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Jameelah stared awfully at her test script. At the same time, she hissed intermittently. Her eyes blinked rapidly as she continued to stare at the ridiculous 02 that was written on her script. The script in her hand was plastered with the wrong signs and this broke her heart as she stared at it.

No one could describe her as a dull student, far from it. But it seemed the Engineering borrowed courses they were made to do, did a disservice to her brain. Or was it her brain that didn’t welcome the Engineering courses? Anyway, the courses were a pain in her neck. No matter how much she tried to understand them, they turned out to be an ununderstood mystery. 

Jameelah was studying Food Science Technology and the major courses they would offer during their second year were Engineering courses. The courses seemed alien to her scope of knowledge and she wasn’t doing well in them at all. 

Another thing that could be said to have contributed to her failure was her busy schedules; the busy schedule of fending for herself. Before she gained admission into a higher institution, her mother, the only person who stood as her helper, promised to see her through school. Unfortunately, her mother could not fulfil this promise as the cold hands of death snatched her away during the second semester of Jameelah’s first year. 

Left alone in the world without a helper, Jameelah had no choice but to assume the responsibility of fending for herself. The money that was contributed by family and friends during her mother’s burial was greatly ruminated upon. By the end of the long holiday that opened the door of the beginning of another session, her decision on the money had ripen into beautiful fruits. One of her aunts took her to Idumota market to buy underwear for both sexes meant to be sold in school and the produce would cater for her feeding, school fees and house rents. 

This new role gave her less study time. As soon as school resumed, she went from lecture halls to lecture halls, hostels to hostels, advertising her wares and persuading her schoolmates to buy from her. She would even play on their emotions and compassion with the lines: “Please buy from me, o. Assist an orphan to pay her school fees, feed and pay rents.” This worked on her colleagues and most of them patronised her. She became lost in her struggle for survival so much that her school work was affected.

With less time or no time to study at all, she did her first semester tests and the results came back without cheating her. As the way you pose for a photo is the way it will come out. 

That day, her coursemate, Omolara, who was sitting next to her was smiling as she held her own test script.

Omolara was a brilliant student known to always excel in tests and exams but she would never teach her classmates no matter what. Though they were not close pals, Jameelah and Omolara often shared seats in class. Despite this, Omolara would not teach her the courses she didn’t understand and Jameelah, in a bid to keep her pride, would not beg her to teach her either. She would just study on her own and rely on God for help. 

The other students gave Omolara the nickname: ‘Knowledge Miser.’ She preferred to pass alone. After all, the dullness of anyone wasn’t her fault so she thought she owed them nothing. 

As they sat beside each other on this day in which their scripts were given to them, the two colleagues both had different emotions and expressions as they beheld the result of the first semester year 2 test.

Jameelah couldn’t stop lamenting. 

“How can the lecturer give me 02/20? Is it that I didn’t write anything?” She lamented but Omolara, who was immersed in the euphoria of her own victory, ignored her lamentations. 

She didn’t care if anyone failed as long as she passed. Jameelah hissed and got up suddenly.

“Where are you going?” Omolara asked her.

“I’m going home. One of my customers is coming to my house to pick a bra …..”

“Really?” Omolara marvelled. “Is that why you won’t wait for the remaining lectures? Which is more important? Selling or studying?”

“Try and walk in my shoes, you’d know both are important in the same proportion …”

“Abegii! I can’t walk in your shoes. You’re the one who should remove the nonsense shoes that you’re wearing. No wonder you got 02 over 20. When you have misplaced your priorities …”

“Mtcheww!” Jameelah hissed loudly and shook her head at the same time. “I don’t blame you. I suppose you have parents who send you money and pay your school fees. So you don’t know what it means to be a self-sponsored student. And on top of that, you don’t look upon others with mercy and consideration. If you can’t help me, don’t add to my pain, please!” She replied and walked away.

Omolara raised her nose at her. 

“Help you for what? Am I the cause of your problem? Nonsense!” She hissed.

