Uma Aminah couldn’t control herself. Pain shot in her abdomen and her legs. She screamed with everything within her as she pushed her child out of her cervix. Another contraction came, thrusting the child forward.
First came his head. The midwife who saw through her birth held the child’s head and patted her to continue pushing. She waited for another contraction, then she pushed, pulling out the rest of the baby and the placenta that coiled around his navel.
“It’s a boy,” the midwife said and smiled. “What will be his name?”
Drained of all her strength, Uma Aminah recalled the name she and her husband went back and forth with if the baby turned out to be a boy. She smiled. “Danladi Victor Ahmed.”
In the Southern part of the country, where the soil was black with crude, Mrs Wellington felt a sharp pain in her abdomen as she lay in bed with nurses all around her. Her husband, Mr. Wellington, stood massaging her hands, trying to ease the pain she bore.
Finally, a cry echoed in the whole room. The boy wiggled in his mother’s hands, blood coated around his body. The parents looked at each other and smiled; they had his name already. “Ayebamiebi Victor Wellington.”
And so, these two boys would take opposite paths but will one day cross one another’s.
Danladi Victor scooted and pressed the udder of the dairy cow he was milking. In the bucket, there was a white liquid he would carry in his father’s rickety BMW to the milk factory, where he’d trade it for money.
There were traces of blood in the milk, making him hiss. That was the third cow on the farm who had contracted the disease. They couldn’t live off the income they got from the cows. He thought of school. He just finished his secondary school with no means of funding his way into the higher institution.
With frustration, he threw the bloodied milk. He would have to go to Alhaji Kazeem’s farm and harvest the beans for some money. Maybe it would be enough for the treatment of his father’s ailment. He also thought of the scholarships he applied to, but no one had gotten to him yet. Maybe, just maybe, school wasn’t for him.
“Dan,” he heard someone call. He raised his head above and met his classmate in school, Sadiq.
“Wetin happen? See as I don already get high BP for my name wey you dey shout like that. Anyway, what’s happening?” Nothing about life thrilled Danladi again. His only dream was crushed.
“Calm down. Your blood fit boil yam now. Anyway, good news.”
Danladi Victor raised his eyebrows in scepticism and said in a rush: “What is it?”
Sadiq dug out a letter from his pockets whilst saying: “I still don’t know why you are pouring down your problems on me when I came with good news.”
Danladi Victor snatched the paper from him, going through the information. It was the scholarship list. Finally, the names were out. His eyes travelled round the table, looking for his future. With his name on the list, he would be the doctor he had always wanted to be. Then he saw it.
A big smile crept into his weary face, wiping away the morsels of sorrow left. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hands more than three times, worried that it was the excessive intake of garri that distorted his vision.
“Sadiq, my name is here oh,” he shouted. “I’m going to go to school. I’m an undergraduate.”
Excitement tore in his lungs as he jumped in the air. The Kaduna’s breeze was no longer stuffing and choking his lungs; they were filled with life and hopes—his hopes. Happiness, just like sadness, makes people do things. Out of happiness, he pounced on Sadiq, giving him the biggest hug and even lifting him off his feet.
“Wallahi, I’ve gotten a scholarship,” he said for the tenth time. He left Sadiq and went on to hug the cow that he milked earlier. “Did you hear that? I’ve gotten a scholarship, and there is no need to press your udder. Do you hear that?” the cow mooed and turned his face in another direction, looking for grass to feed on.
“You’ll miss me, I know.” He told the cow.
That was his breakthrough and the start of his journey in the walls of Georgina University.
Miebi Victor, on the other hand, sat on the chair in the big, well-furnish parlour. The air conditioner in the room blew away his nervousness while awaiting his parent’s verdict. He dug out his phone from his pocket and replied to a chat on WhatsApp. His parents should be fast; he had a party to attend.
His father walked in first, then his mother. Both had crossed looks on their faces, but Miebi Victor couldn’t care less. He tapped his feet uncomfortably on the marble floor.
“You failed your WAEC,” his father said with agony.
Miebi Victor threw his face. “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know the answers to the question, and I can’t forget the words of our governor. In case you don’t remember, I’ll say it. He said: ‘What do you do if you don’t know an answer in the exam hall? Will you kill yourself? No. You leave it,’ and that was exactly what I did.” Miebi imitated both the facial gestures and the voice.
His father’s hand left the air but was suspended in the air because his wife held his hands. “Honey, you know he is our only child. The only eye that we have. Please, don’t hit him. He’s just being a child.”
