In no time, the season of tests and term papers happened upon the newly admitted students at Uniuyo. It was shocking news to some students that they had to submit their written and typed term papers on each day of the new week, as the two week time of research, write and submit of these term papers elapsed in the same week.
This situation was hard work to those who had left their assignments to research and write at a later date, contrary to Alex, who researched and wrote, a day after the assignment had been given. So, he had his assignments all typed and ready to just submit on the due date.
Due to the debacle with Jojo, he had taken a step back from being overly helpful with Jojo. He made sure he did his chores, focused on his business and school and only hung around Isaac’s shop when he had deliveries to do for him.
After four months of lectures, tests and term papers, the end of semester examination loomed ominously for the year one students. Lectures reduced in the beginning of the fifth month as lecturers got busy with creating exam questions and it was in that time that Alex received a most curious call from Ekanem.
Apparently, he had been exonerated of all accusations of having slept with Effiong Unen’s wife. Alex had expected to jump for joy when this news finally arrived; but he was numb and struck dumb as he listened to Ekanem excitedly regale him of what had transpired.
Several months after Effiong had made a ruckus with his group of friends and chased Alex from home, he still hadn’t given his wife a vocation and of course, not long after, the cheating continued. With the help of friends different from his usual pair of friends, Abel and Odudu, Effiong found out that Abel, the friend that had given the shaky conjecture making Alex a main suspect, was in fact, the culprit.
Ekanem spoke of the village being in pandemonium as the cheaters were discovered pants down literally. He spoke of the chief of Ikot Ukap declaring that Effiong would apologise everyday to his grandparents and him, for a whole month. Additionally, his poultry would feed his grandparents’ breakfast table for two months with both eggs and chicken as compensation for the stress and embarrassment he had caused them.
Alex wasn’t impressed with Effiong’s punishment, not after what he’d gone through. Yet, he couldn’t be angry with the ignorant poultry owner because without what he’d done, he would not have been where he was at the moment.
Of course, his grandparents wanted him home immediately, having not seen him in over nine months. So, Alex decided to travel home for a weekend starting on Friday, after his lectures. He made sure he sent all his customers courtesy text messages informing them of his unavailability for the duration of the weekend.
Only Mama Saviour got a courtesy delivery instead of a test message. Alex got an extended purchase list from her, including things the shop might need during the weekend and went shopping for her before grabbing his knapsack with a few cloths and setting out to the village.
Jojo had offered to go with him but Alex had softly refused because Jojo still had outstanding term papers to submit and the weekend was the only time he had to complete them before their first semester examination.
With succinct directions from Jojo and Isaac on which motor park to board a taxi to Ikot Ukap, Alex set out on his journey back home. Compared to his journey away from home, this one was smooth because he wasn’t apprehensive and the roads had become marginally better.
The roads had been tarred and it gave the villages a facelift. Alex totally agreed with the giant billboards purporting the present governor as ‘working’.
There was even a signpost he hadn’t seen when leaving the village that said ‘Welcome to Ikot Ukap Itam’; obviously, he hadn’t seen it because he had been whisked out of the village in the night, cowered in the corner of a Keke Napep.
Alex shook his head to disperse the bad memory and instead concentrated on taking in the rolling hills of thick, green foliage gracing both sides of the road as the taxi zoomed towards the bus stop.
One of the passengers explained to another passenger that the huge bunches of firewood, stacked at the entrance of Ikot Ukap Itam, by the side of the tarred road could not be compared with the ones from the neighbouring local government of Ibiono, he described the humongous timber factory at Ibiono and was sure the people of Ikot Ukap Itam probably went there to purchase theirs and sell.
The listening passenger was impressed, but moaned the stress of travelling the distance from Uyo to Ibiono to get firewood.
Alex had not really been listening to them but then he couldn’t willingly close his ears or block out their voices either. He realised that if he could purchase a truck, his business could make bigger and better profit in haulage.
Saving that idea to discuss with Sunshine later, Alex pulled on a cap, wore sun glasses and boarded a motorcycle which would take him through Ikonombo and Mbiaso before getting to the Ikot Ukap community. He wasn’t hiding; yet, he didn’t want to make a ruckus as he arrived the village. If he had his way, he would remain at home with his grannies until his departure date.
Alex took a gander and stopped at Ekanem’s betting shop and luckily, he was there. They hugged as two lost friends would and Ekanem offered to transport him to his grandparents’ home with his shiny, new tricycle.
The community hadn’t changed much. The bushes were still thick and the roads were still narrow and untarred as it generally is in interior villages. It all looked strange to Alex after spending so much time at Uyo city.
