The Beginning of the Future

People will come and go in our lives. Some people teach us the lessons we should learn. Some people leave lessons only for us to learn later on. Some people challenge us with the values they bring from their homes. And some people learn lessons with us as we go on in life. The latter is something we should cherish forever. These people give us directions and a path we can choose to take to be a better person.

Zuri, Amira, Ifeoma, and Zainab had their friendship tested as they graduated from a prestigious federal university. They had gone through difficult times while studying. Taking up Engineering is as serious as any other course, if not more difficult. They computed together, answered equations, and worked on papers,  struggling together to get their degrees. They all had similar dreams: to create a better future. Just like the ripple effect, they knew the small steps would lead to bigger results.

Zuri Abdu was a young and beautiful lady, the head-turner of the group. As carefree as she was, she did not bother to speak with her parents about taking up Engineering as opposed to Business Management. She took a stand in her decisions in life and was a beauty beyond her physical appearance. She did better than what was expected of her and was a role model for others. She excelled in whatever she took interest in.

Amira Tanko was the quiet and graceful. She stayed calm in any situation. Smiling, she agreed most of the time with what the group said. Though she rarely disagreed, she voiced her disagreement gracefully and objectively. Usually, the members of her group turned to her for support, as she knew how to listen and comfort during trying times.

On the other hand, Ifeoma Ezeh, the assertive and firm one in the group, was a lady with conviction. She knew about justice and fairness since childhood, as she grew up with parents who were lawyers. Yet, Ifeoma chose to be an Engineer. She loved how engineers work hand-in-hand with architects. She loved how buildings are made from many different materials and how the water flows through the pipes. Ifeoma was a curious lady, as well. She often fought with Zuri, as Ifeoma loved to tease her friend. Ifeoma usually insisted that she knew what was best.

Lastly, Zainab Jafar was the peacemaker. As the oldest among her peers, she usually made decisions after everyone had given their suggestions. She had been in Engineering Studies for five years now. Though a year later than her friends, she did not mind. Her goal was to finish Sanitary Engineering and help her family build the home they always wanted, even if it took ten or more years. Zainab was very independent, as she would be the breadwinner in her family. A sponsor supported her education so she could go on to contribute to her community.

These young ladies met at the start of their programme. Their different personalities were unified with a single goal: to be a better and successful person who can contribute to society. One small step can create a big impact. For these ladies, they wanted to create an impact in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector.


Chapter 1 The Present

Zainab had been called to check on a building’s water supply. As she was a consultant on the contract of that building, she looked at the plumbing and pipes, then went back to her office. She was tired.

As she leaned back in her office chair, she sighed, “I did not know I would be so tired.”

She smiled as she looked at the degree hanging on the wall along with some certificates. She thought, “It has been five years since…” Her thought was interrupted by a phone call. She stood up and went to get a drink of water.

“She’s not picking up. I told you, she has a lot of work to do,” Zuri said to Amira and Ifeoma as they discussed plans to see each other that day.

“Maybe try later? She has a lot of projects. I heard from one of my contractors. She signed several projects for plumbing lately,” Amira agreed.

“Well, we are her friends. She knows we are calling,” Ifeoma answered.

But did Zainab know who was calling?

Her assistant called out to her as she was about to leave the office, “Excuse me, someone left a note awhile back. She told me that she wanted to see you for a new building project. Here is the number.” The assistant handed the paper to Zainab.

As she received the paper, Zainab went back to her office chair and sat down. A name appeared on her phone, “Zuri…why?” she thought.

“I guess she will not see us,” Ifeoma blurted out.

“Come on, she will. If not, will she see us next week?” Zuri asked.

“Well, no, I think she won’t. She is still disappointed.” Ifeoma replied.

“For me, it is a yes. We are close to her. No one knows her better, right Amira?” Ifeoma looked at Amira, who was looking at her phone the whole time.

“What are you doing? Aren’t you helping us?” Amira held her phone out to face Zuri and Ifeoma. “She will see us now.”

That day, the young ladies met for the first time in five years. What had happened along the way? Were they held together or moved apart? One thing is for sure, they were happy seeing each other after so long.


Chapter 2 The Past

Just weeks before graduation, the students were preparing for the final exams. They were excited to finish the degree and become real engineers.

The four young ladies were planning to take a break and rest from their studying and preparation.

“Where shall we go?” Zuri asked.

“I wanted to have a party or feast,” Ifeoma answered.

Amira, as always, agrees, “Sounds great to me.”

While they were talking, Zainab was quiet. She knew she wanted something else. She wanted to study and prepare, not rest.

“Are you alright?” Ifeoma asked Zainab nicely.

“Yeah, I am fine. It is just that…”

Ifeoma interrupted her, “Feast or Party?”

Zainab smiled, “Anything, I guess, what the group wants.”

Ifeoma clapped, deciding that she would plan sleepover party  for their group. She suggested her home for the party, as her family had a spacious room and her parents were away working for two days. She was excited to have her friends come over. She was thankful for their patience and loyalty for years. Ifeoma did not have many friends due to her assertiveness, so Zuri, Amira, and Zainab were all she had. From bed covers to food and soap, she thought about everything for the sleepover.

