I was running extremely late, the way I always do. The gremlins were at work that evening, not only that I was late, my taxi took me to the wrong destination too. When it rains…
I was talking hurriedly on the phone while scanning the faces at the coffee bar when he sneaked up behind me and said hello. I almost jumped in relief that he didn’t bail on me after my various “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” texts.
This Mr. Abu is someone from my past. The last time we saw each other was 20 years ago. After highschool was over it seemed everything about it also ended for me. I have never been back there since. I spoke to this Mr. Abu once or twice since then, nothing monumental, just old friends sharing a quick hello or two. He was in town only for the night. Let’s meet, he said. Curiosity got the best of me so I said yes.
Mr. Abu wasn’t one of my loves. But he was one of the people that I subjected to a lot of scrutiny at school. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was the highschool bully. He was one of my unfortunate targets. For me, it was fun, something to do to kill my time while sloughing through hours of text books and uninspired teachers. Not once did I think or worry about the implications, or how my little schemes would affect other people. I thought everyone knew that you were not supposed to take things seriously when you were in highschool. Obviously, I was wrong.
I am sorry, I told Mr. Abu. I know I never told you what really happened, and I am sure you were uncomfortable with the sudden influx of female attention, but I didn’t mean any harm.
I was wondering about that, he said. About what, I asked. About why girls didn’t seem to like me, they hated me in school.
No no, I corrected him. You were popular. Girls liked you. You had a lot of admirers. The problem was you got my attention too. And once that happened, as the saying goes, hell broke loose.
[I will write about what I actually did. You will shake your head and mumble…Ijah, Ijah. But not today. That, is definitely, a story for another day.]
He laughed.You scheming, little mastermind, he said. But you’re charming, so that’s okay.
[Charming! That’s the first time anyone used that word to describe me]
We talked about the weather, the sports we are into (cycling for him, running for me), the people that we are still in touch with, a little about work and family.
You’re not wearing any ring, he observed.
I can’t, I told him. Allergies. He chuckled.
I am running out of time though, I told him. I used to tell people that I will get married when I reach 40 to stop them from asking me about it all the time. But the thing is, people have memories like elephants. Every year when my birthday rolls around, friends will gleefully remind me, Ijah, you have 5 more years, 4 more years, 3 more years. I am still trying to figure out how to get out of it.
It’s just a number you picked right, not a deadline that you actually set for yourself? he asked.
Yes, I said, and sipped my latte.
That’s okay, he said. When 40 rolls along, just smile and give them another number.
I laughed into my latte.
What’s so funny, he wanted to know.
I just shook my head.
We talked about his highschool crushes. About his life, the twists and turns. When the clock struck close to midnight, I ran away to my metal carriage and got home safe and sound.
As I was soaking in my tub way way later in the early morning, it struck me how funny it is that he understood me in the few hours that we spent together, than the lifetime it took for some people.
And that, is that.