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Feature Article of Saturday, 11 February 2012

Columnist: Asher, Bernard

Campus Romance- A short Story

The Beginning

It all started on a dry and hazy harmattan day in January. Jones’ faculty had been expecting a new cohort of international students since the previous December but their arrival had been rescheduled so often that everyone had given up hope of them ever arriving. However on this fateful day as he strolled leisurely to the library he bumped into the whole group led by the Faculty Officer. She quickly and rather embarrassingly drew attention to him and in her characteristic high pitched voice declared: “meet Mr. Jones, the man with the crocodile shoes; he will be teaching you Ghanaian Cultural Systems”. In response every eye in the group oscillated towards Jones’ feet. Thankfully he had not worn those shoes that day! “Oh so they are here after all”, he thought! Soon enough Jones’s scheduled class with the group arrived. This group was a lot younger than last year’s group. As always it was obvious that this group craved an education. Jones quickly introduced himself and then began asking the group about why they had taken the decision to study in Ghana. With the zest that can only be compared to the supernatural visitation, each of the students elaborated on how they wished to return to Kenya with a law degree and change that country, until he got to Jennifer, that is. She was unusually pragmatic. “To be honest with you, sir, I wish to gain a law degree and earn lots of money” she confidently and rather blatantly quibbled. Jones couldn’t help but notice this girl. He desperately tried to suss this girl out. She was clearly the anomaly or rebel within this largely conformist group.

There was something decidedly hubristic about her but not overtly so. Jones couldn’t put a finger on it. It was indeed tantalising! She was certainly different from all other girls in the class. Something within him, told him this girl was attracted to him. The magnetism was there! He stole a couple of glances at her as she shuffled out of the class with the others on a break. Perhaps it was just speculation. A sinister grin played around his lips. He quickly perused the student list that had been provided him by the department. She was 21 years. “this cannot be happening” he promptly reminded herself. She was too young! Albeit she was physically OK, it was hard to evaluate her acumen. Jones himself was 31 years of age- a veteran playboy albeit now on permanent recess. He had matured! Off course he needed somebody but it was unlikely to be a 21-year old and certainly not his student! Such a far-fetched venture was at once both too exacting and complicated. He managed to push it out of his mind. The class finished and he again shuffled back to his office. And that was it! The whole testosterone rush dissipated. Time passed and he forgot about the whole episode (or so he thought). Soon enough he was approached by Agnes, Jennifer’s best friend. She needed some directions to Accra. Jones’ ever-munificent personality kicked in. He provided directions, talked her through the whole trip and even spoke to Agnes’ sister in on the phone, the apparent object of Agnes’ trip, in order to establish where exactly Agnes needed to transit. From that point on Jones had become friends with both of them- something which wasn’t too bad given the fact that they had to work together for the next 7 months.

