I heard a knock as soon as I came out of the shower.
“Who is it?” I yelled from the bathroom with my head tilted towards the door.
A muffled voice responded. “Nada!”
I opened the door to see her clad in a pastel red silk robe with her golden highlights scrunched up in a bun on top of her head.
“Are you going to campus today?” she asked almost immediately.
I glanced at the clock on my wall, ‘0742’.
“Yea, in about forty five minutes.”
Her eyes lit up. “Okay, perfect! Don’t leave without me. I’m going to get ready now.” She hurried off to her apartment next door. I made breakfast and turned on my laptop to continue binge watching my favourite series.
Tom had almost caught Jerry before he disappeared into his mini-mouse door, when I heard my name called from the other side of my apartment’s door. Nada was ready.
She wore a fuzzy black sweater with a lime green pair of skinny jeans. Her hair was neatly combed to the back in a ponytail and her eyebrows just barely escaped her woolen camo headband. She had lip-gloss on and a couple of blush dabs left a pinkish hue on her cheeks.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked nodding her head towards the elevator.
“Yes,” and we were on our way to campus. She walked at a brisk pace and I felt ashamed for not keeping up despite my long strides. It was lovely.
We reached campus seven minutes to 0900. Her orientation for late comers was starting soon so I took her to the registrar and left in a hurry to catch my class.
The lecture room was buzzing as I reluctantly made my way to the first row. Patrice had saved me a seat. He sat on the aisle seat though he knew that I wanted that one. His smirk gave out the usual achievement vibe he constantly craved. I could sense it as I made my way to the seat next to him.
Before I knew it, the professor had stopped droning on about the Iraqi invasion of 2003 and class was dismissed. As soon as I picked my bag, Patrice inquired, “What are you up to now?”
I shrugged. There was nothing on my schedule for today except track practice. But that was later on at 1700. Until then, nothing. I almost mentioned Nada and how I was going to keep a look out for her around campus, but it felt too soon to bring it up with Patrice.
“Nothing really,” I professed.
“Okay, then you are coming with me to the library. I need to pick up some books for my term paper,”he asserted as he gestured with his right hand for me to follow along. I scratched my head. “Patrice, we just started the semester.”
“Yes, I am aware of that, Khalid!” He quipped at me as he proceeded forward.
The library was a white marbled building with eight pillars holding the entrance canopy afloat. The sliding doors let out a ‘swoosh’ as they moved to the right, helping Patrice avoid hitting his flat nose straight on the clear pane. Surely, it couldn’t get flatter.
When we got to the third floor, Patrice made a beeline to the H section. His receding forehead grew quick wrinkles as he scanned the shelves for his print source materials. I looked around and noticed a few, maybe three or four, students scattered throughout the floor. Most workstations were idle and their monitor button lights now a lazy orange for standby.
Patrice was moving from one bookshelf to the next. He weaved himself in and out, piling books on his cart without noticing the wobble on one of the wheels. “These are not some books, Patrice. You are basically emptying out the entire floor,” I quipped as I darted my eyes around the two shelves on either side of us. He ignored my comment and continued shuffling through varied coloured, hard-cover books. His dusky forearms sifted through the shelves, starting from the top, working his way down and turning from the bottom to lift him up on the next column of books. Whenever his eyes read a relevant title, he would pick it out with his milky palms and quickly turn the pages. After glossing over the index page, he would decide to either put it back or toss it in the cart. He knew what he wanted.
After track practice, I saw Nada again. It seemed like we both did not have plans for the evening as we sat on the lake shore, observing the sunset. “We didn’t get a chance to know each other when we met last night. You seem so familiar, that’s why maybe. But still, I want to know more about you.”
Nada spoke in an unpredictable manner, taking pauses between sentences. I hesitated at first then started paraphrasing my life story. She listened attentively, gazing once in a while at the dipping sun.
I told her how my parents immigrated to China when life became economically unbearable in Libya. They had me in Beijing before we moved to Jiaojiehe, about 60 km away. Nada smiled. Her instincts were now assured that I was African by origin and seemed satisfied that I was not an anomaly by Chinese standards. She was still in shock after telling her I was from China when we met last night.
“Which city in Libya are you from?”
“Zuwara” I replied happily, loving how she asked what city ‘I’ am from, not knowing that the only connection I had to Zuwara was the photo album my mum kept on her dressing table and bits of videos I managed to dig up on YouTube. I never knew how its soil felt underneath my bare feet. The smell of air there was a mystery to me and its street food was a taste I could not describe. Yet despite all this, her question made me feel like I belong. A feeling I had never experienced wholesomely.
