Very slowly, I turned. My heart was already beating very fast, I felt like I was in a marathon while my heart was screaming ‘he knows my name, he knows my name, he knows my name.’
Oh well, when I did turn, Alex was still sleeping. It was just my imagination. Before you get angry, let me tell you that, at that point, my life started changing.
I think I began to feel emboldened from Adeola and Pelumi’s friendship. The people I thought were all high and mighty suddenly became just ordinary human beings to me.
I just couldn’t see them as before. And with this new insight, my life began to change slowly. I wasn’t so anxious and shy anymore. I began to talk to people, in my class, my dorm room, even began to send the junior students.
Let me tell you something that helped. One day, we ss1 girls had been sent to mop the entire girls dorm as a punishment. So I finished early and went downstairs to the tap to take a bath. Somehow, as I climbed the staircase and got to the base, I heard my name coming from the junior dorm. Curious, I tiptoed to the door to overhear the conversation. I couldn’t see the faces but I knew it was three junior girls discussing.
One was saying “But that senior is too quiet. She doesn’t even talk to anybody.”
“Yes, but me I like her sha. She doesn’t really like sending us. And she’s not wicked. Do you that one day she helped me to fetch water at the tap?” the other one replied.
“Yes, even me too. She has given me her plate to use before, one day when I didn’t have any plate.” The third girl replied.
That was the best conversation I heard. Maybe I had been wrong about myself all along. I wasn’t as bad as I thought. People liked me, even as quiet and as shy as I was. I think the problem was that I didn’t like myself. I was too busy comparing myself to others to fully appreciate me for me.
But the truth is that am not a quiet person. At all. In all my life until now, I’ve always been a talkative. It’s just that when I came I this school, I stopped smiling and talking. I think it’s because my best friend Ebelle, died two weeks before I came to this school.
You see, Ebele and I had been best friends since nursery school. We used to do everything together. Sometimes during the holiday, I would spend some weeks in her house and she would come to mine the rest of the holiday. They say she died of malaria. We had planned to come to this school together. We both passed the entrance exam and gained admission together.
I guess her death affected me a lot. Funny enough, I hadn’t thought of her in a while. I just carried her like a burden around my shoulders.
Anyways, I was walking down the classroom block to get to my Form teacher’s office when as usual, I looked into Alex’s class, just to catch a glimpse of him as I passed. I think the fates where working for me cos somehow, just as I looked into the class, Alex was also looking out the window.
So yeah, our eyes met and for one brief moment, I stood there, not panicking, just looking at him as he looked at me. Before I remembered I was standing outside a window peeping at a boy. I was embarrassed and despite my dark skin, I think anyone looking could see the blood rise to my face. I looked away and walked out with hurried steps.
But I couldn’t get it off my mind. I think that day was the very first time Alex looked at me. I was feeling tingly with excitement and apprehension. Even though I hadn’t actually talked to him, I felt happy that, at least, he knew I existed. I wasn’t so invisible anymore.
The next morning, Alex was standing by the window beside the door of my class. As usual, my legs forgot how to walk and I almost tripped. I was concentrating so hard on not falling that I forgot to frown. And as I passed by him, I could swear he smiled at me, like really smiled at me. I responded with a frown.
But my heart melted. Oh, to have that beautiful face smiling at me, just me. That evening, I had a lot of note to copy so I stayed back in class after school to copy them. Soon, the classroom block was empty and quiet. If I could finish the note before going to the dorm that evening, I would have time to finish the book I was reading that night. But I began to have the feeling that somebody was watching me. I turned and looked around, nobody was there. Just as I finished and I started preparing to leave, I heard footsteps walking away. I looked up just in time to see somebody walk past my class.
I couldn’t be sure but I think it was Alex. Had he been watching me all this while? And for what? Maybe it wasn’t even him. Just my imagination running wild. Why would Alex be peering at me from a window? And what would he even be doing here after class hours?.
The sheer audacity of it made me smile at my own antics. Whether it was foolishness or hope, I have no idea. But then, something magical happened during the last week of school before christmas break.
You see, a new female principal had been transferred to our school that term. And she came with radical ideas. She was appalled that though it was a mixed school, the two sexes were still not comfortable in each other’s presence.
