I just met a secondary school classmate at an eatery. He shouted “Sky Boy!” and hurried to my table grinning.
He still has a scar in his right cheek and he still has his tallness and he still has his hurried speech.
I stood up before he reached me and we hugged, before he pulled a chair close by and sat without waiting for me to tell him to.
The last time I had seen him was in 2011 during our graduation ceremony. He was our Sports Captain and he liked arguments.
It was exciting speaking and laughing about experiences we now tacitly considered childhood memories.
He seemed to have clearer memory than me. He reminded me of a female Corper from Imo State who taught us Economics in SS2, and whose class all the boys liked because she was beautiful and had a bubbling big nyansh she wasn’t hiding.
He reminded me that she called me “Jaludin” because my surname (Jalaluddeen) was too long for her tongue, and it was pleasantly funny to remember.
When I asked him what he was doing in Abuja, he said “I’m here for some stuff.”
But when I insisted, with an obvious aim to be nosy about what actual stuff he was doing, he said he was doing his NYSC.
He then began to explain – in a manner I found unnecessary- why it took him “so long” to have a degree.
He said he had done a diploma immediately after we finished secondary school, before going to get his degree five years later. I told him it was OK, because it was.
What struck me was how he had already expected a form of reaction from me, a form of degradation, just because he’s serving at the age of 29.
I finished my undergraduate at the age of 22 in 2015, and in my class were students who finished younger, including a girl, Husna, who graduated at the age of 20.
But there was also a Malam Abubakar who finished with us at around 40.
There were also others who spilled, there were others who were withdrawn, and there were others who were expelled because they did a scandalous “Mask Party” in 200 level.
I realize that a lot of young people, who have no business reducing or hiding their ages, do so to avoid people judging their achievements on the basis of their age.
But there are a lot of things we don’t control in this life, and even in the things we can, we can only feel inadequate when we compare ourselves on the basis of others whose circumstances aren’t necessarily similar to ours.
We also have the tendency to ignore the privileges we have over many others, just because others have got something we want before us.
The fact that my friend from secondary school felt ashamed of revealing he’s serving at the age of 29, speaks a lot about the toxic ways we judge others, and the toxic ways we judge ourselves.
I hope he soon learns to be proud of getting a degree in his late twenties, and also learns to acknowledge and cherish the many other things he has achieved over the years, on his own parameters, and not on anybody’s.