A brief account of should have beens.
“Who was your first love?”
I looked around the room, and at the curious faces that were awaiting my response. They wore the same look of expectation they did whenever someone was asked about their first love. Curious and ready to compare experiences. It was unspoken, but we agreed the best first love experience was held by Helen. She was still dating her first love and they were going strong. The rest of us could only hope to have something like that.
With all eyes on me, I had two options: shake my head and ignore the question, or reply to them. Some acted like they already knew I wasn’t going to honour them with an answer. Boredom, the need to speak to someone about you, or the want to shame an entitled group of ladies, I couldn’t decide which made me tell them about you.
They were all surprised when I spoke. The type of surprise you feel when a wish you were hopeful about, but doubted its fulfillment, got granted.
I told them how I met you under the mango tree in front of my faculty building. How the sun was exceptionally hot that day, and no one cared if the next person sweated more than usual. How you laughed when I replied to a question my classmate asked. The sound of your laugh was muffled by the biscuit in your mouth. How I put in extra effort to make you laugh even though my ears ached from talking too much. It wasn’t because you had a pretty laugh, it was because it had been a while since someone laughed at my jokes.
I told them you were tall and dark. The type of dark that reminds someone of Nescafé mixed with evaporated milk. Maybe not dark then, chocolate. How the first time we spoke, it was because you were complaining about one of your classmates, a lady who had just gotten married, who kept parking her car at your HOD’s spot. I stood waiting for my Abacha and watching you. You were trying to make everyone laugh with the same effort I used to make you laugh.
“Nne, why are you looking at me?” you asked.
Instead of shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “Maybe your HOD should start coming to school early.”
You didn’t hear me, and you didn’t ask me to repeat myself.
The next time we saw each other, you were wearing an Ankara senator and black shoes. I said nothing to you as I smiled brightly at my friend standing behind you, taking care to not look in your direction. I think you wanted to say hello. The low rise of your hand was stuck with me, and that night, each time I wanted to take a sip of my hot tea, I smiled and shook my head. That night, I dreamed we became proper friends.
You didn’t look at me in school the next day.
The next time I saw you, it was at the bank. I noticed then that your jaws were defined, and your face was one of the prettiest faces I had ever seen. And because I read this Pinterest post about this girl who tried to take a picture of a guy she thought was attractive, I took a picture of you.
Between us, I was the only one who read the Pinterest post. Or maybe you did and I wasn’t your cup of tea.
I obsessed over that picture for the longest time.
The sun was hotter than usual the day I realized I didn’t know your name. So, when I saw you under the mango tree, I hurried over and took a seat. The entire time, I pretended to be on my phone as you argued football with your friends and a few of my classmates.
That was the nineteenth time I thought it’d be cool to be a boy because joining in the conversation would have been easier to do. I was starting to tire out when someone said your name.
“Cheta, it’ll be hard for you to have sense.”
You had the type of laugh a confused person would give to a joke they didn’t get but didn’t want to be explained to them.
I thought of a million ways to start a conversation with you. What’s your favourite song? Movie? Book? Gemstone? But each time our eyes locked, I looked away even though I stared down half of the boys I walked past on my way to school.
“How did you know you love him?”
Was it love or infatuation? Let’s say it was love. I guess it was the desire to see you. Maybe it was how the mango tree became my spot. How I tried to commit the brief non-interaction with you to memory.
What I don’t tell them is how I stopped thinking about you the second Thomas said he liked my favourite band. How I loved you for a total of two weeks, and not a single day more. Now, when I walk past you, I smile at you. The smile I give to boys I once had the chance to care about even if it was for a brief two weeks.