Before she returned to the UK, Kolade and Alex had gone out on a number of dates. The second time, they had gone to a Buka and talked over a plate of hot stretchy Amala, and Gbegiri and Ewedu, with bush meat and assorted meat parts. Alex swore that was the most fun she had had, but when she had told Nora, her friend hissed and warned her that the guy was just planning on how not to spend a lot. Alex laughed, and so the next time, she had suggested they went to another expensive restaurant.
They hadn’t officially started dating or anything, but Alex knew this was a man she liked and would want to know more about. The night before her flight back to Birmingham, he asked for her UK number, and Skype ID, and then, Alex knew, he was going to keep in touch.
The mock test had been held before Alex returned. She was surprised that Nora had not mentioned it all the while they had talked over the phone. Nora apologized and gave the excuse that she had been really busy and that she had taken up a job at a fast food restaurant, which made her very tired after work usually.
“I’m sorry Alex. It’s just a silly mock test. It’s not even graded.” She said.
“But it’s important. It would have helped me have a foresight of what the exams will be like.” Alex retorted.
“You can always use my graded work. The tutor gave me feedback, and mine was one of the best in class.”
Alex sighed, as she stuffed Nora’s paper in her bag.
“So, how’s home? How’s your mom?” Nora started to make conversation. She brought out apple juice from the fridge and poured Alex a glass.
“Mom wasn’t sick. She just wanted to see my face. Can you imagine that?” Alex laughed.
“Wow! Your mom is obsessed with you.” Nora said.
“Your mom sent you food stuff by the way.” Alex started to unzip her box, then she brought out the stacks of Garri and beans tied in black polythene bags. Nora forced a smile, trying to hide her embarrassment, and then waved her hand.
“I already got groceries. Can’t eat that local beans. I bought baked beans already.” She said.
“Baked what? It’s not the same as beans from home now!” Alex said.
“Whatever. Tell me about that your new catch, Kolade.”
Alex’s heart leaped, and her eyes suddenly became full of excitement.
“It’s nothing serious. I like him though, but we are still friends.” She blushed.
“Let’s just hope he’s a real man and not all these one Kobo boys.”
They both laughed.
Kolade had eventually called her and soon, they began to talk often over the phone. He called her on Skype sometimes, gradually, she began to look forward to his calls or video chat every day. She finally introduced Nora one day on Skype, and Nora had later hissed and said that he wasn’t as handsome as Alex had described him to be.
The day he asked her to be his girlfriend, Alex was elated. She had never had a boyfriend. A lot of guys flocked around her because she was attractive and pretty to behold, especially because she was mixed, but she had never taken an interest in any of them. Kolade seemed different. He was down to earth, and very easy to talk to. He was a Christian, which was an important factor for her, and he was intelligent. He had also bagged a first class degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Ibadan. Nora, for one reason or the other, didn’t really approve. She said Alex needed someone who was willing to settle down soon, and a man who always wanted to fast at the mention of an expensive restaurant was not exactly husband-material.
Valentine ’s Day started to approach, and Nora suggested that if Kolade was smart enough to send gifts, then Alex could begin to take him serious. Nora knew Alex always listened to her. Alex perceived her like a more mature and street wise person, and even if that was the only glory she could ascribe to her penniless name, she was glad Alex depended on her for that.
The day came, and Alex began to get scared that Kolade would not send a gift. She wanted him to send one badly, not because she wanted one, but because she wanted Nora to see that he was good enough to date.
By 9.00am, Kolade called to say happy Valentine ’s Day, and to remind her that he liked her and wanted to be her man. They chatted over Whatsapp and he didn’t make mention of anything. Instead, he said he got a mystery Valentine cake from a secret admirer. Alex had been jealous, but had tried to hide her feelings, by lying that she had a lecture, and had to go.
By afternoon, the only gift she got were flowers from a guy that liked her in their department. Nora had laughed and insulted the white boy.
By evening, nothing had come from Kolade.
Kolade had contiously dialled his elder sister that lived in Manchester, to help him send flowers, a cake, and a bottle of wine to Alex’s address, but his sister had travelled out of the UK on a job training course. He had racked his head and thought of someone else to help send gifts to Alex, but all his options were either broke or out of town. When he called her in the morning, he had wanted to mention it, but decided it was better left unsaid. Maybe it was a good thing after all, and she was not the material girl that her first impression had struck when they went out to eat at Victoria Island. He was still trying hard to understand her. When they talked, she seemed like a totally different person, very down to earth, and warm, but at other times, she acted as though she was following a book of relationship guidelines, and it was beginning to piss him off. That was the reason he had broken up with his ex-girlfriend. She had become so materialistic and threatened to break up with him if he didn’t buy her a new phone. He had been the one to break off the relationship, and though she begged him and pleaded to mend fences, he was done.
