One random morning in my final year in school, my friends and I had gathered for our routine breakfast of moin-moin after our first lectures. The way the kiosk was built, sitting on the stools in front of the service ‘counter’, one had a clear view of the department and its environs. I was minding my business wolfing down my moin-moin when a burst of laughter reached my ears. I looked up to find the source of the sound and I saw her.
Standing a few feet from me, under the mango tree students gathered during free period, was a girl I had never seen before. She had brown skin, smooth and shiny like rich dark chocolate. Some rays of sun made it through the leaves of the mango tree and formed a halo around her head. Her features were well defined, her face slightly rounded. She was quite animated as she carried on a conversation with some students standing next to her. The way her brows furrowed when she squinted in the sun and her eyes crinkled when she smiled; the curve of her full lips and how her chin jutted as if to drive home a point she was making; the tinkling laughter that reached my ear in response to something funny someone must have said; and I just sat there looking like I had just swallowed a bee.
She turned and looked in my general direction and I beheld her eyes, her soft brown eyes. They had a warm quality to them, but in that instant they seemed to looked right through me, past me to something in the distance behind me. I smiled and bobbed my head in greeting, but she just flicked the hair from her face and carried on talking.
After that day I didn’t see her again for another week. The next time I saw her, she was in the company of my room mate’s girlfriend; it turned out they were in my department and were running a part time program. That explained why I didn’t see her regularly. We got introduced and when I shook her hand, I held it for a fraction of a moment longer than I felt I should have. That same evening my best friend told me about this girl he had met and how he felt his heart would explode for love of her. I was happy for him because for a year now we had been trying to get him a girlfriend. He asked my advice on what to do to make him appear cool while still showing the girl how much he cared. Everyday he would come and give me ‘progress report’. And then one day he said he wanted me to meet this girl. “No problem,” I told him.
When we walked into the hall in the department where students gathered to read at night, it was from the entrance that I spotted her where she sat in the back if the class, head bent over a book. “I see you have sighted her,” my friend said.
“The girl I was telling you about,” he whispered, excitement in his voice.
“Which one?” I asked, hoping against hope that I had understood wrong, for he always called her by a different name.
“With her head bent in the back of the class, the one in the flowered top,” he cocked his head in her direction.
“You know what, I have just remembered something I was supposed to do in the hostel,” I told my friend stepping back over the threshold. “I will see her another day, just not tonight.” Not waiting for him to ask me any further questions, I walked quickly from the building. I did not walk toward the hostel though, instead I took a walk towards the school orchard. I find that the smell of damp earth and lemon blossoms had a soothing effect on me, so it was to the lemon grove I went. I don’t know how long I was there for, but when I left there, I knew what I had to do. I walked straight back to the class with a mind to tell my friend that while I might have caught feelings for his girl, I valued our friendship and would not want to jeopardise it by gunning for his girl.
When I got there though, she was alone and he was nowhere in sight. “Would you mind if I took this seat?” I asked standing behind her. “No,” she replied without looking up. I pulled the seat she was on.
“What do you thi..” She spluttered looking up. Her eyes flashed and I just stood there and chuckled.
“What?” I asked. “You said you didn’t mind if I took the seat, did you not?”
“Well, I didn’t think anybody would want to take my seat.” She said. I stuck out my hand as I introduced myself. Her eyes lit up when she heard my name, it would seem my friend had mentioned my name a few times to her, she didn’t seem to remember we had been introduce earlier in the semester.
“He told me you were crazy, I just didn’t consider how crazy.” She finally saw the humour in the whole situation and she threw her head back and laughed that tinkling laugh.
She was easy to talk to, so I sat with her and we talked and laughed till she was ready to call it a night. I walked her to the entrance to her hostel before returning to my room.
I woke up with a stare, but unlike other times, I did not sit up. I just lay there and took in my surroundings and my eyes grew round as saucers. My friend sat at the foot of my bed, his head cocked to one side, his eyes fixed on me, a wry smile on his lips and a knife in his hand. It was then I sat up. “Guy, everything ok?” I asked him.
“You tell me,” came his reply in the coldest voice I had ever heard.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked him.
“I saw you, I saw both of you. I thought you left to sort something out in the hostel. Ahh yes, you didn’t say which hostel, right?”
“Put the knife down before you hurt yourself.” I told him as calmly as I could. He hadn’t used it up till that point so chances were, he didn’t plan to use it – at least not on me.
He gently set the knife down, then turned swiftly. I was on the verge of getting up from the bed and his fist glanced off my shoulder. I am taller and broader than him, but he is more muscular. Though I had never fought before, as the punch he threw failed to connect properly and he was thrown off balance, I quickly stepped into his ’embrace’ and, passing my right arm through his right armpit then the left arm under his left armpit, I locked my fingers behind his head. Using my superior height to my advantage, I leaned backwards. He struggled for a bit before telling me he was calm. I held him for a few more seconds before I let him go. As soon as his feet touched the floor, he whirled round. I saw the punch coming, but it was too fast for me to weave completely out of its way, plus I wanted him to hit me anyway and let the steam out, so I stood where I was. When his fist connected with my jaw, I saw darkness, then millions of tiny stars.
I rubbed my chin as I looked in surprise at my friend. He was breathing hard and blinking rapidly. I watched him closely as he tried several times to get his breathing under control, and I watched him as each time he failed. I saw his mouth open and shut, but no words came forth. The veins in his neck bulged out. It was, in a way, quite comical to watch but I dared not laugh, and it was not just because of the pain radiating up my jaw. I felt the swelling start and did not really need to touch it to feel the lump that had formed.
Finally, I blinked. My best friend of four years had just hit me!
When he was calmer, he listened to my explanations and then made me apologise before apologising for hitting me. I told him I understood: it was only fair to fight for love.
That was twelve years ago. Twelve years later I met another girl who turned my life on it’s head. Problem is, there is distance between us. I don’t see her as often as I would like and I know more than most how this affects relationships.
I once read somewhere that people will fight, but they will fight the best way that they can. So while I cannot go around throwing punches at life, I am not afraid to work for love. I just need time. I hope she understands…