I remember love sneaking into my heart; perhaps in my second year at University. He was in his final year. Yes, I am a laggard in that area. It was only at the university that I became aware that a man could be loved that deep, so indescribable; you want him to sit with you forever, talking and laughing about nothing.
My prayers started, punctuated with “if it is your will Lord” to silence the nagging guilt of ‘praying with one eye open’.
Prayer, it seemed, didn’t do the magic.
He graduated and left for the faraway village, leaving me, secretly in love with him. We were good friends, at least when he was still at the university. But the distance added a difficult twist. Do I call him? And say what? I tried a few times but my heart would skip a bit and would decide ‘girl… restraint’.
Years passed with no activity. Once in a while I would get a call, or he’ll pass by when in town. Our conversations got shorter with time; we hardly had much to talk about. Our once in a while calls continued, although it meant me now rehearsing my lines prior.
“Dumelang. Lekang?” Uummm, does he know it’s me? What do I say next?
“Hello Oesi, how are you?”
I don’t remember much of what went on in those conversations. I however recall that while I often longed to talk to him, I would, at the same time, be anxious, wanting the call to end.
My first job was in an exciting environment of young creators, most of them fresh graduates like me –and most of them single with no children. I immersed myself into it, learning everything I could. When work was done, I would occasionally host colleagues for dinner – after work – during the week. Mine was a tripartite lifestyle; home- work-church. I would arrive home on Friday evening and only emerge on Sunday morning for church. The secret love had left my heart by then, or maybe just hibernated.
But I couldn’t run forever. It sneaked back, unnoticed and different. I was sure I was losing him. During the first installment I had vowed to wait for him; to remain single as long as he was a bachelor- and only throw in the towel the day he walked to the alter with another woman. My ‘one eye open’ prayers resumed but with a lot of doubt – and also emotionally draining. I was not growing young, you know. Neither was I living in an island. Suitors crossed my path, a number of them. But my heart lived in a faraway village.
My biggest fear was agreeing to marry another man only for ‘him’ to appear the next day, ready …
What does a woman do? Society has it etched on stone. She waits.
I started to interrogate my conviction. Doubt crept in, ‘Could it be that I am wasting my time with what might never be?’
Something needed to happen.
I picked the phone… dialed …it rang…I dropped….picked it again…it rang…I dropped…hmm
“Hello, do you have a moment?”
“Hi, how are you? Yes I do.” I was sure I heard some enthusiasm.
“I want us to talk”
A gentleman in every way; he took the early Saturday morning bus just so he could hear out this woman – and was at my rented flat that afternoon, straight from the bus rank.
Where do we start? Now I wished I had not called.
“This is difficult, but I really think we should talk”
“What is it Oesi?”
My eyes went all over as if looking for an escape route. I was trying hard to look as calm as was possible, at the same time trying to remember the speech I had stored in my head. Soon after we agreed to meet, I had practiced what I was going to say and how. But his knock erased all my hard work. Beautifully constructed, well thought out sentences flew through the window. I went blank. Should I really go on with this?
The stubborn Oesi was pro-quitting. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself girl. Just let this go. Clear your mind and start afresh. If there was ever going to be anything, it could have been a long time ago’.
‘But we are here’. The kinder, more considerate side, rebutted. ‘This man travelled more than 400 kilometers for this talk. It is too late for some baseless fear. Besides I had wanted to do this for a long time. And for him to come all the way, he sure doesn’t treat this light”. A flicker of hope accompanied this thinking.
“Our friendship, can we talk about it”.
Our conversation was peppered with long moments of silence; of intense emotions and tensions. We struggled to answer many of our questions.
Where was this leading to?
“Oesi, I think we are just very good friends”.
My heart missed a bit. I couldn’t breathe.
Three to four hours later, we hugged and said our good byes. Goodbye sounded more like, that’s it, done. He held my hand a little longer, looked me in the eyes – and was gone.
I joined my colleagues for a braai that evening. My heart was at my rented flat, hanging helplessly to the last moments; the look in the eyes that I thought contradicted his last words “we are just good friends”.
Just as I was trying to thaw to the event, my phone beeped.
“Hello Oesi, I wanted to check how you are doing – and to also say goodbye”.
The next morning I was flying to Pasadena, California, just outside Los Angeles. I spent my five weeks holiday visiting gardens, relaxing and thinking about what just happened. I watched open theatre movies in Hollywood; visited age old homes in San Diego; walked on the replica ‘Via Dorolosa’ (way of sorrows) at the Trinity Broadcasting Network Headquarters Studios in Costa Mesa.
For a time, I immersed myself into America; bought memorabilia from their dollar shops; visited restaurants and all that could be visited – I walked on the wall of fame. I enjoyed time with my elder sister and her family. I don’t remember whether or not I shared the sad news. But I was slowly getting back to myself.
Five weeks later, end of August, the American Airlines Flight took me back to Africa. A week later September 11 happened, killing 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000 others. American Airlines Flight 11 was one of the flights used in the terrorist attack.
The call came the same week.
“How was America?”
“Do you have a moment?”