“Raisa!” called out her mother and not for the first time.
“What’s taking you so long?” she added although she already knew. In the living room was a guest, a guest that any 18 year old girl would dread… a suitor. Her mother hoped this would be the one for her. Rashad was kind and respectful. Hopefully, this was not just a front.
Upstairs, in Raisa’s bedroom, her heart was caving in. At 18, her friends and peers have their lives ahead of them. The choices they’re grappling with are what courses to study and what universities to go to. Whether or not to live at home. Their lives were definitely changing, all of theirs. Her peers were getting freedom, a chance to explore the world and themselves. She was getting betrothed, to a man she barely knew and he would determine the rest of her life. Her choice…no, his choice.
She finally managed to pull herself together and go downstairs. “Ahhhh, finally, here she is,” said her mother. Raisa knew that her mother’s pleasant veneer was only for the benefit of the guest. The moment he was gone, she would get scolded for dragging her feet, “Do you want him to think I raised a lazy and disobedient girl?” would be the retort.
Before meeting him in person, all she knew about Rashad was that he is a very wealthy business man. He imports clothing and cars for sale and he travels a lot. “Mum, don’t you think we have done well,” her mother would proudly say to her, “A man who travels, maybe you will get to see the world as well. Wouldn’t you like that?” Her mother believes that Rashad will open doors for Raisa. Take her along on business trips and travels around the world. These are the doors she envisions opened.
Her mother is right, travel she will. It will just be on a middle-aged man’s terms, which is not at all how Raisa would want it. Rashad is almost 30 years older than she is, five years younger than her mother. How could she be expected to be excited about this union?
“Are you happy about our match Raisa?” Rashad said when they had been left alone in the living room.
“No, not particularly.”
Slightly taken aback, “Why is that? I have money, I can make you happy, you can have anything your heart desires.”
“I want to go to school. I want to get a degree. I want to struggle with the choice of what to study in school, to see who I become in four years, to dream about a future that is of my own making. Not one determined by my husband.”
There was a silence after the outburst, Rashad had not anticipated so much honesty or to face any opposition for that matter. Rather than being upset, he liked what he saw in the girl, a passion to be heard. From then on he steered clear of that conversation, instead telling her about his business and his houses in several different cities and connections in multiple countries. He spoke of his desire to share his life with someone, and how he was happy that she would be that person.
After her mother escorted him out, she quickly disappeared back up to her room, before her mother’s anger descended. Raisa buried her face in her pillow and sobbed, trying to muffle out the sound with little success.
“Raisa!” her mother again. This time, Raisa had no intention of heeding the summons.
Then came the laboured steps on the staircase and soon after her door swung open. She had no fight left in her. Anger, tears, none of it could convince her mother to even consider letting her continue with her education. Some people’s lives are theirs to live, she fell on the realm of the others.
As she listened to her mother approach her bed, she wondered what would come first, the earful or the caning. Kinda like the mystery of the chicken or the egg coming first, every time Raisa thought she had her mother figured out, her mother switched things up and Raisa could just not keep up. Either way, this time, whatever came, she would take it. The fight was gone from her.
Raisa felt the weight of her mother settling at the foot of her bed, followed by a sigh and then silence. This, completely threw her off. Normally, by now she would know what was coming. Either a belt would be raining down on her, or her mother’s screams would fill the airwaves. She glanced up and caught sight of her mother listlessly staring into space. This continued for sometime with her mother not giving any indication of putting an end to it.
“What is it mum?” she gave in and broke the silence.
“You can have your way. Rashad will pay your university fees. He says you can study whatever you want at whichever institution you please. He’s giving you four years, then you shall be married.”
Her mother was right about something else, Rashad was kind.
It is a hot Thursday in mid-August. The Joint Admissions Board(JAB) would be releasing the final list of course allocations for students to join public universities in the coming academic year, beginning September. A day of reckoning for many all around the country, for Jeff as well, albeit his is a little different. He is hoping for an outrageous course allocation that would finally sway his father to let him go straight to flying school sans a degree.
“Jeff, we have talked about this many times before. You know where your mother and I stand. For us to pay for flying school, you first have to get a degree, that is the deal. So rather than fighting it, if I were you, I would start getting excited about a university experience.”
Jeff had seen this coming. Having scored an A-, only an accident of nature, or of computer systems, would land him in a course even his father would agree he should not do.
