Oleng faced the third term with dread. It was Eric’s final term in school and the period of his exams. The second term holidays had been the best in her life because they had spent every day of it together.
He had even refused going on a short break with his parents to California just to be with her. Though he longed to see his elder brother and grandmother, he hadn’t wanted to leave her all alone at home since Tessy and her mum traveled for over two weeks. That had touched her and she had wished the hols would never end but good things they say didn’t last forever, so the hols eventually came to an end.
Now she was faced with the dilemma of both walking to school alone and back. She wished for the umpteenth time that they were in the same class. She would miss Dave and Eddy also.
“What is it Oleng? Why are you looking at all of us like that?” Eddy asked smiling.
It was their lunch break and they were all eating in the canteen. She had been thinking of how she was going to miss all of them, especially Eric. For an answer, she lowered her eyes so the tears there wouldn’t be seen.
Eric frowned. “What’s wrong, sunshine?”
She still refused to look at any of them.
She just stared at the snack on her plate and shook her head. She didn’t trust herself to speak because she felt like bursting into tears.
“Oleng? What is it?” Marvelous questioned in anxiety.
Everyone at the table was now staring at her expectantly. She continued shaking her head, willing the tears not to fall. She tried to get a grip on herself. Eric worsened it then by touching her hand gently. On impulse, she quickly withdrew her hand and lifted her head to stare into his black eyes. He was surprised to see tears in her eyes but he was too moved to say a word.
“Eric, what have you done to her?” Eddy enquired when he saw the unshed tears in her eyes and how she had pulled away from his friend.
Eric shook his head. “I didn’t do anything…sunshine, what did I do? Did I hurt you?”
Oleng just continued staring at him.
“Oleng, you’re scaring us. What’s wrong with you? Has Eric or any of us annoyed you?” Ezinne was alarmed also.
Oleng had gotten a grip on herself then. An idea came to her then to save her from embarrassment. She gave them a bright smile. They were taken aback.
“I’m on the race for an Oscar award?” she beamed.
Zinny and Eddy sighed while Marvy and Dave laughed. Only Eric just stared.
“Is it only Oscar? Grammy nko? You dey crase.” Zinny laughed. Oleng continued smiling until Eric quietly said, “You and I know you weren’t acting. Something or someone nearly made you cry just now.”
Oleng stopped smiling and looked down at her snack. She didn’t know what to say.
She was however saved by the bell when it rang signifying the end of the break.
“We’ll discuss it on our way home.” he informed her in a solemn manner as they all got up.
Oleng knew she would tell him the truth because she didn’t like lying to him but she wondered if she wouldn’t die of embarrassment when she told him that she had almost cried in public just because of the thought of him leaving school. She hoped he would just laugh it off.
She was however rescued when Eric couldn’t walk her home because the principal wanted to see him and some prefects. They were going to hand over their posts soon, so they could concentrate fully on their forthcoming exams. The staff bus would take them to their respective homes.
Oleng heaved a sigh of relief when he told her. She walked home with Dave instead since Eddy said he wanted to walk his latest catch home to get to know her better. She and Dave walked home in companionable silence until he said,
“Erica, may I ask you a question?” He called her ‘Erica’ because he said she and Eric were so close they could be mistaken for twins.
Oleng smiled at the name. “Sure Dave.”
“Why were you almost shedding tears today?”
Oleng smiled at the question. Eddy would never have asked her about what happened in the morning but not Dave. They shared a kind of closeness, though not to be compared with the one she shared with Eric.
“I thought of missing you all.” she truthfully confided in him.
“Especially Eric.” he commented, smiling.
“Yes, but we can see each other after school because Eric said he doesn’t think he will stay around the Choba or Aluu. He intends going for lectures from home.”
Dave stopped walking. Oleng stopped and stared at him in surprise. “What’s wrong?”
“But he’s no longer going to Uniport. I thought that was why you were almost crying earlier on.” he informed her, clearly confused.
Oleng was confused also. “What do you mean by he’s no longer going to school here?”
Dave was quiet then. “You mean he still hasn’t told you?”
“Told me what? Dave, you’re scaring me. What’s Ricky hiding from me?” she held his hand in desperation.
“What do you mean by nothing? You just asked me if he hasn’t told me something and now you are telling me nothing. Dave, I’m not a fool.”
“I didn’t call you one. Please, let’s go home.” he urged and made to move away but Oleng stopped him.
