That’s what friends are for

January always served a purpose. Female students who felt the need to leave no thing to the imagination acknowledged the harsh, cruel Harmattan winds and covered up suitably; the whipping cold restricting their proclivity to attend lectures half naked, equally causing a nuisance and an eyesore.

The car park, just outside the imposing building housing the faculties of social sciences and arts, which played host to loitering patrons from morning until late evening was noticeably deserted at 8. 50am. The Harmattan reigned supreme and determined movements and fashion
sense for as long as it held sway.

Irenosen’s mind wandered in meaningless patches as she descended from the motorbike, sliding off the seat like the pro she was in the two–wheeled transportation which proliferated the university campus.

After paying her fare, she freed her moon shaped face from the confines of the hood, whose protection from the breeze blowing steadily enabled feeling in her face, and let it hang downwards at the back of her neck. Sad, doe like eyes, beneath golden coloured, skull-cap styled weave, watered slightly from the short trip; she blinked them away and adjusted her green back pack.

Shoving both hands into the hood’s generous pockets, she stepped onto the smooth concrete surface the park was made of, faintly registering one of the numerous itinerant photographers stationed under the trees, which bordered the park North and West of it, had braved the cold to open up shop.

She ignored a side opening leading into the building and set towards its wider main entrance farther ahead. But for her coiffure choice and colour, she could have been mistaken for a young lad. Oversized black hood sat atop a trim figure with no visible curves which extended to stick straight legs in a stretched pair of blue jeans and ending in black penny loafers.

Even with the hood, she walked slightly bent as though bowing to the force of nature moving. Short, purposeful strides met concrete in an attempt to escape quickly into warmth. But the chill Irenosen felt had nothing to do with the weather; it came straight from her heart.

“Reneè!” The dry wind carried the abridged version of her name to her as she began to mount a couple of stairs leading to the entrance which she had just reached.

Both feet on different steps, she paused and turned. Only then did her eyes come marginally alive. From the lone photographer ‘s perch, she recognised one of her close friends, Mimi, waving and signalling at her to wait.

Irenosen swirled around, poised at the start of the stairs as the other girl hurried towards her.

Perhaps the only one who didn’t take her current situation sitting down.

Efe was dismissive, realistic: ‘I know it hurts but move on, Reneè. Souja go, souja come, barracks nor dey empty. You’ll get over him. You’ll heal and there will be someone else for you.”

Julia showed empathy, though stunned: “Oh God, Reneè! I am so sorry. Both of you seemed happy. This must be very hard for you. How can I help?”

Both girls thought the world of her recent ex, Michael, and became good friends of his too. Mimi, on the other hand, never totally warmed up to him in the 18 months the relationship lasted. “You can do better.” She was often heard saying. It didn’t matter that Irenosen liked him the way he was. On hearing the news of their break up, she exploded. “Nonsense! Rubbish! After trying you on for size for this long, he has the audacity to say he’s in love with someone else?!” She fumed. “Now you’re not a good fit?! Who is she? Is it someone we know? Is she in this school?”

Yet to recover from the shock of his confession, and subsequent sudden split, Irenosen was unable to give coherent answers.

“Don’t you want to know?” Mimi queried further. “Aren’t you curious at least?” When no response was forthcoming, she turned to Julia who was consoling their distraught friend. “Doesn’t she want to know who this mystery girl is? I want to know o. We deserve answers. Or don’t we?”

“Mims, not now, biko.” Julia’s usual shrill tone was quiet, firm, borderline impatient.

What do you tell a boy who says he’s no longer interested in you? At first, the phrase fight for your love banged around in Irenosen’s mind. Then she realised no one would be fighting for her in return. Any resistance to his request to go their separate ways would only serve to put Michael off her more. You didn’t force love; it was best when natural and reciprocal. Theirs had lost both elements, at least from his side. She still pinned for him. Still wondered where she had got it wrong. Who…who did he love now?

For the next couple of days, she functioned in a daze with Julia hanging constantly around to ensure her emotional wellbeing.

Efe maintained her line of reasoning. As the oldest of her friends, she was knowledgeable and experienced in matters of the heart. “Cry your heart out, Reneè, if you want but let him go. You go dey fine. You’ll come out stronger.”

