The girls in my dorm sang Shakira’s Whenever Wherever, as someone drummed on a wooden surface. I stood in the middle of the room twisting my waist, when from the window, we heard, “Will you keep kwayet!” We paused but did not keep quiet. We whispered, “Will you keep kwayet,” to each other, mimicking the voice of the matron on night patrol, and stifling laughs. After she walked away, we resumed business. It was still my turn to dance. In that moment, I overcame my self-consciousness and danced with all eyes on me. I rarely dance in public because I still feel self-conscious. But when I do, I remember that night in secondary school and I feel light and free.
In this photograph, we rest our heads against each other’s, you in a blue swimsuit; me in black, at Tarkwa Bay Beach, where the waves roll and froth like white foam. We roomed in the same dorm in junior secondary school; bunk beds joined so we lay side by side, the ceiling nearer us from our top bunks. While others slept, we traded stories, gossip, and laughter. You are in my earliest memories of holding hands. Sometimes, while others went to the dining hall for dinner, we took long walks, hands laced together at fingers and talked the way teenagers do: in earnest and in jest. You are the reason holding hands has become a lifelong habit. I peer at the picture once more. Even in the water, my right hand is on your elbow.
One night in our first year in the university, we dressed up and headed to a room full of teenage bodies pumping hormones and loud music coaxing hands into the air. I was dancing with a guy when another guy stood behind me. In seconds, I was sandwiched between two sweaty, gyrating bodies. My eyes searched for her across the room. There. Also sandwiched between two guys. Our eyes met. We slipped away from the crowd. Side by side, we sat outside, silence wedged between us. Cool breeze brushed against our skin as trees swooshed around us, and above us, the big moon watched.
I used to tell my friends, “If you’re going to sleep on my bed, your legs have to be clean,” and they could not understand why dirty feet irritated me so much. One night, in my room off campus, three of us sprawled out on my small bed and talked about the future, how our hard work would translate to wealth and travel. We promised to make time to hang out no matter how busy our lives became. Someone was supposed to sleep on the other bed across the room, but when I woke up, it remained neatly laid. Perhaps our tangled limbs heralded the future we had planned hours before, the connections we would always share. For once, I didn’t mind seeing dirty feet on my bed. Maybe I even smiled.
Back then, physics and chemistry tried to make school frustrating for her. I didn’t know what it felt like to pour effort into something and not get the desired result. When she cried, I held her, wishing I could share my good grades with her. After secondary school, we proceeded to different universities. When we met again, she asked me about school.
“I haven’t been doing very well,” I replied.
She looked at me for an infinitely revolving second, “What happened?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know.”
She held my hand, “Kemi, you have to do well.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I knew she understood this kind of struggle and heard my unvoiced frustration.
For weeks after we broke up, I didn’t tell my friends. All I wanted was to heal from this thing I mistook for love. Then I told them.
What? Is he out of his mind?
How could he have done that?
Kemi, you have to let go, that guy never even deserved you in the first place.
Two years later, she still says, “He’s such an asshole.” I want to reply, “Babe, relax. I’m long over it,” but I smile instead.
On one of our evening walks in senior secondary school, I asked you about your biggest fear. “Old age,” you said, “wrinkles, shaky knees, and dementia, that’s scary.” I imagined myself, grey and waddling to my favourite chair in the living room, but I was not afraid. My biggest fear is getting old and looking back at empty years of tedious inaction, never having achieved what I was created to do, and wondering if memories of Shakira’s Whenever Wherever, are phantasms sent to tease me.
© Kemi Falodun 2016
Kemi Falodun loves words and fine sentences. She writes short stories, essays, and occasionally, book reviews. She blogs at KemiFalodun.
Photo Credit: AdinaVoicu/ https://pixabay.com/en/hands-friendship-unit-together-1445244/
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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