I felt like I had been broken inside my chest.
I’d read poetry about it, heard songs about hearts breaking, but nothing did it quite like the real thing.
I had no damn clue where these feelings had come from that had me feeling heartbroken for whatever reason. I couldn’t fathom what any of it meant because I didn’t fucking know the guy. He was an absolute and total stranger, so what did any of it mean?
It was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it with anyone, not even Imo. I was glad that she was also too busy with her life to contact me. For all she knew, I still hadn’t found him since last we spoke.
I was quite content to drag that lie out.
I kept to myself and tried to switch up my routine a bit so that I avoided having to stare off into the world in a bid to find him.
Because I wanted to find him.
I wanted to see him one last time because it had to be the last time.
I had to let him go.
As we sat in class one day, I found myself exposed to Mmathapelo’s scrutiny when she called it upon herself to ask me what was going on with me of late.
“Not feeling so good,” I said. “I think I’ll skip this one.”
This one was Biology.
I wasn’t a genius, but I knew enough to understand Biology. I had been good at it when I had been in secondary and primary school. All I had to do was read and understand it, simply see it in my mind. Kay looked expectantly at me and I shook my head imperceptibly.
No, I didn’t want her company right then, even though she’d become so good a friend to me.
I wanted to tell her all about this but in that moment, I needed the company of no one.
I made my way out of the class discreetly and felt the sun hit my face, taking a deep breath at all the warmth and fresh air.
I needed no company at all.
I walked aimlessly for a moment, dithering between heading back to res and going anywhere else. I settled for anywhere else, knowing that the others would find me if I headed back to my place.
The one place that they wouldn’t check, was the library.
Why would I go there if I felt sick?
I made my way right to the very top floor where there was virtually nobody.
The place where I had met him for the first time.
I had been there so many times since, hoping he’d show up but he never had. What were the chances that he would be here today?
And there he was, a solitary figure, apart from the world.
He wasn’t at the large table that he had been seated at when we had first met, but rather a smaller one that was nestled between a long shelf and a wall, right at the window where one could see the campus stretch off into the distance.
How did I always seem to – see him?
If I was a few screws short, I’d think that this was God tying my fate to – his.
What was his name?
What did it matter?
He looked terrible – this was the best word I could think of.
Almost hollow, even.
He was bent over his books, concentrating, but he looked just a little – smaller than I remembered.
The memory of the facts of us presented themselves and the pain of seeing him with another girl was just a pinprick in the face of what we had become since that first day in this library.
Wasn’t it all worth it, to try one last time?
Wasn’t this what I had asked for?
Just one last time?
Without thinking, I approached the table.
He didn’t look up, still deep in his books.
I prayed for guidance in the face of humiliation as I took the seat opposite his. I set my books down on the table and only then did he lift his eyes to mine.
For a moment, his expression was blank.
But then something else appeared in his eyes and I wanted to get up and run.
He smiled tiredly at me, rising to his feet.
Why was he standing up? Was he leaving? Where was he going?
My next thought was how fast I could cause my own death.
Was my timing off? Did I just expose myself to my own undoing?
Death upon me!
He moved around the table and as he moved past me, he did the unthinkable – he planted a kiss on the top of my head. It lingered and it warmed me through my bones, right down to the tips of my toes. I looked up at him then and he looked at me, directly into my eyes – there was an affection there that I hadn’t seen before and it made me smile.
And again, he traced my lower lip with the pad of this thumb.
I felt warmth of a different kind.
He disappeared for a long moment and I sat there, trembling and excited about what was happening right then. He would have to be one hell of an individual to simply leave me here with all of his things and in my fear that this was all too good to be true, I believed that he would.
But he did return and he had two bottles of mango juice and one giant muffin.
He handed me one bottle and we shared the muffin between us for the next two hours that we sat studying in the library.
With him there, my focus was laser sharp.
I had gotten more studying done in those two hours than I had in weeks.
What made me laugh, was how eager I was to please him with my grades even though it didn’t matter either way what he thought.
My final exams were coming up – all of them on Nursing – and I was as good as I was going to be for my papers and there was nothing that I could do about it short of developing the abilities of a savant.