She made a lot of sense to me. I mean, why should I still be shy being around boys when I go to a mixed school?. So the new principal began to change some things. First, she forced boys and girls in the same houses to sit together in the dining. I don’t even want to talk about how mortifying and embarrassing that was at first. Do you know what it takes to eat your food comfortably sitting right in front of boys? But after a while, we got used to it.
Secondly, she introduced ‘social night’. Prior to the new principal coming, my school didn’t have anything like social activities organised. We just went about our businesses. But that term, the last evening before the term closed, the first social night was organised. We had to stay back after the evening food to arrange the hall for the event. Then we rushed back to the dorm to prepare.
The senior girls came out decked in the shortest skirts they could find, their faces painted and lips shining and pouting.
We couldn’t do any of that. So we looked deep inside our bags for our shorter skirts and lip gloss. There was so much excitement that evening, so many borrowing of skirts and lip gloss and hair ribbons etc. When we finally got the hall, we looked our very best.
The hall was full and music was playing from the speakers set up in the hall. The dining tables had been taken away and the chairs arranged in squares to create a wide space in the middle of the hall for dancing.
At first, there was a lot of shyness but after the first few bold people went to the dance floor, the shyness disappeared.
I didn’t know how to dance and no way would I embarrass myself on the dance floor. So I sat down and watched the dancers.
I knew the moment Alex entered the hall. The truth is, I had been watching out for him. Somehow, I was scared because I didn’t want him dancing with any girl. That would just break my heart. But I knew that was impossible. Alex was popular and I knew that somehow, he would find his way to the dance floor. I watched surreptitiously as he stood with his friends watching the dancers. His friends began to disappear one by one, each with a girl on the dance floor till he was left standing alone. It wouldn’t be long now. Very soon, he would go dance with somebody. I couldn’t watch this. I looked down at the floor, not wanting to see anything that would break my heart.
When I looked up, Alex wasn’t there anymore. Even though I told myself I was being silly, I still looked for him at the dance floor. He wasn’t there either. Maybe he had left. Or he was outside with somebody else.
Feeling bereft, I stood up and left the hall to stand by the window outside, just wishing for the night to be over so I could go sleep. But when I looked across at the next window, Alex was there, and he was looking at me. He was alone.
I bowed my head and looked into the hall, pretending to be busy. But I could feel his eyes on me. I felt giddy with excitement and apprehension. Finally, maybe he was beginning to see me, to notice me. I summoned up the courage to look back at him. He smiled. I smiled back a little. Then he left the window and walked till he was standing next to me.
At this point, I felt like we were the only two people in the world. He was so close that I could see the small sheen of sweat on his neck, the small scratch on his wristwatch. He kept coming closer and I kept shrinking into the wall. When he held my hand, I felt like I was exploding into a thousand happy pieces. My body began to tingle, I couldn’t keep still. With his other hand, he held my chin and raised my face up to meet his.
Then the lights went off. And he kissed me.
I melted! I couldn’t think straight, his lips were soft, softer than I had imagined. I didn’t want him to stop. He pulled me closer, his hand on my waist and the other on my hair. I had never felt anything like this. Instinctively, I hugged him tighter and kissed him back with every passion, every love I had felt for him all these years. It wasn’t enough. He pushed me back gently till my back touched the wall, then continued his assault on my lips, soft, light feathery kisses that had me falling against him. If he hadn’t been holding me, I would have fallen.
When the lights came back on, my sanity returned. How could I just let him kiss me like that? He hadn’t even said a word to me. Was I that easy and cheap? And what if it was another bet? What if he was playing a cruel joke on me like he did with Miriam?
Suddenly, I felt like throwing up. I pushed his hand away and ran out with the crowd of girls leaving the hall. I ran till I got the dorm and lay in my bed, feeling ashamed. While one part of me was happy that Alex had kissed me, the rational part was calling me stupid. Stupid to let a boy i’d never talked to, a boy who had rudely dumped another girl on a bet, to kiss me. But oh, he kissed so well. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And I wanted more. My lips felt soft, and yielding. I tossed and turned all through the night in confusion. The next morning, I decided I would go talk to him and get some answers before we took our results and went home for the holiday.
