Looking at You
It was a tough exam. I never expected that it'd be this tough. Sure, I'd studied for it but being in the examination hall, wracking my brain for two hours writing the arguments for and against Economic Planning models we'd studied the semester, I pray I never go through it again. Once was enough.
It wasn't that I didn't feel confident about what I wrote, it was just that the whole period of writing my Degree Exam had been exhausting, like I'd been on one hell of a ride and there was no slowing down. It was really tiring, having an upcoming exam at the forefront of your mind even when you're dreaming. Believe me; I'd dreamt enough worse case scenarios during this period.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I could feel the tension washing away from my body, and suddenly it was like my body had been energized. It was my last paper and it felt good knowing that it was the last time I'd be writing an exam, except when I came for my Masters, which is all undecided at the moment. No need getting ahead of myself.
I was among the first group to finish and I savored the sweet taste of freedom while waiting for my classmates. I went to a vendor selling snacks and topped up on the fuel. No need running on empty stomach.
Before long, the last exam that my set would ever write in this school was over. There were jubilation and expressions of happiness. People were hugging each other, some were taking pictures, capturing this particular moment in time.
And I was all alone. Four years of University education and there was no friend to show for it. It wasn't exactly true but I wasn't crawling with friends waiting to take pictures with me. I stood there and watched them. It was what I was good at; people watching. I'd learnt to be obscure that it was nothing new to me.
I was so lost in my melancholy that I was more surprised to be hugged by someone from behind. I smiled. Only one person had the luxury of hugging me like this. I turned and I saw the radiant face of the only woman in this world who had the potential of hurting me more than anyone in this world, the only woman apart from my family that meant the world to me.
"Hey you," I greeted while hugging her to me. I don't know but I had the sense that I was home, where I belonged every time I hugged her.
"How was it for you," she asked when we disengaged from our hug.
"You need to ask?" I asked in mock anger. "I finished before everyone, remember?"
"I know but that doesn't mean that it couldn't have been tough for you," she explained.
"I know. And it was pretty tough for me. I didn't even get to answer all the questions. But it was great for me. What of you? How was it for you?"
"It was great. I took my time. Hopefully, this man will be lenient in his marking and I'd get to get out of here. I can't wait to be a graduate."
"Yeah, me too. But it was a great experience, wasn't it. At least it gave me an opportunity to meet you."
She laughed out loud. "Yeah, it was great. But I just want to move on to the next phase of our life."
"Can't wait, can you?" I asked.
"Like you'd never imagine. Come, let's go take some pictures." With that, she dragged me to a photo guy and we started posing. I wasn't comfortable. Truth be told, I'd never been comfortable before the camera. But I smiled through it all. Anything for her.
"Just imagine what our kids will say when they see our pictures," I commented after we'd finished taking pictures.
"It will be a great memorabilia for when we get old and tell our kids about our friendship."
Surprised? I know I'd be if I was you what with our obvious chemistry but Emily and I are just friends. We'd been since our first year when she conducted tutorial for me in some of our courses.
"So what are you going to do now?" she asked after we'd paid the photographer.
"What do you mean?" I asked back.
"I mean, it's the last day of school, anything you wished you'd done since first year?" she asked, her intensive eyes boring into me.
Immediately, unconsciously, my eyes went to the other woman who had the potential of being the most important woman of my life. She was taking pictures with her friends, boys and girls alike. I wish I could be them, holding her close to me like that.
But I could. What was stopping me? I had all the opportunity in the world to go to her and strike up a conversation. In my no-regret mindset, I realized that if I didn't talk to her, I might never get the opportunity. I might never see her again. And I'd always be wondering what would have been had I had the gut to talk to her.
I turned to see my friend looking at me with mirth in her eyes. She knew me too well. I drew her close to me and kissed her forehead. It was my sign of affection for her. She probably didn't realize how much I loved her. I turned and strode to where she stood. It was now or never.
My heart was racing fast. My mind was going over the escape routes, the excuses I'd give and the things to say to her. I realized I was acting like a geek in one these cheesy American High School romance movies. I hated that fact. A powerful man like me, or more correctly, a man who was going to be successful shouldn't be afraid of talking to a sissy. But I was. Does that make me any less a powerful man?
"Hey, Happy last exams," I greeted as I reached her.
"Thanks," she replied while flashing her beautiful smile at me. God, she was too beautiful.
"Mind taking pictures with me?" I asked gesticulating to the camera man.
"No, as long as you pay for it." She laughed at her own statement, and I joined her albeit belatedly.
Before I knew it, the pictures were over. It was hardly enough time to savor the feeling of having her in my hand or standing close to her, smelling the rich perfume that she'd put on.