Ekanem supported his aim to remain at home and not go out and promised to visit when he had time the next day. As a busy business man, he left immediately he dropped Alex in front of the house.
Alex understood and hauled in the gifts he’d bought for his grannies. It was his grandfather he met in the parlour and he called out excitedly to his grandmother who hurried in from the kitchen outside.
They looked strange to Alex, like they had aged a decade. He couldn’t recall them being so old and Alex regretted that he hadn’t been here with them. He cried as they hugged him and welcomed him home. It was an extremely emotional return and it took hours for their high emotions to calm down.
“So, you say you have a business,” his grandma asked again and he nodded with a grin at her awed expression. He had explained to her what he did and that it was actually a model of her own business in the village; he was happy that she had employed a young boy to help her with deliveries after Alex’s departure, so, the business flourished.
“And the campus, how is the campus?” his granddad was more interested in his education.
“That’s why I can’t stay long, we are starting exams next week,” he reported from his position beside his grandma, the woman wouldn’t let him sit afar from her. On intervals, she would touch his broad shoulder as though making sure that he was actually real.
As though by silent consensus, they didn’t really talk about Effiong Unen except when it was pertinent for Alex to present himself to the Clan head so that the chief could apologise on behalf of the entire village who had accused him wrongly by believing Effiong Unen’s accussations.
It had been another emotional episode with Effiong Unen forced to kneel before Alex and the elders and apologise.
His grandfather took it as a man but his grandma cried when it came time for Alex to leave. Isaac and Jojo’s parents consoled her while sending greetings and food items to their children, especially to Isaac who had sent an envelop of money to them through Alex.
Ekanem was on hand to transport him to the bus stop where he’d get a taxi back to Uyo. The two friends hugged again and promised to continue staying in touch, especially with games for betting. Ekanem agreed with boisterous laughter that he surely would and left when Alex boarded a taxi.
Alex arrived Isaac’s house late in the evening on Sunday and found the house empty. He carefully laid aside the food stuffs from Isaac’s parents and the ones from his grandparents which basically consisted of eggs and chicken plucked and frozen by his grandma for his return.
He knew Isaac hung out with friends on Sunday and Jojo was probably with Eka, so he called Sunshine and brought her one frozen chicken from the four his grandma had insisted he take, and some eggs.
“Alex!” Eka called out excitedly when he came to the shop the next day on his way to school.
It wasn’t strange that she was excited to see him after his absence the past weekend, but it was strange that she threw herself at him with an impromptu hug. Alex stood there numb and in shock and could only pat her shoulder before she stepped away from him.
Months ago, he would have excitedly taken that to mean something more, but now he dreaded anything that had to do with Eka, as she was intricately wound with Jojo.
“Eka, nice to see you too,” he grinned and asked about her sister, brother-in-law and nephew, to which she replied they were fine.
“I missed you this weekend. I missed our gists,” she enthused while selling to a customer who pretended not to be listening to the potentially scandalous conversation.
“Err…” Alex said but didn’t know how to blurt out that since she’d become Jojo’s girl, they hadn’t chatted that much. With the customer around, it would’ve greatly embarrassed her, so, he just chuckled and picked some snacks to take to school.
“How was the village; your grandparents?” she asked when the customer left with a high level of enthusiasm that was weird for her.
“They are fine, and were sad at my departure,” he replied while looking at her keenly. She seemed jittery and nervous.
“Of course, they miss you!” she exclaimed and hit his arm playfully. Okay, something was definitely wrong.
“Are you okay?” Alex asked and his question instantly brought tears to her eyes, shocking him more.
“I think Jojo is cheating on me,” she blurted and hurriedly wiped her tears, looking about in case a customer walked in.
“Why would you think that?” Alex immediately asked with feigned concern, even though he’d already known this day would come.
“It’s his attitude…” Eka said and stopped to curb her need to cry. As far as Alex was concerned, she shouldn’t be getting stressed by a boy at this time. Eka was 18 and intelligent, she’d aced her WAEC and was going to take her JAMB in the next year. She should be preparing for that not getting entirely tied up with Jojo.
But he couldn’t tell her that, not right now, anyway. Besides, he couldn’t handle this matter right now, as he had lectures to attend.
“Can we talk later?” he asked.
She nodded, “Okay.”
As it was wont to happen, their plan to meet later that evening didn’t happen; it didn’t happen until two weeks later because Alex became swamped with exams and business. He didn’t have time to sit at Mama Saviour’s shop, and in the mornings, he was mostly hurrying off to school.
