By Santi Femi
It began one evening in Mbaduku when, as she settled on the boulder of rock she used to sit on just to get enough reception to power the internet, a friend request notification dropped and increased the number of pending friend requests to 214. At first she wanted to ignore it, but she decided she would check it out because the name was familiar but not the face. A click, and there was more revelation: they had twelve mutual friends. She perused his timeline – he did not put up many posts. In his pictures, he was mostly dressed in corporate outfits. He appeared to be one of those guys who paid too much attention to their looks: spotless face, well-groomed beards, and trimmed moustache. His information log indicated that he worked in a big bank in Port Harcourt. She accepted his request. A message surfaced in her inbox afterwards.
Good to meet u here, Peju.
Same here, she replied.
It took a few minutes before he replied,
Cool. U done wit schl?
Yh, she typed.
He sounded confident and familiar like he had known her from someplace before that moment; she had no memory of him at all. The conversation began to gather momentum and so was the darkness of the evening that had begun to envelope Mbaduku.
Gat to go, she typed and logged out.
Mbaduku; August 2010
Mbaduku was hard life for Peju – it was nothing like Lagos where she had lived most of her life. She had been posted to Benue state for her NYSC. Just when her hopes were raised that her redeployment would come through, it didn’t. Instead, she was posted from the Wannune Camp to Mbaduku – a small town that had nothing going on for it except the luxuriant green of cultivated farmlands. Beyond that, it felt like living on the edge of uncivilized life. Human interactions was hard work. No one around seemed to understand her life. Except for Halima, a fair skinned girl with high cheekbones and an almost-angular nose – from Jigawa; her flat mate.
Halima did not make good company. She seemed to catch up on life all too slowly; everything that had gone out of trends was news to her. Once, after many weeks of staring at the black device she always carried about, she asked in her thin, papery voice: What kind of phone is that? Her naiveté pierced, effortlessly, through her Fulfude accented English.
Blackberry?, Peju answered in a sentence-question tone. The girl did not say anything afterwards. While English seemed to wear Halima out quickly, they both had no other way to communicate. Only two of them were corps members within a hundred yards so they were the closest to understanding each other, and so they had to be sisters.
It was hard. As for her interactions with the residents of Mbaduku, she spoke Pidgin English.
When she first arrived at Mbaduku, she had reasoned that life couldn’t be so bad especially since there was the internet. It was on the night that she moved into her apartment that she realized that it took half of the whole day before a webpage opened. She tried for the next couple of days and the result was same so eventually, she gave up.
On the morning of the day, on her way to the school where she had been posted to teach, she heard her phone beep. Messages dropped with a flurry. They had accumulated for days and finally, the network had birthed them. She kept walking and tried to reply chats when the signal waned. She noted the spot where she had been when the messages delivered it was next to a boulder. So, every evening, Peju would walk to the boulder and seat. That was how she kept in touch with the world. That was how she stayed sane.
People would walk past her and wonder what kind of madness drove her to sit on a boulder of rock, all by herself. Well, to access the internet, and see a world that she had always known, she had to be mad enough to climb to the top of that hilly road. There are degrees of madness. it was mad to climb the hill, but it was greater madness to stay locked away from the world. That was the only place where the world she knew (and that understood her) was a click away. On top of the hill, she had enough reception to reach the world. Her world was the blue coloured site – Facebook.
Though her first chat with, Adeniyi Olla had been short, it had also invigorated her with life. Her wistfulness melted at the wispy joy of meeting a pleasant stranger. She did not feel so well the next few days and so she did not leave the house. On her next appearance on Facebook, there had been a deluge of messages in her inbox. Three were from Deniyi. In the last one, he wrote:
I don’t know why you have chosen to ignore my messages but I trust that you’re well. If I said anything that was off the last time, I apologize. If you wouldn’t mind, please leave behind a number I can reach you on. I’ll understand if you don’t feel up to it.
His politesse, it touched her. She typed her cellphone number and clicked the send button. She waited a while but he did not reply. Then she descended the hilly road.
That night, he called. He carried on his sweetness and charm over from Facebook into the telephone conversation.
I hope this is a good time to call, he began after he had introduced himself. Sure it is, she replied, wedging the phone between her ear and her raised shoulder as she sat up. Work takes daytime from me, nights like this is when I have to fix my life, he explained.
The talk went on about their mutual friends, and how they never met even though they shared close friends. He talked about work and she about life in Mbaduku. He made her laugh so easily and he struck many familiar chords in her so that, at the end of the call, it felt refreshing she never wanted it to end. Afterwards, he called her at least once a day; and because he was easy to talk to, she found it easy to tell him everything about herself. His wisdom when he analyzed issues were profound. It was a rare kind of wisdom, the kind she didn’t find among many men. He talked like one who had seen the world. Sometimes, she doubted if truly he was just two years older than she was. It was on such strong yet easy note that their friendship began.
On the night when he told her about how he had been abused by his older female cousin, she felt deficient because all she could give to him (in return for his profound wisdom) were “awwh”s, plenty of them. When he was done, she could only sigh. Their friendship did not remain the same after that night; they had said all that there was to be said, it all felt like they had been friends since forever.
A few months later, he texted her to go on the hilly road to access a mail he had sent to her. The mail dropped. It read:
“You might want to see this: Glover Oil is recruiting.”
She clicked on the link.