I turned to her, and shocked myself as well as her. "I'm Bright," I introduced myself.
She laughed that rich belly laugh that made her look angelic. "I know who you are. Like I wouldn't know the guy that always answers questions in class and Smiling face," she scoffed in laughter.
"Well, my days as Smiles are well behind me. But it's great to know that you at least know me."
"What happened?" she questioned showing interest.
"Nothing, just that I didn't want to be the guy that smile every time anymore."
In my first year, all through my last year in school, my classmates had nicknamed me Smiling Face or Smiles for short. They said that my face always had smile on it no matter what was going on around me.
"Well, it fitted you perfectly. I like the fact that you could still flash your smile even when things got tough," she explained.
"Well, I'd seriously consider that," I promised her. I could see that some other people were waiting to grab her attention. It was now or never.
"Look, would you mind to grabbing a drink with me sometime?" I asked holding my breath. It was the bravest I'd ever been but the cat was out of the bag.
"Look Bright," she began, the smile going off her face. "I appreciate the interest and the offer, but I'm not interested. Sorry." I wanted to ask her why she wouldn't go out with me, I wanted to tell her that we were meant to be together, I wanted to tell her that she couldn't possibly decline my offer, but I didn't. As a potential powerful business man, I had to know when to bow out. I had to know when to accept that a door was closed.
I took a deep breath and plastered the sweetest, sexiest smile I'd ever come up with. "It's okay. I completely understand. It was nice talking to you Lillian. Have a nice life." With my head held high, I left her there.
Walking away, I wanted to cry. I wanted to crawl into a hole and cry myself to sleep, but Bright didn't shed tears. I don't allow myself to get emotional. I was the carefree guy that nothing bothered. I was the guy that was going to own the future. I didn't cry. I told myself that there would be other fishes in the ocean.
I knew why she didn't accept my offer. In the four years of university education, I'd never paid any attention to any other thing other than my desire to get out here. I'd never paid attention to what I wore nor my appearance. I never gave away my heritage. But I guess from the guys that she was getting cozy with, their dressing, that I didn't fit the bill. Too bad for her!
Walking away, I didn't feel bad as I expected I'd feel. Yes, I'd just got shot down in my first attempt to get a girl but that isn't the end of the world. I understood as a potential businessman that many people will come into my life, and they will take any role that I assigned them. I understood then the concept of many fishes in the pond.
"How did it go?" My friend asked me. She was the only person in my life that I was going to trust when I became wealthy on my own. She'd stood by me; she was like a sister, but more than that.
"It was alright. I took pictures with her and we chatted up some. Nothing spectacular."
"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked worried.
"Yes, why do you ask?" I asked while hefting our bags.
"I know how long you've waited for this particular meeting. I can't help thinking that you must be disappointed," she explained.
I was struck by her perceptiveness. "You know that you're amazing? Yes, I talked to her. Yes, it wasn't what I hoped it'd be, but I realize that some things are better left as fantasies. So, in answer to your question, I'm okay. Serious."
"Alright, if you insist. But just know that you have me to talk to."
"I know and I appreciate it. Now can we get out of here?" I asked her.
"Can't wait to get out of here, can you?" she asked, throwing my question at me. I smiled at her. She knew how to lift up my spirits. I draped my hand on her and we walked off.
If it was the last time I ever saw here again, I'd be happy. I knew that most people in my age bracket focused on superficial things, and four years of being in the same place as them was stifling. I wanted out.
But before I completely walked out, I looked back. I could still see people snapping away, capturing this happy moment. I could see Lillian with her friends all gathered around her, all excitedly doing one thing or another. I was hurt, just a little. I'd held a little hope that her turning me down would dampen her happy mood but it wasn't anything like that. If anything, she seemed happier.
I sighed, which attracted the attention of my friend. "Nothing," I replied to her unspoken question. I could do to be out of here faster. I wanted nothing to do with here ever again. It had served its purpose for me. It gave me a platform to foster my dreams. Most importantly, it gave me my friend. I hugged her tighter.
I had big dreams. I had dreams of being powerful, rich, and famous. I had no doubt that I'd get to achieve these things. My father had done the brunt of the work, providing me with a platform to launch my dreams. Even though he was no more, I had no doubt that he was up there watching all over my steps. I didn't know if he was proud of me yet, but I was going to give him a reason to be.
But most importantly, I was going to find a reason to be proud of myself. I was going to make myself successful, that Emily would be proud of me, that my family would be proud of me. I was going to do it, or die trying. And just maybe, someday, I'd come back here, and I'd appreciate it for all it had done for me. And a double maybe, someday I'd run into Lillian and she'd see what she gave away. Then, only then would my joy be complete.