Alex specifically searched out Eka when he returned from a delivery one evening over two weeks later. He didn’t have exams the next day so he could rest his head from reading. Additionally, he’d been feeling guilty for not having time for Eka. He was afraid she would think he was avoiding her, and he should be, especially in light of what had happened with his friend. But Eka was also his friend; he needed to find out what was wrong with her.
He had noticed how withdrawn she’d looked the few times he’d seen her when hurrying to school. And one time, Mama Saviour had said she was ill and was on malaria medication. It increased his guilt and he decided that he must see her this evening, while wondering if Jojo had checked on her.
It was a few minutes to six pm, a time that shadows were just beginning to grow in the shop and she was yet to put on the generator.
“So, tell me what you think is the problem,” he said as he settled his bulk on one of the plastics chairs in the enclosed veranda of the shop. He had just apologised for not seeing her earlier as promised.
Eka settled down beside him and sighed, picking invisible lint from her black skirt and her tongue flicked out to wet her upper lip in a nervous move.
“He’s avoiding me,” she said in a husky voice and refused to look Alex in the face as though she was hiding something.
Alex smiled knowingly, almost looking relieved, “I think it’s the term paper research and writing. I even refused his offer to come with me to the village because there was still a lot he had to do before the exams and I’m not sure he has finished…”
“It’s not that,” Eka interrupted in a pained whisper and then bust into uncontrollable tears. Alex had no choice but to comfort her by putting his arm about her shoulders.
Her sobs were reducing when a shadow darkened the entrance of the shop. Alex jerked away and stood, Eka standing with him, they appeared guilty even though they weren’t.
“Err…please, I want to buy…do you have sanitary pads?” the very familiar voice asked hesitantly.
“Nse?” Alex asked in shock and walked towards the figure whose face was in the shadows, but his heart pounded rapidly with recognition.
“Yes,” Alex answered in a rush of breath and hugged her unexpectedly with no premeditation and a wide grin on his face.
For a minute, she chuckled with him, her arms wound round his neck in exuberant greeting of long lost friends. Alex unconsciously sighed heavily, his soul felt settled with Nse in his arms, like he had come home. He squeezed her to him and was almost about to blurt how much he had missed her and how sorry he’d been about their drama back at the village, but Eka subtly cleared her throat behind them.
It was then Alex noticed that Nse was hanging on his neck with her feet on tiptoe. When Eka cleared her throat, Nse immediately shoved away from him and straightened her blouse over her skinny jeans.
Alex couldn’t stop staring at her. She looked like a dream. She hadn’t grown taller but her figure had bloomed; it was subtly changing from baby fat to a full womanly figure. Her breasts looked really attractive as her top draped alluringly over the twin mounds. Her skin looked brighter; she had on light makeup, extremely light makeup if compared to Sunshine’s own. Her eyes seemed bigger, her lips called out to him and just like that, just by staring at her and recalling the feel of her soft body against him, Alex went hard.
“What kind of pad do you want?” Eka asked in the sudden awkward silence, as though she knew Alex needed saving, because the question diminished his arousal.
Nse murmured the kind she wanted and tried her best not to look at Alex for too long, as though doing so would expose what she was really thinking. And she kept giving Eka speculative looks, of course, Alex knew what she was assuming, considering the position she’d found them.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, trying hard to stem his excitement at seeing Nse again.
She looked away and busied herself with paying for her purchase. When she got her balance from Eka, she couldn’t avoid the question anymore. She cleared her throat uncomfortably and stepped out of the shop, of course Alex followed her.
Nse crossed the untarred road and stopped as though she didn’t want Alex to follow her. Her eyes caught Eka staring at them from the shop.
“It’s been so long. I’ll like to have your…” Alex had pulled out his phone when she interrupted him.
“I’m visiting my boyfriend here,” she blurted out in a rush of words, pointing at the huge house with the mysterious owner. “But I can give you my number if you want,” she concluded in a much calmer tone.
Alex was struck numb. He felt like a kid that had been given a gift and then it was taken away from him almost immediately. He covered up his hurt by handing over his phone and then turning his face away to cough, hoping it would relief the log stuck in his throat.
“Later, Akwaowo,” she said and walked quickly towards the big gates.
He stood there with his phone in his hand, squeezed so hard it creaked. The tiny sound made him look down, he saw her number still on the screen of the phone, he saved it and looked up in time to see the gate shut behind her.
When he turned around, he went straight home, totally forgetting he was supposed to converse with Eka; his world had been tilted yet again by Nse.
ALEX OF IKOT UKAP ADVENTURES continues
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