The helplessness of Chance by Akinlabi Omo-Oso

CeCe woke up that morning on a wave of positive feelings―residual joy from the meeting with her adviser the day before. Recalling now the tenor of their conversation, but even more particularly, the part she had dreamt of and replayed in her mind ever since: “If you continue with this steam for the next three semesters CeCe, you will graduate top of your class, hell, maybe the entire university!” said Professor Douglas in his characteristic irreverent style, the only one of her lecturers who didn’t call her Cecilia―the name she bore on register.

She could see her plan hurtling on course towards the glorious future, and not even that infernal B in FBA 308 was going to dampen her mood. She had it all planned:

Finish school with excellent grades

Get a great job

Marry the best man alive

Have beautiful kids

Live gracefully to a sumptuous old age

Sandwiched between each milestone were healthy dollops of optimism―not so much as to merit concern, yet not so little as to deprive the soul its healthful benefit.

Yet, before this day is over, CeCe will be cut down with her dreams in tow, and it wouldn’t be because of anything she did or didn’t do.

Rising from the lower bunk of the double-decker bed she shared with her bunkie, whose upturned bum she now smacked to groggy, indiscernible words of indignation, among which she was certain included the word strangle. Smiling inwardly until it blossomed forth and split her face into one huge grin, she waltzed to the mirror sloshed on joy and the perverse pleasure she got from being a pest to Ivie, who it must be said was no saint herself.

It was Thursday, which meant her only class wasn’t till four.

“I might as well spend the day watching movies on my laptop,” she thought, as she absentmindedly applied cold cream on a bright red, angry-looking pimple that had worked its fury on her face as she tossed to the nudging of the night, the only blemish―if she permitted herself to be so dramatic―on what was going to be a purrfect day, as Liberty her most expressive (and loudest) roommate was wont to say.

But unbeknownst to her, the unfortunate circumstance that would culminate in her death had been decided eight months prior by a group of men and women in the chilly ambiance of an air-conditioned room several kilometres removed from her reality. The decision was as careless and indifferent as the action of striking out with pencil, an unimportant item on paper. 

It was customary for members of Senate committees, as part of their oversight duties, to visit ministries charged to their portfolio, just as it was customary for directors of said ministries to plan a little ‘Thanks For Coming’ package for this visiting dignitary of highly regarded men and women. It was never requested, neither was it ever refused, but it was tacitly understood by all that the vigour of the lobby and eventual size of your allocation depended on how well you played ball on such visits. It was a game, and they all played to win.

With this end goal in mind, directors at the Ministry of Power Generation and Electrification shuffled and replaced projects the same way a coach would substitute players in a football match―they were just as strategic and tactical. With a single strike drawn across projects deemed low priority, they cancelled item after item. As they struck out the purchase of new transformers, entire communities were plunged into darkness; the deletion of four electrification projects deprived a long list of forgettable villages the opportunity of being connected to the national grid; and when they crossed out the replacement of failing electrical installation components in areas under the third to seventh precinct, those ones on the university campus where CeCe went to school were affected.

With their task now completed, “there certainly will be a lot of money to go round and make each of them do a little jig,” remarked the head honcho as he swivelled in his chair.

Which was exactly what Babajide felt like doing as he walloped Henry, his roommate in a computer game of soccer. Wallop was the verb used by Jon Champion, the computer-programmed sports commentator, and he couldn’t but agree with him. Soccer was his thing, and at present, he was leading 6–0.

“You know, if I got a kobo for every time I beat you, I will never have to work for the rest of my life,” boasted Babajide.

“Well, it’s never over until the final whistle,” came Henry’s passionate retort.

Pausing the game and cupping his left ear dramatically, Babajide deadpanned, and putting on his best poker face said, “Really? Don’t tell me you can’t hear it. The referee has called it already!”

This taunt earned him a forceful jab on the arm, even as he broke into a smile, then laughter, then a rub of his throbbing arm; just as this scene was interrupted by first, the sound of soaring instrumentals, then the throaty voice of Nina Simone as she belted out I Put a Spell On You. Even before he saw the Caller ID, Babajide knew who it was by the ringtone. Smiling at the memories evoked, he tapped the pick button and answered, “Sup tangerine?”

The male voice that responded proceeded without any preamble, “Come right away to the medical centre. Your number was the first on her call log, that’s the reason we are calling you.”

“What’s up? Who are you? Is CeCe OK? What happened to her? And why do you have her phone?” came the barrage of questions from Babajide’s supple red lips, even as his worried eyes met Henry’s puzzled looks.

“My name’s Steve. Please, are you a student at Atlantic university?” came the more measured response.

“Yes,” replied Babajide with suspicion and the beginnings of a racing heart; for he imagined CeCe in his mind’s eye, bound and gagged.

“Just come to the medical centre, and call her number once you get here,” replied the responder, deciding that the information requested was best dispensed in person.

The clock on the phone said it was 07:13 PM. 

Now, Acacia Lane was one of those rare spots―one of those few places that could be everything to everyone without trying too hard. Running parallel to Acacia Avenue, this cobblestone path was separated from it by the low, grassy slope of a road embankment and Acacia trees whose boughs made an arbour of the lane as they locked branches with trees on the other side. This other side was bounded by a lawn that extended down to the edge of a marsh, and beyond, a beautiful meadow of grassy tufts, abandoned dug-out canoes and diving white egrets.

This beautiful panorama made the lawn popular among canoodling lovers, tortured souls with their ruminating thoughts, study groups, as well as the excluded loner. It was also something to those who liked to gaze at the twinkling lights of houses beyond the meadow in between drags of a marijuana roll as dusk fell.

Its shaded walkway likewise called out to joggers, bicyclists, and pedestrians who hurried along or walked leisurely depending on what time meant for each one, and so it was that on Acacia Lane, ‘Excuse me’ and its other variants were the most spoken words.

But no words were now being spoken―at least by CeCe―as she made her way back to her dorm room alone. She had lingered after her 4’O clock class to discuss the particulars of a group assignment, and now, through the buds of her earphones, walked Acacia Lane accompanied by haunting lyrics about lost unloved boys and never land. As Ruth B carried on in a trilling voice about lost boys running away from all of reality, CeCe wondered about unknown realities herself.

Looking across the meadow to the lights now coming up in the houses beyond, she wondered about the rooms behind those lights, those who lived in them, and what stories they would tell; just as she wondered if they were likewise intrigued by them―shadowy stick figures in the distance―and what they were all about. Just then, there was a spark, then more sparks, then the disengagement.

ue to whatever combination of events not now known, the high-tension power cable above wrenched itself free of its tether, and sailing downwards at the urging of gravity, laid its capricious grip on CeCe. In the space of time―eight seconds―that it connected with her body, 2KV of electricity had coursed through the fifty eight kilograms that was her spare frame, enough to send her into cardiac arrest even before she hit the ground.

And scrolling from right to left, the playlist widget on the screen of her fallen phone read: Shut Up and Dance ― Walk the Moon

So it happened that CeCe died, right there on Acacia Lane―the cobblestone path that was indeed everything to everyone. The time was 6:53 PM. Twenty minutes before a distraught Babajide would be weeping into the still-warm hand of CeCe (for this was the way he called her, and had stored her number on his phone), muttering in between anguished sobs why it had to be her.

The same question that would be asked by members of one family who were now only one phone call away from their knees.

Akinlabi Omo-Oso is both an Engineer and a writer. You should follow him on Medium via https: //medium.com/@fromthefountofyouth.

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