The secretary in front of Farhad’s father’s office kept crossing and uncrossing her legs as she pretended not to notice as he watched, mesmerized. That was the beauty of Lagos, how aggressively decadent the lifestyle was. If it was back when they were in Zaria, his dad’s secretary would have been covered from the neck down, the only parts of their bodies visible to him disfigured with henna. But here, this thirty something year old woman was flirting openly with him, with absolutely no regard for her office or his father.
He reluctantly averted his eyes from her little show and returned them back to the book in his hand. He glanced at his watch again and groaned. He had his final test for Mech521 by 2pm and the meeting Ms. Forson at the guidance and Counselling office had organized for him at Unilag’s security office at his father’s request by 12. He picked his phone, typed out a short SMS and scrolled through his contacts, his fingers stalling as the scrollbar came to rest on his father’s name; Alhaji Usman (Baba). His finger hovered on the send icon before it skidded over to the cancel button.
He didn’t know what mood his father was in and didn’t want the old man ticked off over something as trivial as a text message. He pushed the book aside and settled in, making a mental note to ask for a permission slip to give the engineering professor organizing the test in case he missed it. The door to his father’s office unexpectedly burst open and Alhaji Usman stormed out, his immaculate shadda Kaftan swept forward by his sudden movements. His secretary merely straightened her legs before turning to him.
“Hold all my calls for the rest of the day and cancel all appointments. I was talking to the minister and completely forgot I had other obligations.” He said, eyes straying to Farhad as he said ‘obligations’.
“I’ll get to it immediately.” The secretary replied and bit on her lower lip stifling a smile, and he realised she wasn’t going to be in the office for much longer after his father left. His father walked past him to the door that led out of the office and opened it before turning back to Farhad, the door still held open.
“Tashi mu taho.”
“Do you ever put down that stupid phone?”
Farhad looked up and over at his father, who was glaring at him, his hula balanced precariously on his thigh.
“When we were in the car coming here, sai tapa waya. And now since we got here, your eyes have not left that phone’s screen for more up to a minute; you probably don’t even know what this room we’re in looks like. Put that phone away this very minute before I take it from you and smash it.”
Farhad tucked the phone into his front pocket and averted his eyes. He could still feel his father’s stern gaze on him. Instead he turned his attention to the ante-room in which they were waiting for the commandant. It was a small office from what he could see. There were signs of age everywhere, the ceiling boards sagging from years of dampness from leaky roofing, the cobwebs that had solidified in the corners of the room and on the burglary proof lattices that adorned the windows. The only thing that looked new was the jam lock mechanism and even that simply nailed onto the carcass of an older and far superior bolt mechanism. Everything was hidden unsuccessfully by single coat of varnished paint which Farhad suspected was what had been considered as ‘renovation’. There was an orderly behind a small table next to the door to the commandant’s office hidden from view by a formerly green lace curtain, stealing glances at Alhaji and Farhad looking for signs of affluence. Farhad laughed inwardly, Alhaji never bothered to dress up, except for his occasional expensive Arab kaftans which most people mistook for the ordinary clothes. He looked so different sitting next to his father. Apart from his eyes and his smile, he was every inch a clone of his Shua Arab mother. Sometimes he wondered who had ensnared who between his parents. The door to the ante-room creaked and swung open to reveal Ms. Forson, dressed in her usual fashion.
“Is this the guidance counsellor we’re waiting for?” Alhaji spoke over his shoulder to Farhad.
“Yes Baba.” Farhad whispered.
“A modern woman, and beautiful too. I had expected one of those old withered women who always found a way to entrench themselves in administrative posts but this comes as a surprise.” He commented to Farhad, loud enough for him to cringe from secondhand embarrassment.
If Ms. Forson heard what Alhaji had said, she had not tells. She walked over to both men and stretched her hand out to Alhaji and jumped right into an apology.
“Sir, I received the call from the commandant a while ago but I had so many matters that needed my urgent attention. There is so much to be done and there are so few hands. I hope you didn’t wa-”
Alhaji rose to his feet, interrupting her in crisp Hausa accented English. “I should be the one apologising. We left the office quite late on my account. I had a meeting with some dignitaries that dragged interminably. Then the treacherous Lagos traffic just made everything worse. I am sorry for the inconvenience.”
Farhad sucked air through his teeth as Ms. Forson broke into a flustered, pink cheeked smile. “It’s nothing sir, the good thing is that you’re here and we can get to helping Farhad.” She looked around Alhaji’s shoulder at the orderly. “Is commandant ready to receive us now?”