The day came and the three ladies went to Ifeoma’s home for the party. Zainab brought books and notes for her to read while she was there.

“What are these?” Zuri scanned Zainab’s bag as she held a glass of juice in her other hand. Ifeoma and Amira also went to look at Zainab’s bag full of books.

“I will study as you go on with the party,” Zainab said. “Are you alright? We should rest,” Ifeoma tried to ask nicely.

Zainab looked at her with teary eyes, “Go on, I need to study hard. This is my last chance.”

Ifeoma was speechless. She sat beside Zainab for a minute or two not knowing what to say, and then joined Zuri and Amira.

Ifeoma did not ask. She knew the reason, but she could not do anything about it. Ifeoma knew Zainab had a deeper problem: Zainab was jealous of her peers. Ifeoma knew about Zainab’s struggles. Struggle to finish her degree. Struggle to help her family, as she was the last chance to help them survive. Ifeoma knew how Zainab was stuck for two years in the Engineering course, and that her former peers were already preparing for their first job. Ifeoma knew but she did not do anything., as there was nothing she could do. Zainab did not talk about her struggles with Amira and Zuri, either. Ifeoma knew, but she did not dare talk about it.

As the four ladies went to sleep, Ifeoma and Zainab stayed awake on the bed.

“I apologize,” Zainab started.

Ifeoma answered, “I know. You do not have to mention it.”

“I will apologize again if I distance myself from all of you. This is me.”

Ifeoma was silent. She spent the night trying to figure out what Zainab meant.

The following morning, Zainab went home earlier than everyone else. Ifeoma was disappointed, as she had prepared the sleepover but Zainab was not able to thank her. Zainab did not say a word or even a good-bye to the group. They were all clueless.


Chapter 3 The In-Between

During graduation day, Zainab did not congratulate her three friends. Amira smiled at Zainab as they went past each other, but Zainab immediately left the venue as soon as the ceremony ended. This is how her connection to the group ended. No one knew what happened to Zainab or her reasons for not communicating with anymore. All they knew was that Ifeoma was the last person she talked to.

“What should we say to her?” Ifeoma asked the group as they were waiting patiently inside a café near the Zainab’s office building.

“Well, tell her we have a plan to be volunteers,” Zuri told Ifeoma.

“She won’t believe me,” Ifeoma replied.

“Tell her, the university called for us. To volunteer.” Zuri suggested.

Amira spoke up, “Just tell her you wanted to see her. It has been a long time. We missed her a lot. It is difficult every time we see each other and one is missing. We can feel that we are incomplete.”

Both Zuri and Ifeoma kept quiet. They sipped their coffee as they watched the people passing by.

Since college, Amira had observed her friends. The way they behaved. The way they talked. The way they laughed at each other’s silly ideas. The way they valued each other. It was all-important to her. Amira kept quiet, but she was not ignorant. She was comfortable being quiet.

When Amira speaks, she speaks from the heart. That is why clients love working with her. She does not only see the smallest details in the plan, but she speaks clearly about everything.

She also has the heart for volunteer work, and gives back by helping a village with water sanitation. She visits them from time to time, and even suggested the village for volunteer work with her group. Amira just knew it would help Ifeoma and Zainab understand each other. Amira wanted the group to be close again. She held on to their similarities, their main goal.

“She is here.” Amira smiled as she pointed to the lady approaching them wearing long sleeves and brown pants. The lady looked stylish. Tall and with good posture, the lady did not look like Zainab at first, but as she smiled at Amira, they knew it was her. Everyone moved their things to clear a fourth chair. Amira stood up as soon as Zainab was near.

“I am very glad to see you again. I missed talking to you,” Amira hugged Zainab tightly as her tears fell.

Zainab cried as soon as Amira hugged her. The ladies were quiet, knowing that Amira rarely expressed herself in the group. It was the first time they had seen Amira cry.

Ifeoma held Zainab’s hand as she sat down. “I apologize for everything…just for everything,” Ifeoma said to her old friend.

Zuri wiped her tears and smiled at Zainab. She did not say a word. Amira ordered a cup of coffee for Zainab.

“So, what did I miss? Can anyone tell me, please?” Zainab asked the group to update her about their lives and the projects they have worked with. She did not open the wounds of the past. She knew there will come a day where she can open everything up, where she could be free to tell her side of the story.


Chapter 4 The Future

It was an emotional day for the ladies. They felt their bond that was never broken. They realized how much they had missed each other as they finished chatting only when the servers informed them it was almost midnight. They walked together to their cars.

“Will you guys be alright driving home? Please be safe,” asked Zuri.

“Yes, of course. We even have projects way past midnight. Way, way past midnight,” Ifeoma laughed.

“Do you guys want a sleepover? My house is not that big, but we can stay there for tonight. I hope you say yes…” Amira spoke softly. Everyone laughed as they were surprised by Amira’s suggestion.

