After the exams at the end of second year, TJ confided to me that he didn't feel confident about his performance and he worried about the likely results. Nevertheless, that summer holiday was perhaps the most memorable, for despite the fact we were not on campus and I was living at home miles away, (and even on occasion travelled out of town), TJ and I still managed to see each other practically on a daily basis. We had clearly become a significant part of each other's life, but as this was in the '80s, well before the age of the mobile phone and emails, our incessant rendezvous were arranged by strictly kept appointments. Sometimes, I found myself as a guest at some officers' mess or other, feeling distinctly out of place in the midst of all that boisterous military banter. And I recall with some fascination how a shirtless TJ suddenly stiffened and stood to attention when someone, whom he later confirmed was a Brigadier, strode past us one evening as he was walking me to the gate of his compound.
And when the results of the exams were finally released, it came as no surprise that TJ had not made it. He would have to resit some papers during the holidays. And despite all of the support that I offered, he still didn't make it at the resit. So when third year began, TJ was not seated beside me as he had been for all of the preceding two years. He would have to repeat second year in its entirety; he was now in a different class and was absent in the seat next to mine. It was a strange feeling not having him as a reference point and I suppose that this was when we started slowly to drift apart, being on different schedules and doing different things. By the end of third year, sometimes a whole week had passed before we would meet. And we would meet only either because he came knocking on the door of my room at the hostel, or because I went looking for him at his flat, in the vague hope that I would find him at home and alone.
Third year ended and I graduated from the university, but by this time things were no longer the same. I moved on to one year of Law School that was located across town, but this was a hectic, intensive course that did not allow for much free time. We weren't seeing each other half as frequently as before, since he remained at the university. And the fact that the nurse, not wanting to leave anything to chance, had now moved into his flat didn't help matters either. However, that we did not meet as frequently as previously, did nothing to dampen the intensity of feeling, an intensity upon which our "friendship" was formed and built, hence my reference to the phrase "more than friends" earlier. On the occasions when we found ourselves together, it was as if we'd never parted. Sometimes, he would send word through another officer who lived close to him, but who was also at Law School with me, to say that he missed me, even though such messages were coined in such a way as not to give away the true depth of feeling. And so it went on..
But alas, my time at Law School came to an end. And while TJ was headed for his own one year at the school, I was winging it more than a thousand kilometres away to a place called Bauchi in the north of Nigeria, for my one year of compulsory national youth service. It was during this one year that the distance between us, which had by now developed, was reaffirmed. After my one year of service I stayed on in the north and it must have been nearly three years before I made it back to Lagos for a visit. And of course I went looking for TJ, finally tracking him down, although he had been relocated from his bachelor-officer flat to a more ample family flat, still within the military cantonment. TJ had been promoted and he had married and his wife was heavily pregnant, a surge of realisation that sent me reeling momentarily! And before you start wondering, no, she wasn't that nurse that I knew.
All in all, it was a great joy to see him again and from what I could tell, he seemed overjoyed to see me too. And the Mrs, well she was extremely pleasant and welcoming and she and I got on famously, a fact which effect on TJ was not lost on me. Obviously, she meant a lot to him and the joy that he exuded was palpable, almost tangible. I too was greatly happy to see such joy in his eyes. And when he dropped me off that evening, sitting together in the car, he let me know that my presence on that day brought it all together for him. I'd never seen him so happy.
Moving forward in time, I eventually moved back to Lagos. By this time TJ and his Mrs had given birth to two strapping boys, of both of whom I was very fond and I would visit them regularly at their new home. TJ had been promoted again and they now lived in a big house. The boys loved me too and since I'm quite good with kids, we were a happy bunch indeed. My "friendship" with TJ remained pretty much as it had always been; quiet, intimate conversations sitting together in the car on a dark street, (I discussed things with him that I could discuss with no one else - and vice-versa, I'd like to think); going for very long walks usually setting out around sunset so as to be together for as long as was possible; walks on the beach sometimes holding hands; me sitting on the side watching him play tennis. I enjoyed being with him. And so it went on, for a while, until the day when the news came to me..
(To be continued)