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Teslim wore the mask of a smile. But Jordan still never saw the face behind the facade.
It was a cool Friday morning, nine days after the forty day ultimatum was set out by Khalid.
The gang had got just thirty one days left until the mission deadline.
All hands had to be on deck right on. With eyes zoomed in on the D-day and minds mastering calculated steps towards the goal.
‘So, I’ve to admit I’m sitting with the second place winner of that national poetry contest of two weeks ago!’
Teslim’s small, round face shone like the radiant morning sun when he spoke. It was just as though he was really pleased the way he was radiant with smiles.
The twenty five year old had arranged a meeting over a meal with Jordan Samuel.
The two guys were sitting over a lunch table of two plates of fried rice capped with grilled halved chicken each. A bottle of Malta Guinness each accompanied their dish.
It was at an A grade restaurant on Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital they’d met. The prestigious University teaching hospital sat in the northwestern Nigeria city of Zaria.
Jordan had just finished his final papers and viva in med school a couple of weeks back.
He burst into a hearty laughter while he took his meal. ‘C’mon, what’s the big deal,’ he snapped in a small joke, brushing off Teslim’s hand with his arm in a gentle, little tug.
Jordan was twenty four that year. He’d been residing in the northwest with his mother since when he was in high school.
Eight years earlier, his father had transferred as a professor of medicine from ABU Teaching Hospital, Zaria; and to an administrative position at UA Teaching Hospital, Ankara.
His mother owned a big transport business headquartered in Zaria; and so, she wouldn’t tail behind her husband when he moved.
Neither of their two teenage children at the time moved, too: neither Jordan nor his little sister.
But Jordan now desired to run his one year internship program at UA Teaching Hospital, where his dad worked. In the southwestern Nigeria city of Ankara.
But he’d even go spend his vacation with his dad soon enough. And before the medical internship training.
Jordan was much of a reserved kid. He didn’t talk unless he was spoken to. And he usually only responded when he felt comfortable with the person talking to him.
Like he somehow was with Teslim now.
And, Teslim. Well, he graduated from the University of Ilorin with a second class honours in the upper division.
He studied Performing Arts at the University.
The best parameter for excellence in his Department hadn’t been mere academic grades, though. It rather was the versatility of the student in a specialised theatrical vocation.
Teslim, interestingly, was one of the very best theatre directors on campus when he was an undergraduate.
As a final year student, he was the principal director of a record breaking two hundred cast theatre show.
The ground breaking feat had earned him fame on the University campus. As well as the respect of his lecturers.
Teslim’s name simply became a song on the lips of students on campus. Students who either watched or heard about the grand stage event.
It was Khalid who singlehandedly sponsored Teslim’s project play. That was when his Department’s theatre company initially turned down his proposal.
His Department had been sceptical about the practicability of his idea. But it was a dreamer like himself Teslim met in Khalid.
Someone who’d believe in what was thought impossible. Someone who’d take a dare.
Teslim got in contact with Khalid in town when he went with his first girlfriend for a pottery workshop at Khalid’s studio.
His then girlfriend specialised in ceramics in college.
Teslim had since sworn to live his life for Khalid. For he’d funded his big idea when he lacked aid.
So, he’d wanted to work for Khalid when he graduated from the University. But Khalid didn’t let him.
He didn’t want to own his life.
Khalid consequently freed him to go live his dream in the film industry.
And with an added clause.
That Teslim would be available for him every time a need arose.
And here was one. One hell of a need.
Jordan and Teslim had been chatting on Facebook Messenger for about a week already.
Teslim had sent a friend’s request to Jordan on Facebook. He’d accompanied it with a message of how much he’d read and loved his poems.
The message did have an honest feel. One that could make the reader want to picture what a real supporter wrote those lines. Those irresistible lines.
Jordan was pleased to accept Teslim’s friend’s request.
Teslim had struck off intelligent chats with Jordan just as soon, and which got friendlier by the day.
Teslim met Jordan’s last statement with a genial smile. ‘OK, I quit.’ He took a spoon of rice and followed it with a little sip of malt.
A chuckle bubbled in Jordan’s cheeks, and then he scrambled his plate with his fork absentmindedly.
‘I didn’t think someone would even think of my name with regards to the poetry contest. I was second place after all.’
Teslim was frozen half a moment. ‘Oh why? Don’t lemme think you don’t believe in your skill yourself? You do, don’t you?’
Jordan smiled. He dropped his fork against the gold rimmed enamel white dish, the tiny clatter that followed mildly accentuating the moment’s pause.