The Library

One of Jones’ routine lessons took him to the library. As he strutted into the library there she was, sitting at a table next to Rudy, another member of the group. They appeared to be engrossed in a discussion. Jones walked up to the table and got their attention. As his own class settled into their seats and began work, he got involved in a conversation with Jennifer. “This girl was clearly not like the others”, he thought. She was strikingly mature and well-informed. Rudy could hardly keep up with the conversation. In fact he seemed to have disappeared into the woodwork. It was as if he didn’t exist as the two of them chewed the rug and clearly absorbed each other’s presence. Rudy slowly slipped away from the table under the highly suspect pretence that he needed to charge his laptop. They actually did not even notice him leave. She was all laughs and he albeit trying hard to keep his highly manicured composure was clearly struggling to keep from losing his guard. It was obvious they enjoyed each other’s company. Jones studied her lips. They were wet and extremely made up. Her fragrance permeated the room. “This girl was nice”, Jones thought. But he wasn’t too sure about a relationship yet. They eventually exchanged phone numbers and managed to tear away from each other. “He would keep in touch”, Jones decidedly reassured himself. And so he did! He called her later on that night and they had a lovely chat. He was convinced that she was slightly arrogant albeit it complemented her persona quite well. It was like the thorns on a rose which although renders the flower dangerous, adds to the adventure and the intrigue that surrounds it. It could get caustic at times but remove it and you end up with blandness. Even so Jones had not made any conscious moves. In fact he was convinced he would not make any such move. It was for her to make the effort! After all he was the lecturer and she, the student. By this time the phone calls had become routine. In fact they had taken on the semblance of marathons. They just couldn’t stop talking albeit they were always on their guard. Neither of them wanted to take the proverbial first step. Innuendo and the scoring of political points dominated their chinwags. She most definitely could not go out with a man her own age. Her mind had clearly out-grown her age. “This girl was formidable”, Jones thought. She was phenomenal! Perhaps that is why she was interested in him and none of her mates. Perhaps they were too childish for her. He suggested that they go out on extended two-day date; a retreat of sorts where they could get to know each other better. She appeared to like the idea and so they set a date. He couldn’t wait! The caveat, however, was that he had admitted to having a boyfriend back in Kenya. Jones could hardly be bothered. “Who cares about poor Mr. Lover man in Mombasa” he would jokingly ask himself? “And at any rate this was supposed to be a fling and nothing more”, he often thought! Mr Loverman didn’t need to know and as long as he didn’t know, nothing had happened. That’s the way he saw it. And besides they were not married anyway. As far as Jones was concerned as long as a woman was not married she was fair game. He would often remind his mates that as long as it was conventional for any vicar presiding over a wedding ceremony to ask the congregation if there was anything that would prevent the couple from being joined together meant that a woman was fair game until after marriage.

Agnes

Agnes was the very antithesis of Jennifer. Where Jennifer was cool and calculating, Agnes was bubbly and happy-going. She wore her heart on her sleeve. She was the sort of person you could easily open up to. She was the archetypal friend. To describe her as bubbly amounted to a major understatement! This was a girl who you were assured would be there for you when you needed her. Her eyes betrayed her thoughts and feelings all the time. On first blush Jones assumed that she was a bit too pert but then he grew to like her. In some ways he liked her more than Jennifer. One came away from her after a conversation less irked and battered. The only thing was that the magic was not there with Agnes. With her it was just friendship pure and simple albeit a highly enjoyable one. Agnes and Jennifer were roommates. They clearly loved each other and had opted to share a double bed in their host family’s accommodation rather than live in two separate rooms. Against the advice of Jennifer, Agnes had sleep-walked into a relationship with one of the lads on campus. Jennifer had objected on the patently narcissistic grounds of maturity. As matured as she was she could not fathom how and why Agnes could settle for someone who was less than 25 albeit Agnes herself was 22. As far as she was concerned it was a recipe for disaster. But Agnes was different. She was less demanding and less choosy. Perhaps it would work. After all not every 21 year-old wanted to or had the wherewithal to go out with and cope intellectually with a 32 year-old lecturer who had a bachelor’s and two Master’s Degrees. Everyone was different! In archetypal fashion, Agnes would come over to Jones and poor out her heart and feelings about this guy to him now that they had become chums. Jones would do his best to advice and counsel her. In the same breath she would complain about Larry and then swiftly and fancifully reminisce about the good time they had shared. Her vivaciousness was infectious! One couldn’t help but to like her. She was so full of life and so unlike Jennifer.