Jameelah left the class and proceeded to board a vehicle home. On her way, she ran into one of the non academic staff of the school. That particular staff assisted her when her admission almost flopped. Mr Ajibade didn’t know her from Adam. He just assisted a helpless student who was about to be sent back home. 

“Good afternoon, sir,” Jameelah greeted him.

“Good afternoon, my dear. How are you?” Mr Ajibade replied with smiles.

“I’m fine, sir,” she responded dully.

“But this your face is not fine, o. What is the matter?” The man probed her.

“I failed my tests,” she mumbled.

“That’s bad! How come? You’re not dull!” Mr Ajibade was surprised and Jameelah was silent, slightly ashamed of herself. 

Mr Ajibade knew she was sponsoring herself since the demise of her mother but he refused to cut her some slack. In his opinion, nothing should jeopardise her studies.

“You seriously need to do better,” his advice pierced her heart.

“I’ll try. Thank you, sir,” she replied and Mr Ajibade nodded his head dismissively. 

Jameelah thanked him again and was walking away when Mr Ajibade called her back.

“Yes, sir,” she replied as she turned back.

“What exactly is giving you problems?”

“The Engineering courses, sir,” her response came sharply without blabbing.

“I see,” he replied softly then went into a moment of reflection after which he gave a sharp response. “Yes, Ridwan can help you!”

“Who’s Ridwan, sir,” she replied.

“Didn’t you say your problem is the Engineering courses?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

“Then Ridwan is the only person that comes to my mind. He’s a year 4 Engineering student. Just tell him you’re referred from Mr Ajibade for coaching.”

“Awwwwwwwww!” She held her chest as she swooned emotionally. “Thank you so much, sir,” she beamed with smiles. “How can I locate him?”

“Where do you live?” He asked her.

“West-End, sir!”

“Good! I think he also lives in West-End. I’ll give you his number. When you call him, tell him you’re from me, okay!”

“Yes, sir. Thank you so much, sir. I really appreciate this kind gesture. I’ll never forget it,” her happiness knew no bounds.

Mr Ajibade dismissed her again. And instead of going home, she returned to class to attend the remaining lectures of the day. She thought her customer could always get her stuff some other time. Her academic success must be held above anything. 

After lectures, she didn’t waste any time. Even though she thought that her academic success was more important, she couldn’t overlook her survival as well. If she didn’t sell, there was no way she could remain in school. 

Her legs walked briskly to board a vehicle home. And by the time she got home, her customer was already waiting for her. She rented a single room in a face-to-face apartment; one she could sustain the payment.

“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting,” she apologised.

“Not at all. It’s not even been 3 minutes since I got here.”

“Oh, really! That’s a huge relief. Will you come in?”

“Yes, let me come in and see if I’d see other things to buy,” the customer replied and Jameelah led her into the house with eyes emitting radiation of beautiful smiles.

The customer ended up buying plenty of things and she was extremely delighted. Quickly, she warmed what remained from breakfast and ate it in a hurry. She would call the so-called Ridwan after her meal.

After eating, she called Ridwan and surprisingly, his house was just a street away from hers. She quickly changed her dress and off she went to locate the place.

The house was a gated house. It was obvious from the entrance that it was a student populated house. The gate was not locked and she didn’t bother to knock. She just entered and upon entering, the noise coming from one of the apartments almost sent her back. 

Her steps were halted due to the noise. She could grasp from the noise that the people arguing were males. And she could also hear them audibly. It seemed they were fighting because of bills.

Suddenly, two men trooped out of the apartment angrily and continued arguing outside. Jameelah watched as they argued.

“You have to leave this house. You just have to leave. Your irresponsibility is becoming increasingly unbearable,” the first man said loudly to the second man who also raised his voice.

“I’m not going anywhere! I’m not going anywhere!” He repeated.

