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You remember Salo?

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With Mankhokwe Namusanya:

The name hardly stirred any emotion. Because, well, it was a common name. You had to tweak it around for it to sound beautiful. And different.

That day, you bumped in the library. The day you found her smile lost between the aisle of book shelves that stood facing each other with an arrogant stare. You, lost, turning around to see if there was someone coming behind you; someone she was smiling at. Her, smiling apologetically upon the realisation that you were not who she thought you were.

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Her, whispering:

“I am sorry, I mistook you for someone from church.”

Church? That place you could not remember its traditions. That building you could not tell where its doors faced.

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“I am not the one,” you hissed. Stopping yourself from commenting on the smile. It is the library where people pretend to be quiet while distracting each other with whispers, but also you were just you – unsure, lost and bugged by low self-esteem.

You forgot her. Or that episode.

Until you met again in the cafeteria. On that line. Someone stood behind you. It was the fragrance that greeted you. You turned around. You met with a beautiful face.

“It is you again?” this time you were better. You initiated a conversation.

She appeared to have forgotten. Or maybe she had really forgotten. She asked if you had ever met.

It was a good day, you had just submitted an assignment, so you did not reply with just another rude remark and walk off, convinced that she had got too high a regard for herself. You reminded her about the library.

Her eyes lit up. The face dissolved into many tiny fragments of wonder.

You did not know that you were smiling back. That, in this moment, there was you, and her, and a beginning of a journey you would fail to finish as it had to be.

“I remember now,” she said, briefly.

“By the way, you found the person you were looking for that day?”

“I guess I was just lost that day,” she confessed. “That guy isn’t even in this university. I don’t really remember what I was thinking. I had forgotten I was in the university library. That guy is someone from home, in Lilongwe. The Church I go to, there.”

“He might just be my twin brother,” you joked. She hang on it. Prodded you if you had an actual twin brother. And when you renegaded from that position, she asked:

“What is your name, by the way?”

You told her and asked for hers. She was Salome. Salome with a smile that split into many tiny little smiles when you would lie in the night to think of it. To recall it. After weeks of being her friend.

In those weeks, of you visiting her and her, repaying the act, you triggered rumours. They said this, they said that. You dismissed it. With a wish that it ever turned out to be true.

One night you nearly ended up kissing. A cold fuzzy June night. You had escorted her to her hostel. At parting, as a tradition, you both went for a hug. It was an awkward one because your faces nearly brushed.

You chuckled. She chuckled back. Breathing in your face. Her warm carbon dioxide massaging your face.

“I should go.”

You released her from the embrace. On your way back, you kept thinking about her. About you. About that moment. Wondering: will it ever come again, what if she was expecting you to go for it, what if she goes off having noticed that there was an undeniable chemistry between the two of you?

A text when you were in your room calmed you. She thanked you for the day. A first, in a long time.

Then, she fell in love. She came to tell you. It was not a man on campus. He was one who had finished years before you.

Your heart felt that pain when she said it, that day, on a phone call.

“I feel like a lamb, like she led me to the slaughterhouse,” you later told a friend who was hardly mad at her or disappointed. He was to later tell you that it was due to your delays that she moved on, that you had been a time-waster to her not the other way round.

You were to move on. With a lady three years older than you. Long after you had left college. That, of course, was never to last.

Your friendship with Salo – as you liked calling her – would take a sad detour. Hitting a dead end. Phone calls would be sparse and, even then, they would just be on the important things. Later, they were to stop completely.

It would be this news, the important one, that would have you know she gave up. She would not share with you – the news. You would find it on Facebook. From a mutual friend’s post.

“I cannot wait, my people are getting married,” she would post.

It would not be that man she broke your heart over in the ‘Save the Date’ photo with her. It would be another man. From college. A classmate of some sort whom you attended a few classes with.

That one, the one whom you once enjoyed a gossip on with Salo, will be standing. Salo will be seated. Smiling. That same smile only calloused by years of heartbreaks you only heard from people.

There, on the card, will only be the day and the venue for officiation. You will text the mutual friend to ask about the venue for reception.

“It is a private ceremony, attendees are those that are invited.”

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