It was the year 2000 and I had graduated OND at the turn of the year. I was eighteen with the rest of my life ahead of me. But between me and that rest of my life stood a one-year internship before I could be eligible to apply for my HND.
For the two years I was in school, I was my own boss, staying out late if I wanted, doing my chores when I wanted, sleeping in on the weekends if I felt like. I only went home for the holidays, and because the time at home was short, my folks treated me a bit like an adult. I knew that would change if I was to ever stay home longer than a few weeks; I didn’t want it to change. Besides, adventure was calling my name and I was eager to answer.
I spoke with my siblings about a possible placement anywhere outside Lagos and my eldest sister mentioned a friend of hers who worked at an oil and gas servicing company in Warri.
All I heard was oil and gas and, like a grain of maize, the thought of how much money I could make dropped into my mind, took root and grew.
I packed my bags and bought a one-way bus ticket to Warri – I had a cousin there who worked as a teacher in the NNPC staff school.
I had never been to Warri, but her directions were easy to follow and soon I was at hers. Her younger brother, Jason, was there too – he was about my age and we got along well.
I spent my first week trying to establish contact with my sister’s friend. I finally got in touch with him and he fixed an appointment for the next week. It was a Friday, so I didn’t have long to wait.
I got home that afternoon excited. My life was going to take a turn for the better next week.
Jason was sitting outside since there was no power and inside the house was hot. I joined him and we talked about how our day went. We sat were sitting there when his sister returned from work, and we were still sitting there when two girls walked past.
One was dark and slim with braids that flowed down her back. The other was fair-skinned, a plump with low-cut hair. They both wore jeans and t-shirts.
I followed them with my eyes until they rounded the bend in the road.
“You look like you would have liked to follow them.” Jason teased.
“If I wanted, I could have walked up to them.” I bragged.
That was when my cousin bet me I couldn’t find out their names.
I took off in a jog in the direction I they disappeared and I soon saw them in the distance.
“Excuse me,” I pulled up a few feet from them, my breathing exaggerated.
They kept on walking.
“Excuse me,” I called after them again. This time they stopped.
“Good evening ladies, I was wondering if you can help me win a bet.”
They looked at each other and then back at me.
I explained to them about my cousin, my heart beating fast.
“Does this actually work?” The dark one asked.
“What do you mean? I’ve never done this before.”
“I’m Ogo, and she’s Muna.” The plump one said.
“Thank you very much,” I said and turned to leave.
“Is that all? How will your cousin believe you didn’t just make up the names?” Muna asked.
I hadn’t thought about that.
“Whether he believes or not doesn’t matter.” I said. “But he has to accept it since he didn’t come along with me.”
“I could give you our phone number, but our parents don’t like us talking to boys.” Muna said.
“That’s okay. Thank you very much.” I sprinted back to where Jason was, grinning.
Two weeks later I ran into Muna at the estate gate. It was midday.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey,” she had a confused look on her face.
“I’m Bobo, we met a week or so ago when I asked for your name…”
“I remember you,” she smiled. “What kind of name is Bobo?”
“It started of as my pet name, and wound up one of my official names.” My parents didn’t christen me until I was three months old, and while waiting to be named, family took to calling me Bomboy, Boy, Bobo – it would have been Baby if I were a girl – my father preferred Bobo, so I was Bobo.
“Which way are you going?” I asked her.
I fell in step with her and we talked as I walked her home. When we got to the place where I caught up with them the other evening, she told me she was fine from that point.
I enjoyed my walk with her and, as I retraced my steps home, could not remember what we talked about, just how talking with her made me feel.
I started visiting the estate gate around the same time everyday in the hope that I would see her again.
I was lost in thought one afternoon, walking in the estate when the honking of a car horn made me jump.
I turned to give the driver of the blue Peugeot 504 saloon car a piece of my mind when I saw it was Ogo at the wheels, and Muna beside her.
She pulled up next to me and I leaned in to say hi.
“You want to give me a heart attack?”
“Sorry,” Ogo said. “I’m just learning to drive and I horn to get people out of my way.”
“You stalking me or something?” I nodded in Muna’s direction.
“What! You manage to turn up everywhere I go, but no, I’m the one stalking you?”
“What are you doing this evening?” I asked her.
“Staying home with my family. Why?”
“I was hoping we could see…” I faltered.
“See that tree there?” she pointed to a tree in the distance. “Meet me there around 6.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had a goofy smile on my face when I got home and my cousin asked me about it.
“Nothing.” I said.
We met up that evening by the tree and took a long leisurely stroll cutting across deserted streets, side streets I hadn’t explored, and ended up at the primary school.
We sat in the gathering dusk listening to insects screech, slapping arms and stomping feet when they settled on us.
I learned she was the first of three children – Ogo second and there’s a boy. She was sixteen and awaiting admission into University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study medicine.
She told me of her likes and pet peeves, hopes and dreams. I listened, sometimes sitting on a desk, sometimes pacing, and I told her little about myself.
We had these meetings a few times a week. We walked, talked, sat in the school yard and watched fireflies flit from clump of grass to clump of grass, the first stars come out. We swapped novels – we both loved to read.
I enjoyed the time we spent together, but something bothered me: I still didn’t know where she lived. I decided to find out.
On the block where my cousin stayed was a family with two teenage sons. Jason and I spent most of the day while their father was away at work playing games with them I they had a Sega Mega drive game console – I preferred SNES – and we mostly played football. They also had a phone and a directory of everyone living in the estate.
I described Muna and Ogo and they knew them. Why I didn’t think to ask them earlier I would never know.
We searched for her family in the directory and got an extension number which I called.
I waited with my heart beating very fast while the phone rang. I thought of many ways to open conversation, react to her surprise when she eventually picked.
I clutched the handle between my neck and shoulder to wipe my palms which were slippery from sweat.
I almost dropped the phone.
“Hello, who’s on the line?”
“Good afternoon, may I be on to Muna please.”
“Who is this?”
“My name is Bobo.”
“This is Muna’s mother…”
“Good afternoon ma!”
“…and I do not appreciate you calling my house…”
“…I will hang up now and you will never call my house again.”
“Is that clear?”
She hung up.
That was the last time I tried to reach Muna. I didn’t want to get her into further trouble with her mom.
I didn’t hear from my sister’s friend again, but that Sunday at Mass I ran into a family friend from Lagos. She asked what I was doing in Warri and when I told her she invited me to meet her brother-in-law; he worked with Shell Petroleum DC.
He got me an interview with a phone call. One week later I started my internship. Within two months I was moved to a rig in the swamps of Bayelsa. I thought of Muna often during those months, then I lost my virginity to one of the women who built their camp on the banks of the creeks. Time passed and I returned to school, fell in and out of loves.
Now, sixteen years later Muna may be standing between me and a job.