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By Yemi Ogunbiyi

My attendance at my very first St. Valentine’s Night event

as a Kutite, on Friday, February 14, 1969, remains an unforgettable

experience.

Initially, I was not going to attend the event because I was still

smarting from the breakup with an old girlfriend. So, understandably,

I wasn’t part of the ‘October Rush’ in 1968, a reference to the ‘rush’

to grab a new girl at the start of a new academic year, which would

begin in September, and spill well into October. Since I didn’t have any

partner to invite to St. Valentine’s Night, I had decided not to attend.

Then, as guests started to arrive for the event, I was spotted by a casual

friend, Mr Billy Amuka, (incidentally, the younger brother of Uncle

Sam Amuka, publisher of the Vanguard newspapers, who would later

play an essential role in my life) as I strolled to my room. Billy invited

me to join him at his table. I reluctantly accepted Billy’s invitation,

went upstairs to my room to change to more appropriate clothing and

entered the hall party.

When I returned, Billy was not alone. Sharing the table with him

was a pretty, darkish, tall, cheerful and bubbly young lady. Since Billy

appeared busy with other arrangements, I was left with his guest ‘gisting’

for most of the evening. I discovered from our long conversation that

Billy’s guest, whose name, by the way, was, Folasade, was in her

second year and that she was also, like me, studying English. I recall

bits of that conversation as if it was yesterday when I told her I was

considering taking up squash more seriously, and she asked me what

‘squash’ meant! And I recall how she shared the experience of her varied

sporting interests with me, from netball to a variety of athletic events;

how she instantly invited me to watch her play at her next netball game,

with, I believe, the University of Lagos, the following week.

 

I would later discover that Sade was not just captain of the

university’s netball team but also an all-around sports lady who was

also the anchor leg of the university’s women’s 4 × 110 relay team. She

also got involved in long jump, hurdles, and shot put. Without question,

her sporting talents and energy endeared me even more to her!

I was not smitten; not yet! But I instantly liked her, her jokes,

her openness and the warmth in her smile. Something about her was

tomboyish in an admirable way, which made some sense, considering

that she was, I later found out, an only girl child in a family of four

boys. We agreed to meet the next day again, coinciding with the Rag

Day celebrations, that annual ceremony when undergraduates took to

the streets, riding on floats, carrying cans and asking for donations to

charity from the spectating public.

After we parted ways on Valentine’s night, I thought about my

meeting with her and decided inside me that a lot would depend on

how things played out during our subsequent meetings. What I did not

realise at the time was that that first meeting with Folasade Towobola

Osiberu at the Kuti Hall’s St. Valentine’s Night would change my life

forever!

The Rag Day celebrations came and went. Our first actual date

was to the cinema, Queen’s Cinema at Sabo. We had been to the last

showing of a western flick, which finished late. Unable to get a taxi at

that time of the night, we walked back from Sabo to the campus. This

was some fifty years before the days of kidnapping or any form of

armed robbery.

By now, the tenor of our conversations had changed somewhat.

We were clearly both edging towards a warmer relationship. The

fact that I would become a regular visitor to Queen’s Hall, and she, a

frequent visitor to Kuti Hall, was so routine that even ‘Mr Integrity’

took notice! We started ‘driving’ a lot, ‘driving’ being a reference to

the art of couples being seen together, sometimes, holding hands and

chatting away in quiet, discreet corners on campus, totally oblivious of

the world around them. Suddenly, it felt good to be in love!

But what we were both unprepared for was the storm that would

trail the relationship. In those days, for reasons we need not get into here,

serious relationships between undergraduates on campus were not very

common. The fact that amongst my contemporaries, only a few of us

ended up marrying our erstwhile girlfriends from Queen’s Hall amply

bears me out. It was, in certain quarters, even considered ‘disagreeable’

that an undergraduate was seen hovering around Queen’s Hall. But to

have a ‘junior’ freshman (what would be called, in today’s parlance,

a Jambite!), being seen as attempting to go out with his ‘senior’ was

close to an abomination. It was sacrilege. Period!

Instantly, Sade became the butt of jokes and object of ridicule in

Queen’s Hall, presumably, for ‘demeaning’ herself by going out with

a first-year student. Once, as she came into the dining room for dinner,

she was confronted by Queenites who came close to jeering her to her

face for being such a bad sport. Ironically, some of those who mocked

her on that particular night have remained close friends to this day,

bemused, presumably, by the follies of times past!

I didn’t know how bad things were because Sade didn’t share these

details with me at the time, but it will be fair to say that she went through

quite a bit, the jeers, the jokes, the ostracism and possible exclusion.

But I recall that she bore those challenges with dignity and composure.

Looking back now, it would be fair to assert that memories of such

challenging moments have, over the years, if anything, endeared her

even more to me.

Editor’s Note: VALENTINE SEASON SPECIAL-Excerpted from The Road Never Forgets (Memoirs) by Yemi Ogunbiyi, Published in 2022 by Bookcraft. This is the fourth of four selected excerpts from books around the world, across cultures, to celebrate the season of love.

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