Intimacy

In one of the marathon phone conversations, after having shared a good joke and having laughed and really enjoyed each other’s company, Jones popped the nagging question: “do you want to go out with me, Jenny”? “In fact what exactly do you want from me”? She chuckled at the question. Jones could almost feel her digesting the question. She was most definitely looking for the best answer for the moment. She always does for this was the kind of woman who could not afford to lose her guard. “I don’t know” was the only reply she could manage. “Vintage Jennifer”, Jones thought, “she’d rather die than show her true feelings”. Jones suggested a night out and albeit she didn’t accept she also, significantly, did not refuse. By this time Jones’ feelings for this girl was starting to take shape. He wanted her! He pushed farther, “how about a night out dancing”? He hadn’t gone out in what seemed like forever. In fact he had been planning a night out for some time although he had never gotten round to do so. By this time albeit they had not agreed to formally see each other it went without saying that they were. She had started complaining about his apparent lack of interest and lack of communication and why she always had to initiate communication by phone call before he responded. “Why can’t you call me first for a change?” she demanded. This girl was falling in love and so was Jones albeit he kept telling himself this was impossible! He was a firm believer in his ability in his discursive mind and in his ability to navigate through life with great dexterity. He eventually got into the routine of calling her and so it went on. They would chew the rug at least for an hour each night. Both of them kept looking forward to these conversations. Eventually they decided to meet. The problem however was that she stayed with host parents and Jones felt it was inappropriate to be found visiting a student at night. Having a relationship with a student was not illegal as long as both were consenting adults but then myriad other ethical and moral imperatives could be raised. Besides what would her mates think if they found out she was dating the lecturer? What would they say if there was an exam and she achieved the highest grade in the group? Could her mates trust him to be ethical and not be biased on her behalf? Probably not! It was therefore essential that they kept this discreet; at least for now, mostly for her sake but also his. Coincidentally one of Jones’ former students, also Kenyan, had decided to visit him that weekend. Thankfully he asked that they visit, Eunice, his former classmate who had also been Jones’ student in the past. This was the perfect alibi! Off they drove to Eunice’s. This was the first time Jones was meeting his students without his usual pin stripe and stoic façade. He felt more relaxed and at ease with himself. He hadn’t been out in quite a while and so he inadvertently saw himself kick back and relax. The students who had never seen him in a pair of jeans and a T shirt were obviously fascinated with this side of their lecturer they had never before seen. Jenny was her usual self; quiet, calculating and always on her guard. Her whole personality screamed arrogance. To say that she demanded attention was a gross understatement. This lass craved attention in tonnes! In fact she came across as the kind of woman who would roll up in the corner and die if she was ignored. The night was going fine. A few cans of cider further relaxed Jones and in the background the laptop blurted out a few Kenyan tunes. It complemented the night so well. Jenny carefully navigated away from Jones. Every now and then their eyes would be riveted and then she would very slyly flash one of her trademark smiles and then quickly look away. She came across as a little shy yet it was as if this shyness belied a more sinister, even diabolical underbelly. This was one of the few girls Jones couldn’t suss out. It frustrated him! They eventually got the chance to chat. They were however careful not to let the others notice what was going on with them. Agnes as usual was at her merry self. She was always happy going and boisterous. The night eventually ended and Jones and his friend drove off.

The next day they visited again. This time he had planned a rendezvous. He was supposed to drop off his chum at Eunice’s and then take off under the guise of checking out a few friends. He picked her up and drove to a secluded spot where they could talk. Her perfume wafted throughout the car. They both burst out laughing as soon as they looked at each other. It had indeed been a long time coming. He reached out to her and pulled her towards him. She rather timidly cried, “what?” With that she yielded and then they kissed. The ease with which she yielded took him aback a bit. It was pure magic! Her body felt so soft and delicate. She felt like a leaf in his powerful grip. The feel of her skin felt like mash mellows. They kissed for an eternity. She clearly wanted him. He was out of breath. He felt exhausted and expended. They took a break and then as their eyes riveted once more she whispered another soft “what?” He kissed her again and again. They just couldn’t stop. Her little set of fingers clung to his shirt. She tugged at it as if to prod him into kissing her. This was pure bliss. If the proverbial coo-coo land indeed existed this was it. At once Jones knew that he liked this girl. Very much!

To be continued...

Bernard Asher, Lecturer, Guildford College of Higher Education E.mail basher@guildford.ac.uk

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