I was standing there with a rose. At least that's what Mr Patel told me it was. It was red and spiky. "Watch your hands and heart," he said. I was too flushed to say anything. The edges were wilting. I was sure I was a novice buyer for Mr Patel.
I walked into the restaurant and sat at the table closest to the door. I looked strange, a ten-year-old on a first date. My uncle had chided me for looking presentable, I wore a white shirt, trousers, socks and shoes. My nose assaulted by Brut, 'the essence of men'.
So here I was nervous, and my heart pounding. This went on for a while before worry took over.
"Had the girl forgotten to come? Was she held up in traffic?" Outside was a Saturday afternoon. The two streets in Nanyuki were deserted. I sighed, trying to calm down. My thoughts went back to when I had seen her.
She was a new girl in our sister class, and the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Flawless dark skin, and teeth as white as dairy cream, and a gap between her front teeth, making her smile the more beautiful.
Belinda was her name. Someone called her before I breathlessly introduced myself. "I know you," she said afterwards. My heart leapt and did things it had never done before. I smiled and walked away to stop my body from acting in ways I least understood.
Belinda had her hair plaited and hang hair clips on the side. I thought of her more than I should have and her face started appearing on the blackboard. Midway in a class, I would imagine we were in a soap opera scene, running across a field of roses. I believe my imagination was testing my reality.
My uncle laughed when I told him what I was experiencing.
"Edwin, you are getting into an exciting part of your life. You will realize girls are different and attractive."
I had hoped for life-changing advice, but my uncle was one to make sweeping comments.
For me, Belinda was the only attractive girl. After several failed attempts at conversation over weeks. I finally got to sit beside her and tell her how lovely her black shoes looked. It must have made her happy because she bounded away, smiling, from then on I stuck to compliments until they started sounding repetitive.
"You have three sisters, yes?" asked Charles.
"Do you have a problem talking to them?"
"Most times, we talk about everyday stuff and are lost in each other's company."
"Why don't you speak to Belinda, like she is your sister?"
"Rather why don't you treat her like a normal human being, as opposed to a figment of your imagination, that came alive," he said.
And so the same day, I walked up to Belinda, and we began a friendship.
The clock read 2:30 pm. I had been waiting since 12:30 pm. The wind was blowing, and it was going to rain soon. I got up, sighed, went to the counter, and gave the lady cashier the flower.
"She stood you up?" she asked.
I nodded my heart broken into tiny little fragments.
"Son, you are still very young. The emotions you feel are like small chicks in an egg, confused and immature. They will hatch and grow. For now, do not try to understand the world. Do not feel the pain too close to your chest." I thanked her, unsure of whether I was listening to wisdom or gibberish. I staggered out.
The pain I felt came from dark negative voices, stabbing and beating me up, shouting above any voice of reason. The rain came pouring down as I walked home. I let it wash away the hurt. Food was bland, and mother asked me a couple of times," are you okay," while touching my forehead. My uncle was more reconciliatory and took me out for a Chinese martial arts movie. He dared not make any sweeping comments.
I guess I had not yet hatched to understand how dates worked.
Went our phone the following day.
"Edwin! It's a call for you,"
"Is that you Belinda?" I asked, my voice soft and pliable.
"Yes! I am so sorry, I didn't come. My mom fell ill again, and we left for Nairobi to a hospital,"
I instantly felt better and then terrible again. I was here judging Belinda while she experienced a terrible situation.
"I am so sorry, I thought you stood me up."
"No! I couldn't," she said relieved.
"When are you coming back?"
"I don't know, mom is pretty sick, and I am staying with relatives for now."
"Okay! What number can I reach you by?" I asked.
"You can call this number," she said, and I wrote it down.
Over the following weeks, our contact slowly froze over as I rarely could get her. One day, I called and was told her mother had died and was asked not to call again. Uncle told me to stop trying.
The world seemed to change after that, it's like I had been let in on a secret. The boys clustered together in the field, and the girls huddled together close by. There was a static invisible energy coursing between them. For the first time, I could see it and understand why.
"I think you understand because you fell in love." Said Charles. "And even though you are young, time will educate you."
