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September 1972

I eventually travelled to the United States for my college degree and tried to settle in as fast as possible.  The new environment was odd at first. I could not imagine myself; a fortunate young girl from a barely known village where most girls hardly got  past primary school now in a prestigious college outside my country. 

First, I had the privilege of attending secondary school in the city of Lagos unlike girls my age and even my sisters, now I was out of the country. I realised it was only a privilege and I was not ready to trade that opportunity for anything or anyone. Associating with others was difficult initially (the culture shock most especially), however I had a roommate who was also African but from Ivory Coast. Within weeks, we bonded and usually went to study together when we were not having group projects or discussions with our respective course mates. I was studying International Communications and Diplomacy while Valerie, my roommate was studying Microbiology.

One Saturday morning, some weeks after resumption,  my roommate and I were relaxing at the corridor in front of our room when a delivery man walked up to us.

“Hello ladies, please who is Titilayo Ojo?”

I signalled to him.

“Okay, I have a delivery for you. Could you please sign here?”

“From whom, if I may ask?” I replied puzzled.

“From Jaiye Akande”

“Oh, where am I to sign please?” I said, a little flustered.

The man gestured to me, I signed and took the parcel from him and he left us”

I turned to Valerie who already had a mischievous smile plastered on her face.

“What?” 

“Nothing, unwrap the gift and tell me all about the mystery man you never mentioned to me”.

I blushed while I tore the wrap. Inside was a box containing hair and body beauty products as well as a letter. 

Valerie decided to taunt me a bit so snatched the letter from me. I got up immediately and ran after her. After three cycles in our apartment, Valerie gave up and handed me the letter without opening it.

 I sat panting “I will come back for you”, I pointed at her.

In the letter, Jaiye stated that he wanted a relationship that would lead to marriage and promised to pay me a visit as soon as I agreed and wrote back to him. I had a small smile on my face while  my roommate kept looking at me.

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May 1975

It’s my penultimate year and schooling in America has been better than I imagined. I made friends from different countries and the most surprising thing (at least to everyone) was Uchenna and I were still dating. It was a struggle to break away from Jaiye. He kept sending gifts and letters and I barely responded but his persistence was overwhelming. However, after two years of trying and not getting the expected feedback, he finally told me he would stay away and later I heard he got married six months from that time. It was a welcome relief for me. Uchenna grew up to be a well-behaved young man. He gained admission a year before me to one school in Australia and we continued to communicate. 

I had plans on working for a bit abroad after graduation before travelling back home. That way, Uchenna would have worked for a bit as well and we could go home together to introduce ourselves to our parents. 

Back home, I knew virtually everything that was happening; thanks to Jumoke who constantly sent letters. She was the one who informed me that Jaiye had married, she was the one who told me that the King of the Village was dead and the council of chiefs were planning to vote this time around as against the usual selection, she  also informed me that my brother was now in a secondary school in Calabar (which sounded like my father was slowly accepting that Nigeria is here to stay). I was also informed that my other unmarried step sisters were now married and it was only my brother and I that were the unmarried children in the family. I could tell my mother would be itching for me to get married but I hope she would be prepared for what was coming her way. 

Valerie remained my room-mate for the third year in a row. We became sisters and could tell if one person was sad or unwell. We attended African themed parties and used our sessional breaks to take part in internship programs. One day during our third year, her family requested for her to come back home, we found the request very weird but our exams were close by so she would not dare that distraction. She however came to the hostel sad daily and sometimes with splitting headaches. I told her to speak with the faculty adviser who also agreed, she should finish her exams as well before travelling home. I tried to pacify her as much as I could but she kept saying she had a nudging feeling something really bad must have happened. 

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We just finished our exams and I told Valerie I would travel with her. It was easier to take that decision and get my visa since I was an African. It was an opportunity for me to see another country, meet the natives and have some exposure. I was silently wishing that whatever was happening at Valerie’s home was not too bad. Within a week, we were set to travel, it meant a lot to her that I could travel with her but to me, she was worth far more than that. We arrived at her family house in the evening and met her mother. She was very excited to see us, as she rushed to hug her daughter, I took my time to absorb the environment.

Their family house was quite cozy and more modern than mine. At the porch, there were flower pots and a small garden at one side of the compound. It was a one storey building with a gallery kind of design. The sitting room was more like a foyer with an exquisite settee. There were family portraits hung at various places on the wall and some art. They had a decorative fireplace as well. I was still observing the environment and some sniffs brought me to the present. Valerie’s mother was crying.

“Mama, what is wrong?” Valerie asked her while I walked over to her side to hug her.

“Your papa is dead!” she said amidst sobs.

Valerie collapsed to the floor. I rushed to her side and saw her hyperventilating. 

Her mother let out loud shrills, I was startled and confused on who to console. 

After over an hour of trying to console both mother and child and joining in crying as well. We all calmed down. 

Her mother went to the kitchen to make food for us but it was a real struggle to get Valerie to eat. 

Later at night, after we had settled in, her mother came in to have a heart to heart talk with her. 

“Good evening ma” I greeted.

“My dear, how are you doing? I am sorry we are meeting on this note. I have always heard about you from your friend and could not wait to meet you.” She said with sullen eyes.

I muffled some sounds and smiled at her while I attempted to leave the room but she insisted that I stayed while she spoke with her daughter. 

Valerie’s father had been assassinated allegedly by a political opponent and the family thought he should be buried within a short period and since Valerie was far away, they did not bother to wait for her. Her brothers and wives were all present. 

Her mother, who was a stay at home mum was devastated and lonely. She also explained she would not be able to afford her school fees for the final year. Her father was almost running into debt because he had spent a lot of money for his campaign and was hoping to recoup after he was elected. Her brothers were earning averagely and had their own families to run. 

Valerie burst into tears again. I sat beside her gently consoling her. 

“We will do something; the three years spent in school so far cannot be wasted. We could search for scholarships or apply for student loans, we can speak to the faculty adviser, we will do something, anything” I said in a rush

This sparked hope in Valerie and we were determined to pull through the final year together.

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Watch out for the next episode where Titilayo gets a graduation surprise.

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