As soon as I reached my room, I called Imo.
She answered on the first ring.
“D? Dilia? I’m sorry! It’s been really crazy and my phone –”
“Shut up,” I snapped. “Stop talking. I found him.”
It was deathly quiet down the line.
“I found him…”
I heard a chair scrape the floor in the background and a door slammed shortly afterwards.
“Tell me everything.”
“His voice – it’s like – like steel.”
“His voice is like steel?”
“And velvet. Like – like gentle but firm –”
“Ohmigod!” she squealed. “What’s his name?”
“I didn’t get his name –”
“He kissed me.”
“On the cheek. He kissed me goodbye.”
She took a deep breath, seeming to have calmed down.
“You don’t even know his name though, D.”
“I get it,” I admitted, feeling my mood sink. “But I suppose that doesn’t make any kind of difference… Coz even if I knew his name, he’s still a stranger.”
“But you can get to know him,” she said after a minute.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Everything’s so up in the air. We even met by mistake…”
“Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he was looking for you.”
Maybe he was.
But after that day, he seemed to have disappeared.
I didn’t see him at any of his usual spots and he didn’t come to me at the bus stop.
This was making me miserable.
Maybe I was better off forgetting about him.
I made good on my invitation to Kay and that weekend, we went to Rosebank for a movie. I was surprised by the movie she picked for us, which was about war.
As we walked back to the bus stop, we talked about it.
“I don’t get how they live with what they do though!” she was saying.
“The same way we do, I guess.”
“Not like that,” she said. “I mean – taking another life.”
I didn’t know if I’d ever understand it.
“We just weren’t designed to get it,” I said.
The movie had been about soldiers, left stranded, the last of a platoon.
They had to fight their way out, killing other men in order to survive.
“Would you ever kill someone in defence of someone else?”
“I don’t know.”
Kay looked at me incredulously.
“Seriously, I don’t know what I’d do,” I said. “Drop dead with the dilemma. Shoot them. Offer myself. I don’t know.”
I sighed heavily. “There are a lot of things that I thought I knew about myself. Then the truth comes and I realize it’s something entirely different.”
She chuckled and I knew why, but I kept my mouth shut.
“Safe to assume you would?” I asked.
“Pretty sure that I would, yeah.”
The bus arrived just as we did and we sat way in the back.
I looked at her, my brows raised, inviting her to continue.
“You don’t have a boyfriend, right?”
“No, I don’t.
“I have wondered this for so long, but I doubt I’m any closer to the answers,” I told her.
“Maybe you have poor taste in men,” she offered. I shrugged, but didn’t say anything.
I actually thought that it was my own fault.
I’d heard people telling me that I should loosen up, but the fact was, I wasn’t about to listen to their advice. Honestly, I wasn’t about to let myself go for things that I took no interest in.
If I was going to loosen up, it would be for things that I enjoyed. The things that my peers called fun, did not move me even a bit.
And maybe that’s what most guys wanted these days, but I had none of it to give up just for ‘fun’.
“He’ll come when he comes,” I said.
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll try to understand…”
And in that moment, there was only one man on my mind.
* * *
The weeks went on and I didn’t hear from him.
I searched the crowd, but he remained elusive.
And it was on a Tuesday afternoon that I learnt why.
Maybe God had been trying to spare me the humiliation of learning the truth and that was why He delayed it for so long.
I had been wandering the campus grounds with Kay as we did some multiple choice questions together for the second half of our Psychology exam, scheduled to start in the next thirty minutes.
Where everybody else was on the East Campus, we were on the West, simply to avoid the large group that would no doubt have studied seventeen extra chapters that we didn’t know about.
“Why must you make this so complicated? One of the answers is the correct one and that’s all there is to it! You don’t have to rationalize everything!” she exclaimed.
“But I see every side! I can’t help it!”
“You would be shit for jury duty.”
As we turned down toward Flower Hall, I saw him.
We were a ways off, but I knew that it was him. He was seated on one of the wooden benches that circled a large tree, and standing in the straddle of his thighs, was a tall, leggy woman with skin as brown as caramel and dark, wavy hair that was being tossed about by the gentle breeze. He gripped her hips and she seemed to enjoy this, if the way she was swaying was anything to go by.
She cupped his cheek and leaned in to say something that made him laugh and then she leaned in even further and kissed him.
I bit down hard on my lower lip where it began to tremble as pain speared right through me.
When had I started to care for this man?
When had he started to matter enough for me to want him to be with nobody but me?
How did I not even consider the possibility that he might already have a girlfriend? Or a wife with three kids?