“Sure. I’m in. I’ll just tell my assistant I won’t be in tomorrow. Let’s support Amira now. I do not want her crying again.,” Zainab said with humor. For the first time in their ten years of friendship, Zainab agreed to a selfless act.

Zuri and Ifeoma smiled as they got into their cars and pinned the location Amira gave them. Zainab turned up the music in her car. They were happy to be reunited again, just like the old times. The years did not seem long to them. It just seemed like a break or a rest in their friendship. Probably, it had been a test for which they had found an answer. Some friendships may seem unimportant at first, but as conflicts, trials, and struggles test them, you find out that nothing is bigger than the care, trust, faith, and loyalty in a friendship.

When they reached Amira’s place they were surprised again, as the house she built was amazing. It was not big like a mansion, but the structure was intricate, the lighting was good, and the color was appealing. The parking was as spacious as if she had designed it for four people. To get to the door, they walked through a patio with plants and a receiving area with a swing. The entrance area inside the house was big enough to accommodate all of them, and then they went through to the living room.

“Your place is awesome,” Ifeoma said to Amira.

“Thank you for this,” Zainab spoke. “Thank you, I was not able to say this before but, thank you for everything. I am not myself without you.” Zainab looked into her friends’ eyes and hugged each one.

“Can you tell us what happened? I mean, I know your story through a client but…” Amira started.

She was interrupted by the three: “WHAT? Through a client?”

“Yes. But let’s hear from Zainab herself.”

Zainab spoke the truth that night. She told the story of why she distanced herself from the group. Her parents did not like her having a group of friends. They thought she would get lost in her goals and dreams. They thought she would not achieve anything, as she was not as rich as Ifeoma, not as pretty as Zuri, or as graceful as Amira. She proved herself by studying, and it paid off. But Zainab lost them.

A year later, Zainab’s mother died due to a complication of her hypertension, and her father died two months after. She did not know who to turn to. Her clients knew what happened to her, as she broke down from time to time at work. When her sponsor, who volunteered for an NGO, contacted her,  Zainab picked herself up and created a vision for the community.

“I always thought about you. I did not forget you. You were my inspiration for moving forward. That one day, when we meet again, we can do something bigger and brighter than what I could imagine,” Zainab smiled.

“We knew you would be great. Look at you now! You manage a lot of projects,” Amira said.

“I know, your future seems better than ours,” Ifeoma said. “That day, when you ran away from us, I felt betrayed, to be honest. It was painful, as I enjoyed your company. I knew there was something wrong, but I am not good with comforting words. I am sorry.”

That night, the ladies apologized to each other and made a promise to keep in touch. Amira opened up about her plan to open a company for water sanitation in communities and partnering with other NGOs for cleaner water. She also showed her plans to the group, and they liked it. They knew Amira was highly reliable. They did not sleep for long, as they had many stories to tell each other.

Friendships last because of two or more hearts intertwine with one idea and vision. Whatever distance or circumstances, the memories bring back the bond of friendship.

Chapter 5 The Beginning at the End

The following morning, Amira went to her project at a community near the river. She surveyed it and chatted with the locals. She also called her friends to update them on the project and prepared reports to present to them. It was also a way for her to see them all again.

Zuri was busy with a project in the city. She had clients courting her, as she had become very attractive and smart. Yet, Zuri remained faithful to her duties and responsibilities. She did projects for big companies as a consultant.

As a side project, she ran a business of reselling dresses to fund Amira’s volunteer work. Her parents were proud that she managed a business of her own, as they had wanted her to take up Business Management at university. As Zuri could not be present physically in the community, this was her way of helping. She planned to visit, but her schedule did not match Amira’s. Even so, she never missed a call from her friends.

Ifeoma visited the community every two weeks, as she had more free time than the others. She manages her parents’ law firm and plans to build and design the firm’s next office building . Ifeoma encouraged her parents to take on more pro bono cases, and they agreed.

Zainab finished all her projects for the month. She contacted her sponsor, as she had decided that she wanted to sponsor a student as well, like her sponsor had done for her. She chose the community that Amira helped. Zainab wanted to give scholarships to teens who aspired to be engineers, nurses, and doctors. Alongside her friends, she learned the art of volunteering firsthand, and hoped for more communities her group could help.

As the months passed by, Zuri, Ifeoma, Amira, and Zainab contributed to their chosen community. They knew they wanted to make a difference. This also resulted in a stronger bond in their friendship. As their careers grew, so did their friendship.

The ripple effect of their goodness grew larger, extending beyond their circle to society and their chosen community. They reached hundreds of people and students, helping them in many ways, from giving clean water to helping them achieve higher and farther dreams.

Indeed, the end of the old chapter in their friendship started something better and brighter. Most of the time, things cannot be seen unless one looks deeper to understand fully. Time does most of the doing and working. For Zuri, Ifeoma, Amira, and Zainab, time healed the wounds of the past, linked the future through the in-betweens, and started their vision through their career and vocation.