He was sitting in the waiting room of the university clinic. Muna had never been in such a terrible fluster in his life. Although Nneka had entered the small, creaking door only two minutes before, he felt like he had been waiting for eternity. He kept looking at the clock on the wall in front of him, even though it did not work, the time had been quarter past eight since they walked into the clinic. They had already been to the clinic earlier to do some tests. And Nneka had been crying most of the time, which only heightened his anxiety. They were at the clinic again to get the results. It was a small, white building that looked like a box, with rusty and brown metal roof on West Campus. The first time he went to the clinic was during his medical screening, when he got admitted into the State University. He never imagined that he would visit the place again, especially not in the situation he now found himself.
He searched through his mind, asking himself, how many times they had done it without protection.
‘My God,’ he sighed quietly. He had lost count. His heart fell down to his stomach, then leapt up to his throat. He swallowed hard. He realised it actually had to take as many times as one time. He wished he had thought of it earlier.
Muna had met Nneka five months before, during the second semester of his freshman year. It was on a bus from West Campus to East Campus where he had an elective lecture. The drivers of the old Toyota Lit-Ace buses insisted on stuffing four passengers on seats meant to carry three passengers, in order to make extra cash. This made the rides uncomfortable and cramped. It was on one of such cramped rides across campus that they first met. Muna was the last passenger to get on the bus just moments after Nneka. He was sweaty from the kilometre walk, in the scorching heat of the sun, from his dorm to the bus stop. She hissed and gingerly tried to shift away from him when he sat next to her, even though there was hardly any space for her to move.
“H-hi,” he stammered, understanding her discomfort. She looked away, to the opposite direction with a blank expression on her face.
The ride was over in less than five minutes and she managed to bolt off the bus before Muna, who was closer to the door could get off. He gaped after her, mortified. Then he noticed the notebook next to him, where she had sat. ‘Nneka’ in a thin and delicate handwriting was written on it. He looked at the book, then to the direction she had dashed off to. For a moment he considered what to do next, whether to return the book or not. Finally, he picked if off the seat and got off the bus.
It was at least thirty minutes before his lecture, so he decided to go after her. She wore a flowery red top and a pair of blue jeans, he realised that was all he could remember about her. He sighed, then headed towards the direction she had gone, towards the Biology Department.
It was easy to pick out the ‘flowery red top’ out of the sea of white lab coats before him. She was chatting with a group of girls at the entrance to the Biology Students’ Park.
“Why does she have to be in the midst of so many girls?” Muna asked himself. His head went numb and he felt his knees go soft. He was a shy boy, especially around girls. He nervously edged closer to the group of chatty girls. She started walking, straight towards him, as if she could hear his thoughts and then coming to his rescue. Perhaps she saw her book in his hands.
“That is my book,” she said coldly.
“I know, y-you left it on the bus,” he stuttered.
“Well, are you going to give it to me or not? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“Oh, yes, sorry,” he said, handing the book over to her.
She turned and hurried back to her group of chatty friends.
“Thanks,” Muna said quietly. ‘Why did I even bother?’ he asked himself regrettably.
Later, that evening at the bus stop, Muna was waiting for a bus back to West Campus when someone spoke next to him.
“Thank you.” He turned towards the voice. It was Nneka. He just stared at her, wondering how to respond.
“Thank you for bringing back my book,” she continued. “I didn’t thank you earlier.”
“I regretted returning it, you know,” he said, feeling more confident.
“Yeah, yeah, I can imagine,” she stated honestly. “In my defence I missed a test this afternoon, and then as if that was not bad enough, I had to sit next to a sweaty boy on the bus,” she said crinkling her nose.
“Wow, really?” he asked sarcastically.
“Yeah, I guess.”
For the first time, since he first saw her that afternoon, he actually noticed her. She was a shapely beauty with round eyes, in a face that looked angelic, almost like a child’s. Albeit, she looked tired and her ‘flowery red top’ was quite wrinkled.
“You’ve not said sorry,” he finally said.
“For what?” she cried.
“For being rude na. Abi you can’t remember how you spoke to me?”
She smiled a little, revealing a dimple on one cheek. “Okay, okay. Sorry.”
He burst into a laugh and she joined him.
“Muna, that’s my name,” he said after they had stopped laughing.
“I know. It’s written on your book.”
Just then, the same bus they rode on that afternoon cruised to a stop before them. The ride back to West Campus was the beginning of something new. The beginning of riding together between both campuses and walking when the sun was not too hot. The beginning of having lunches together, taking evening walks and talking in parks. It was the beginning of an adventurous love story.
