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To beg and to be refused

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Kole Omotoso


Twice he asked for his help. Twice he refused to help him. Biodun asked his childhood friend to take the English General Paper on his behalf. Twice his childhood friend refused to help him. All you have to do is to take the examination in my name. What if they catch us cheating? That’s a crime. And you go to prison for it, you know. For nothing, nobody goes anywhere for it. Nobody will catch us. People do it every day. Have you told your father? Why do I have to tell him? You are undertaking a dangerous project. He should know. There would be consequences. Don’t worry. Whatever consequences come out of it I will carry them. You have not answered my question. I have come all the way from Ado-Ekiti to ask you to save my life. You know what the stakes are now. Fail English, fail all. Can you believe it? It does not matter what you get in Geography, you fail it if you fail English. It does not matter what you get in Mathematics, you fail English, your life is gbusa!!!

Will you save my life? I will save your life any day Biodun. What do you want me to do? I want you to seat the English General Paper I and Paper II for me. That’s all! If you do that for me, my friend, I will be made for life. His friend was silent. He did not answer. Is that not a criminal act, sitting for an examination on behalf of someone else? So, you will not do it for me? There are things I will do for you Biodun, especially when it comes to saving your life. But it does not include seating the English exam for me? That’s fine! Biodun got up and walked out to the front of the house. Must have been driving his father’s car. Anyway, by the time his friend came out of the house, running down the stairs and out of the house, Biodun was gone. They would not see each other for five years. That was the next time Biodun would make the same request of him again.

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This time they were in London. His friend was at Edinburgh University pursuing his doctoral dissertation. He was in London spending the Christmas vacation with his cousin. Biodun lived next door to his friend’s cousin. Cousin had spoken to him about the matter. Is he still on that? Nobody insists on fail English fail all any more. All these years? He has other alternatives. Which are? Sell he your ‘A’ Level certificate. Seat the English exam for him. You don’t need your certificate any more. You have your doctorate. That’s not the issue. What’s the issue then? The issue is that both are crimes, both punishable by prison sentence. Has anyone ever been to prison in the family, either side of the family? I don’t know. That’s how far the conversation went. This time Biodun took his girlfriend to the French Riviera his friend returned to Scotland without seeing Biodun.

He must have proposed to his girlfriend during that fancy holiday. I heard about it all, but nobody invited me. It was a fabulous dual wedding, which took place in Lagos, Ikoyi, Abuja and in London. The following week those who were in Lagos and Abuja were in London, while those who were in London were in Lagos.

Better not to mention names who were where. If it were the days of Telephone Directory it would be the names of those who were not in it.

I invited him to my wedding. He not only stayed on in London to attend and proposed himself as the best man. The best friend I made in the Caribbean refused to travel to London if he was not going to be best man at the wedding of their African relatives. After the wedding, Biodun left without waiting for the reception. My Aunt who was looking so much forward to seeing him was certain that I had insulted him and that was why he left. All I said was that nobody would be allowed to make speeches. But it was the last time I ever saw him. Ever!

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Was it wrong to refuse to commit a crime to save a friend from failure in an examination? I had offered to take the friend through the details of the examination that I was certain he would pass in flying colours. He said he was sure to fail. He did not understand English.

I had suggested that he get his father to hire a teacher to coach him. He refused. Instead, he begged his mother to kneel down and beg me; to go down on her knees to do the examination for her son. When I refused and she and her son left the house I was staying in London, she spat on the footstep as they stepped over the step. This is in those days of hard times. If it was nowadays, who cares? They will do it for him, especially when they are childhood friends. Even perfect strangers do it for one another. For nothing. For love later.

The reason for my refusal was clear to me. From the class one that we shared until class 5 when we parted and then when we met at the grammar school we were the best in the class. But as we advanced in class, Biodun dropped behind in the class. He had money. He gave money for his exams. Finally, the classmates refused to take the exams for him. He came back to me. I refused. I told the mother that Biodun was better than me in class and there was no reason I should be sitting exams for him in high school. The mother said that was long ago when he was prepared to work hard. Now, he was no longer ready to work. I should make it my responsibility to ensure that I do his work for him.

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Kole Omotoso
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