But when I got to classroom block, the first person I saw was Alex standing outside his classroom door talking to Miriam. He didn’t even notice me watching them. They laughed together then he held her hand and they both entered their classroom.
I travelled to my village that christmas, and ate so much that I put on weight. My mom was happy. She had always said I was too skinny.
I began to do more house chores, went to church with her regularly, all just to persuade my mother to change my school but she was adamant. Nothing I said could change her mind. I even told her that the male teachers sometimes molested the female students, she didn’t believe me.
To be truthful, I wasn’t lying. I had almost being molested by a male teacher once before. Mr Collins, my Maths teacher had called me to his office once when I was in Jss2, and had shown me how poorly I was doing in my result, promising to change my grade to a better grade. He then asked me if I was a neat girl. I said yes. He said I had to prove it by showing him my thighs because neat girls had light complexioned thighs. I foolishly and innocently raised my tunic up for him to see my laps. I don’t know why he hadn’t gone further that day. I think God just wanted to save me that trauma.
But I couldn’t tell my mother all that. So I cooked up stories, none of which she believed. So yeah, I did go back to school but I made up my mind never to even look at any boy again.
The first week, I didn’t see him. I hated him so much I refused to call his name, even in my mind. So when I did see him the second week, walking to the classroom block, I ran inside my class and pretended that my heart wasn’t breaking. Oh I hated him. I hated his face, I hated the very sight of him. I had been praying that somehow, by a miracle, he wouldn’t return.
At the end of class, as I carried my bag, I saw him, standing outside my class window and looking at me, smiling. I glared angrily at him. He frowned slightly. I hissed and went outside.
“Hi….” he called out to me. I raised my head up and walked past him like he was air. Let him go and talk to Miriam, to all the other girls in this school, I didn’t care. At all. But he shouldn’t pretend like he knows me or even likes me. Maybe he came to mock me, to prove to his friends that he really did kiss me. And probably win the bet. I wondered how much he won this time. Tears fell down my eyes and I angrily swiped them. I would not cry for any cheap human being, hopping from one girl to the other, kissing one girl today and another the next. Just my luck that I fell in love with a cheat, a big womaniser.
It served me right. But I wouldn’t shed another tear for that one. During the evening dining, for the first time, he came to my table and sat down right in front of me. I ignored my beating heart and concentrated on my food.
“Why are you avoiding me?…..” he asked me.
I ignored him and put a spoon of rice in my mouth, chewing slowing. The other boys at the table looked at us strangely. Mabel, the girl sitting next to me looked puzzled.
“Am talking to you…….why are you avoiding me? Now I’ve even come to your table and you’re not answering me. What’s wrong with you?” He was starting to get angry.
And I was angry too. How dare he imply that something was wrong with me when he was the world’s biggest cheat and liar? I had had enough.
“It’s you that something is wrong with, not me.” I shouted at him. Heads turned to look at us.
He glared at me angrily, then stood up and walked away. I went back to my food with so much concentration, ignoring the stunned silence at the table.
“Why did you shout at him like that? I didn’t even know you guys were friends.” Mabel said to me.
I smiled and said nothing. She was the school’s big gossip.
“Ha, okay oh. All these quiet and deadly people.” Mabel said and went back to her food, looking at me occasionally in confusion.
That evening, many girls came to ask me about the dining hall incident. I lied and said he had misplaced my notebook. I didn’t look at them when they questioned what a science student would be looking for in an art student’s notebook. Let them think whatever they wanted to. I knew some of them were envious. I wished I could transfer my pain to them. They could all have him if they wanted. I didn’t care anymore.
When Alex saw me the next day, he frowned and looked away. I frowned too and walked past. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. And so we went on, frowning and looking away when we saw each other.
That term, I refused to sit by the window. I didn’t want to keep seeing Alex pass by, or talk to other girls. So I exchanged my seat with Michael who sat in the middle row, I think he likes Hadiza my seat mate, and sat with Chika, Michael’s former seat mate.
Chika was an intelligent boy, the most brilliant boy in my class. But he was also very loud and outgoing. He wasn’t the usual nerd. So I asked him to tutor me in maths and he agreed. Everyday during break, he would teach me the maths topic we learnt that week. This helped me accomplish two things. First, I was getting better in maths. Second, I didn’t have to run into Alex during break time. If I was hungry, I would send a classmate to buy snacks for me when buying theirs.