He took a serviette paper and raised a chicken lap to his mouth.
He decided to explain it better, or perhaps explain it away—before he took a bite.
‘The case isn’t that I don’t believe in me but the guy that won the first place markedly dwarfed everyone else.
‘Well, when I see those who are just good, I know. Trust me, that guy’s just so, so great! I wish to God we’re friends.’
He took a long bite and filled up his mouth. He dabbed his lips with a piece of serviette afterwards.
Teslim dropped his fork and knife. ‘Then if you want so bad to be friends, why can’t you chat him up on Facebook or something?’
His eyes widened in a brief moment. Like they would leap out from their sockets in some sudden haste.
There was a certain curious, urgent look in those dark, bold eyes. But one that was so sudden and short lived that it escaped Jordan’s ever so suspecting eye.
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Jordan smiled. ‘Oh I have, but he’s rarely online. He rarely posts on Facebook; he hasn’t replied my messages, too.
‘Gosh, I can just imagine him and me collaborating on a poetry performance project someday! Wouldn’t that be just darn right cool?’ He picked up his glass.
Teslim waved a hand in a brisk sweep. ‘C’mon, you’re the best, second to none. He won because he’s got passion for the contest’s subject, not merely because he’s got something for poetry.’
Jordan halted his raised glass half way into his mouth. ‘How d’ you mean?’
Teslim was ready to throw some light. ‘The subject was terrorism, right? And you mostly write on love, don’t you?
‘So I think you injected your love idealism into the terrorism subject. But you know that’s not what the country needs.
‘The country needs to fight terrorism. And fighting, you know, is no love affair!’
Jordan nodded. ‘Hmm, I see.’ He took a sip from his cold glass to cool off.
Teslim went on. ‘Kelvin Babalola, on the other hand, is a realist. He rarely writes on love. He writes about socio-political realities.
‘He isn’t emotionally attached to anyone for now; so what he did was pour out his loneliness and loveless-ness into the anti-terrorism poem.
‘And what did we have? His poetry performance not only won him the prize, but also luckily gave him some deal of fame.
‘He’s all over the country now.’
Jordan peered through the restaurant’s glass wall. He spotted a billboard on the street bearing Kelvin’s picture alongside a set of punch lines from his poetry performance at the contest.
He held out his forefinger. ‘Look at him here too,’ he noted in a small, hushed voice.
He looked on and scrambled his plate with his fork once again.
His widened eyes stared at Kelvin’s picture on the billboard. The photo was shot from his live performance If I was a Terrorist, at the contest’s grand finale.
It was as though the picture had come alive and had embodied Kelvin.
Kelvin stood against the mic stand under a spotlight that highlighted him against a darker backdrop of heavy drapes.
The metal buckles and buttons of his khaki costume dazzled in the stage lights. His both hands were spread a little apart and raised high above his head with clenched fists.
His lips seemed to have been voicing a loud epic roar in that moment of the camera’s capture.
For a moment, Jordan psychorealised Kelvin via the artistic picture of him on his first prize stage. He re-imagined himself on the stage that day as Kelvin winning the first place.
His eyes slowly drifted to the punch lines from Kelvin’s poem. It was as if he was in fact hearing himself perform those lines. As if he’d written them, in fact.
You hear the crying echoes
and screaming silence from Chibok, and
Dapchi, and Sambisa…
And you remember Goliath, Osama, Abacha:
Dragongods fall by the sword of the terrorised nation!
His eyes drifted off once more. This time to space, lost in the moment’s sentiment.
He muttered to himself. ‘If I was Kelvin Babalola… if I ever was like Kelvin Babalola!
‘I’ll take performance poetry in English beyond elite communities. I’ll make it widely received and appreciated at the grassroots.’
He simply psychorealised the whole billboard piece in a peculiar manner.
Teslim made a slight, little grunt. And then he sipped his drink.
The moment’s silence that followed made the words Teslim said a while ago ride on the blowing breeze back into Jordan’s mind.
So he confronted him; his young, slim face a little serious.
‘You earlier said Kelvin Babalola isn’t emotionally attached to anyone presently. How would you know that by the way?’
Teslim raised his head. His lips twitched. He brushed them slightly with a hankie, as if to spank them little.
He sat upright and placed a hand to cap a knee, following this with one or two gentle finger taps on his knee. He cleared his throat briskly.
His face brightened up in a little smile. ‘It’s easy to see that, isn’t it? I’m a lover of poetry.