“Please don’t leave me in suspense. Please.” she pleaded, holding his hand.
“Erica, please. Eric is in the best position to tell you.”
“Tell me what? Dave please, you just said he still hasn’t told me. It means he won’t tell me.”
“He will. Just give him time. He’s probably looking for the best time to tell you.”
“Why don’t you tell me first? So that I’d be able to handle it whenever he tells me.”
“No. No. No.” He shook his head vigorously and began walking away quickly.
Oleng ran after him. “Dave, please. Please. I won’t rest until you tell me. You’ve already started. So please just finish it. I won’t be able to talk to Eric freely knowing he’s hiding something from me. Dave, please.” she passionately pleaded but Dave ignored her and continued walking.
He however stopped when he noticed Oleng had stopped walking. He turned around and saw that she was just standing there on the side walk not minding that her fellow students were walking along. He was touched. He walked up to her slowly, held her hand and pulled her to continue walking. There was silence between them for some minutes.
“I’m sorry for making you cry. I didn’t want it to seem as if I betrayed Eric by telling on him. You see…” He faltered, not knowing how to say it.
He shook his head and continued, “God help me! I pray Eric doesn’t punch me in the face for this! When Eric is through with his exams, he’ll go and join his elder brother in America. He’s not going to do his university education here in Nigeria.”
“No.” Oleng whispered as she stopped walking. Dave stopped walking also as tears gathered in her beautiful eyes. She put a hand to her mouth and continued shaking her head.
“No. This is not happening.” she whispered in protest.
Dave didn’t know what to do as tears made a straight line down her lovely face. He wanted to hug her but their fellow students were passing by and some of them were looking at them. He could only take her other hand and pull her to start walking again. Luckily, her house was just two blocks away.
“It’s not so bad, Oleng. You guys can communicate through the phone and he can always come over for vacations. You never can tell, when you’re through with your own secondary school education, you can go over there to join him.” he rattled firmly but she just kept quiet, still in tears.
“If it’s any consolation to you, Eddy and I will still be around. I intend schooling here. Eddy too. Besides, you still have Zinny and Marvy.” he consoled and sighed with relief when they got to her gate. They both stopped walking. Oleng wiped her tears away.
“Thanks a lot, Dave for walking me home and for telling me Eric’s secret. I know you and Eddy will always be there for me but you don’t understand.”
“I understand, Erica. Eric is your best friend.”
“You don’t understand. Ricky is not just my best friend, he’s my life!” With that outburst, she pushed her dusty brown gate open and rushed in.
Dave stared at the closed gate and shook his head. As he walked away, he knew his suspicions had been right. Oleng and Eric were in love with each other but refused to do anything about it. They were still denying their feelings for each other. He wondered if it was the very morning Eric would be leaving for the airport that they would say what they felt for each other.
This was why no one must ever know his true feelings for Oleng. No one must ever find out that he had a hopeless crush on his close friend’s best friend. With a heavy heart, he strolled home.
“Something’s wrong with my sunshine.” Eric commented as he walked home with Dave and Eddy a week later.
“What do you mean?” Eddy asked. He spat his chewing gum out of his mouth.
“Didn’t you notice her moodiness when we walked her home just now?” Eric enquired.
“I did but I thought she was just her normal quiet self.” Eddy delivered bluntly.
“She’s too quiet. I know her. Something’s wrong.” He moved his head in the direction of his other friend. “What do you think, Dave?”
Dave looked uneasily at his friend. He knew it was his letting the cat out of the bag a week ago to Oleng that had made her moody. He regretted telling her.
“Ah…” he stammered. “I think she’s moody. Maybe it’s one of those her mood swing spells. She’ll soon snap out of it,” he assured smiling. “Better still, why don’t you go and find out what’s wrong with her?” he helpfully suggested.
“I have asked her a number of times but she keeps telling me nothing and with our exams fast approaching, I haven’t found time to go over to her house.”
“Maybe that’s why she is moody,” Eddy put in. “You’ve abandoned her because of your exams.”
“Really?” Eric wondered in disbelief.
“I don’t think so. Oleng isn’t selfish or self-centered. Just find time to go to her house.” Dave countered quietly.
“I will.” Eric said as they said good bye to Eddy when they got to his house.
When Eric had taken a shower and eaten, the thought of Oleng’s moodiness was still on his mind. He decided to postpone siesta and studying. He would study throughout the night but for now, he had to see his sunshine or he wouldn’t be able to study. He thanked God his mum wasn’t at home as he dressed up in blue Levi’s jeans and an Armani shirt.
