#50DaysCountDownTo2015 – DAY 29. Written by @marsezechukwu
He saw her.
She was slightly fatter now. Slightly. Her cheeks were full now; he couldn’t decide if he liked or disliked them this way. He used to like the way her cheeks would crinkle when she smiled. They probably wouldn’t crinkle anymore, but no matter. He was sure she would still have a beautiful smile.
He was sure she hadn’t seen him yet. Her face was buried in her iPhone. Probably texting her friends about how meeting him was a bad idea. He couldn’t agree more. This was an infinitely bad idea. He wasn’t sure his heart could take seeing her now. Now that she was a complete woman. Successful career, an international passport riddled with Visas to the countries she had been to in the past 5 years, and a certain poise to the way she was sitting that reflected her accentuated confidence. She was now so much more than the petite freshman he met in the University of Lagos. The freckled face that smiled at him the first time they met during orientation week.
“You’re one of those girls who promised their parents they would graduate with a first class, aren’t you?”
As far as opening lines go, it wasn’t bad. Funny thing was it wasn’t even an opening line. He hadn’t started talking to her as a potential love interest. He was bored from listening to the Dean of Student Affairs pontificate about how they, as freshmen, should desist from cultism, read their books and do the university proud. He would have left the hall to go hang out with his friends instead, but he hadn’t made any friends yet in the three weeks he’s been in the University of Lagos. Certainly not any friends he was interested in hanging out with, anyways. She was sitting two seats towards his right, and some guy had been sitting between them. But now the guy had got up to go buy one thing or the other, and he’d seen her for the first time. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the hall by any stretch. This wasn’t love at first sight. But he was bored. And she was there. Problem solved.
She smiled. “I didn’t promise my parents anything. But I’m going to make a first class.” She regarded him for a second. “And I bet you’re one of those boys who deliberately stab classes and do badly in exams just so people can continue to think you’re cool.”
He laughed. Because it was partially true. He’d been a nerd in his Junior Secondary School, and in order to get in with the cool crew in Senior Secondary, he’d slacked off on his academics a bit. And he’d kept up with it.
“You’re in Psychology, right?”
“Nah.” She looked down, a hint of embarrassment flitting its way across her face. “Religion and Cultural Studies.”
He laughed again. Not because the department was as terrible as she thought it was, but because she was embarrassed about it in the first place.
She seemed open to a conversation, so he moved to the seat vacated by the other guy so he could be closer to her. Talking to her was going to make this orientation lecture bearable.
He took her phone number as they left the hall. Not because he was interested in pursuing anything, but because it would have seemed rude not to do so after talking to her for the better part of an hour. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he made during his stay in Unilag.
Over the following one month a beautiful friendship developed. He still wasn’t seeing her as a potential girlfriend. She was a drop of sunshine, always happy and playful, and the laughter they shared helped him maintain his sanity despite the rigors of the Pharmacy Department. He didn’t ask about the men in her life; for all he cared she could be a marine spirit – a Mammy-water, as his mother called it. She was there for him, and he for her, and that was all that mattered to him.
Until that first kiss. He’d noticed that she could never look into his eyes when they were talking. So that evening, as they were sitting outside her hostel conversing about everything and nothing in particular, he’d told her to look into his eyes as she spoke. She tried but couldn’t, laughing it away by saying she was the shyest person in the whole school. He lifted her face with a finger to compel her to look into his eyes, and that was when it happened. He moved in, she moved in, their souls melded. Time paused in the 5 seconds they stared at each other after they disentangled. Then, without warning, she picked up her phone from the bench and shuffled away and upstairs to her room.
They were in an official relationship in a week. It was one of those seamless relationships that seemed to effortlessly possess a life of its own. Despite the occasional break up and make up, they stayed together till she graduated from her four-year course before he was done with his five-year Pharmacy course. Never mind the additional one year he’d accrued because he hadn’t passed his Third Professional Exam.