‘I followed the poetry contest from the beginning to the end, and during the while I chose my favourites among the contestants.
‘I found out Kelvin Babalola is single by reading his post updates on Facebook. I also follow him on Twitter. It’s just obvious he’s single.’
Jordan took a breath. ‘I see…’
Teslim was following Kelvin Babalola on Facebook and on Twitter, he thought.
Jordan hadn’t find Kelvin posting anything personal on Facebook or Twitter. Kelvin only posted about poetry and that alone.
How, then, did the stranger know Kelvin was single just from his post updates?
He kept his thoughts to himself though. He didn’t ask about them.
Silence passed between them as much as the breezes passed. Both guys bowed their heads and picked at their meal.
Teslim raised his head, a little grin on his face. ‘It seems you have a real good heart. Don’t you feel jealous of Kelvin?’
Jordan laughed. ‘You’re funny! I don’t have any reason to envy the guy or maybe be jealous of him. I’m doing well, too.
‘I can now have the poetry performance project I’ve been planning for a long time now. I’m beginning to give back to my parents.
‘Guys look up to me here like a campus celebrity cos I’m beginning to get somehow famous. Everything in my life’s great so far.
‘Besides, I’ve got my inspiration with me still.’
Teslim would rather acquiesce softly to disperse the thickening mist of suspicion. ‘You’re right. What more can a student ask of life, really? You have it all, I agree.’
He took a few spoons from his dish and was at it again in a moment. ‘So, let’s talk about your inspiration. What is your inspiration?’
Jordan took a sip from his drink. ‘The medical field is, especially the operating theatre. I just completed my undergraduate medical studies, but I’ve been immersed in my dad’s surgical practice way back into my pre-med years.
‘I’m especially fascinated with surgical procedures and can successfully conduct minor procedures like the appendectomy where we remove the appendix.’
A slight smile highlighted the corners of Teslim’s lips. ‘Oh, no wonder! Your poems are filled with surgical imagery—scalpels reimagined as daggers, zombies reimagined as cadavers.’
Jordan laughed aloud; he was pretty at ease with this young man. Teslim joined in the hysteria.
‘Wow! So, you read me that much!’
‘C’mon man, I told you I like what you write!’
Jordan beamed. ‘Oh thanks!’
Teslim smiled too. ‘You always welcome, man.’
They took a few more spoons.
Teslim spoke first. ‘So your dad is a doctor? He works here too?’
Jordan wanted speak but a lump of food was just going down his throat. He motioned food was in his mouth.
‘Oh sorry,’ Teslim said.
Jordan pushed down his swallow with a drink and replied. ‘Yeah, he’s a consultant and administrator in medicine. But he doesn’t work here.’
‘Oh! He works abroad or something?’
‘No, he works and lives here in Nigeria; but not here in the North. He works in the Southwest—precisely at the University of Ankara Teaching Hospital in Ankara.’
Teslim had a big smile. ‘Wow, you’re one blessed chap! UA Teaching Hospital is like John Hopkins’. So, you must’ve have been thinking of working close to him someday, right?’
Jordan smiled. ‘I’m planning too. I’d be having my one year internship at the teaching hospital there soon.
‘But in the meantime, I’m travelling over tomorrow to spend my after-college period with him.’
‘Oh that soon! The son must’ve missed his dad so much!’ Teslim chortled.
‘You can say that again.’
Teslim laughed. ‘Oh that’s expected! If I were you, I’ll fly home down right now!’
Jordan joined in the laugh. ‘Oh now you’re teasing me! And for your information, this is home.
‘Mother, kid sister and me lives here after all. Only the old man had chosen to transfer… transport… or teleport himself southwest. So, see? I’m not travelling home.’
Teslim squinted. ‘I see.’ He brightened up with a chuckle. ‘In any case, home’s where the heart is. And it’s obvious your heart is in Ankara! Aren’t I telling the fact, man?’
Jordan had a shy grin. ‘OK, I quit. You win.’
Teslim just gazed at him for a time. Jordan couldn’t take the stare. ‘What?’ he chuckled.
Teslim’s face bore some eager eyes. ‘I hope we get to see again,’ he said in a matter-of-fact manner.
‘Cos I do frequent the University of Ankara lately,’ he added softly, accentuating his words with a light smile.
‘I hope our paths cross, too,’ Jordan replied.
Teslim shook his head. ‘Nah, we’ll definitely see.’
Jordan’s lips curved up with an expectant smile.
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Copyright © 2019 by Kayode Olla