In my primary five, I was in a boarding school that used to serve us white porridge in blue bowls and our lunch in the same bowls. They were large and would wholly cover our young faces as we drank black tea and ate porridge out of them. They also smelled funny all the time, so I hated porridge. But, I liked a boy. I first noticed him in primary four, I hoped we’d be friends then but we became friends the next year. He had smiling eyes and a bright smile, the kind that would make you think you are goofiest person in the world. He always had his shirt and khaki shorts well ironed and he was liked by most of the matrons of the boys’ dormitories and the female teachers. He also had the coolest digital watch the 9 year old me had ever seen. One day, he came to my desk randomly and said hi, that’s how we started saying hi and waving to each other. Then he changed his seat and sat right behind me in class and I’d find myself turning around to borrow a pencil or smile or poke him when he dosed off and he would poke me back and whisper something in my ear sometimes or just because I was dosing during the lesson.
This new friendship was like a breath of fresh air, I’d wake up early morning, take a bath in the stone cold water I fetched from the previous night, dress up in my grey pinafore and white shirt uniform all looking forward going to class to study and meet him. On some days we’d talk about the teachers we did not like, the sweets and buns we liked from the canteen and how the blue and green quenchers were sweeter than the basic red strawberry and yellow pineapple flavours. Sometimes it was about what we had watched on television during the holidays or what our dormitories looked like, our favourite food and my hate for posho. He became friends with my best friend at the time, a very smiley girl with shiny curly hair, the kind that most Somali people have. We’d all talk about random stuff, this one time it was the porridge, they had recently improved it with adding some milk, my best friend and the boy I liked both liked it, I still did not, the other time it was about the Nile perch (empuuta) fish newly added to our lunch menu. It made the blue dishes smell worse than before. It felt great to have the boy I liked get along with my best friend. I was a happy child.
My best friend had another friend called M. M also liked the boy I liked, sometimes she’d join in our conversations during break and lunch time, she’d share some of her snacks with us and put her hand around the boy I liked’s shoulder. I noticed and started to get jealous. One evening I came back to class because I’d finished bathing earlier than everyone else and I found the boy I like in class. We sat down and talked about our parents, he told me his father was from a certain country in Europe and his mother was with him here in Uganda, he wished he would see his father more. I told him my parents were both in Uganda and I stayed with both of them but sometimes I wished we would all travel to Europe. He also told me his father was not happy with his grades, I told him my parents seemed okay with mine because they never said anything. After that somewhat sad conversation, he left the class and went back to his dormitory and I went to my desk. I found a crumpled paper in the locker of my desk. On it, someone had written that they hated me, I was ugly, the boy I liked did not like me back and I was trying too hard to make him like me. I started to cry and showed the paper to my best friend during supper time. About a week later my best friend told me M had written the note, I confronted M and she denied it. She went and told the boy I liked that I was accusing her falsely. So she started to hang out with the boy I like alone. A week later, she told someone that she is the one who had written the note, that person told my best friend who in turn told me. So I cried some more and this time I went and told the boy I liked what had happened, he comforted me and told me sorry, everything was going to be okay. He told M he did not want to be friends with her anymore. We all stopped talking to M and the boy I liked and I became closer friends for the rest of the term.
During our end of year examination period, the boy I liked and I sat on the same desk and shared answers during the exam, I tilted my paper in such a way that he would see and then I’d look over his paper so that I know which page I needed to turn to next. No teacher noticed we were cheating the exam. During and after our mid morning break, as we were waiting for another examination paper, the class started to make a lot of noise, the teacher on duty came at the door and asked us to put our heads on the desk and sleep as we wait for lunch otherwise he’d ask us to bend over our desks and cane us. While we were putting our heads on the desk, I started to wonder what if I instead put my head on the boy I liked’s laps, what would that be like. Curiosity got the best of me and I tried to fix my big head in the nook under his elbow so as to get it to rest on his laps. My head did not fit and the class that had been watching us because they knew about the drama between M, the boy I liked and I made noise, the kind you make when the drama in the series intensifies, the boy I liked and I both froze then I put my head back on the desk. At the beginning of our lunch time, the boy I liked left the desk and went to sit at another desk with another boy. At the end of the day, a new boy K in the school who had joined the class that term started spreading rumours about the boy I liked and I. He said the boy I liked and I were boyfriend and girlfriend and that he had seen us kiss before. When I heard the rumours, I stopped talking to the boy I like for the rest of the term. I cried some more but I could not talk to the boy I liked, I was scared of what else people would say. We finished our papers, waited for our results and went for the end of year holidays.
The next year, we were all reshuffled much like the ministers are by the president, the boy I liked, I, my best friend and M were placed in different classes. The boy I liked and I never spoke to each other again. We hardly saw each other on the compound, even when we did, none of us looked at the other to say hi. I left the school at end of that year. I still thought about him.
I saw so many people that looked like him in the street over the years, but they were never him. One day during my secondary school holidays, my sister and I were walking out of Garden city mall and there he was at the second floor entrance of the mall dressed like a basketball player about to hit the court, he still wore a digital watch on his wrist, better one. His cheeks had lost the chubbies young children have, but it did not take away from his features, if anything it accentuated them, his face was now lean, his nose was still a little pointed, his cheekbones were slightly visible, his forehead was still big and evened out by his tall frame. His composure as he talked still made him seem like the cool kid around just like in school. He was talking with his mother about whether they should go somewhere else or first check the mall. As I watched him, I rush of nostalgia and awkwardness hit me. He hadn’t seen me yet, which gave me enough time to recover and hide the too wide smile on my face. His mother saw me first and smiled, I smiled back, he followed his mother’s yes until our eyes met. While I had my recovery time to act unbothered, I saw all his reactions, first disbelief, then a head shake that seemed like a no, it can’t be you then finally acceptance and that smile came through first the eyes then the mouth as he said my name, I nodded then we hugged. From secondary school, I’d learnt to act normal even when too many emotions were hitting me all at once, I tried to put my lessons to work as we chatted about the old times and where our mutual friends were, who we were in touch with. I knew I’d failed when found myself grinning too wide the entire time as he talked and his mom looked on, I think she is the only one who really knew I had a thing for her son. He asked for my phone number but I did not have a phone at the time so I told him so, he wanted to say something else but I felt like it was my cue to say bye, which I did. Until another time.
Happy Valentine’s day y’all.