My Junior secondary 3 class of 47 students in Etinan Institute had more girls than boys in the class. In fact we had about 27 girls. I don’t know where those girls migrated from. But it was fun to have them.
Two things came to play in the class by the reason of the girls. The first was that we had some very fine girls in the class. Girls that will come to school and their beauty will torment the hearts of young boys.The other thing was the competition and argument among the boys on who should have who among the girls. I was of course not in anyway involved in the competition. Who dash monkey banana.
There was this particular girl that sat in the second row in class. She wore glasses, always had a cardigan on and was friendly to everyone in class. I liked that girl. At that time, I was ready to carve out my heart and give to her. Pamela. That was her name. That was the first time I would hear a name like that. It was as if her mother knew what she would become and had to name her that way.
She had hands that were soft in a way that will leave you thinking you were eating fresh Kilimanjaro bread if you were to touch them. Pamela was tall. And she was brilliant. Her uniform was always neat, from Monday to Friday. She was the kind of girl you would like to stay behind after school and read with.
I was in a dilemma. I didn’t know how to approach her. I mean I was this quiet guy who sits in the left hand corner of the class and admire a girl in the second row. I wasn’t what you will call handsome even though I wasn’t altogether bad in the looks department.
To get close to her, I had to devise a means. I told the class teacher that I was having problems with my vision and needed to be close to the blackboard to see clearly. When the teacher saw me squinting, she had no choice but to move me from the back. That’s how I ended up in third row behind Pamela. Still I was unable to talk to her.
Some days I will stay back in class and practice what to say to her but when she saunters in, all my lines will take a flight. It was tough. Sitting so close yet unable to make a move.
On several occasions, I will stay back in class at end of school day. I will wait for all my mates to leave and then I will leave my locker and sit on her seat. I will sit there and inhale the fragrance she left behind and imagined her with me. What a time of bliss it used to be.
I stole my cousin’s Mills and Boon novel and copied some phrases from there. Then I used them to scribble notes that I slided into Pamela’s locker. She will see the notes the next morning and will smile while reading them. I don’t know if she knew who was responsible for those pranks.
In our third term, I decided to seek for help. I asked my cousin to help me. They were together in the Sunday school choir at Qua Iboe Church.
My cousin arranged for me to meet her after school on a particular tuesay. The meeting point was the back of the Home Economics department where Mrs. Obong was the Hitler in charge. It was the perfect place as it was far from the classrooms and was a quiet place after school hours.
The day before, my cousin coached me on what I was to say.
‘Say something funny and don’t show that you are scared’, she said to me.
I nodded. How was I supposed to hide that?, I chuckled. All through the next day at school, I kept those words close by in my head even as I was unable to concentrate in class.
When the bell for school over sounded, my cousin signaled to me that they were heading to the rendezvous spot. I felt like running away. I almost told her to cancel the meet. I wished I had.
The beats from my heart could wake a child from sleep. I felt sweat in my armpit and my hands just couldn’t stay steady.
Walking as if I had a bag of harvested cassava on my head, I passed the assembly hall and saw them by the wall of the home economics block. My cousin saw me and smiled. And then she handed Pamela her school bag and left. I felt like throwing up. I thought she was going to stay.
I walked up to her and all the lines I had practiced to use evaporated from my head.
We stood in silence for the time it would take for someone to trek from Nwaniba water fountain to University of Uyo permanent site.
‘You don’t want to say anything?’, she said to me and smiled.
‘I, errrr I want you’. I blurted and stared at the ground.
‘What do you mean by that?’. ‘You can’t say that to a girl. You tell a girl you like her’.
‘I am sorry. I like you. In fact I like you very much’. The words came out but my eyes just couldn’t leave the ground.
‘I like you too. You are quiet. But I cannot be your girlfriend if that is what you want. I have a boyfriend in SS2’. She said, waited a few minutes and when I didn’t say anything, told me she was going and left.
I stood there for a while and walked away. Do you believe that?
My brothers and sisters in the lord, I died. I died that day and at that hour. It was as if a Mack truck ran over me. My school uniform became oversized in an instant. I begged the ground to swallow me like a ball of garri and asked the wall not to tell anyone. My spirit left my body and my body left the school uniform. I don’t know how my corpse walked home that day.
Headache descended on me. I stayed away from school for two days. In those two days I was in torment. I cried. I cursed. I cursed myself. I cursed my cousin. I cursed Pamela’s SS2 boyfriend. I cursed my heart for failing me. I cursed Etinan Institute.
And then on the third day I went to school. And saw her. She waved and smiled. In class, she turned and asked for my ruler. And handed out a pack of chewing gum. At that point, I knew that I could never continue my education at Etinan Institute.