We had only met a day before, yet she managed to engrave a relationship that felt like it started years ago. Her being was arresting in the way that prompted an affinity with everyone she met. Resisting the urge to caress her smoothly lined jaw, I looked ahead of us and noticed the sun was now completely out of sight. Faint rays still dimly lit the lake but it was going to be dark in a few minutes. “We should get going,” I picked my bag and myself up. She followed me as we walked back to our building. I nodded goodnight outside her apartment door and reluctantly strolled to my room. I wondered if it was possible to fall in love with someone you had just met. Could a person hold so much meaning in just a day? If so, why? How come it does not happen often? I wanted to turn around and ask her out. Tonight. Would that be too much? Maybe she likes a man who knows what he wants and goes for it. Think quick, Khalid. Just do it! A single jingle of her keys interrupted me and before I could turn my head, she had already vanished from the hallway and into her apartment.
I stared down at nothing, thinking maybe she would pop her head sideways from her door and say something. She did not. Why would she? For who? For a guy who fails to communicate his emotions? Entering my apartment felt like returning from a lost war. Possibilities were still marching around my head. I needed to speak to someone. Someone who could help me debrief and remobilise.
I dashed out to speak to Patrice, my only Day One since I came to Valloittaa Academy all those years ago. Even though he managed to sneak under my nerves at times, he was still the only guy I felt who could truly understand me. The kind of connection that seems random and then, with hindsight, almost impossible to imagine without. I remember when we met at one of the ‘Weeks of Welcome’ events and had bonded immediately over our mutual support of Colombia in the recent World Cup. He was born in Congo. Well, at least his physical self. His persona and style were pristinely manufactured in France. He never spoke about Congo and always introduced himself as a Frenchman.
Patrice came out to greet me in just his boxers and a white singlet. His shoulders were round and full. His skin shone even though the apartment was barely lit.
“Yo Patrice! I think I found her.”
“Found who?” a confused look creeping onto his face.
“My love. The one I have been searching for my whole life.” I exclaimed as I barged into his cave, flicking on the lights.
“Okay, good for you.” He retorted as he glanced down at his phone.
“I don’t know what to do. I want to ask her out tonight but I am not sure if she will say yes.” I said, exasperated and knowing well enough that Patrice did not believe in love and asking him for courting advice was like asking a Bedouin nomad how to lead a settled home life.
I had never seen Patrice romantically passionate about someone. He was only worked up when discussing achievements. Fortitude would flush his face. Every so often, when discussing plans after graduation, I would ask him what he would do in his adopted home, France, although I tried not to say ‘adopted’. His eyes would light up and his voice would magnify whenever he started to trot out all the things he set out to accomplish. “First, I want to restore the glory of France and the honour of French people. Of course, only possible by reinstating military curriculum at all schools. All boys must learn how to defend their country by age 15. No sissies needed. Then, focus on the role of mothers who of course are the bedrock of any great nation. If you want good men, you need to encourage good motherhood.” He would wave his hands around as if conducting an invisible, empire-building orchestra. His mouth would widen every so often to reveal his prominent pearly teeth, especially when he spoke on a passionate issue like this. He would touch on all social aspects that needed reform – the media, the market, medicine. He reminded me of the revolutionaries in our textbooks. Promising sparks that tend to burn themselves out to shed light on humanity. I was always convinced by his words. He meant each one. His intonations underscored a sincerity that was assuring of his claims. I would always nod to signal my consent and support of the marvellous changes that were enroute to Paris.
All that passion but never expended on a single person.
Now, he was just swiping on his phone screen as images of shapely girls ran through it. He was probably on Booty Call, the most recent app for those with mutual human needs. He was distracted when he looked up at me. His narrowed eyes told me that he had no idea what I meant, so I asked again, “Should I go ask her out tonight?”
“Yea bro, just do whatever you need to do as long as you get out of here. I am expecting someone.” His eyes were still fixed on his phone as he texted. His left hand grabbed the door and opened it for me.
While exiting the lobby, I noticed Nada outside the door, in front of the buzzer.
She looked my way, her nose pinched and eyebrows furrowed. I was about to tell her what has been on my mind the past hour but was rudely interrupted by a cracking voice on the beeping buzzer line.
“Yes, it’s me.” Nada replied promptly, relieved to turn away from me and my unasked question.
“Okay, come on up!” Patrice’s husky voice retorted back as Nada, in a quiet air of purposefulness, slid past me and into the lobby.
Ally A. Baharoon (@venturally) was born and raised in Tanzania. He is a recent English grad and a full-time intergalactic journalist who keeps writing and living for cleansing moments of joy.
Related country: Tanzania, Libya, Congo
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