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Love they say, comes at the most unexpected time, at the most expected places. Love- four-lettered words but yet very powerful and compelling. In the weeks you two journeyed down Odim Hill every evening after school, the weeks you discovered how beautiful his eyes were, how perfect his fair untanned skin shone with the orange sun, and that his vowels sounds had excellent diction, you knew you were in love.
You never wanted to accept it. You instead rebelled against your feelings. You told yourself that perhaps you had only grown to accept who he was. But when he missed school for a whole week, and you had to visit his home to find out what was wrong. It dawned on you that you loved him, or perhaps have always loved him from the first day you met him. It was like liking sugary biscuits and ice creams, and craving for them, but couldn’t eat them because you had diabetes.
His brother told you when he got the door, the day you came visiting, that he had been booked a sickbed at the university teaching hospital. You asked if you could see him, but he told you, you rather not, that visitations were only for close family. You walked back home sad.
You were happy to see him again when he resumed school weeks later, this time no longer in a wheelchair. Though he still had a slight limp. His sickness, whatever it was, (you thought it was probably AIDS because you read somewhere that’s God’s punishment for gay people) had made him a bit slimmer and more good looking. Or perhaps it was because you missed him so badly.
When you offered to follow him to Odim Hills that evening, he told you that there was no need to as he was now okay. You told him you had picked up an interest in still life drawings when he was gone. He laughed at you when you showed him your notepad.
“You tried shaa” He said as he flipped through your drawings. He stopped when he saw a half-faced sketch of him you had made. “You still need some training.”
At the top of the hill, a view towering the whole town, he sat at your back, hold your hand as you two sketched on a page of his note. You could feel his chest on your back, and his breath was flushing on your face. Once you tried to turn back and kiss him. You were afraid he wouldn’t feel the same way you did.
July came with heavy rains and goodbyes. The school session – your last, was over. Everyone seemed to be making huge plans, which institution or what discipline to opt for in the Unified Tertiary Matriculations Exams. You wanted to go to the University of Lagos because you had spent most of your life here in Nsukka. But you wouldn’t mind seconding that choice to whatever institutions Kamalu picks first. You wanted to be close to him.
You asked him one evening at the hill, what his plans were, and he was silent for a while.
“I wanted the University of Ibadan,” he said.
“No!” you told him lying lazily on the grass while he painted, “We should go to Lagos.” You sprang up “Haven’t you dreamt of living in a big city all by yourself. We two could be roommates, driving throughout the city and seeing places.”
“That would be nice,” he mumbled.
“And yet you don’t sound excited,” you said
“Because I will be staying back here in Nsukka.”
“Why” you lay back on the grass “this town is too quiet for my liking. All our friends are leaving; you should do the same”
“I can’t,” he said, still working on the art.
“You should give another place a try” you persisted.
“I can’t,” he stood up and barked at you. “I can’t leave.”
You were surprised as you were angry. He has never shouted at you that way before. “Okay! Okay!” you said and stood up on your feet “Suit yourself. Stay back here as long as you want”.
You picked up your notepad and turned to go.
He told you from behind, “I can’t leave Nsukka because I’m sick.”
You turned to face him “You told me you were ill but now getting better.”
“I’m dying” he swallowed hard, tears now flooded his eyes.
“Is it AIDS?” you asked and wished you hadn’t.
“No, sickle cell anemia” he didn’t seem to mind “I have been battling it since my birth. Our family physician is calling it in”.
“Calling it in” you didn’t understand what the phrase meant, but you were already crying.
“My prognosis isn’t good. They say at best, I can’t stay longer than eleven months. That’s why I can’t go to Lagos with you.”
You fell on a patch of grass and sobbed like a child. He came over to console you. You bent your face over your knees and cried uncontrollably like a baby.
His lips tasted like avocado, your first and last kiss. It was the evening to the eve of the day you were to leave town for Lagos, your luggage already parked. He had come to your place to bid his farewell. Your other friends had come as well. He thought you would be ashamed of him, so he sat on the verandah to wait till they were gone. You instead excused yourself and came to meet him in the front yard. He was fitted in a white cardigan, his arms folded into each. He gave out his hand for a shake when he saw you, but you hugged him instead.
You told him you had a parting gift for him and it would have to be a surprise if only he could follow you down Odim Hill. He told you he was on his medications and couldn’t go. You suggested to carry him on a wheelchair, after all, it wouldn’t be the first time you did so. And both of you laughed.
At the hill, tired by the journey, you held him as you uncovered a medium-sized painting you had carefully hidden in a cliff. He was astonished as he was grateful. You had made an oil-based portrait of him.
“I never knew you were this good,” he said, still looking at the art. You have carefully curved his perfect pink lips.
“I guess the student has bested the teacher,” you said
“Don’t let the compliments get to you?” he said and lay on the grass. You lay next to him, took his hands, and rested it on your chest. It was beating intensely. You leaned over and kissed him, your lips entangled into each other.
“Promise me you would come back before I go,” he said
“I would,” You told him still holding his hands to your chest. “You would only have to wait until I return. Promise you would wait”
“I would wait every second I could”
You placed his head on your shoulder and caressed it gently. It was already dark, and the sky was dotted with twinkle little stars.
“I love you,” you whispered into his ears, but he was already asleep.
You came back months later to find his room empty, his bed neatly made, and all his baby pictures pulled out from the walls of his room. It had only been four months since you left town and he had been gone for nearly a month. You stood at the center of his room and felt a sudden emptiness in your belly. He could have called you- you had dropped a forwarding number- your aunties phone line in Lagos- before you left. He didn’t call; neither did he take your calls.
His mum came to meet you crying by his bedside. “You promised to wait for me,” you shouted, almost bashing your head on the side cupboard.
She held you on the shoulder. “Ozugo- it’s enough,” she said. She walked over to the built-in wardrobe adjacent the window, opened it and reached for a notepad neatly placed in the now emptied space that used to house his clothes.
“He said I should leave this with you” she gave you the book when she returned. “His demise was as painless as it should be,” she said, “he does hope you find solace visiting his grave or reading his diary.”
“Thank you,” you said and took the black leather-bound book from her. She told you, you could stay as long as you wanted, then walked out of the room and closed the door after her.
You still visited his grave or Odim Hills often, even though it is now years since he passed on. They were now your sanctuary whenever you were in town. You would set up a picnic at the spot you both kissed, two glasses of wine as you “two” talked. Or you would visit his grave. You would lay on the tombstone and read his diary to him. His first entries were centered on him fighting his demon.
“Sometimes I feel I’m on top of the world,”
“…and most time I feel I’m crawling down below.”
His last entry, days before he died were dedicated to your fond loving memory. His writing had become a lot incoherent at then, but he had managed to write, “It wasn’t the doctor’s prescription that kept me going all these months but your love. Thanks… I hope you find another love as we did.”
You often stayed at his grave till nightfall, tired from crying or reminiscing of old times. Once you fell asleep there and dreamt he came to wake you up.
“It’s time to go now, my sissy,” he said and led you into the dark, you two going back home to kindness.
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