“What’s the point of having an eye when it is as blind as a bat?” his eyes never left Miebi Victor, anger burning inside him.
Miebi Victor burst into tears. “Mommy, Daddy is calling me names.”
His mother held him and gave her husband a bad look. “Instead of looking for who to blame, why can’t we find a solution to this problem? You have a lot of friends, and surely there would be a way he would get into uni.”
The father sighed. “I guess I know someone.” He placed two calls to his friends, stating his request. The second call was successful. He smiled as he ended the call. “Miebi, you’ll be a fresher at Georgina, studying medicine. Get ready.”
The University was a big step in the two boys’ lives. There was a high level of freedom they harnessed and choices they had to make. Danladi Victor had plans laid out, but Miebi Victor couldn’t care less.
Their paths finally crossed, and they were surprised to see what they had so much in common. They started as friends, sharing dreams and aspirations (well, it was Danladi alone that had one.)
“Well, my father wants me to be a doctor so that when I’m through with school, he will take me to the UK,” Miebi Victor said to Danladi Victor.
Danladi Victor patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t you think you owe the old man that? He’s done a lot for you.”
Miebi Victor smiled. “I owe myself the enjoyment first, then any other person. I’m with the motto ‘I can’t come and kill myself.’”
Miebi Victor knew all the parties that took place in school. He knew all those who smoked weed and even decided to try it. He came to classes drunk and, in the night, it was all on parties.
His excuse was easy. He came to this life to enjoy, and there wasn’t any room for pain. He missed classes and cheated on tests. He didn’t care.
Danladi Victor, on the other hand, knew what pain he had to bear. He forfeited all the pleasures at that point, knowing he was chasing something. Danladi Victor read, read, and read like there was a test every single day. He hoped that his friend, Miebi Victor would change, but his matter persisted.
It was finally their final year exam, and they all sat down in the exam hall. Miebi’s eyes were as red as blood like he probably took a drink before he came to the class. The young boy looked distorted with his flimsy shirt that reeked of alcohol and his hair that he decided to grow out.
The exam started and Miebi Victor knew he knew nothing about the answers to the questions. He looked around, searching for the cheat codes he planted before the exam. He downloaded every single answer, hoping to finish with the exams once and for all.
He was so deep into this act that he didn’t notice a hand that held his. He shook as he raised his head slowly. He was seen. Examination malpractice in the school meant expulsion, no matter how far the person had gone.
While Miebi Victor was rusticated from the school, Danladi Victor cleared his papers and bagged a first class. He beamed in pride as he thought of the pain that led to this joyful moment.
Miebi Victor went back home with no degree. Out of anger, his father disowned him and warned him never to step his feet into his house. Dejected, Miebi Victor walked around the streets begging until he found a compassionate bus driver who hired him to be his conductor.
“Oshodi… Isolo, enter with your three-hundred-naira change,” Miebi Victor yelled to no one in particular. He went around, searching for customers going in his direction. He had to drag a commuter with another conductor, but the commuter walked away in anger.
“Isolo… Oshodi,” he cried. He didn’t notice when a tinted Ford parked in front of him. The driver wound down the glass to reveal himself to be Danladi Victor.
Miebi Victor couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw him. He broke down in surprise, running his calloused hands over his eyes. “Is that you?” he asked.
Danladi Victor smiled. “Yes, it’s me. I’ve been wondering how you’ve been fairing after that incident.”
Miebi Victor sighed with a heavy heart. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ve lived under a bridge, but now I work as a conductor for a bus driver. You’re doing very well…”
Danladi nodded. He also shared his friend’s pain. “Hop in, let me get you a drink.”
Miebi climbed into the air-conditioned, luxurious car. It had been long since he experienced cool weather as all he knew was the hot, baked sun that shone over Lagos. He looked at his body, all scarred from fighting for survival. He didn’t know his life would turn out like that.
He thought of how he was certain that he was enjoying his life back then; he didn’t know he would end up that way. He took a look at the distinct between him and Danladi. He wore a pair of Dunlop that had the sole all peeled out, but Danladi wore the comfiest pair of leather shoes.
He didn’t listen to all that Danladi said and he wished he had listened earlier. He wished he didn’t have to open his mouth wide in laughter at such an early stage. Now there was no room to laugh, and all his ribs were too cracked to laugh. Laughter had been expelled from his life.
He knew it there and then that it wasn’t he who laughed first—their laughter was short—but it was he who laughed last that laughed the longest. He wished he could turn back the hands of time to correct his mistakes, but time couldn’t wait for him.
He knew he would live the rest of his life regretting he laughed too soon. He should have waited.