This girl, she just happened, like that. The way bad things happen to good people. No ceremony of falling in love, or rituals of romance.
It all started with a blind date. There was neither love nor longing at first sight. The girl being not much to look at – one of those faceless characters in a permanent destinationless drift upstage, lost in the throng of the cast of Life; her soft presence fading out to merge into the blackness of the backdrop.
She had entered the room, but was not in it; she kept throwing glances over her shoulders, as if expecting herself to come in – until she saw me. A pinch of pleasantries passed quickly between us and dropped away into silence. It was more than the awkward silence (which it should have been) of two Facebook friends meeting face to face for the first time. There was something uncanny about it.
As we sat there inside the deep, cold silence, with nothing to do, or say, I passed the seconds in a barefaced contemplation of her face, my writerly interest aroused by the nakedness of it, the lifelessness. How could a person whose verses pulsated with so many passions possess such an inanimate countenance. An empty face, just like the faceless silhouette of her Facebook profile picture, facial nothingness – blank canvas upon which coquetry, or avarice, or other such feminine features should have been clearly depicted.
It was like trying to stare a cadaver down – dead futile. (This is why I cannot give a clearer literary description here. Any other writer would have been just as hard put to it as I was.)
Undeterred, I rummaged around in the clutter of my vocabulary for fitting adjectives and colourful turns of phrase. But the vacant face lay before me in frustrating defiance of prose and poetry. Taunting me the same way a blank page would a prolific man of letters suddenly afflicted with a severe bout of the writer’s block. My gaze soon grew weary. I let it sag under the funereal heaviness of the silence that lay between us.
She took that chance to steal another glance at the door.
“Are you expecting someone?”
My voice sounded too small, borrowed. It didn’t fit. She looked at my mouth, as if to confirm. I slipped a tight smile on
“You’re expecting someone?”
She moved her head slightly – hung it between a nod and a shake – not sure.
“I have to leave,” she said suddenly and rose. I had never heard a more frail sound in my life. With the same abruptness she turned and left.
Because of the ghostly evanescence of her presence, when she disappeared through the door it was as if she had not been here; as if I had been sitting here alone all day. She hadn’t even touched her Coke. I fingered mine.
The murmur of whispered conversations, from the other tables in the restaurant, which had only been buzzing negligibly in the background, began to rise to the surface of my hearing; as if the death of our silence had been suppressing it all the while. I sat there, not intentionally listening to, but catching snatches of, the romantic nothings being whispered back and forth. It had that detached, soporific effect of listening to the strains of music coming from a distant radio at night.
I shut my eyes, and a deluge of questions soon drowned out the soft sounds around me.
I had my untouched soft drink replaced with a stiff one. The evening had just begun to slip away in sips.I carried my Scotch and sadness out to the balcony to drink in the colourful transfiguration of the heavens at sunset. If only the twilight years of a man could be just as full of colour.
The Heyyyyyy was a string of brightness that was dragged all the way for about six paces till she reached me at the balcony, ending it with an exclamation mark of a bump of her breasts against my arm, almost knocking the glass out of my hand.
She giggled a small apology when I turned around.
“Who was this?”
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey! I didn’t think you’d be here yet,” she grabbed the glass from me, “I see you started the party without me.” With a playful pout swallowed the remnants of my fourth Scotch.
“I’d really been looking forward to meeting you. You always seem so intelligent and opinionated in our FB chats, with something solid to say about everything, now you’re just looking as if . . . You know, I thought for a moment that you wouldn’t come, then I didn’t want to come, then I thought, Oh what the hell, what’s there to lose, if he doesn’t come I’ll just have a few drinks and be happy, so I got into a dress and into a cab and voila! – I’m here, and you’re here, and we . . . Hey you’re awfully quiet for someone with so much to say online, and inbox and you…”
She spoke like speed-typing. How could one keep up with this machine-gun speech, or even get a word in edgewise, or anyhow. I was trying to take in her face (it was not from Facebook, yet it was familiar), but the rush of her words scattering all about my ears was distracting. I knew that face. But could it be her?
A black, tight, liberally-sequinned mini-dress that shimmered as her body moved had replaced the oversize SAVE THE EARTH T-shirt and maxi skirt of the afternoon, and the scream of bright, colourful make-up had drowned out her intriguing facial nothingness.
This couldn’t be her.
“Hey, it’s me Adu’a, from FB! Argh! This one that you’re looking at me as if you don’t know me. We were supposed to meet here, this afternoon . . . I’m sorry I’m late . . . I already explained why – I thought you wouldn’t come then I–”
“We were supposed to meet here?”
“But we have. Earlier . . . You left . . . early . . .”
She laughed up to the night sky, her hand flying to her wide-open mouth as if the laughter was actually spilling and she wasn’t laughing it, so she was trying to push it back in.
“What are you on about? I just got here! And saw you out here and came over . . . Oh you’re nervous, aren’t you?” she smiled, pushed her slight self into me, and touched my arm. Her palm was moist and buttery. “Men get nervous a lot around me, all the time. I don’t know why . . . But I know just what to do to set them little nerves on chill . . . First, drinks . . . Hey!” she called a passing waiter.
The way that one’s face and personality had been empty this afternoon, this one filled your face and the air with her rapid words, her large laughter, her colours . . . She was not expecting anybody; she had that solid confidence of a person that was here.
We drank, and laughed, and drank more, and laughed louder, like old friends, and when the chemical energy from the alcohol began to transform itself into palpable electrical energy in the small space between us, starting small sparks, we left, together.
The effect of last night’s drinking was now manifesting itself in the form of an evil spirit that was occupying a corner of my brain as a heavy, hammering hangover-headache. The insistence of the knock at the door amplified this dull banging. When I managed to open my eyes it was 12:37 in the afternoon of what day of the week I didn’t know. There was a note beside my watch on the bedside stool.
Hey friend. had to run. x
I remembered. That side of the bed was empty, cold. I only remembered the face; everything else was lost in grey. The knock returned to the fore of my head. I opened the door.
“I didn’t get a chance to give you this yesterday.” She was holding out a book. I did not take it; did not even look down at it. I was staring at the familiarly empty face. The T-shirt was not SAVE THE EARTH this time; it was A TREE PLANTED, A PLANET SAVED, and still oversize. But the skirt was the same – billowing and voluminous. She had gone home to change.
She looked over her shoulder.
“No, thank you . . . I have to run.”
“Yes, I saw your note, but we should talk about last night.”
“Last night – me, you, a few drinks, in here…”
“I’ve never been here, sir.”
Sir? Who was this?
“Then how did you know I lived here?”
She dropped her eyes to the floor.
“I have been following you . . . I’m sorry . . . I was just curious . . . and wanted to give you this . . . Here.”
I took the book from her. It was the collection of her poems she had told me about.
“Thanks. Wait. Can you sign it for me?”
I came back with a pen, and the note she had left.
She signed the book: Adu’a. For a friendshift.
I looked at the note. The ‘friend’ was the same; with an o on the ‘i’. But this Adu’a was different. When I looked up she was gone. As abruptly as the last time; as if she hadn’t been there.