I took down the last of my mango juice and lounged in my seat, closing my eyes briefly. I was pretty much seeing stars and my skull was pounding.
All I wanted to do was pass out for a century.
I opened my eyes again and looked at him.
He was resting his head in his arms on the table and his breathing made it clear that he was fast asleep.
I felt my brain begin to take things out of context and I forced myself to stop thinking – so what if he was comfortable enough to sleep in front of me?
So I gathered his things from around him and set them up in sensible piles to one side of the table, doing the same thing with my books and papers.
Then I settled down to nap.
The smart thing to do would have been to write a note and leave it for him so that I could catch the bus home, but I was feeling particularly stupid right then.
So I slept.
I dreamt of flying, above places I’d never seen before, feeling completely at ease, like flying was the most natural thing –
My heart slammed into my chest and my eyes snapped open.
I turned my head in the direction of the sound and I was transfixed by the wide hazel eyes that were looking directly into mine.
“Are you with me?” he asked me.
It took me a rather strong moment to realize that the man was real and that I wasn’t dreaming. I nodded my head slowly.
“Come, let’s go.”
As we moved out of the library nearly ten minutes later, I realized that I didn’t have my book bag. I was about to tell him this but then I saw he was holding it along with his.
And so we strolled on in silence, him leading the way sometimes, keeping pace with me at others.
I wondered if any of them were out there, watching me – my nosey classmates.
They would naturally assume that I had dodged class for him.
I wasn’t ready for the questions.
But then again, they were probably long gone.
I don’t think that I was surprised when we crossed the lot and he stopped at the black Mustang that I had been admiring over the months.
I glanced at him as he tossed the bags into the boot and he looked so at ease that I wondered if he knew what I was thinking and just didn’t care. He must have seen me at the stop all those times that he rumbled by.
And I could have been staring at him the whole time without even realizing it!
If I could blush, I would have been blazing scarlet.
I headed toward the front of the car, expecting him to open the door for me, but he locked the car again and I trembled at the fact that he had no intention of taking me home just yet.
“Let’s walk,” he said.
And we did walk, past people and places, and it was hard to miss the astonishment and wonder on the faces of the random people who seemed to know him, apparently.
I remembered the response of the girl at the bus stop all those months ago and I wondered once again what I was missing about this man.
Perhaps she’d seen him with that other girl, but that was no reason to be giggling unless it was at my own ignorance.
My mood was starting to sink, but I kept it from reaching my face.
I wanted to shrivel up and die, but once again, he didn’t seem to care that we were being stared at.
We ended up on the ever famous campus lawns where everybody would come to enjoy the sun and the social network.
He moved to a rather large tree and sat down on the grass beneath it, looking up at me with a question in his eyes.
So I did the brave thing against my better judgment and sat down beside him.
For a moment, we were quiet.
And then he looked at me and I was almost too scared to look at him, but I did.
Today, he wore a plain black shirt and equally dark jeans with red and black Jordans. He had a very masculine silver watch on his right wrist and his arms maintained their tone despite the fact that he seemed leaner to me.
And I had to force myself to look away from him before I started screaming in absolute delight.
I looked at him, swallowing hard.
He nodded. “That’s a beautiful name.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying not to smile with all my teeth.
“And you’re a Nursing student, right?”
“Right,” I said, nodding, wondering how he knew this.
But then again, my books had been all over the table, hadn’t they?
“How’s that working out for you?”
It was a loaded question and I looked around me, trying to find the shortest way to tell him my story.
“I just want to write.”
It didn’t say much to him, but it answered everything for me.
“Nursing was never your dream?” he asked, leaning forward slightly. I almost wanted to cower from him, but I just nodded my head, looking back at him.
“Nothing ever will be besides my writing, I suppose,” I chuckled nervously.
“So am I right to assume it wasn’t your choice?” he asked. I pursed my lips.
“It was the easier road to travel. It was either that, or I wait another year and hope they pick me for what I want to do with my life,” I told him.
“I see,” he said.
“But I’ll get by, be finished with it.”
“But you’re surviving, though, right?”
“I believe so,” I said nodding. “After that, I’ll just take it from there.”
He smiled at me.
“I hope I’m around to see you realize your dreams, Dilia.”
My breath left me at his words and this ended with a laugh that felt nothing like my own.
