He watched his mother as she adjusted his tie for the millionth time since they got here. This time, her eyes welled up with tears and if he was not standing so close to her, his ear would not have caught the ‘I am so proud of you’ that tumbled out of her mouth. ‘Trust Mummy to make this a soap opera moment’, he thought to himself. But then again, to be fair, this was worth a soap opera moment. Her only son was graduating today!
‘Yo KB!’ He turned towards the sound of the familiar voice. His best friend Kwesi Yorke, who had convinced every girl he knew to spell the Kwesi as Quayci, was walking towards them, with a lopsided smile on his face. Kwesi bent over to hug Auntie Marilyn, who by this time had recovered from her soap opera moment, and handed him a copy of the graduation brochure.
He turned to the list of graduating students and searched until he found his name: Daniel Kobina Kwarteng. The only person who called him this was his mother whenever he had done something wrong, like left the taps running or left home without making his bed. There were other variations to the name, depending on who you were and under which circumstances you had met him- Daniel (if you knew him from primary school), DKK (if you went to secondary school with him), Kobby (if you were a pretty girl he wanted to impress) and KB (if you were Kwesi or any of the other boys he watched football with).
Kobby was graduating with a Second Class Upper. He had missed First Class by 0.03, but he wasn’t too bummed about it. He had not inherited his mother’s soap opera gene, he was like his father- strong and practical. And he was sure his father would have been proud of him if he were alive. He had had a full education- he was an usher for his campus fellowship, he was active in the Economics Students Association and he was on the University cricket team. He had made many friends and acquaintances from all these associations. A lot of these friendships were because of Kwesi. Kobby was never the one to initiate a conversation unless he absolutely had to. Kwesi was the ladies’ man, the go to guy for anything you could think of- laptops, clothes, birthday present ideas, phone numbers, literally anything!
Kobby walked on, hand in hand with his mother past Kwesi who had stopped once again to take a picture with yet another pretty girl. At this rate, Instagram was going to be plagued with pictures of him and every single girl who was graduating today. They made their way through the throng of people who were gathered at the entrance to the hall. There was noise everywhere, camera shutter sounds here, cat calls there. People were congratulating one another, making use of these last moments to take that number, embrace that friend and take one last group picture. It was graduation day- the long anticipated day had come.
His mother had spotted Kwesi’s mother and had found a seat beside her. She waved him away, assuring him that she was ok. He sauntered towards the designated sitting area for graduands, slowly looking around the room for familiar faces. Four years of history right before his very eyes. God had been good. He grinned and waved at Aidan and Ava, the identical twins who were in his class. They both had a First Class and he was genuinely happy for them.
He quickly found his seat and decided to while away the time by checking his position on the Fantasy Football league table. A text came in and interrupted him. ‘Kobby, you look dashing as always. Two rows behind you’. It was from Naa Kwarley. He turned and waved at her, and mouthed a thank you. Naa Kwarley was the first girl who caught his fancy when he came to school. She had acted uninterested and kept him at the ‘Christian brother level’ until he stopped pursuing her. Then it was her turn to pursue him, unfortunately it was too late and even now, she kept using every opportunity she could find to get into his good books.
On the seat at the extreme end of his row was Selorm, the guy who always hoarded notes and past questions. It was almost as though there was only one A to be awarded at the end of the semester and he wanted to do every thing in his power to ensure that he was the only one who got a shot at it. Fauzia, this year’s valedictorian, tapped him on the shoulder and said hello as she made her way to her seat. Fauzia was one of those girls who was oblivious to just how beautiful she was. She was so quiet and unassuming, it was hard to notice her until you heard her speak. She knew so much about everything. He could not imagine a finer Valedictorian.
The room was beginning to fill up. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kwesi slide into the seat beside him. Before Kobby could protest, Kwesi said ‘In my defense, the person supposed to sit beside you isn’t here yet. If it is a guy, he won’t mind. If it’s a girl, I probably know her. So you see, we don’t have a problem!’ and then he went back to uploading pictures on Instagram. Kobby picked up the graduation brochure and flipped through the pages. He grinned mischeviously when he saw Robert Appiagyei’s name. Robert was his unofficial roommate in level 100. He came one night to visit one of Kobby’s roommates and slept over. He never left. He used to sleep on any bed and eat food from the fridge at will. The room was always full of his visitors. He never made any contributions, never showed any appreciation. One day, Kobby mentioned in passing that the scurrying they had heard at night in the room could be because of a rat. Robert jumped down from the upper bunk bed and never came back. Who would have thought that the insinuation of the presence of a rat was the antidote?
The ceremony began. His mind began to wander again during the keynote address. The man was talking too much! He elbowed Kwesi who was beginning to doze off and they started conversing in hushed tones. They talked about all the highlights of their time on campus- like the time they had driven on a dangerously empty tank at 1am on their way back to campus. The car had stopped two blocks to their hostel and they had to push it the rest of the way. They also talked about that semester in level 300 when they had lived on beans and plantain for one month because they were saving money to throw his mum a surprise party. There was another time when the lights went off the night before a notoriously difficult paper. They had ended up studying under a street light until dawn. Kwesi had come down with malaria the next day, because of all the mosquitoes.
Their conversation was interrupted by a burst of laughter. Another girl had fallen down on her way to shake the Vice Chancellor’s hand, because of her high heels. He knew her- she used to be the girlfriend of one of the Prayer Secretaries for his campus fellowship. Her explanation for breaking up with him was this ‘I can’t date a boy who wears Prayer Team shirt on Monday, Evangelism shirt on Tuesday, UCF shirt on Wednesday- no sense of fashion! And his only idea of a date is a gospel rock show!’ The Prayer Secretary lost weight after the break up because he had been so sure that she was his missing rib.
Now this was the one thing he had not had the opportunity to experience- campus romance. Kwesi was obviously a veteran- he had about 7 relationships under his belt and he was still good friends with all of them. Kobby had lived off his experiences but had never actually wooed a girl on campus, except Naa Kwarley- hers didn’t count though, because he didn’t put in too much effort.
The issue wasn’t that he was picky or that the girls weren’t available. Kwesi had told him too many of the ‘I think your tall dark friend is cute’ stories from the many girls he knew. He just hadn’t found the one. She had to be special because he intended to spoil her. The late night walks, the long conversations on the lover’s bench in front of his department (the ambiance was naturally romantic because the long branches of the trees created this secluded enclave), the little surprises, the thoughtful gifts, the trips to the drama studio for drama productions, the feeling of knowing that there was someone other than Kwesi who had his back…. Maybe it wasn’t too late. If he found someone a year or two behind him, they could have their very own campus romance. He smiled to himself at the thought of that.
The rest of the ceremony flew by. The room literally roared when it was Kwesi’s turn to shake the Vice Chancellor’s hand. That guy should have run for SRC President. They filed out of the hall like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea- excited to be out of Egypt, terrified of the Egyptians in pursuit, in awe that the Red Sea had parted for them. Mixed feelings! This was so surreal- life as they knew it was over and a whole new life was waiting to be discovered. The class of 2014 stood on the stairs to take a group picture. From the corner of his eye, he could see his mother also angling her camera to take a shot of them. He smiled as he looked round at the familiar and not so familiar faces. It had been a good four years. Those years had changed him- thankfully for the better. At the direction of the photographer, the graduates threw their caps in the air, and Kobby, on last minute impulse, joined them. It was rather uncharacteristic of him but then again, today wasn’t an ordinary day. He too had graduated!
Photo credit- Google Images
©Maukeni Padiki Kodjo, 2014