“But dad, what is the point if I know I will not use the degree? If at the end of the day I know I want to fly, why won’t you just let me ? You keep saying it is expensive, save the money it would cost to put me through a degree and just send me to flying school.”
“We aren’t going to change our minds. You either get a degree or you leave this house and start looking for means to put yourself through flying school.”
Where did this notion of a degree being the key to the future originate from anyway? What exactly makes it a back-up? Half the people out there do not use their degrees in the first place! You will find engineers, programmers, biochemists all at the bank working as clerks! Surely a degree cannot be that important but Jeff’s father subscribed to that old school wisdom and there was no way around the old man. To get him to pay for flying school, he just had to get a degree.
“Well, what shall you be studying? Have the allocations been announced yet?”
His 4 year sentence, “Economics.”
With one paper to go, Raisa is mentally as well as physically tired. She takes out her timetable to confirm exactly what time her paper will be. Thursday at 10am. Her phone lights up and she sees it is Rashad. The last time she ignored his calls, he showed up on campus and gave her a piece of his mind, in full view of all her classmates. She now knows better than to try to ignore him.
“I see that your final paper will be over by noon tomorrow. I shall have a car outside your room by then. Make sure you are packed and ready to leave before going for the paper.”
“What? Immediately after?”
“Well, you will be done with your degree, was that not our deal?”
He had been more than kind to her, paying even for international trips organised by clubs and societies she belongs to on campus. She wonders how much further she can push it.
“Would you have someone come for me on Sunday morning? I’d like to take my time with saying goodbye to my friends and my life as I know it.”
The line is silent a while, so long she fears she might have crossed him.
Rashad sighs heavily, “No. Tomorrow at noon. I will come for you myself. Do not keep me waiting,” and then the line goes dead.
Why did he never properly end conversations. It somewhat bothers her. She wonders if this is a sign that he is cold and aloof. Four years later and they still have not spent more than an hour at a go in each other’s presence. Soon she will know for sure.
Fours years had gone by so quickly. Every time she thought about it, she started to cry. It felt like just yesterday she had arrived for her first day and some of the older students had come to help out with their bags and show them around the university.
On her first day she had met Anna. Anna who loved to paint portraits as much as she loved books. They became fast friends and bunked together for the rest of the four years. After graduation, Anna was joining a design firm. She would get to draw for a living, just like she had always wanted.
She thought of Jerry who had always nagged her about what she wanted to do with her life. He could never understand why she did not give a straight answer, the reality being that what she wants is not relevant. She had thought he would stop nagging her after the incident with Rashad. When he had shown up at one of her classes, furious that his calls were not being picked up. Most people started to treat her differently, backed off, felt sorry for her, but not Jerry. He did not think that Rashad would stand in her way if she was clear about what she wanted to do, after all, had he not let her come to school?
Then there was Carmen, Carmen who was always down for a party. They got along pretty well mostly because both were living on borrowed time, so to speak. Being the daughter of two preachers, Carmen viewed her university life as her temporary escape. She made it clear that her main mission on campus was to party till she had enough. She was intent on doing her youth justice in those four years.
Raisa thought of all the memories, the good and the bad. The long hours studying, the parties they crashed and the crazy ones they hosted. If it all came to nothing, she was glad to have had the four years.
After buying something for lunch, Raisa heads back to her room to eat, pack and then try study for her final paper. She might as well finish strong.
The last paper was supposed to begin at 10am but it is running late. The invigilators are nowhere to be seen. The students are getting impatient. Jeff is getting impatient. Now that the four years are coming to a close, every extra minute feels like a year in itself.
Jeff stares hard into the sky. In the city centre, he would have caused quite a bit of commotion by now, no doubt idle and curious passers-by would have stopped, stared and started pointing at what is not there. All he sees is the sky. It calms him. One more paper and he can get to earning his wings.
For about the fifth time, his classmates demand that the class representative call the lecturer to find out why the paper is late. Again, the lecturer does not pick up. This only further aggravates the students.
This lecturer has a reputation. He has to be the most incompetent individual Jeff has ever encountered! He barely shows up for class, and when he does he always looks as though he just crawled out of a ditch which he isn’t too sure how he ended up in. His notes are sketchy and he lectures mostly mumbling to himself at the front of the classroom. What you do manage to catch, is intoned like a question, leaving you wondering if he is implying that you first go verify the information.
Eventually the lecturer calls back, the invigilator he is sending is en route.
Very soon, the rest of his life will start.