He was surprised as he stared at the phone in his hand the following day, February 15th. He had called Alex to check up on her, and she had said she was busy. He called about six more times during the day and she said she was still busy. She was obviously avoiding him. By evening, she had sent a text that she didn’t want a relationship with him but what hurt him the most was that she had called him stingy and broke.
He tried to Skype her later, but she went offline. Then he noticed she had blocked him on Whatsapp.
Alex was eager to hear from Kolade. He had not sent her anything, and she felt a little upset, but she just wanted to speak with him again. Nora had warned her that she knew guys like Kolade and they knew how to work their way with words into a woman’s heart. She said he wasn’t worth her time or her heart, and advised her not to pick his calls.
“He’s still calling o.” Alex said that evening, as she checked her phone.
“If you pick it, he will start taking you for granted.” Nora had hissed.
“Wow. So what do I do?”
Nora grabbed the phone, and began to send a text.
“What did you type? I hope you weren’t harsh on him please.”
“Alex you are too soft! Don’t let these guys take advantage of you. He probably heard your mom is top shot and wants to get his share of the oil money. Poor people, I just don’t get their mentality.” Nora shook her head.
For a minute, Alex stared at Nora. She loved her, but sometimes, she had to admit that Nora was very ironical with the things she said. What right did Nora have to call someone else poor? She wanted to mention it, but she knew Nora would get angry, and not talk to her for days. It was the malice that Alex could not stand. Whenever Nora , or anyone else, kept a grudge against her, she felt like she was walking on egg shells. She was never free to do anything. Nora’s malice was usually over board. One time, she had not spoken to Alex for two weeks, and people had begun to say Alex was the bad one, and had assumed that Alex had rubbed her oil money in Nora's face. One weakness, or strength, from public perspective, was that Alex was a girl that wanted to be liked, the way she liked people. She hardly kept or even remembered quarrels, and was always really quick to apologize. Nora knew this weakness and had adopted it as her tool against Alex.
“I wrote…I DON’T WANT TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU, DUDE. STINGY AND BROKE DOESN’T WORK FOR ME.” Nora said, showing Alex the text she had typed and sent to Kolade.
“Blocked him on your Whatsapp too. I wonder what you guys always talk about. The guy must be so boring and jobless.” Nora snorted.
After a few days, when Alex had started to miss him, it was too late. He had deleted her from his Skype contact, and had stopped picking her calls.
Snow, summer, and the gradual advent of autumn occurred. Exams had been held, dissertations had been submitted, and a new set of students were resuming in the University for a new session. Nora was not eager to return to Nigeria. She knew she was going to face reality, and she knew the expectations would be high, especially from her family. Her siblings now saw her as a mini-god because she had smelt London. She didn’t have a job yet, and she didn’t know how she would go about getting one. At their graduation ceremony, Lisa Udeh had promised to help as usual, and told her not to worry. Getting a job was not what scared her. It was more of the fear of earning so much, but retaining little because everything would go on family upkeep. She was just twenty three years old, and her mother was expecting her to carry the family cross. Her mother had not understood that the UK Immigration laws were strict, and it wasn’t easy to just get a good job and invite Bright, her wasting-away younger brother over.
Alex had graduated with M.sc Marketing Communications, distinction, and Nora had made a Merit. She hadn’t been happy, but she had to show gratitude to Lisa Udeh for sponsoring and taking care of her throughout the programme. She would have done anything to make a distinction, but the system here was not like the Undergrad. She couldn’t bribe any one with sex for good grades.
Lisa had planned a two week trip for herself and Alex in Paris after the graduation, to celebrate her achievement and success. Alex had wished Nora could come, but she knew better than to push her luck. She knew her mother had tried really hard for Nora, and the older woman wanted this Paris get-away to be strictly both of them.
As Nora grabbed her luggage from the conveyor belt, she sighed. She was back in Nigeria, where you either were born great, achieve greatness, or hustle for greatness. Greatness wasn’t tossed on anyone in Nigeria. People had to grab greatness to stay great.
She stopped a cab, put her luggage in the trunk, and got into the back seat, as the cab man drove down to Agege.
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