“And what are you studying?” I asked. “Last time… I mean…”
“Last time?” he asked, folding his legs under him, braising his elbows on his knees as he seemed to lean toward me again.
I felt like prey being stalked despite the implied innocence of his actions.
“I… I was too preoccupied to notice…” I said, my throat and lips going dry at the intensity of his gaze.
“Accounting. And Law.”
I could not hold back my wonder. “Double major?”
He nodded his head, a most peculiar expression on his face.
It wasn’t pride or arrogance or even modesty. It was like I had just asked him if his eyes were hazel – like it was all that simple.
“By choice?” I asked.
He nodded his head. “I like the challenge.”
There was something in the way that he said it that made me squirm where I sat.
I looked him over brazenly. “But you look exhausted though. Isn’t it a bit much?”
“I can take it.”
Funny enough, our conversation turned to the sky when a low flying plane passed over the campus, causing a hell of a stir among the students. As a result, we somehow ended up lying down in the grass and time seemed to come and go and I lost all sense of caring.
Maybe the sun was about to set and maybe it had already passed, but I just didn’t care!
“So,” he said. “Writing is your only relief from all this?”
I shook my head. “Reading, the cinema, music sometimes.”
He nodded his head, a faint smile on his face.
“Outside,” he said, looking around him. “This…”
I listened to the rhythm of his voice like it was music of some exotic kind. I almost didn’t bother to register what he was saying because it was his voice that was so enthralling – I could barely focus.
“Do you have somewhere to be?” he asked me.
“No,” I told him, a bit too eagerly if I was honest with myself.
I had some more studying to do but…
His expression changed and I feared that I’d asked him the wrong question. I didn’t even know his name yet and I hadn’t asked. But I needed to know if I should simply cut my losses and go because there was still that woman – his woman.
“No,” he said. “I’m right where I’ve wanted to be for a very long time.”
He looked at me with eyes that were so penetrating; I could swear he was right in the middle of my mind, walking among my thoughts.
It was unsettling.
I looked away from him, trying to gather my scattered thoughts. He sat up and I knew the moment was shattered when he stretched his hand out to me. I took it and he helped me to my feet, helping clear the stray dirt from my clothes, never letting go of my hand.
“It’s going to rain soon,” he said, pointing to a cloud bank not that far off. I shrugged, not caring either way.
We strolled back to his car and he opened the passenger’s side door for me.
It smelt like fresh forest air and the upholstery was a dark charcoal grey with white stitching at the seams. Even though the car appeared like a classic on the outside, it was easy to see that it had been modified on the inside. It was no doubt a manual car, but even that was modernized.
He’d barely started the car when the fat drops of rain began to fall. But he managed it all good and well and a part of me wished that the roads would be packed so that we could spend more time together.
As he weaved through the traffic, it felt to me like a warm brick had settled low in my belly, melting like honey further down below and I had to focus to keep my head on straight. He switched gears and the sound of them clicking into place just made it all the more – something.
In my daze, I didn’t realize what was happening until he came to a dead stop. Traffic was backed up for a stretch and it was clear that I was about to get my wish.
The roads were very heavy with home-goers as we entered the Parktown area.
And he wasn’t pleased at all.
His expression became progressively darker as we went and I wondered how it must feel to be the root cause of his displeasure.
He cussed and I snapped my eyes back to the road again.
“I’m not driving in this,” he said, more to himself than anyone else. He made a hard right and we left most of the dense traffic behind when he crossed back into Braamfontein.
He wound his way back toward Main and then drove past it altogether.
It wasn’t until we pulled into some kind of parking area that I realized that he wasn’t taking me back to my place.
“We can wait it out here,” he said. “Come on.”
It was a command that I followed without question.
We were in an underground parking lot.
He led me into an elevator, in which we were the only two occupants. I clutched my bag close to me as we were carried up to the fifth floor. There were at least a dozen doors that I could see. It was quiet up here and the floor was tiled white. The walls were off white and the doors were black.
He led me to the seventh door and pulled out a key.
He held the door open for me and I entered the room tentatively.
My jaw dropped at what I was greeted with.
This looked nothing like the furnishings of a student life.
He started off by giving me a tour of his apartment.