“Don’t worry, we’ll throw out your things if you refuse to leave!” The first man replied and at this juncture, it seemed the threat to be thrown out got to the second man and his voice changed from violent to mild. 

He began to beg. 

“Please don’t throw out my things. You should understand that I’m broke and that’s why ….”

“Don’t even come again with the excuse of being broke!” The first man charged at him. “You’re always complaining of being broke which makes you evade your own part of bills. Pay for foodstuff, you’re broke. Pay maintenance fee, you’re broke, yet you eat free food everyday, ain’t you ashamed of yourself? Pay your own part of the house rent, you’re broke. But you change your wardrobe every now and then. If you’re truly broke, then you shouldn’t be changing your wardrobe. Man, you’re now casted. You want to be living off us and be using your own money to do fine boy. It’s not possible. You need to pay your own part of the rent or LEAVE this house!” The first man ruled and then walked out of the gate angrily.

The second man heaved a deep sigh, pitifully looking like someone who had been wronged. 

Jameelah watched as the drama unfolded. After the first man had walked out of the house, she walked slowly to meet the second man where he was standing like Alaanu-Samaria.

“Good afternoon,” Jameelah greeted him softly.

“Good afternoon,” he replied calmly to Jameelah’s greeting which surprised her. She thought he’d snapped at her.

“Ermmmm … please, I’m here to see Ridwan,” she told him.

“I’m Ridwan. How may I help you?” He replied. 

“Oh, I’m glad. Ermmmm … I’m directed to you by Mr Ajibade who works at the office of the school registrar …”

“Yes! Did he ask you to give me money?” He asked jokingly with a smile.

“No,” she shook her head, also smiling. “I’m from the department of Food Science Technology. I’m having problems with Engineering courses and he asked me to seek your assistance …”

“Really? Well, he’s like a brother to me because we’re from the same village though not related. I can’t turn down his referral but my services are not free …” he shrugged and Jameelah was quiet, her heart beating rapidly inside her chest. 

Apparently, she didn’t have money to spare for extra coaching. She had thought Ridwan’s assistance would come freely for God’s sake but how wrong she was.

“I … I … don’t have money. I’m a struggling self-sponsored student …”

“Well, I’m a struggling student too. We’re not different. But you don’t necessarily have to pay with cash ..”

“Really?” Her face was smitten with hope.

“Yes. You can offer me breakfast, lunch and dinner in compensation for my intellectual efforts. It seems my roommates are tired of helping a poor colleague,” he shrugged.

Jameelah was quiet for a few seconds. She thought of how to pull through. It wasn’t easy to feed her own mouth. Not to talk of an additional mouth. But after some weighing, she thought she needed to excel and agreed to feed him in exchange for his knowledge.

And so they started. She would cook for two and serve his own in her food flask to be taken to his house before she went to school. In the afternoon, she would cook and serve him. The lessons usually happened in the afternoon. And after the lessons, she would return home and make dinner for two and also take his own to him since their houses were a stone’s throw from each other. 

In fairness, his efforts merited the food he was getting for free. His explanations sank into her brain like sinking objects sink in water. He appeared to be a rare genius and her heart began to adore him. 

Most of the time she went to his house for coaching, he and his two roommates usually locked horns over payment of bills. Jameelah asked why his roommates always complained about him. She asked why he had the habit of evading bills and he responded that he didn’t have the means. He painted his roommates to be devils who were never willing to understand his plight and Jameelah was full of pity for him. She thought his roommates were actually bad for treating him harshly when they knew that he was incapacitated. In her heart, she despised Ridwan’s roommates and had a bad impression about them. 

Little did she know that Ridwan wasn’t really incapacitated as he painted himself to be. He was just a freeloader who took advantage of others’ generosity without giving anything in return. He enjoyed receiving and never willing to give anything back. He hoarded his own things and used other people’s things.

