Love isn’t just what people like to think it to be. They say true love is only what a mother feels for the child that is strapped to her back, and the one who has just begun to walk without falling over and over; whom she pulls by the arm along busy market streets. Or what a boy feels for his girlfriend, not knowing that he shares her with twenty other boys who live around the neighborhood.
As much as it might be those things, love is also many other things: it is Kunle and his friend, Bolaji; the bond between them, strengthened by misfortunes shared, by miseries survived together. When in SS3, alongside his impatient classmates, Kunle pushes his way out of the classroom and into the big assembly hall where the MOCK examination results have just been pasted on the notice board, he looks around for Bolaji. Bolaji is not in the same class as himself, but a close friend. Kunle knows the boy is here, somehow.
After spotting him, Kunle waves a hand, and Bolaji walks over. Together, Kunle, running a finger across the glass-covered notice board, Bolaji standing aside, just glancing down, they both check their results. Bolaji’s is the first that is seen. He has failed. Three Fs. Four Ds. Two Bs. Kunle turns to look at him. Says nothing, Bolaji only grimaces and they get back to looking at the notice board.
Three seconds pass, and Kunle sees his result. Like Bolaji, he, too, has performed poorly. Three Fs. Four Ds. Two Cs.
Other SS3 students stand aside and stare in shock as Kunle jumps to his feet, shakes Bolaji’s hand. Both friends roar laughter which carries in it no tone of pain.
‘Bros. I don fail! I fail like wetin.’
‘Omoh, bone that thing. I no follow fail!? Omoh, I fail! See D! See F na!? Omoh dah!’
Months would have passed when WASSCE results are released. In the same Graceland Schools’ Assembly hall, Bolaji and Kunle check theirs. Kunle has grown a beard by this time. Bolaji has grown taller, and the scar on his face has cleared out. They have both failed. They laugh about it as they walk home, stopping by a small stall to play video games. When night falls, they bid each other goodbye and do not see each other again until it’s time to register for UTME. Kunle travels to go stay with a faraway uncle, leaving Bolaji behind in this bustling city of Lagos.
The queue is long. But Bolaji can spot his friend from paces away. After the registrations, he walks to him and they hug for the first time since they were kids. Adult males barely hug each other in Nigeria; their hands do, in handshakes.
‘Omoh, you bin come back?’
‘Yes o. I bin show!’
‘You be chairman now na. See as Lagos don fresh you up, like bread wey just de comot from oven.’
‘Leave that thing, bros. Leave am. Na whining. We know these things.’
‘So, you come to register JAMB. Which University be your first choice?’
‘University of Lagos. You na!?’
‘I put UNILAG too, fa.’
‘That na sure thing, ghan. Na there I put, also. Where be your examination center?’
Kunle opens the flat office file in his hand and he and his friend both peer inside it. Bolaji stops a paper from flying out into the air.
‘My center na…na Dominion Computer Center, Surulere.’
‘Oboy, talk true!?’
‘I swear to God. See am here na.’
‘Oboy, na my center be that too!’
A rasp as palms collide in a handshake.
Dominion Computer Center looks bigger than it appears when one looks at it from outside its gate. Inside one of the halls inside it, Kunle is sitting behind Bolaji. He is sweating profusely, even though the AC is on, and the air is cold and dry.
‘Bolaji!’ he whispers. ‘Number one!’
‘I no know.’ Bolaji’s voice is a whisper too.
When the examination ends, and everyone is asked to leave the hall, Kunle follows closely behind Bolaji. Outside the gate, they laugh together.
‘I just de guess nonsense put for that thing. Anyone wey I no sabi, I tick option B.’
‘I swear, me too. This computer-based exam-style na just better useless thing.’
Two weeks pass and results are released. Kunle’s Mom has gotten him a phone because he managed to pass his GCE. He places a call to Bolaji. Bolaji’s phone hums as it vibrates atop the table. It’s an old found he found in his father’s cupboard. A Nokia that once fell to the ground and, instead of shattering, cracked the tiles. Bolaji picks up.
‘I get 190 for JAMB. You na!?’
‘I get 191.’
‘Oboy. As e be, e mean say we go fit read that medicine and surgery again o.’
‘Omoh, make we just go study anything wey dem give us.’
On this day, — the day of UNILAG’s matriculation ceremony — as they sit amongst fellow matriculants underneath a large canopy that shields them from the sun’s harsh heat, Bolaji yabs Kunle’s matriculation gown. He says it is too big, and looks like what church choirs put on. A girl seated nearby hears it and laughs silently. She turns around to look at Bolaji. He smiles sheepishly, blushing. He is not so used to girls. They scare him. Kunle teases him about this when they get to the hostel.
The next day is a test. Kunle and Bolaji read for a few minutes, play video games until they doze off.
Of course, they fail this test, just as they did many others before it. They fail most exams, too. By the end of the first year, Kunle is struggling with a 2.34CGPA, and Bolaji with a 2.35. They laugh about it from time to time, Kunle saying,
‘If to say na medicine I de go, guy, I no for de do poorly like this. This Animal Science just tire me.’
By the end of the third year, both friends have two extra years each. They love each other more than ever now. Sit together whenever they have classes with juniors. The day they finally graduate, a small party is thrown at Kunle’s house. Palpable happiness.
Kunle soon gets a job; an uncle who is a government official slots his name into one list containing names of the people who should be given ‘quick employment.’ It is Nigeria. Anything can happen. Corruption and godfatherism always happen. At his office, Kunle does nothing but sit and talk with two female Youth Corpers who seldom don’t wear make-up.
Bolaji has no job yet. He walks around the streets of Lagos, an office file containing his credentials in his right hand. When evening falls, after a day as fruitless as the one before it, he returns home to a meal too poorly prepared, and his mother’s nagging.
‘Your friends are doing well! They are doing great things with their lives. All you do is eat and eat! Tufikwa!’
At midnight, he calls Bolaji, like he always does, and they talk over the phone for a long time. Bolaji talks about the girl he slept with, the one who came asking for a favour. Kunle wants to tell him that, by sleeping with vulnerable girls, he is not doing something worth bragging about. But he knows what saying that might cause and so keeps shut. After the call, Bolaji sends N10,000 to Kunle.
Kunle gives his mother this money and the woman praises him. She tells him that he is becoming a man. She tells his father about it, too, as they sit and eat at the dining table. The grey-headed man says nothing, but Bolaji can see the pride on his face.
Kunle is laid off from work one Thursday in July, months after Bolaji gets a job with an NGO that pays far less than the minimum wage. He calls Bolaji and tells it to him. He sounds as if he’s about to cry.
‘Make we block for that palmy-joint when I close from work na?’
‘Okay, no issue.’
Music is blaring inside the bar and so the friends have to speak quite loudly to hear themselves. They are sitting around a table littered with drinks, facing each other.
‘Why you say them sack you na?’
‘Omorh, mehn. My director catch me de touch one girl bumbum. See, the girl bin fine die. I no go lie. Na work as bin de fine.’
‘Omoh, you sef.’
‘No worry mehn. Thunder fire that your director.’
‘Why you de keep your face like that? I said “No worry, mehn.” Another job de come. Just no carry your konji mess this one up.’
‘I believe you, my man.’ Kunle says, raises a glass of palmwine to his lips. ‘I love you, bro.’
Awkward silence, then Bolaji breaks it.‘ You love who? Make God no punish you for there o.’
Another round of laughter, and then a toast to friendship. To love.