He prayed Tessy and her mum wouldn’t be at home. That was unlikely anyway. He got to the house and rang the doorbell after giving the usual tip to the gate man.
“What are you doing here, Ricky? You didn’t tell me you were coming.” She was surprised to see him when she opened the door.
Eric smiled brightly and with a small shrug said, “I got tired of reading and decided to come and see you since I haven’t been here in a while.”
“It doesn’t matter. I understand that your exams are coming up soon. You should be reading.”
“Is that a polite way of telling me to go back home?” he teased.
She laughed. “Of course not. Come in.” she stepped aside for him to enter before shutting the door. She followed him to the living room from the lobby.
“Alone as usual?” he remarked as he sat down on the leather sofa.
“As usual.” she replied and sat facing him on her mum’s wicker chair.
“Did you make the fruit salad?”
“Yeah. Want some?”
“Yeah, that’s if I won’t spend the rest of the day in your toilet.” he teased.
She laughed. “You’re not serious.”
She went to get the fruit salad from the fridge in the kitchen and served a helping in two glass bowls. She put them on a tray with rubber spoons and took them back to the living room where Eric was already surfing through the channels of the DSTV for sports.
“Don’t tell me you intend watching TV, Ricky.”
“Not you too, sunshine. My parents allow me to watch only the news. I need a break. I’m tired of reading. God! I’m not the first person to write WAEC and NECO for crying out loud!” he lamented.
Oleng laughed. “So Mr. Civil Engineer gets tired of reading sometimes? Amazing! Book worms like you aren’t supposed to get tired of reading.”
“Me? A book worm? So it’s only market women like you who are supposed to get tired of reading?”
Oleng’s eyes widened in mock horror. “Me, market woman? I’ll kill you. Mechanic!” she fired back with humour and threw part of the fruit salad at him. He ducked and it hit the plasma television.
“Oh! Look what you made me do.” she complained and went to get a hand towel from the kitchen. He laughed joyously but helped her scoop the mess from the floor while she cleaned the TV.
They later sat down to watch a movie while eating their fruit salad. When the movie was over, Eric felt it was time for him to broach the topic that had brought him there. He held her hand, not minding the tingling sensations that ran through his body. She looked down at their hands and looked away.
“Sunshine, you’ve been very moody this past week and I’ve continuously asked you why but you refused to tell me anything. Truth be told, I wasn’t tired of reading. I just wasn’t able to concentrate. How can I concentrate when there’s something wrong with my best friend and she refuse to talk to me? I thought maybe I was neglecting you. Is that it? Have I been paying less attention to you because of my studies?”
Oleng shook her head vigorously. “Of course not, Ricky. You’ve never neglected me before. Even when you go abroad, you still always make me feel your presence.”
“Then what’s the problem? And don’t tell me nothing because you and I know something is bothering you.” he pressed.
For an answer, Oleng got up, wrapped her hands around her and walked towards the TV with her back to him. She thought for a while before saying,
“Nothing is wrong. I mean what could be wrong when my best friend, someone I trust so much is no longer going to school here in Nigeria as I thought but in America yet he refused to tell me? What could be wrong?” she threw at him still with her back to him.
Eric became tense. He sat ram rod stiff. He could only shake his head before anger took over. He stood up in anger. “Who told you?”
She swung to face him then in anger also.
“That’s not the question. The question is why didn’t you tell me? How could you? How could you leave me in the dark like that? When were you going to tell me? Immediately you land in JFK airport or when you begin classes there? How could you?” Tears slowly rolled down her eyes.
Eric quietly sat, and glared at the Persian rug. He had made a mess of things. He didn’t know why he had lacked the courage to tell her. He had kept postponing the time and now she had found out. He wondered who told her. Eddy? Dave? Who told her was not the issue now. How would he make her understand that he had not meant to keep her in the dark for this long? He kept thinking for a while.
He finally got up and his black eyes moved over her. She had her back to him but he knew she was crying. She kept wiping away the tears impatiently with her hand. Aww! He felt bad even though he knew Oleng was a cry baby. She cried at the drop of a hat. He was sorry he was the cause of her tears now. He walked up to her slowly and placed a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off.
“Sunshine, where do I start from? I really don’t know where to begin. All I can say is I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep it from you. I was waiting for the right time to tell you. That’s funny because I still don’t even know the right time to tell you…sunshine, I’m filled with so much dread at the thought of leaving you here in Nigeria.
