That morning when their result was released, two weeks after their first-semester exam, Farnaz was sitting on his bunk bed and flipping through his journal. He stared at his journal entry dated February 28. He had penned down those words of Dr. Oyin while she was giving an address on how to succeed as a student at their white coat ceremony.
“The fact that you made it into this prestigious department at all means that you are above average, and you have all it takes to pull through to the end.” Dr. Oyin.
The entry was meant to be a source of motivation for him and it was but for a brief period before he saw his exam scores in red ink. Before he was first advised to repeat his year two. The more he stared, the more the entry looked faint and almost lifeless like a skinny malnourished child. Farnaz suddenly wished he had not taken those words down, wished he had not believed them in the first place.
That morning when Farnaz checked his result, he flunked three of his courses. One more flunk in the second semester and he would be on his way out of the department because he would not be allowed to repeat the same class twice. And this was not news to Farnaz. He knew because his class had been told at their orientation programme, that ‘withdrawal after falling twice’ was spelled out boldly on their student prospectus. What he didn’t know at that moment, however, was whether he wanted to keep on struggling to pass or, on his own, take a voluntary exit before being eventually withdrawn.
“Que sera, sera,” he said. The same thing he always said when anything happened, good or bad, whatever will be, will be.
The joy on his mother’s face the day he told her he had secured an admission eased itself into his mind now. She had been overjoyed. At long last, it was robotics engineering and not psychology that Farnaz was admitted to study. His high-school teacher, Mr. Ande, had gone out of his way to persuade her not to let Farnaz settle for a non-professional course.
“What job is available for non-professionals in this country again,” he had said. “Even the so-called professionals who have job opportunities are lamenting bitterly about poor remunerations”.
“Hmn hmn, thank you, sir,” his mum would respond. “Farnaz, can you hear your master now?”
But nothing was to prepare him for his recurring failure in the higher institution. He was a high-flying student back in high school, where he passed without having to cram, where he expressed himself in his own words. He had, therefore, thought varsity would demand more of his problem-solving faculty than his regurgitative ability. This place was a different ball game.
Farnaz met Dr. Koka, his assigned course adviser, the next day. It was his first time meeting her in the office. They last talked at the department quadrangle shortly before she went on sabbatical leave. Dr. Koka was dropping her black leather bag and HP backpack on her brown, lustrous table when he came in. Her lunchbox sat on one of the guest’s chairs. Framed photos of her taken on different occasions adorned the wall. This reminded Farnaz of their sitting room at home; how photos adorned the walls from one edge to another. Farnaz though thought the photos were too many, at home and in Dr. Koka’s office.
“Farnaz, you know you must not fail any courses next semester to remain in the department,” Dr. Koka said when she settled down into her executive chair, which she rocked from right to left graciously. She fetched her laptop from her backpack and placed it on the table.
“I have spoken with Felix. You know him?” she asked. “I want both of you to stay in the same room next semester, to become study buddies. Felix is your senior colleague and a serious type who, I believe, can help you with your dropping grades. I hope that is okay with you?”
“Yes, ma, I won’t mind.”
“Ok. If that is the case, I wish you a wonderful break and the best of luck.”
The two-week semester break went by swiftly. Farnaz spent half of it volunteering at Co-Creation Hub, Lagos state. Then he went back to school to look for accommodation with Felix. Farnaz didn’t like the idea of living off-campus. It was Felix’s idea and Farnaz would have spoken his mind against such a move if he had not felt his choice would not matter. Should not Felix know better? After all, he was the one in need of help, not Felix, who was two years his senior with stellar academic records.
“To pass well you need to study hard,” Felix said when the semester began. “You need to burn the midnight oil because that is exactly what I do.”
“But how do you do it? Staying up all night,” Farnaz asked.
“Well, I take this –“Felix said and brought out one card of a chalk-colored drug from his pocket. He held it out for Farnaz to see. “Adderall, that is the name. A tablet is all I need to stay awake overnight. You should try it.”
In the following days, Farnaz took one tablet of Adderall every night and studied with unprecedented wakefulness and concentration. Days turned into weeks. Along came a series of tests that Farnaz aced effortlessly. Then exams came around. Out of anxiety, and have noticed that he was not getting as much effect as he used to with one tablet of Adderall lately, Farnaz began to take two tablets. He studied harder for exams, hardly sleeping an hour each night.
On the day Farnaz wrote his final paper, he had just come out of the examination hall when he felt a tightness in his chest. He started to gasp for more air before everything blacked out. He was rushed to the school’s clinic from where he was transferred to the University’s teaching hospital. After hours of frantic efforts to revive Farnaz, at 5 pm on October 10, he gave up the ghost.
Abdul-Ahmed Soyebo is a fiction writer and an alumnus of the SprinNG Writing Fellowship. A second runner-up of the Fitrah Review Short Story Contest 2020, he tells stories to explore the intricacies of life and to entertain. He is sometimes amazed at how his pharmacy background pairs well with writing for him and he wonders if his second degree would be in Creative Writing. With Leila Abouelela, Chinua Achebe, Chigozie Obioma, and Sefi Atta as some of his favorite established authors, Abdul-Ahmed hopes to publish a novel and a collection of stories in the future.
You can reach him via mail @[email protected]