Coming out of the office should have made Dabere feel like the plastic plates filled with soup in her mother’s fridge— only coming out to see the light of the day when they were to be eaten with smooth, sometimes too soft semo. She took a deep breath, the too cool office had only made her crave for the hot air outside. She was finally done with school, a B.C graduate. She said the words tentatively. They felt too plastic, too unreal to describe the past four years. A mere paper, Ogonna had described it, that wouldn’t get you so far in the country’s current situation. It was a mere paper, yet many pursued it. Even he made sure he got one before he abandoned the paper at home on their father’s bookshelf, boarding a flight to China to hustle.
She felt a sudden bout of homesickness, different from the longing to go back to their bungalow in Aba, guarded ferociously by Mufasa, who barked at anyone who so much as walked near the gate. His brown colored fur earned him his name, or probably the infatuation Ogonna had had with The Lion King that he saw the reincarnation of the unfortunate king in the puppy when my mother had bought him. He had been born in Jos, till now she could not phantom how he endured the long journey, stuck with cartons filled with crayfish and dry fish. Dabere had always imagined him breaking out of the plastic cage that had held him captive, eating up all the crayfish, and then fleeing into the bushes when the driver found out. She had shared the story with Ogonna, and he had gone on to add more details to the story. You should be a screenwriter, he had told her.
“How was it?” Anwuli always seemed to pop out of nowhere. She was always everywhere.
“Good.” Dabere walked on. She didn’t want to talk about the details; of how Mr. Gregory had kept on firing questions at her, his spittle flying everywhere. She had watched with slight amusement as Mrs. Njoku seating beside him wiped her face with a look of disgust. He had been too hard on her, she had heard Mr. Felix complain as she left the office. Mr. Felix was one of the young teachers in the department. He was known for his compassion towards students, part of the reason could be that he was a recent graduate and was still pursuing his Master’s degree in the department. Dabere had expected this. After all, she had refused Mr. Greg’s proposal. Her existence would be like a thorn in the man’s life.
She could still recall when she got his proposal. It was a week to exams, the timetable was out and lecturers were rushing to complete their curriculum for the semester. It had been a Friday, and they had completed a three-hour class with a lecturer who had been absent for the better part of the semester. The class had just ended and she along with three of her coursemates were heading to the cafeteria to eat. A final year student told her that Mr. Gregory had asked to see her. Mr. Gregory had taken them on a course that semester, expecting it to be something related to the course, she bid her friends goodbye and headed to his office.
The proposal was informal, he didn’t offer it directly. He had touched her back while talking to her and then asked ‘to study the biology of her being’. It had sounded so creepy at that time, that even though she knew it wasn’t what he meant, she could still imagine herself being placed on a cold, white table, and Mr. Greg standing at one side of the table preparing to dissect her as she had done to a rat during her first year. But that wasn’t what made her refuse his proposal. It was the memory of his wife, in the church, offering a fifty thousand naira donation on behalf of her husband, her red gele threatening to scar the face of the priest as he prayed over the couple.
She had gotten an E in his course that year. But she didn’t mind. He never taught them again. It was only until now that she had to face him at school. It was only right that he chose this time to exact his revenge. She wondered if his name was on The List and if he was who he was paired with.
The rumors about ‘The List’ had started after they resumed for the first semester of their last year in school. She had first heard about it from Cheta who was probably the head (and the founder) of the Compilation Committee. Cheta never mentioned the list, or how they went about compiling it. But it was there in her lizard eyes as they squinted at the girls in our class and in the biting words that came out of her too pink lips gotten from years of ‘pink lips therapy’, as she talked about the girls that stood along the corridors of the staff offices. The sneers behind the words that followed “Those girls that…”, as though she knew something we all didn’t. The rumors had proved true during a quarrel on the WhatsApp group chat. Someone had made reference to the existence of a list that held the names of all the girls that slept with lecturers to get good grades. The members of the group had picked on the topic like a pack of hungry wolves. Those who were eager to know the names on the list, those who were eaten with guilt as well as those who just loved good gossip had something to get busy with for the rest of the year. It became normal to hear someone say “I’m sure she is on the list” when gossiping about the girls in our class.
When asked why she decided to compile the list, Cheta had expressed utter dislike at the partiality of the situation against students (like her) who worked hard but still found it hard to make good grades. Dabere instantly knew that Cheta wasn’t just angry at it, but very bitter about it. Bitter in a way that reminded Dabere about a child who because he couldn’t get his favorite toy set fire to the toy shop to prevent other kids from getting it. She wasn’t just angry, she was jealous that the favour had not been extended to her. Cheta could not be described as ugly, but she was not fine either. The wool braids that she carried for months before she removed them made her even less appealing. Her clothes reminded one of the women in the village who struggled to keep up with current fashion trends, yet still missing out. Maybe it was her poor results that made her bitter about the situation. If given the opportunity, I was sure that she wouldn’t refuse.
Dabere knew the names on the list, not because she had seen it. Cheta was not as secretive as she thought she was, making references to particular girls. Dabere wondered how she had gone about compiling the list. Did she stalk popular hangouts? She could imagine Cheta with a camera and a book snooping around Popman where the lecturers usually hung out. Or maybe she went around hotels, pretending to be a cleaner and spying on the clients. However she compiled the list, Dabere was sure that she didn’t have all the names.
What would Cheta do if she found out that Happiness and Somtochukwu were the biggest culprits in the department? That their activeness in class was just a show, and that in reality, their results which were supposed to be the poorest were among the best in the department. Cheta always praised them, “People like Happiness and Somto are what we need in our department. They don’t go around sleeping with lecturers, but they still get good results.” Dabere imagined the look on Cheta’s face when she would find out about the duo, literally jumping from one lecturer’s bed to the other. And Chigozie whose name was probably one of the first five on the list, never had to sleep with any lecturer for good grades. Her father had been classmates with the Head of Department, and she herself was a bright student. One could question the credibility of the so-called list that hung on her lips like an anthem.
“Are you going?” Anwuli asked when she noticed that Dabere wasn’t slowing down, already heading towards the entrance of the Arts faculty.
“What else am I waiting for? I have graduated.” The words sounded strange coming out of her lips. Though Anwuli saw nothing wrong, smiling as though she understood how Dabere was feeling.
“I can’t wait to be done with mine too.” She waved Dabere goodbye and rushed back to the queue in which the rest of the students were standing.
Dabere shielded her eyes from the rays of the sun when she came out of the faculty. For once, she didn’t complain about how hot the sun was. She didn’t need to again. She pulled out her phone and took a selfie picture, taking a few more to make sure it came out good. She picked the best of the pictures and posted it on WhatsApp, with the caption Done and dusted. It didn’t take long for someone to comment on the post, but she ignored it.
A familiar dark blue car pulled to a stop in front of her. She opened the door and got into the car without hesitation. The smell of freshly baked meatpie hit her nose as she closed the door.
“Madonna’s?” She asked looking back at the backseat. Her stomach rumbled at the sight of the brown paper bag. She reached for it, and wasted no time in biting into the moist light-brown cake, moaning with delight.
“How was it?” It was when she swallowed that she turned to look at the man in the driver’s seat. Mr. Emenike, a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry and a man who had knelt down in front of me weeks ago asking her to marry him.
“I’m glad it’s over.” She said, reaching for the bottle of coke that sat in the middle of the car. She looked at the man beside her with a curious smile playing on her lips. She would announce her engagement to her friends on the Dinner Night. She couldn’t wait to see the reactions of her classmates when they got the news. And the so-called list, she really hoped her name was there. Whether it was for grades or for anything else, what was against the rule was still against the rule.