The orderly stood up from his seat and leaned over, peeking through the eyelets in the lace into the other room.
“Oga don finish make call, una fit enter.”
Farhad felt his phone buzz in his pocket as they filed into the room. He ignored it, now was not the time at all. The commandant was a tall bony man with a crown of greying hair, his height evident even though he was hunched over a massive executive table that took most of the office’s floor space. His head flitted around in tiny movements as he observed them. Alhaji and Ms. Forson took the guest chairs opposite the commandant and left him standing behind his father. Ms. Forson breezed through introductions as they settled in.
“I should ask my orderly to get a chair for your son.” The commandant said in a matter of fact way, his eyes finally settled on Alhaji. Alhaji smiled.
“Let him stand. He trained for months because he wanted to go to NDA. An hour or thereabout on his feet won’t kill him.”
The tension in the commandant’s shoulder eased. He’d been worried Farhad’s father was one of those men who were difficult when it came to their children. He didn’t see any point dwelling on inane talk so he went straight to reason for their meeting.
“So, Alhaji Usman, I know you are somewhat aware of why you have been summoned. We received claims that Farhad has had cultist ties prior to joining this university. Claims that were beforehand unreported by your son or either of his parents. This is a serious claim and we are trying to get to the bottom of it.”
Alhaji sat up. “No Mr Commandant, I think you have this all upside down. Farhad does not have cultist ties. I had to move Farhad and the rest of my family to Lagos because Farhad’s life was threatened by cultists. That is documented in Farhad’s transfer documents. From what I have gathered, Ms. Forson here was the recipient of a malicious rumour about my son and has chosen to act on it without confirming properly what actually happened and I wonder why.”
Ms. Forson self consciously straightened her jacket before addressing the men.
“Alhaji Usman, I do not spend my time entertaining mere rumours. I am sure you have heard about the federal directive concerning cultism. In response to that, my department created an anonymous tip line to encourage students to offer information. Every tip offered is documented and forwarded to school security for further investigation before any student is approached-.”
“And we have conducted our investigations concerning Farhad’s situation and we have questions.” The commandant continued without missing a beat. “Every student transferring who has cultist ties is required to report to the security office and introduce him or herself, Farhad did not do that. Also we went through his transfer documents and found only one record briefly documenting this incident you just spoke of Alhaji, and when we called his former university, they told us he was given four documents to submit here. So you can understand our concern, sir.”
Alhaji suddenly swivelled in his chair, grabbing Farhad by the arm and pushing him out to the corner of the room where everyone could see him clearly. The old man was seething.
“Farhad, Everything commandant has said, is any of it true?”
Farhad held his hands at his sides, fingers clenched into fists. “Well, No one told me I was supposed to report anywhere. All I did was submit my documents at the senate building where the woman in charge of admissions in the student affairs asked me to take out every extra document but my transcripts and my transfer letters. She was the one who asked me to submit only the police report.”
“Where are the documents now?” the commandant prodded.
“The woman said I didn’t need them, so I threw them away.”
Farhad realised how stupid the words he’d said were the minute they left his mouth from the looks on everyone’s faces. The commandant smiled triumphantly, taking small pleasure in how his actions had been validated. Ms. Forson looked at Farhad in horror and Alhaji just stared slack jawed, utterly flabbergasted.
“What do you mean you ‘threw them away’?” Alhaji finally managed to croak.
“They were photocopies sir,” Farhad practically vomited, jumping at the chance to spin the mess he’d just put himself in. “They kept the original documents at ABU, said it was part of their records.”
“Well, that’s too bad.” The commander tsked. “We’ll be forced to recommend Farhad be put on probationary rustication starting tomorrow, pending when he can provide the documents that corroborate your claims, Alhaji Usman.”
Alhaji turned to Ms. Forson, realising that the commandant’s mind was made up. “Ms. Forson, you are the guidance counsellor, is there anything we can do?”
She sighed. “There are about three weeks before examinations. I can arrange for him to defer the semester. If we do that, the commandant will give him the whole of the next semester to solve this problem before he is sent before the school’s disciplinary board. But if you have someone back home who can get the documents from his school, since he says they have the originals, then I suggest you do so immediately.”
Alhaji’s expression turned unreadable as he looked back at Farhad. “Please give him a week before you start the process for deferment. I’ll give him a chance to solve this problem himself.”
He stood up, walked over to Farhad and took him by the scruff of his collared shirt, and marched him out of the commandant’s office, stopping at the door.
“Thank you both for your time.” He said graciously. “Ms. Forson, I’ll be in touch.”
