MY SECOND AND final semester examinations were, finally, over. Thank goodness! I was certain I would finish with a good first class honours. Like most final year students it felt great to know that, at last, I was free from the academic shackles of my first degree.
However, I knew, in some ways, I was going to really miss UNILAG. No more student politics. No more meals at any of the cafeterias. No more frequent lagoon front visits. Moreover, I was going to miss the school because I had no intention of returning for my Masters Degree program – or any other program for that matter. My eyes were set elsewhere – on a renowned foreign university.
After the second semester exams the students, staying in the various hostels, were required to vacate them and head for their respective homes – wherever they were. School was going on a long break.
I helped Rachael out with her luggage and other relevant items. We transported them from her hostel room to the boot of a car – a station wagon – where they were well arranged. By the way, I hired the vehicle.
When we were done arranging her stuff I pulled her aside, hugged her closely, and kissed her tenderly. She returned the favour. I was truly going to miss seeing her every day, for some time. We had agreed to meet our parents, one after the other, in two weeks time. The plan was that I’d meet hers first, and then she’d meet mine.
We spoke for a little while. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. But it was all sweet nonsense…punctuated with a series of ‘I love you’…I’ll miss you.’ When the conversation was over I gave her another bear hug, another tender kiss, and then I let her go. She went to the vehicle, got in, blew me a kiss and waved, before the stern-faced, middle-aged driver – the blackest human being I had ever seen – reversed the vehicle and drove off. I waved back and mouthed ‘I love you’ to her. Rachael’s lips stretched to a loving smile as she reciprocated with, ‘I love you too.’ I watched the station wagon disappear in the distance. I kind of felt sad. But then I knew we could always talk over the phone.
Later that evening I called to find out if she got home safely.
Two days later, when I called to know how Rachael was doing, her phone was switched off. Thirty minutes later I called her again. Her phone was still switched off.
Throughout that day I couldn’t reach her by phone. This continued the next day, and the day after. This had never happened before. I gradually became worried. I called her sister, Naomi. Her phone was also switched off. That’s odd, I thought. Did they both misplace their phones? Or have their phones been stolen?
The switch off mode went on for another three days. By this time I was really perturbed. Then, when I couldn’t wait any longer, I decided to visit Rachael, for the first time, at home and find out what was wrong.
As I consulted my little diary for her house address a thought suddenly occurred to me. I called Tope – one of Rachael’s course mates, and a close friend. Thankfully, her line went through. She answered on the second ring. I narrated my predicament to her. She told me the last time she had spoken with Rachael was a day before Rachael left the hostel for home. And she, like me, was also finding it difficult to reach her by phone. I told her of my intention to visit Rachael, and she encouraged me to do so. I thanked her for her time, and was about to hang up, when her next statement pulled the rug from underneath me.
She said, “So, Fred, you and Rachael are planning to get married very soon, and then travel out of the country – right?”
Assembling my thoughts, I asked her, “Who told you that?”
“Well, I overheard Rachael saying something to that effect over the phone. And when I asked her about it, she was evasive. So Fred, tell me…is it true?”
I didn’t exactly know how to respond, so I simply said, “Er…well…anything is possible, you know.”
“Hmm…you just gave me a coded answer – just like Rachael did.” I realised she sounded hurt.
I forced a laugh. “Don’t be offended, Tope; it’s just that…Rachael and I don’t want to…em…ruin the…er….er…our plans. I’m certain Rachael will tell you everything when the time is right.”
The last remark seemed to appease her, as she laughed, heartily, and said, “Okay, whatever you guys say. All I know is that I can’t wait to eat and drink to my fill on your wedding day.”
We, both, laughed, said goodbye, and hung up.
Clearly, I was puzzled by what Tope had said. Yes, Rachael and I were planning to get married – but not very soon. We’d agreed to walk down the aisle together after I was done with my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program, and had worked for about a year. By then she would be in her fourth year. Fortunately, I had a very lucrative job patiently waiting for me.
And then there was the troubling issue of travelling out of the country. Rachael and I had no such plan. We’d never even talked about it…even though I was considering taking her to either Paris or Seychelles for our honey moon. But I hadn’t even mentioned the idea to her.
So, how did she find out? Did she become a mystic, over night, and read my mind? That’s crazy.
I wondered if Tope was certain of what she had overheard. Anyway, her information deeply reinforced my decision to visit Rachael…a decision I decided to carry out the following afternoon. But that was not to be, because at exactly 10AM that day I received the greatest shock of my life – a cyclone that snatched me up, spun me crazily around, and spit me out like I was garbage.
It came in a small package, well wrapped and delivered by one of the world’s most prominent courier company – DHL.
I took the package upstairs, to my room, sat on my bed, and opened it. It contained two items: a photograph and a folded piece of A4 paper. The former dispatched the first batch of shock waves. It was a wedding photograph of Rachael and a man, another man.
My eyes are playing wicked tricks on me.
I blinked hard a few times and looked at the photograph again – expecting the illusion to fade away and reveal the couple as Naomi and perhaps her husband. But, it was no figment of my imagination; my eyes were not fooling me; I was starring at Rachael and another man. The room began to spin. The latter item, the folded piece of paper, let loose the second batch of shock waves. I placed the unbelievable photograph on the bed beside me and, composing myself as best as I could, slowly unfolded the paper with shaky fingers. It was a letter, and the handwriting was unmistakably Rachael’s. The letter read:
Hello Fred. As you can see, from the picture in your hand, I’m married. It’s a pity things didn’t work out between us. To be honest, I never truly loved you. You were only a distraction; a means to an end. But to be fair to you, I liked you. I still do. I know you’re a nice guy, with a good heart. And I’m pretty sure you’ll find someone who is truly yours. My sweetheart and I are out of the country. Do take care of yourself. And have a good life.
Note: Don’t bother talking to any member of my family about us. As far as they’re concerned you and I are nothing more than friends.
I read the letter again, and then again, and again. As the incredible words drowned my soul I felt my head expanding a hundred times over. I was stippled with gooseflesh. The fog of disbelief was utterly blinding. I felt my heart viciously ripped out and diced to a million pieces.
Someone help me! I’m dying! Someone please help me!
I tried to speak, but my vocal cords failed to cooperate. I slid to the floor, and began to sob silently.
Why? Oh, Rachael, why?