I pleaded and pleaded with my parents to allow me school here but they refused. They no longer have faith in our tertiary institutions. Grandma Conrad didn’t help matters also. She kept saying she’d love for me to be close to her the way Damian is over there. I did everything humanly possible to dissuade them but they refused to listen to me. My dad who is usually more understanding than my mum refused because I couldn’t give him a tangible reason why I wanted to stay back in Nigeria. When I knew there was no hope, I didn’t know how to tell you…sunshine, please I’m sorry. Forgive me.” he explained sadly.
When she still didn’t say anything, he touched her tentatively.
She turned around then to look at him. He was sorry to see her eyes flooded with tears.
“When did you know? I mean for how long have you known?”
He stared at the rug. “Before the second term holidays.”
“Since then?” she shouted. “How could you? Why?” She started crying profusely then.
“Sunshine, please. I don’t like seeing you like this. Don’t you know this is hard for me too? How could I just look you in the eye and tell you all our dreams together have been dashed? Tell you all our promises of living together, traveling together and visiting tourist centers during our vacations would go unfulfilled. How? Tell me how?” Tears formed in his eyes.
For an answer, she put both hands to cover her face and wailed. Her wailings pierced his heart like a sharp knife. He couldn’t resist taking her in his arms. He held her while she cried. Eric tried very hard not to cry also though tears were brimming in his eyes. He couldn’t imagine life without her.
When she was spent, he led her to a chair and made her sit. He went to the fridge in the neat kitchen to get her a glass of water. He made her sip from it; she took small sips and shook her head. She was so downcast; he didn’t know what to do. He had never seen her like this before not even when she had been crying that her mum didn’t love her. He sat down beside her and held her hand. He didn’t know what else to do.
After a while he said, “Why don’t you talk to your mum? You can come over when you are through with your secondary education. We can live our dreams over there instead of here. It would be more fun,” Eric brightened up at the thought. “I know your mum can afford it and she can come once in a while on one of her numerous trips to see you if she wants.”
Oleng looked at him and shook her head. She had to take a sip of water before she could talk. Her voice was broken from the wailing.
“No.’ she simply said.
“I’ve asked her before. When you first told me that your parents hinted that you would school over there. She told me I was joking. She doesn’t want me out of her sight. It was funny to me because she is never at home. So I wonder how I’m in her sight. If she finds out you’re going also, that will only make her refuse the more.”
“No, sunshine, don’t be negative. You can talk to her again. I can even get my mum to talk to her. Maybe she can convince her to send you there also.” he prompted with hope.
She shook her head again. “Let it go Eric. There’s no hope. I know my mum. She won’t allow me to go. She doesn’t like me being happy. She likes to see me miserable. She hates me. I don’t know why but she does. She won’t agree because she knows I’d be happy to be out of her hair and be with you over there.” Tears slowly dropped as she spoke.
“I can talk to her. I can make her see reason.”
“No, Ricky. You’d only put me in trouble.” She wiped the tears rolling down her eyes again.
“I’ve got to try, Oleng. I don’t want to lose you.” he sorrowfully proclaimed.
She held his hand and smiled a little.
“You won’t lose me if we promise each other never to lose contact or stop communicating no matter what we are going through or wherever we are.”
“I promise. I promise.” he solemnly declared.
“I promise too” she affirmed and they hugged. When they broke it off, she smiled lightly and said, “Let’s look at the bright side. We still have about four months before you leave since your results will be out towards the end of the year.”
He looked down at their entwined hands and swallowed uneasily.
“My uncle over there helping me with the admission said it would be very good for me to come over there, write my SATs and all, familiarize myself with the surroundings and the way of life there in the university and for Damian to put me through with some things since he schooled there, before my results come out.”
“So when exactly are you leaving?” she fearfully enquired.
He looked down at their hands again and took a deep breath.
“A week after my exams.”
She immediately took her hand from his and used it to cover her mouth as she continuously shook her head, whispering. “No.”
The tears that had stopped falling earlier on, rolled down profusely.
Eric didn’t waste time in taking her in his arms and comforting her. He however couldn’t control the tears that rolled down his eyes. God! He was going to miss her. His best friend. His sunshine. Sincerely, life would be meaningless without her. Would he be able to concentrate over there without her? He slowly shook his head. He doubted it.