All I could see was giant window walls and thick drapes and soft, soft carpets. I could almost imagine how it would all look in the relief of sunlight.
“And your parents trust you with this?!” I asked, trailing behind him as we crossed the lounge to the kitchen. He laughed at that. “I’m not as reckless as I look, you know.”
I only smiled at him then.
He prepared coffee for himself and hot chocolate for me and we enjoyed the beverages at the kitchen island, seated next to each other.
“Where’d you get this?”
“My mother,” he said. “She travels a lot. She’s a Paediatric Nurse. She was in Saudi Arabia last year and she came back with this.”
The hot chocolate must have been the best damn thing that I had ever tasted, I swear.
“Maybe I should pay you to make this for me every day,” I joked.
“I could do it for free if you’d ask me nicely,” he said, effecting an angelic smile.
I laughed at that, taking another sip.
“Won’t the coffee mess with your sleep?” I asked. He shook his head. “Nah.”
We proceeded to talk about things that did mess with our sleep and I found that the only thing that could do that for him was maple syrup.
“What? That’s odd.”
“Why?” he asked, cradling his empty mug.
“How did you learn that that could keep you up all night?”
“I had some with pancakes one early morning,” he said.
I could understand that, I guessed.
“I have this –” I paused, finding my words. “This intermittent insomnia. Even if I’m tired. Sleep just doesn’t come… I was awake once for seventy-two straight hours.”
His eyes widened and then he was laughing, a sound that made me laugh too. It was a pleasant sound.
“That must have been terrible,” he said.
I shrugged. “I don’t recall, hey.”
“As in, it was just another three days in which I did nothing extraordinary. I didn’t black out or anything.”
“What does your dad say about it? He’s a doctor, you said..?”
I shrugged, putting down my empty mug. I didn’t know how to explain it to him without him misunderstanding the kind of relationship that I had with my parents.
“Are you an only child?” I asked.
“No,” he said with a frown. “I have two brothers, both older.”
I nodded my head. “Do your parents worry about you equally?”
“No,” he said. His eyes seemed to darken there in his face. “Not me… Not always…”
“Same here,” I said. “I have an older sister… But they worry about her more than they do me. And even then…”
I paused, thinking back. “So, what’s seventy-two hours in the grand scheme of things?”
He nodded his head slowly. “And you’re good with that?”
I scratched my head, finger-combing my braids out of my face. “Not really… But I hate it more when they hover.”
He nodded his head. “Noted.”
Thunder and lightning chose this moment to create a spectacular show and I jumped in my seat.
“And you hate thunder and lightning as well, I see,” he chuckled. I set the mug down on the countertop with shaky hands and took a deep breath, laughing at my own ridiculousness.
“Yup,” I admitted.
“Well,” he said. “The lounge doesn’t have the thickest walls, but it has the thickest curtains. So you can crash in there, maybe watch some TV while we wait out the rain..?”
I nodded my head and he immediately rose and took the mugs with him.
I turned in my seat and watched him clean up after us before my eyes drifted inevitably to our surroundings.
The surfaces were shiny and dark and if I wasn’t smart, I would think nobody lived here. By the way that he was handling his dishes, I gathered that he was a neat freak.
I wasn’t, of course, so if we were roommates, things would be a bit complicated.
“Do you cook?” I asked.
“I do,” he said over his shoulder. “Why?
“Clean,” I said. “Clean, clean surfaces.”
He turned around to face me when he was done, drying his hands.
“Don’t you have clean, clean surfaces?”
I skewed my face, thinking it through. “I have clean enough surfaces,” I told him. “Put it this way. I’d repair the pipes, not report them if they were broken.”
We left the kitchen behind and headed for the lounge where he pulled the drapes over the giant glass wall. It muffled the sound of the rain and indeed blocked out what ambient light there was from the world beyond.
I dropped down into the sofa and he switched the television on before handing the remote to me. “I’ll be in the study,” he said.
He didn’t wait for a response and as a result, I clamped my mouth shut and watched him go. After a long moment of deliberation, I turned the volume down on the television set and switched it to a twenty-four hour news channel.
I then pulled out my books and used the time to study, listening to the muffled sounds of the rain falling softly outside.