I pulled my hood up and turned my gaze away from the pair as I continued to answer the questions that Kay was asking.
It was cruel then, how that woman’s voice seemed to carry toward me and seemed almost louder than Kay’s, but I was determined to ignore her. I blinked back tears and forced myself to focus, swallowing back the tightness in my throat.
We left them behind as we turned toward where a crowd of students was already gathering in anticipation for the exam.
Fuck this day already.
Focussing was proving a little difficult from the get go, seeing as I found myself glancing around and almost expecting the two of them to be using this venue as well for whatever exam that they might be writing. I had forgotten momentarily that he wasn’t in Health Sciences at all.
Thirty minutes later, we were seated in the vast hall, our question papers lying face down before us. When the invigilator gave the go-ahead, it was a welcomed reprieve.
I finished earlier than Kay and a part of me had wanted to remain behind and wait for her, but I wasn’t in the mood for company that time.
I kept my eyes front and my hood up as I exited Flower Hall and walked determinedly up the campus toward the food court that was at the top of East Campus next to Senate House. The sun beat down mercilessly and I didn’t care that I was starting to sweat because that sure as hell beat the aching in my chest. I wanted chocolate and some Iron Brew and some solitude in my room.
I could still hear her and see her and see – them.
I made it to the food court good and easy and made my purchase.
But there were just too many people around and I decided then that I wasn’t about to be among them as my emotions threatened to boil over.
Senate House was a maze of hallways and offices and lecture theatres. It was the perfect place to lose yourself and eventually, one would find themselves outside if they remembered not to deviate from the levels too much.
But I pretty much shot myself in the foot with this one.
If I had been wiser, I would have headed back to Medical School where I knew that he had no reach. Maybe I had lingered here in the hopes that he would find me somehow. But to what end?
If I couldn’t even ask him his damn name, then how the fuck could I possibly ask that he explain who she was? I had no claim over him.
This was bullshit.
And it was so completely bullshit that I found myself hiding like a coward when I heard her voice. And she wasn’t alone.
I ducked down a hallway as her voice grew clearer.
I felt fear and joy and –
My chest split open and I chastised myself for thinking about him so much and so ardently these past months. I didn’t even know him, so why had I imagined a future with him?
I shook my head and remained quiet as I stood against the wall, listening as the voices drew nearer. I noted then that she seemed to speak much louder than he did and that she sounded annoyed.
He on the other hand, sounded – well – he didn’t sound like anything because I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying.
It didn’t matter.
They walked past my hiding place and I held my breath, watching them go.
I waited a good few minutes before I came out and walked again. I would be heading to an entirely different campus, so I wouldn’t see them at all and for that, I was glad.
The tears burnt the backs of my eyes and I fought them back fiercely.
This was a waste of time.
Their voices disappeared down one end of the hall and I headed in the opposite direction.
My phone began to vibrate in my pocket and I stopped for a second to see who it was.
Maybe I did want company after all.
Telemarketer most probably.
I dropped the call and kept on walking –
My body responded to his presence before my understanding did. I shrank away from him, almost inclined to run. I couldn’t really look at him, but I knew it was him.
His scent, his frame – his presence – him.
“Why do you hide from me?”
I swallowed hard, tentatively looking up at him.
Could he see the accusation in my eyes? The pain and the defiance there?
But all of that faded when I looked into his eyes and I felt myself melting into him right there. All the things that I thought I was thinking about saying, just disappeared into the abyss.
“I…” I stammered. “You… That’s just… It’s – weird.”
“Weird?” he repeated, his brows raised.
“You s-scared me…” I said pathetically.
He blinked at me then, looking startled.
Then something fell over his face.
“Right,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”
I jumped when my phone began to vibrate in my pocket again.
I answered it with shaking hands.
“Where are you?!”
It was Kay.
“I’m coming,” I said into the phone, my voice trembling. “Is the bus there?”
“There’s one coming up slow, looks full. You better hurry!”
I hung up the phone and looked up at him, suddenly breathless. “I have to go.”
“Yes,” he said, nodding his head. “Better hurry. Those bus drivers aren’t so kind, sometimes.”
He said this with a smile that didn’t seem to reach his eyes. I think we both realized it in that moment that we were pretending with our civilities because his smile fell.
I didn’t know him well enough to know anything about him, but I could swear that he wanted to say something but seemed to be holding himself back.
In this silence, my disappointment resurfaced, but it was anger that took the place of pain.
I tried to sidestep him but he caught my wrist in a firm grip.
His hand burnt my skin at the point of contact and I swallowed hard.
He said nothing, and he let me go.