5. In Which I return to old haunts


My return to Benin was less about closure than reacquainting myself with the past all over again. As feared, there was an immediate fall out from the wedding – the next morning, Mother was at the door of the room I was sharing with the kid bro wanting to chat, and there could be no uncertainty about what her primary objective was. It was thus expedient to engineer a move away to the relatively low pressure of Aunt G’s back in Benin. I had an official reason for upping sticks and bailing – chasing up transcripts for the Welding Engineering PhD I may or may not require after all. The other unofficial reason was to catch up with Cousin E and her baby, Dara, the fifth and final member of the clan born since the last time I was out here.

 I find there is a spanking new park just outside the University’s main gate where all the buses plying the routes from town are required to offload their passengers. I don’t remember what used to be there, but right there now there is a row of shiny new shops offering everything from a cold drink to quick passports and internet access. There are Security men at the gate, armed with a baton and a metal detector. My satchel, slung casually across my neck isn’t unobtrusive enough to squeak through, and I have to submit to a check and a peek into my bag.

 I toy with the idea of jumping onto one of the buses plying the routes from the main gate to the various stops within, but I finally decide to walk to avoid the hassle of chasing change (I don’t know what the fares are anymore and I am light on small denominations). The walk to Exams and Records is short and quick, the only downside being that I end up in one puddle too many, ruining my shoes in the process. From afar I catch sight of the new bursary building, its façade and red signage furnished in the signature Zenith Bank style [it turned out that the building had indeed being paid for by Zenith Bank].

There is no one in the office I am meant to hand in my application fees to. A few metres away, a menagerie of people bedecked in sporting garb run aimlessly on the lawn. To my untrained eye, it looks too random to be anything but concerted play – Aunt G later confirms that there is some form of group exercise thing which certain departments have instituted. Just why, at the not exactly early time of 10.30am on a Wednesday, these exercises are still ongoing leaves me bemused. I eventually find someone to attend to me, and then proceed to complete the application process. Job done, I take a stroll down towards the engineering building via the main cafeteria.

The old main café was a big part of my life back in the day. Back then when I was fairly active on the campus fellowship scene, I attended twice a week there, and also read there. In my final year, I would eventually make the acquaintance of a petite, medical student E who would sometimes leave her books under my care whilst she dashed off on some jaunt or the other to her medical hostel lodgings. On this occasion I find its forecourt busy – there are cars parked around and one or two traders under the trees just in front of it, and various business centre lackeys trying to convince passers-by to stop over and use their photocopying machines. The one thing I am in desperate need of is the one they don’t have – an internet connection of any sort. The once bustling UB Technologies cafe within the building is under lock and key. I can only walk on, hoping I have merely chosen a bad day to try to surf the internet, and not that a perhaps iconic institution has gone under.

 The once familiar haunts of the Engineering building looked the same – well almost. The notice board looked a lot less bare than I remembered. Back in the day there was almost always a conference announcement or a notice to students or the other.The door leading to the dean’s office though has had an upgrade – burglary proof metal bars protect it, and a flashing blue sign above it show the way. Out front, where there used to be an eatery where we would go grab lunch in between classes, there was a new building with the sign internet café. It was unfortunately not in use – it was securely locked, and the padlocks looked like they hadn’t been disturbed in a while. There was also a new building next to it – some sort of hall with ‘ETF 2008 project’ emblazoned on it’s side.

My time on campus done, my final pit stop is at Aunt G’s. Her gateman, one that I do not recognise insists there is no one I know at home, and offers me a dirty, rain beaten bench for a seat till someone comes through. Thankfully Cousin E rescues me when I give her a phone call and find out she is actually at home after all. We catch up – her life back in Nigeria as a house officer in UBTH, juggling motherhood and her fledgling career, and navigating a marriage from across the sea. Glad for the help, she hands the kid over to me for some uncle-niece bonding.

Aunt G has aged since the last time I saw her – being a three time grandmother cannot have helped either. In agreeing to sleep over, I have gambled on her not having enough time to give me an earful. She had been a big fan of F from day zero, and I got an earful over the phone when she heard that we were history. This being the first time I am physically seeing her since then, I am braced for a barrage which never comes. She does ask though, and I give her my version of the story. Ageing seems to her mellowed her a wee bit. Papa G and I have a quick chat on his return, his own concern primarily being the future – a return to Nigeria, marriage and how my parent s are. It is almost 11pm when my various conversations wrap up. All in all it has been difficult territory navigated fairly safely, I think.

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