By the end of three weeks, I began to do quite well in mathematics. Then another complication arose. Chika was beginning to like me, in a romantic way. I noticed it in the way he started treating me with so much respect, sometimes he would touch my hair for no reason. And he began to insist on carrying my bag after class.
I remember one afternoon, during break, Chika was teaching me the rudiments of permutation. Just as he held my hand and looked into the note, his face so close to mine, I felt the sensation of being watched and I looked up. Alex was standing by the window, looking at us with so much anger. My heart lurched and I jerked guiltily away from Chika, my heart beating fast.
I could see Alex biting his jaw so hard. He looked like he wanted to strangle me and Chika too. Then he left. I was shaken. The truth is that, for a while, I hadn’t seen Alex talk to any girl, none at all. Not even Miriam. And I was beginning too get confused. What if I had been wrong? What if nothing had been going on with him and Miriam? What if he really did like me?
Oh God, that meant I had ruined everything. And I just didn’t know how to go to him and apologise. It’s not like I was used to talking to him. The only time we had talked, I had embarrassed him in full view of everyone. Would he even forgive me for that?
The following day, I stood outside his class and waited for him. I had to find a way to talk to him and clear any issues. And even apologise. When he saw me standing outside his class, he left his friends and came to me.
“What is it?” he asked harshly. “Why are you standing here?”
I swallowed. “I.. wanted to…..um…wanted to…”
“If it’s Chika you’re looking for am sure he’s waiting for you in class.” Alex gritted and turned to walk away. I held his hand and he turned to look at me. It wasn’t anger on his face anymore. He was looking at my lips, like he wanted to kiss them again. I shivered and tightened my grip on him, urging him, pulling him closer. Then his class teacher came and the moment was lost.
“Wait for me after class.” He said to me.
I let go of his hand and went back to my class.
I had no shame. Truly. If Alex had kissed me right there in front of everyone, I would have allowed him. And I couldn’t stop thinking about him. All through class, I was day dreaming. I couldn’t wait for the last teacher to leave. Chika noticed me fidgeting and kept questioning me. I made up some lame excuse. He didn’t believe but I didn’t care. I was going to see Alex again! I felt nervous, anticipating.
My last class was the Government class. Of course the teacher saw me not paying any attention and asked me a question which I obviously couldn’t answer. His punishment was for me to take the huge load of assignment notebooks to his office. And when I got to his office, he started giving me ‘good’ advice, on how I should pay attention in class and make better grades.
In a way, I did appreciate his advice but I was in a rush. I didn’t want to keep Alex waiting. After fifteen minutes of valuable lecture which I hardly paid any attention to, I rushed out of his office and ran down to the classroom block. It was empty.
Great! Just one more misunderstanding. Would I ever get what I want?
Anyways, I didn’t see Alex for a while after that. I learned he got sick, again, and had to go home for treatment. Maybe it was a recurring sickness and in my heart, I prayed it wasn’t terminal. I was afraid that even though my life was changing for good, something would happen to ruin it.
Even though I had some friends now and felt better about myself, I still wasn’t happy. You know, happy like I really wanted to be, like I saw in movies and all that. And in the middle of all those new friends, I still felt lonely. Alone. Sometimes I feel like nothing would ever make me feel really happy. The only time I felt happy was when I was with Alex. And I didn’t want him or anybody else to have so much power over me.
I look at my family, my school, my life and I realize that I have so much to be grateful for, but I just didn’t feel grateful.
It was two weeks later, on valentines day, that Chika knelt before me in front of the entire class and presented a flower and a wrapped gift to me. I didn’t want to take them, I really didn’t. But I also didn’t want to embarrass him before the entire class. I had been hoping, even praying that Alex would return before now but he had not. So as he knelt there, in front of me, with a look of hope
in his eyes, I knew it would be cruel of me to reject him publicly. Amidst cheers and all what not, I accepted the flower and gift and he stood up and hugged me close.
In my head, I was already planning to call him aside and gently let him down. But right there at the window, I could see Alex, looking in.