Many days passed by, and I got back into my routine.
"Edwin, you need to read this book," said Michael, a shrewd boy, I disliked, although I couldn't manage to wiggle myself free off him.
The book he was showing me was 'Lucky', a Jackie Collins title. "I know you love reading books, and this will be wonderful for you," he said with sparkling eyes. He was the devil reincarnate. Looking for moments when I was most vulnerable. I looked at the book in my hands. There was nothing otherworldly about it.
I opened the first page as Michael walked away.
The voice of reason started receding to the background, then I read over a scene, and a jackhammer hit me. I closed the book immediately, and dropped it to the ground, looked around confused, and put the book in my back pocket. The scene got my collar hot, and a jumble of emotions swimming through my chemically induced brain.
"Hey, Edwin, what you reading?" Charles asked materializing from nowhere. Why was he here? Did he know someone had given me the book? I felt so ashamed. It burned a hole in my back pocket, with a voice shouting," Find me, find me."
"Ehh! Ehhh!" I stammered, feeling like my mother had caught me red-handed.
"What is it to you?" I lurched out angrily.
Charles drew back and looked at me, keenly.
"You have a Jackie Collin's book, don't you?"
I looked away, defiantly.
He smiled. "Bro, you don't have to act, all bent up. But you need to know that stuff is lethal at our age. It makes you see and feel things that mess up with you, bro."
"I will tell you this. Once you start on this journey, you will lose more than you gain,"
I turned and walked away. "Who does Charles think he is?" I asked the skies gruffly.
"Mr Know it all. He thinks he is better than everyone else," I snickered walking towards the classrooms with a fierce determination. Turned a corner, slowed down and sat on a rock. Charles, I respected and considered a friend. Michael, I disliked and found his every action sinister. He spoke ill of others and gossiped incessantly. My mother said, "Always speak well of others when they are away, and to them when you have something negative to say."
I took out the book, from my back pocket, walked into class and placed it in Michael's open locker.
"Not this time," I told myself. Deep down, I knew there was a winter coming, and Charles' wisdom would be hard to come by.
"Hey! Edwin, why did you take the book back to my locker?" asked Michael as we walked home, we lived in the same area. I detested that fact. But I still found myself walking with him. Entertained by his many interesting and funny stories. Most of them lies, and a figment of his imagination.
He told me once his father was a wealthy merchant who came to town every few months. I visited his home one day as we played in a field nearby. As I gulped a mug of water, I noticed how minimalist their house was. There were several scantily dressed, loud, and crude women in the house. There was no other child or man in the house, and they kept referring to Michael as 'Baby.' I never got to meet his mother. But the disarray, and the many beds, and dingy smell poked doubt on all of Michael's stories. I never asked much, after that, and Michael made sure I never went there again. As I grew older, I got to understand the dire strait Michael was in living in a bordello.
"I don't want to read the book," I said.
Michael looked shocked.
"You don't want to read the book," he couldn't compute.
"Yeah, I am still too young for that."
Michael hesitated, then smiled.
"I guess you are too chicken to read something as naughty," he said, pulling out the book again.
"I will tell the other boys, you are the only one who didn't read it," he said.
I looked at him, his short stature, and oversized head seemed imbalanced as he walked. Maybe I loathed him. Maybe he was more intelligent.
I grabbed the book from his hand.
"The devil knows every way to control us," I hissed under my breath.
I walked on ahead and left Michael with a smirk on his face.
As I walked into our gate, about to close the latch, my uncle appeared.
"Hey, Mister you look so mad, what's up?" He asked.
Before I could react, he reached down and grabbed the book and tossed it in the air away from my reach.
"Ohh! Is this what you are up to these days?"
My face turned ebony, black, and then brown.
I was sweating and deeply ashamed.
"Don't worry, I won't tell mom."
"You know this stuff will turn you into a sex-crazed delinquent," he said, looking at the cover.
I smiled nervously.
"Okay, take my bags. Leave this with me." He said.
"I need to take it back to the owner," I said frustrated.
"You will do no such thing. You will say your uncle took it to read it."
And that is what I told Michael, and I didn't hear from him about Jackie Collins again.