They were four alright. But they were not students. Not the beauties I was anticipating. The first thing I noticed was their travel-worn clothes. Dusty from the road. They didn’t look anything like I expected. There was a woman in her late forties, two little girls, her daughters obviously, between ten and eight. Another girl with acne and a floral patterned shirt nodded at me as our eyes met. I looked round for the sick girl, Joy met my gaze apologetically and pointed. I followed her finger.
The first thought that came to my mind when I saw her was ‘dry fish.’ She was pitifully thin, the kind of thin that told you that whatever was wrong with her was out to kill her.
A flurry of thoughts assailed me. I looked at her and nodded a greeting with my eyes. She managed a limp wave.
God, how did I get myself into this?
I looked at Joy, she was apologizing over and over “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”
I told her to Shuddup.
I turned to Whatsapp, wondering how Genie, my friend who had earlier agreed to take in the entrants would respond to this new twist. I tried to keep a smile on my face all through. It wasn’t easy but I think I did just fine. I’m the last person in the world who would wanna make people feel unwelcome no matter the circumstances. Joy took me aside and explained she had no idea this was how things would turn out. They made her believe she would be going with four other students then dumped a sick person on her and said ‘ so long, pal’. Some people no get conscience sha.
Genie’s response on Whatsapp when I told her was ‘WHATTTT?’. I couldn’t help laughing. This one no wan kill herself. Who fit blame am? Anyway, I appealed, cajoled and pleaded till Genie relented and said it’s okay. It’s just three days anyway.
So we all got in d cab and headed for the hostel Genie stays in Ekosodin. The driver was moaning about having to wait while we helped the sick woman into the car (did I mention she has healthy and very pretty curly hair? Skin and suppressed good looks Like a bi-racial.) I told the driver to shut up, shebi I dey pay am a very pricey one thousand Naira which he won’t make in four hours idling in the baking heat of the Ekosodin gate. He took one look at my size and I saw his throat move as he swallowed back his retort. Good.
Genie took one look at them, at their bags, clothes and stuff. And I saw light go out of her eyes. I understood. Prior to that day, I have never met Genie. We only talk on Whatsapp. I guess good people still exist, and we need to learn to look beyond the slabs of fat as in the case with big Genie, and try to see them as beings with hearts.
Well, Genie’s space wasn’t enough. We decided they should change at her place and head for the program with their stuff. It’s likely the organisers had plans in place for accommodating people from upstate and stuff.
I sighed with relief, believing the worst was over and things were well off my hands now.
I had no idea the hard part was just around the corner. I had no idea that I would be bound to them inextricably.
Because when the car arrived at the Loveword campgrounds, the venue of the crusade, when the driver veered into the parking lot and we got out, I took one look at the distance from the car park to the meeting point, took another look at the sick woman limping very slowly, painfully and stopping after every four or five steps to rest. And I realised I was in trouble.
I realised I had to carry her and walk about eight hundred paces past the crowd.
Into the sanctuary.
I think I said ‘Joy don kill me today.’
Something like that.