Call me crazy, but I was a child when I met my first love.
I was the spunky, tomboyish girl who lived next door. He was the quiet handsome kid with a quirky laugh. I noticed him immediately. He wasn’t like my older brothers –spoiled teenagers who harassed each other with boasts of manly exploits that was at best a figment of their imagination. Rather, he was a boy who seemed emotionally secure, in spite of his ineptness at making conversation with younger girls like me.
Wale Taylor was cute. He was new in Fountain Estates – an uptown neighborhood in Lagos, and new to my school. His peculiar laughter – the way rabbits would laugh, if they ever laughed – left me weak in my knees. I was barely twelve. He was fourteen and Queen Puberty had spared him of her curse, for he had the body-build of a young wrestler. He was my immediate older brother’s classmate, had had to repeat classes because of a technicality: Fountain High was a private school for the affluent. It didn’t take to new transfers easily, making students repeat classes, regardless of high academic standing.
As neighbors, I rarely saw Wale Taylor, but at school, I got to know him more. The boy had no airs about him. His odd manner of laughing to everything that was both funny and not, was so full of life so that it became his signature mark. The grown-ups loved him. Infact, my mother often said she would have him teach me good manners, as I was a temperamental child.
At twelve, I was awkward with my pimple-filled face. I hated my angular build and my wide lips and wished to be like the petite belles in my class. The only thing I had going for me was my sharp-witted tongue. My classmates were beginning to experiment with playing boyfriend-girlfriend roles, and for some reason, the idea irked me. Becoming a girlfriend – romance, flowers, and love poems – irritated me to no end. Why become a girlfriend, shackled to some brainless guy when I could live an independent life, free to roam and explore the world without anyone telling me how to live, how to eat and how to talk?
Then I met Wale and knew what a crush felt like. The need to get close to him became an obsession. Girls in his class milled around him, for he had an attentive look that could make any girl feel special. Dopey-eyed, I too followed him all around school. When I knew I had competition from other girls, I began to stalk him at every opportunity I got so he would know of my existence. Even then, I doubt if he ever really noticed me. At best, he tolerated me like a bothersome little fly that he didn’t know what to do with. The only time I truly caught his attention was when I told him about my plans to become a journalist and report breaking news from all over the world.
Soon, my brothers began to tease me about my crush. “Wale Taylor’s girlfriend,” they’d say, hoping to irritate me with the G-word. But really, I could care less. Although he was fluent in his conversation with everyone else, Wale Taylor never really spoke to me during my private moments with him. I did all the talking, while he listened distractedly, writing short stories and crumpling up pieces of paper with a furious passion that left me breathless.
Two years passed and I was fourteen. If I hated my figure at age twelve, I really had a concrete reason to hate it at age fourteen. Puberty had decided to curse me with a head that was too big for my slim body, and she had given me more pimples, they trailed to the back of my neck. Every acne treatment in the world visited that face, to no avail. The pimples persisted, like little puff-puffs that had finally found home.
My fourteenth year brought a series of firsts for me. Although Wale never initiated a conversation with me, he had gotten used to having me around. One hot afternoon after school, he confided that he was going to defy his parents’ wishes to become a medical doctor. He was going to be a Writer, he had told me. He would be the Wole Soyinka of our generation. I stood there gaping at him with admiration. The whole idea of rebelling against one’s parents was just what a headstrong girl like me needed to hear to have my feminist hormones going. Then Wale did something right after that that sealed my heart to his. He kissed me – an accidental brush of his lips against mine as he seemed to bump accidentally into me. Then he said, “I love you” while I stuttered, “I love you too” in dazed confusion.
From that point onwards, I was determined to become Mrs. Wale Taylor when I grew up. Nothing in hell… or heaven would stop me, I vowed.
Then something unexpected happened. And with it, my world … and my dreams came crashing down.