugging the morning silence. She brings her lips to your ear, ‘I missed you.’
‘Words, words, words.’
‘Obviously. I wasn’t talking about us, though.’
She stops walking. ‘What happened?’
A soft wind sweeps past you. On the other end, two guys barrel down the sidewalk, folders wedged between armpit and chest. Their breath reeks of freshmen. You think, how just a year back, you were barreling down a similar sidewalk, your breath the stench of naivety, your pocket jingling with currencies that was yours but not yours.
‘I met this guy today, and he’s what seventeen, eighteen?’
‘Did he steal your money?’
‘That would have been easy. No, he did not steal my money. He was robbed though. Of his privileges.’
‘I’m not following,’ Debbie says.
‘I saw him with Gucci sandals, so I said, ‘your sandals are nice.’ He says he had to wear it today, that they are his mum’s favorite. He explains his dressing timetable, and the consequences of not sticking to the timetable.’
‘His mum instructed him to wear them?’ You nod. ‘And he’s a student? He stays alone?’
‘That’s bad,’ she says, finally.
‘That’s bad,’ you say.
You walk on.
At night, you lay on the bed and drink in fractured noises – hoots of boys just sweeping into the hostel, choking smells of burnt soups, whirls of a generator powering the printing shop some blocks away. Your eyes fall on the polythene at the foot of the bed. You call Debbie.
‘You bought the sandals.’
‘Yes,’ you say. ‘I don’t know why. Did I tell you I’m struggling with writing again? I wonder if it’s laziness on my path.’
‘You mean part?’
‘Yeah, part. Path works too, though. Laziness on my path, broken into parts.’
‘Laziness on my part, broken into paths. Dave, is this you?’
‘Yeah, it is I. Be not afraid.’
She laughs. ‘I think we both are drunk.’
‘Me, maybe. You? Not so much. Perhaps it’s the sandals.’
‘Perhaps. You wear it tomorrow, yes?’
You sit up. ‘What’s happening tomorrow?’
‘You don’t know?’
‘I don’t,’ you say.
‘I don’t too,’ she says.
She starts to respond. The door opens and a boy enters, wearing Gucci sandals.