He stood on the sidelines and watched other boys play football. He had just transferred from another elementary school, so he was still struggling to make new friends. He loved football and played very well too, but no one had agreed to give him a chance to show off his deft ball-juggling abilities. “You can’t play with us because our teams are already full,” Onwuchekwa, the oldest of the boys told him. He had heard the same words for two weeks in row. He hated Onwuchekwa for that, but he could do nothing about it. He paced the sidelines in utter frustration. He knew he was better than most boys on the field, and that irked him even more. “Why are you not playing with them,” a gentle voice asked from behind him. “Because that bully Onwuchekwa thinks I am not good enough to play with them, simply because he has not seen me play,” Udodi answered before looking backward to see who it was. He had seen her several times in class but he hardly knew her name. The glaze of the sun illuminated her beautiful face as she stood with one hand on her hip. “Do you want to share my lunch with me then?” She asked audaciously. “Okay, thanks,” Udodi agreed. He was not about to pass up lunch, at least something to enjoy on another sunny afternoon when he had been left off by the boys.
“So, what is your name?” He asked her as they settled under the ‘Dogonyaro’ tree in front of their classroom. “Amaka,” she answered. She opened the wrap she had been holding in her hand, and inside were slices of bread with yummy flaps of fried egg in-between. She split it in half and passed one to Udodi. He was delighted for the windfall. Suddenly, he forgot the frustration of being left out of the football match. He could not recall the last time they had egg and bread in his house. He devoured the bread and egg ravenously. “Where do you live?” Amaka asked. “Costain quarters, near Ogui Road,” he answered. “What about you?” “We live at Nanka Street in New Haven.” “I saw your parents come pick you up the other day,” Udodi said. “Yes, they often pick me up.” “Which school did you transfer from,” Amaka asked him. “I used to be in this school actually, but I spent last year in Imo State. After Christmas the previous year, my parents suggested we remain in our village, so we did. I did not like the school there, and my brothers and sisters hated it too, so we had to transfer back here after a year.” “I used to be at New Haven Primary School, but the headmistress here is a friend of my parents. She convinced them to transfer me to this school. “You transferred not long ago too?” “Yes,” answered Amaka. “It took me a while to make new friends. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get to play with them,” Amaka encouraged him.
Their chatter was ended by the ringing of the bell signaling the end of the break period. “Thanks for sharing your lunch with me.” “No problem. I will bring some more tomorrow. Would like to share with me?” “Yes,” Udodi replied exuberantly. Their friendship blossomed from then on. Soon, the entire class began to call Amaka Udodi’s wife. “Why don’t you go and stay with your wife than play football with us?” Some of their classmates would tease. “I know you like her! When will you two marry?” Others would ask innocently. Amaka was larger than life. She was not the type to shrink from a fight. “So what?” She would shoot back at the teasers. “Yes, I am Udodi’s wife. I am sure you would love to have a wife, but no girl wants you anyway.” Her caustic replies often engendered a loud laughter in class. Udodi was more of the quite type, who would smile and ignore the jesters. They were in elementary five, by then and coincidentally, they happened to be in the same class in elementary six. Love was certainly not in their young dictionary at the time, but they both enjoyed playing together. Udodi looked forward to seeing her and so did she. She continued to bring lunch for both of them. During mango season, in attempt to pay her back, at least somehow, Udodi would inundate her with mangos. They had several mango trees in their compound and he was thoroughly excited to pluck some for her. He would rinse the mangos and rinse them again. After all, they were for Amaka, so they needed to look their best. Amaka was pleased, each time he brought her those mangoes, which appeared to taste better, because they were from Udodi.
On the last day of elementary school, pupils were exhilarated at the prospect of going to secondary school. There was jubilation in the air, particularly by elementary six pupils. Udodi was pleased to be going to secondary school, but he wondered what it would feel like not to see Amaka every day. “So, Udo, will I get to see you again?” “Yes,” he answered not knowing how. “But how?” She asked? He flickered through his mind for answers, but nothing jumped at him. “Why don’t you come with us in my father’s car to our house, that way you know where I live? I will ask my father to drop you off. I will come with him, so I know where you live too.” “What a brilliant idea,” said Udodi. After collecting their report cards for the last time, pupils hugged and sang and joked as they dispersed. “I wonder how this husband and wife will get to see each other again.” Onwuchekwa teased them as they stood in front of the school gate waiting for Amaka’s father. “O gbasaro gi (None of your business),” Amaka replied him sharply. Shortly afterwards, Amaka’s father pulled up by the gate. Amaka hopped into the car and sold the idea to him. She was daddy’s daughter, so her father was pleased to take her daughter’s best friend home with them and back to Udodi’s house. “So, Udodi you are Amaka’s best friend?” He asked him during the short drive. “Yes sir.” “Where are you from?” “Owerri, in Imo State.” “Where does your father work?” “The Nigerian Railway Corporation sir.” Amaka tells me you took the first position in your class.” “Yes sir.” “Good! Keep that up.” “Thank you sir.”
Amaka went off to Holy Rosary College, a prestigious secondary school in Enugu, while Udodi was admitted into College of Immaculate Conception Enugu, a premier all-boys secondary school. Within the first year of secondary school, they would visit each other every now and again, and as before, they enjoyed being together. About a year and half into secondary school, Amaka’s father who worked for the then Anambra State government left Enugu for Awka following creation of the new Anambra and Enugu states out of the older Anambra. As a result, his family including Amaka moved with him. Udodi had seen Amaka a few days before they left for Awka. From then on, they no longer saw each other. Udodi missed her. By now, he was becoming aware of love, and he knew he felt something strong for the pretty girl who dazzled her way into his heart with an act of kindness, back in elementary school. He wondered what she looked like, and hoped that somehow, he would run into her again. He headed off to the University of Jos after secondary school to study Mechanical Engineering. Every now and again, he would think of her. Somehow, he felt nothing for any other girl, but fate continued to deny him the much-craved opportunity to meet her again.
Each time he saw any girl that looked remotely like her, he would run after them, and always, he was disappointed. Once, he saw a girl in Port Harcourt that bore striking resemblance to Amaka. It was in a bank. He walked up to her, tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention.
Click here for the concluding part of WHEN IT IS LOVE, IT IS LOVE
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