They tried to make it work when she was away and he was still in school, but the distance messed with them in unexpected ways. Frequent arguments. Distrust. Not having much to talk about anymore. After a while he felt he was holding her back from fully starting her life, so he cut her loose. She cried and begged him to give the relationship another chance but his mind was made up. This was best for both of them. “You’re not crying because you’re losing me. You’re crying because you’re scared of starting afresh,” he told her.
Over the years he’d consoled himself by reassuring himself that given the chance to do it again, he’d still cut her loose. It’d hurt him greatly. For the first three months after that final break up, he saw her in every girl he was with. He saw her smile in their faces, and he could sense a hint of her voice in their laughter. He even smelt her when she held them close. He was a colossal mess over those months, but he eventually recovered. The passage of time proved to be an effective medicine, as always.
With time he forgot her. Or most of her. Whenever he thought he’d rid himself of her, the devil would instruct her to Like his Instagram post. And then he’d go through her Instagram profile and look at her pictures. He’d see her being happy with other men, and it would hurt him. It didn’t hurt him that she was happy. He wanted her to be happy. It only hurt him that she was happy and he wasn’t the source of it. He wanted to be the sun she orbited. He wanted to be the north her compass pointed to. But he’d made certain decisions and he had to be a man and live by them. So he blocked her on Instagram. And on Twitter. And on every social network he could think of that she belonged to. He couldn’t block her from calling or emailing him. So the emails came from time to time. “Just checking to see if you’re fat and balding,” one email said. “This one you don’t reply mails anymore. Have you made all that money you said you were going to make and you don’t want me to come and eat the money with you?” another read.
He hated that she could talk to him like nothing had happened between them. He wasn’t expecting her to keep pining for him after so long. Not after she had tried so hard to work things out between them and he’d adamantly refused. He guessed he’d been hoping for something, a glimmer that hinted at any remnants of the consuming flame she had loved him with. But there was nothing. If there was anything left, which he doubted, she did a good job of masking it.
Some days, usually in alcohol-fuelled moments of weakness, he felt like calling her and crying his heart out. But he was a man. A proud one. He’d sooner walk naked round Oshodi than tell her that all his girlfriends after her were merely poor imitations of her. He’d rather die than admit that he’d loved her with everything he had and as such had nothing left to give anybody else. She’d set the bar so high in his life that no girl ever met it.
Which was why he agreed to meet her when she called him after nine months of complete radio silence. She told him she was in Lagos for a program he didn’t care to get the details of.
“Are you going to be free to meet up? I’m staying for like three days.”
He was silent for a few seconds as he thought it through. Could he take it? He’d not seen any recent pictures of her since he blocked her on Instagram and Facebook, so what if she was now so beautiful that he would stand transfixed on setting eyes on her again? Or what if she’d gotten so fat that seeing her would destroy every beautiful image he had of her? What if the last one year had been bad on her?
“Sure, why not.” He was trying to sound as noncommittal as possible, as if his heart wasn’t slamming furiously in his chest.
Here he was. Staring at her from across the restaurant hall as her fingers darted across the touchscreen of her phone. Afraid to take a step forward because then all his fears would confront him. Fears accumulated over years of frantically searching for anything close to the beautiful thing he’d too wilfully discarded. For a brief moment he considered turning on his heels on the spot and beating a hasty retreat.
Then she looked up.
She saw him.
And she smiled. A full smile that bared her perfect teeth and lit up her eyes.
He smiled back. An uneasy smile, but one that welled up inside him on its own.
Then she made a playful kissy face at him. Her eyes shut, her mouth pulled into an exaggerated pout.
His heart started beating with a crazed frenzy. He could feel his blood warming up inside him and his stomach tightened. The familiar signs of love at first sight.
He stood there and confirmed that coming here was a mistake. In all of five seconds of meeting her again, he was in love again.
She got up and spread her arms out wide, beckoning him to come hug her. Then he saw what the table she’d been sitting at had been hiding.
She was pregnant.
Dust in the wind …..Written by Mars Ezechukwu