Though he was an orphan like Jameelah, the difference between them was that, unlike Jameelah who had to fend for herself because she had no helper, Ridwan had older ones who were responsible for his upkeep. He was the fifth of six children. His four older siblings took it upon themselves to join hands together in order to see him through school. They contributed to pay his school fees. They joined hands to feed him and pay his rent. He might not have much but he didn’t lack anything. But the freeloading habit had become his second nature. He would spend his own money on clothes and other personal stuff and eat from his roommates. 

Whenever it was time to pay rent or contribute money for house maintenance, Ridwan would always come up with excuses to evade the payment. His two roommates practically fed him and housed him because the only rent he paid was the first year rent. 

They overlooked his freeloading character and bought the lies of being broke that he fed them with. But when they realised that he was shining like a diamond and changing clothes and shoes like a baby diaper, it dawned on them that he was deliberately living off them and they began to wage war against him. He turned them to villains who were not willing to understand his plight. His roommates decided to stop feeding him and even throw him out. And fortunately for him, that was the time Jameelah came along. She began to feed him and he ‘bullshitt’ his friends’ food; in a good riddance to bad rubbish manner. 

He painted his friends negatively to Jameelah to arouse her pity and sympathy. It worked because she ended up hating his friends for daring to maltreat him instead of assisting him.

Ridwan coached her thoroughly, paying attention to every detail and in return, Jameelah continued to give him food. After sometime, he demanded to be given men underwear from her wares and she couldn’t turn him down.

The first semester exams came and went and the results justified his efforts. She passed excellently, smashing all the Engineering courses that were initially giving her problems. Her success made her heart more fond of Ridwan. And even before he asked her out, she had already fallen head over heels in love with him and couldn’t say no. (A Girlfriend/boyfriend relationship is haram in Islam. I hope you know, thanks)

The two began dating and by the end of Jameelah’s year 2 which was Ridwan’s year 4, they had become so deep in their relationship and also inseparable.

Jameelah was now free from Engineering courses as she would not offer them in year 3 and subsequent years. This meant that she no longer needed Ridwan’s academic assistance but their relationship was now more than the academic assistance so they couldn’t drift apart.

Despite not coaching her again, Jameelah continued to feed him and even clothe him from the produce of her wares. By this time, she no longer considered feeding a grown man a big deal. She only thought she was being helpful to someone who was less privileged. 

They continued their relationship and they became the cynosure of all eyes. In fact, Jameelah gave him money to pay for the house maintenance fee and house rent requested from him by his friends. His friends knew Jameelah was sitting on a time bomb but who would convince her to leave him? She was already senselessly in love. She always heard that no one is perfect. So, she decided to overlook what she considered as his imperfection and shortcoming.  After all, he was nice and kind to her. He was equally compassionate. Therefore, that particular habit was not a big deal, she thought. 

Days passed and Ridwan completed his five years Engineering course and graduated. By this time, Jameelah was in 400 level, he went for the one year compulsory service to his fatherland and this didn’t affect their relationship. Even while they were no longer in the same place, she still sent him money on a regular basis. Her brain was so dead-in-love to the point where she didn’t deem it fit to ask what he used his monthly allowance for as a corp member. Ridwan was so enjoying her generosity or better put, naivety, which was fuelling his freeloading habit without questions. 

Months rolled into years and Jameelah also completed her five years course. By this time, they were already talking about marriage. He wanted the marriage to happen before she went for service.

He graduated two years ahead of her but he’d not found a job. He told her he was helping his brother in his electronic shop pending the time he’d see a good job. She understood because she loved him. Where there’s love, nothing else should matter. In fact, joblessness doesn’t matter, was her belief. 

She took him to her family and he was accepted. She had no parents to really scrutinise him. Unfortunately, in the absence of her parents, what her other family members were concerned about was picking aso-ebi for the wedding as that in itself was business. So, no one really truly cared if the husband-to-be was worth the journey of forever.

Similarly, Jameelah herself didn’t realise that a freeloader is the younger brother of a gigolo. Or better put, a freeloader might advance to become a gigolo. 

To be continued. 

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