Mimi still demanded answers and spent most of her time cursing Michael out, including his immediate and extended families and generation in the verbal assault. Then abruptly, she suggested: “Do you want to go home for a few days? Away from here? No chance of bumping into him? Clear your mind?”

It was about the one good thing she uttered in 10 days.

And it turned out to be a huge help even if it proved difficult hiding red eyes from her parents sometimes.

After five days away, she was back to resume lectures and get on with her life. No boy was worth having an extra semester or session over. Even if he had been her first. Even if she still loved him and thought about him endlessly, unconsciously. Even if she still wondered who his new love was.

“When did you come back?” Compared to her slight, dark coloured, petite friend, Mimi was well stacked, fair skinned and tall. Her red frilly blouse and skin tight jeans accentuated her hour glass figure. Bold red lipstick defined permanently pouting lips. But she was softly spoken, and often surprise strangers with her outpouring of uninhibited rage.

“Last night.” She drew closer and was enveloped in a hug that lingered. Irenosen’s low raspy tone came as a contrast to her stature as well.

“And how are you today?” Mimi’s hazel flecked eyes met her friend’s with undisguised concern.

“I will survive.”

“I confronted that joker, Michael, when you were -” She began.

The other girl shook her head. “Don’t, please.” Rasping out. “Thanks, but no thanks, Mims. It’s none of my business. He’s none of my business anymore.” I have to…have to move on from him somehow. She bit her lower lip. “Are you coming for 321?” Anything but talk of the boy who still held her heart.

“One more picture.” Mimi winked. All four friends did it; taking photos early in the morning before the sun rose with make-up still intact. “I’ll meet you up.”

Irenosen let out a small knowing smile and nodded. Turning, she began to climb up the stairs again.

She walked into the faculty grounds, turned left and zig-zagged through patches of brown grass and sand leading to lecture rooms and administrative offices. She stopped mid-way when something suddenly occurred to her. Mims didn’t take this cours… Immediately she spun
around and retraced her steps to the entrance.

When she re-entered the park, the photographer was alone beneath the trees. She was just in time to make out her friend strut onto a path which led outside the campus and into a sprawling housing community of privately owned hostels where students lived.

Where was Mims off to? Wasn’t she supposed to be heading in the opposite direction? Irenosen made to call out to her but, on second thought, changed her mind. Curiosity took over. Instead she slid the cover of the hood back onto her head and followed at a safe distance.

Not once in the six-minute walk did Mimi turn left, look right or check behind her either. Her brisk strides were confident and strong, taking her past the university’s back gate, into the community and towards a particular hostel.

By her third turn, a right, Irenosen knew exactly where her friend was headed. She caught her breath sharply, willing herself to keep an open mind and refrain from screaming out ahead of her.

The hostel gates which Mimi eventually disappeared through were painfully familiar, ones Irenosen could locate blindfolded. For 18 months she called them a second home.

Mimi was nowhere in sight when Irenosen entered the fenced compound and was faced with three long, separate, brick-coloured buildings, standing parallel to one another.

On impulse, she strode towards the one at the far right and slipped her hood off, entering the dark passageway in the middle of the rooms on either side of it. The sun was only beginning to lend some of its rays to it. She didn’t need the assistance; she knew the layout like the back of
her hand.

Moments later, she pounded on the door of the third room on the right. She hadn’t been here in more than two weeks. She heard laughter before the door swung open.

Shirtless, a two-day stubble on his chin, hooded gaze, uncombed hair and one sinewy hand on the door handle, Michael had a smear of red colour on his thin-lined lips.

She knew who the colour belonged to. She had just been with its owner. Her heart split at the sight of him and her discovery.

“Hi.” His expression changing from lighthearted to closed in seconds.

“Sweetheart, who is it?” Mimi’s voice preceded her appearance at his side, and a welcoming smile which dissolved into horror at the sight of her friend.

Awkward silence as Irenosen regarded both of them. No one said a word.

Michael had the grace to keep his face impassive. Mimi half hid behind his lanky form, her expression shamefaced. Neither attempted to explain away the situation or even lie about it.

As Irenosen’s sad eyes flickered between them, any strong emotion she harboured at being heartbroken began to dissipate. Here was some other good of Mimi’s; she had been right all along. She could do better. By way of a boyfriend. By way of a close friend.

She turned on her heels and left without a word.

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