The love story which got them in ‘the situation’. Nneka was two weeks late, and that had never happened before. She came to his room the evening before and told him they needed to talk. This too, had never happened before.
“That can’t be right. Are you sure?” he queried, sounding a bit edgy.
“I don’t know. But I’ve never been this late before. I’m scared, with everything that we’ve been doing…I’m just scared.” She started to cry.
“Baby, hey, we are not sure yet. We’ll go to the clinic tomorrow for a test. Come on baby, it’s going to be alright.”
“Don’t baby me,” she snapped. “It’s not going to be alright. You’re not the one who’s pregnant.”
“Come on, don’t make it sound like that. You know I’m in this with you and I’m here for us, right?”
“That’s what you’ll say now, but you’ll deny it and deny me and run away as soon as it becomes too real for you to bear. I know how you boys are.” She continued to weep.
Muna, not knowing what to do or say, put consoling arms around her and tried to comfort her, while she wept on his chest.
That night, Muna could hardly sleep. He had walked Nneka back to her dorm a few hours earlier. It was a quiet walk. Neither of them could hide their worry and nothing he said to her could make her feel better. Alone in his room, he could not stop thinking about what would happen if it turned out that she was really pregnant; what was he going to do? Would he ask her to abort it? A lot of girls had been doing that lately. Could he? No, he would not ask her to abort it. He would let her make that decision. But what if she decides to keep it? How was he going to tell his parents? Oh God! His father, a conservative man, a respected elder in their church, would disown him, or even kill him with that double-barrelled gun he keeps in his closet. His father had threatened to use it on him once, when he was still in secondary school and was caught with a pornographic magazine. Could he face his father and break such news to him? How about his mother? She would shout and wail and get all the neighbours running to their house. She does that every time there is good or bad news. She would tell him how he wants to kill her before her time and ask him to tell whoever sent him that he did not find her. She would curse her enemies and tell them they would not succeed. His mother was always the overreacting one. She would compare him to his older brother who was schooling abroad on a scholarship, she would ask him why he could not learn from his brother and be a good son. But she would calm down afterwards, she is the one who always talked about how much she wanted grandchildren. She would not throw him out like his father would, but she would not hesitate to remind him about how much he had disgraced the family.
Was he ready to be a father? He was too young. How was he going to take care of Nneka and himself when his father threw him out? And the baby after it was born? Where would they live? How would he feed them? Would he quit school and get a job? How did he get here? No, he could not handle all these; maybe he would just deny it like Nneka said. That would mean denying her too, and he loved her. No, he could not do that to her. His chest felt heavy and tight, breathing seemed difficult. He had barely managed to fall asleep when the alarm on his cell phone rang, he started and woke up like from a bad dream. He wished it was all just a bad dream.
He had agreed to go to the clinic with Nneka in the morning. He did not want to go but she needed him and he did not want to prove her right. She would think he had run away.
Sitting in the waiting room, minutes seemed like hours. Muna wished Nneka would not come out of the small door, he wished reality would become a time loop, where she only walked into the small door but never came out. Continuously. Over and over and over again. For eternity. He wished they had been more careful, they should not have been so carried away. And they should not have been so caught in the moment. He wished that he had ignored her when she said ‘thank you’ that evening at the bus stop, that he had not returned her book that day five months ago, when she left it on the bus. Maybe they would not be here. Maybe he would not be here, in this clinic, in this situation.
He realized he hated the clinic. He hated waiting in it, he hated waiting in it over a year ago during his medical screening. He hated waiting in it now even more. He wished the ground would tear open under him and swallow him up, he thought that would be better than his father’s double-barrelled gun. Waiting in the clinic made him feel like he was being choked. He got up to go outside, maybe he would feel better. But Nneka finally came out of the small door, with a bland expression on her face and ran right past him, out of the clinic.
“That can’t be good,” he thought to himself then ran after her. She was crying when he finally caught up with her.
“What did the doctor say?” he asked breathlessly, his heart was pounding. “Are you really pregnant? Nneka, say something. Please.” He held her by the shoulders.
She only stared at him, like she could not find the words to speak. He wondered why she was not saying anything, why she was only looking at him. He believed now that she was pregnant. But he wanted to hear her say she was not pregnant. Waiting for her to say something was almost like waiting in the clinic. Everything suddenly went quiet, the only sounds he could hear were that of his pounding heart threatening to beat out of his chest, his and Nneka’s uneven breathing and the blood rushing into his head. Strangely, it felt like the calm before the storm.
Nneka was now looking into his eyes. A dimple suddenly appeared on one of her cheeks. She was smiling. And realisation finally dawned on him.