Daylight in Kanika is like the whistling of hell’s bats. At the crack of dawn, nocturnal quietness swiftly breaks into a mutated symphony of car honks and voices. Getting caught in the morning traffic is every motorist’s ‘daymare’. Though not every pedestrian’s because once vehicles are locked, it becomes easier to cross the road, a break from the late evening and early morning ‘norm’ of cars flying by at jet speed.
As much as I hate it and try to avoid it, I was caught in it today. I was relaxing in my seat, preparing myself for a long chat with Clarence; my associate and what was to be an hour or so in traffic when I saw her cross the road. She wound through the jagged path created by locked up unfortunate cars and passed right in front of mine. I stiffened and almost called out. It was uncanny but she looked just like someone I had known, a phantom from my past. Someone whose principles have become wired to my mind…
I remember a girl I once knew. Edith was her name. Edith Onwuzurike. She had watery brown eyes and the cutest smile; sweet dimples touching the soft sides of her face. She was beautiful. I once crushed on her and boy was she smart! I write about her now in past tense because I wonder what has become of her, what has become of those beautiful lips that spelled the unique. I write this way because of time. That hurricane that washes on memories, tossing them into the blurry arms of nothingness, bringing them back, making them more like dreams or better still, daylight fantasies.
It was on a cold September morning Cupid struck me. I was in line at my secondary school’s (high school) assembly and couldn’t help but notice a new girl in line (the assembly was made up of lines each representing a class). My heart kept doing flips and I couldn’t concentrate throughout the over flogged school’s anthem and the National anthem. It kisses my memory how the teachers would make us frown and bark out the first and second stanzas of the National anthem while standing as stiff as green praying mantises waiting for a catch and even stiffer for the pledge. They would police us the whole time and the stubborn deviants amongst us would sure get warning punishments. My mind got really clouded, so much so, I couldn’t take my eyes off her in class. I went into the usual love sickness and started seeking ways to impress her; making a fool of myself is the phrase. I am a shy person normally and doing nice things for love isn’t something I am used to. I always end up feeling foolish, trapped between wanting her to know how I feel, without the desire to tell her myself. I also had to avert the probable awkwardness of classmates knowing the truth. Getting these feelings and killing them was my style. Smile with the ones I feel nothing for and act like I don’t notice the one I could die for. But Edith was different. This was the first time my heart really and totally went out to someone… Another being.
I finally got noticed one rainy day about a month after my brush with cupid (that mischievous god). I saw her hurrying towards school as it had just started raining and everyone caught out in the open was bound to get drenched. I offered to share my umbrella and I think that caught her. That little gesture opened a door… a door to the long beautiful talks we would have… Those chatty golden times and walks home together. I remember those brown eyes looking back at me calm and contented, glowing with a sort of futuristic pride while I acquainted her on my dreams for the future. How I was going to invent things no one has thought of, the press conferences, my world class speeches and other things I now know belong permanently in the world of dreams (sighs). But admiration wasn’t the only glow I saw in those eyes. There was also a flickering fire behind them; a fierce determination and resolve burning with a shocking instability. The kind you would find in the eyes of a psycho (no offence Edith).
Edith was everything I needed in a human, even more. Her smiles, voice, resounding laughter and calm mien sent beautiful signals down my teenage spine. But there were things that scared me about her, some weird occurrences, too cold to be coincidences. One of them was the way a senior in school, threatened to beat her up and ‘went to Heaven’ a day later. Coincidence maybe, but the same thing happened to friends who said things behind her, people who hurt her. It comes to me how she always replied the news of their deaths with a listless shrug and an is-that-what-the-fuss-is-all-about expression.
According to her, “the Grim-reaper comes every day, so much, it shouldn’t cause a squawk among humans anymore. ‘He’ is no longer an enemy but a partner, waiting in tandem with time to elope with you.”
The equanimity with which she took calamity did more than baffle me. That dark yet beautiful and alluring strangeness about her drew me totally … like a moth to a flame. She was the closest friend to me in the true sense of the word. She simply came and replaced every other definition I had about the word ‘closeness’. She was the only one I could tell my secrets without the fear of being judged or mocked and she was there with for me when others left… through every little or great calamity I suffered. Prime among them all, was losing Sheila. Sheila a childhood friend and bestie ‘closed her eyes’ a few months after I met Edith. She died in an explosion at a filling station. She was on a journey with her mother, when they dropped by a filling station to get some gas. The story had it that one thing led to another and an explosion occurred… I remember the pain I felt on getting the news. That was the first time I got that kind of news. It was unlike real pain. Unlike the one you feel when you sprain an ankle, no, this was different. It was one I felt everywhere and nowhere; the mental kind of pain. I remember crying like a baby and Edith’s was the only shoulder aside mother’s I could lean on.
Days flew into weeks, weeks dove into months and we grew closer. Edith was the perfect definition of someone you could know all your life and still not know; like totally understand. She was a great girl who had an uncanny knowing about life. Listening to her speak, was like hearing life itself tell you things… According to her, the safest way to live is to look at life in other ways than straight. Life itself is never always in agreement with the precise. Those caught in its barbed ugly tangle, are those who give a single definition to everything. They are the straight or (like she calls them) the simple minded ones… Light is beautiful we know! But would it be if there was no darkness? For her, true appreciation only happened when both sides are respected; none being greater than the other. She was beautiful, more beautiful than most ladies I knew then or later met but she never concurred with my complements. To her, ‘beauty only helps hide the grotesque, just as the latter easily holds the former. A jellyfish is beautiful but touch it and you will feel ‘beauty’. ‘Have you seen diamonds just mined?’ She would say, ‘they look like domestic soda. But polish it, and you get something beautiful. It is rare to find beauty within and without but where it occurs, nature always finds a way to balance it with a flaw’. Her perception of people was also profound. She would say; ‘People come and go. They touch you in the most amazing ways. Though some stay with you, most leave sooner or later. Their exit isn’t what counts. What counts is what they leave with you. Spite? Love? Hatred? Knowledge? Name it… It’s all for the greater good. Whether you like it or nay, humanity is like sandpaper. They scratch you, hit you, cuddle you, touch you or even hang over you menacingly. The beauty of it all is that they leave you with a beautiful finish… Look at humanity this way and you will stop being that piece of mahogany that gets broken by the time the workman is through. You will stop hating nature for making you lose some people. You will stop hating yourself for letting someone go because you will be filled with a greater knowing, and get on in search of ways to give a definition to the lives of others; being a sandpaper.’ In these words I now know there were messages she was passing across… knowledge with a profound meaning, endless depth and class – A deep touch across boundaries on wisdom for a lifetime.
My friendship with Edith ended almost as suddenly as it started. We were supposed to meet up somewhere but she didn’t make it. I called, she explained why, amongst other stuff with points I didn’t totally understand. Points I never took notice of… Until later. A few days later, she disappeared, and was never found. I remember living in a daze for days without eating or drinking. It was as if a huge chunk of my life source had disappeared. It took time and life to heal me. Time, life and her words… ‘People come and go. They touch you in the most amazing ways. Though some stay with you, most leave sooner or later. Their exit isn’t what counts. What counts is what they left with you, Spite? Love? Hatred? Knowledge? Name it… It’s all for the greater good.’
‘Hitting it with the eyes ay? She is a nice dish.’ I blinked back to the present at those words, still dazed as Clarence nudged me playfully. He had no idea how far into the past I just dove.
I open the door and call out ‘um… Hello, excuse me… please excuse me…’