He turned back to Farhad and bullied him out of the room. Ms. Forson felt a chill run through him as the older man tightened his grip around the boy’s neck and hiss in his ear.
“You promised me I wouldn’t have to come to your school for anything but your graduation yet here we are. See, let me just tell you plainly, I will kill you with my bare hands before you disgrace me.”
Farhad spotted Louise long before she did him. It was as though they’d reversed roles, Louise looked slimmer and better dressed than he’d ever seen her, and he looked like he’d spent the entire day getting tumbled around in a washing machine. Even through the seething rage he felt towards everything in that moment, he couldn’t help but admire Louise. She came over to meet him where he sat, swaying her hips as she walked. That was new too. She sat beside him and gave him an unsolicited kiss on the cheek, catching the stench of cigarettes on his breath and a freshly lit one between his lips.
“When you said you were having a bad day, I thought you were exaggerating,” she said.
He took the cigarette from his lips and let out a cloud of smoke. “Somebody’s been practicing her bitchery.”
She ignored the insult and nervously combed through her hair with her fingers. “So why are you at the airport? Are you picking someone up?”
He tapped on the ticket between them with his thumb and ring finger, the fore and middle fingers preoccupied with the cigarette held between them. “I just got banished to Kaduna, no thanks to you. My dad didn’t even let me carry a stitch of clothing, just sent the driver down here with me and dumped me with a return ticket.”
Louise racked her brain for something appropriate to say and lapsed into silence when nothing came. Farhad finished his cigarette in silence and tapped another one out of the pack.
“Louise, I don’t need company. What do you want?”
She sighed and tried to remember the speech she’d streamlined in her head during the cab ride, it was the one she’d been saving for Xhiz slightly amended, since he’d stopped responding to her calls and messages altogether.
“I… I got my father to pull me out of Covenant. I had kind of suggested they send me there as punishment for everything that happened because Luminous begged me to.”
Farhad’s ears perked up at Luminous but he restrained himself from launching a barrel load of questions, he was too angry to even indulge Louise right now. She continued, oblivious.
“Lawrence is Luminous’s real name. I know you all don’t like him and he acts like a jerk sometimes but he has a good heart and he loves me. Sort of. More like obsessed but that’s neither here nor there right now. He gets jealous and needy and lashes out when he feels threatened by you guys. Not that I’m making excuses for him but it’s not really his fault. That’s just who he is. But I drew the line when I found out on twitter what happened with Chibuzor.”
They sat in silence for a while, Farhad smoking and she fidgeting, playing with her cuticles growing out under her acrylic nails. Louise took this as permission to continue.
“He kind of threatened me when I confronted me about it, so I confessed to my dad about everything. He went to the police but we can’t prove anything so they won’t do anything to him, for now. I just wanted to say face to face that I’m sorry for everything. I never even imagined any of this would happen.”
Farhad flicked the stub of his cigarette into the nearby waste basket and burst into hysterical laughter, startling Louise. He laughed till tears leaked from his eyes.
“So you really think it will be that easy. You’ll fuck up for months and just waltz down when your fuckups finally hone back on you and think we’ll just grin and say ‘forget it, we’re BFF’s’?” He asked.
“I don’t think that.” Louise replied immediately, a whiny petulance tinting her voice.
“Then what are you doing here? Please enlighten me, I’m dying to know.”
“I just wanted to take responsibility for my actions and maybe ask how I can make it up to you.”
Farhad devolved into another round of derisive laughter.
“You’re such a self absorbed brat. Can you turn Chibuzor back the nice guy he used to be before your ‘boyfriend’ used him as a social experiment? I have to travel to Kaduna to make sure this entire semester which I have read my ass off for isn’t wasted because of you. Can you fix that? Can you?”
Louise’s face scrunched into a tearful mask and she whimpered as she tried to keep her emotions in check. Farhad had hurt her with his words, deeply. She knew he was venting his anger on her for whatever happened with him earlier but that didn’t take the sting off his scathing diatribe. Farhad took one look at her and rolled his eyes, registering at that moment, the announcer call up passengers for his flight to board. He rose to his feet, picked up his ticket and his packet of cigarettes and raised Louise’s chin so that she was looking into his eyes.
“See Louise, what you have to understand is that you fucked up, like really really bad. I get that you were or are naïve. Even though this get-up and new attitude is you trying very hard to say otherwise. I forgive you for that, but you have to understand that your actions have consequences. And one of them is that I might never trust you or be ‘cool’ with you again. If you can accept that, then we’re fine. Goodbye Louise.”
He stroked her cheek gently and walked away, leaving Louise completely shattered, as tears began to stream down her cheeks.