When Barbara Kweku strolled into Biology class the other day, nothing told me we’d become such great friends. She looked exceptionally petite, prim and smart in her well pressed uniform, with a pair of round spectacles housing the homeliest set of eyes I had yet seen. But that was that.
Until a few weeks after when I happened upon her in class drinking in the words of Nora Roberts Daring to dream when the rest of us were in the Biology Laboratory for practicals. I was amazed.
“Hey.” she responded undisturbed, a little smile playing across her lips. “Did you get tired too?”
“Tired? Heck no. I actually find the practical interesting.”
“What? Dissecting toads, and lizards and Roaches? I’ll rather do something more interesting with my time.”
I giggled. “You’re weird.”
“Well, I have this story writing competition coming up, and I am just trying to get inspired.”
“What?!” I got really interested then. “I want to hear all about it. Say we head home together after school? I’ve got to return to the lab.”
“Great!” she smiled broadly, sparing the brightest set of teeth. There and then, I knew we’d make a great team.
We were different, very different. She was worry-less, determined, and fearless. She wanted to be a famous writer when she grew up, the likes of Shakespeare, Chinua Achebe, Maya Angelou; she had entered for a number of competitions, none of which had fetched her a prize, but she wasn’t giving to failure. She was persistent. Her parents had wanted her to be a Medical Doctor, but seeing as she barely put in any conscious efforts, her results were flummoxed with C’s and D’s. That was her plan.
I, on the other hand wasn’t sure what I wanted. Dad was a Surgeon, Mum a Professor of Economics. Mark, my elder brother held a Masters in Economics, so automatically, I was shoved to the Sciences to extend dad’s line of expertise. The Family of Doctors and Economists, profound! I loved to win. I loved to be the best in everything I set out for. More than that, my parents wouldn’t take less for good. It was either A’s or nothing. So it became my dream too.
But we shared a few peculiar interesting things. That day, on our way home, we had enviously explored Margo Sullivan’s life and dreams and goshed about Joshua Templeton’s suave charm (Daring to Dream, Nora Roberts). Then we moved on to discuss the gory plot in Attempted Matrimony, and the storyline of Second Chance, the Alchemist, A Perfect Stranger, The Fault In Our Stars and we would have gone on if the road wasn’t so short. So we agreed to read a book every weekend and discuss it over the next week. Sounded like a plan!
We would spend our lunch break together, talking about crushes and dream boyfriends. She liked Tyler Perry, wanted to write like him someday. She imagined he would call her sometime, being her best buddy, telling her he just read her latest release and was proud of her. I loved Johnny Depp, I loved his prowess, eloquence, mystery– everything about him. He was my imaginary boyfriend.
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain
A few days to the submission deadline of her story, she had asked me, although hesitantly, to read and give her my thoughts on it. She had written of a motherless child with supernatural powers who used one woman- Maria to right the wrongs of the world, and avenge the death of her parents from the crib of her foster home. Maria was her foster mother, and unsurprisingly, Mathew her husband was her mother’s killer. A cold blooded notorious killer whose next game would have been Maria had she (the child) not happened. I found the story daring, gripping, interesting. Immediately, I knew without a doubt someday, she would be celebrated. And more, I was certain she’d get her first prize then.
A couple months after, the National Science competition came up and naturally, I was chosen to represent my school. I had tried my best, as always; but won my school a Silver trophy. It broke me. I wept bitterly. I was inconsolable. My principal and teachers were proud because that was the first time in ten years anyone won the school a trophy in that same competition– but nothing equalled the gold medal in my eyes. Later that day, as we headed home, Barbara announced the writing competition results had been released. I broke my first grin that day, anticipating the good news she would bare.
“We didn’t make it to the list.” she said, unceremoniously. We, being herself and Tyler Perry. I broke again, unable to say a word.
“But hey!” she continued, her face lighting up instantly. “Tyler says we should go out for a toast later tonight. He thinks I am almost there.”
I smiled helplessly. Who bears a heart like this? Quickly, I wrapped her in a tight embrace, allowing myself tear up into sobs and big fat tears.
“Hey. And guess what? Johnny called earlier, said he had been trying to reach you to no avail. He said he’s proud of what you did out there.”
I laughed then. Even amidst my tears, I laughed. I was a massive wreck, but she was too much joy to not behold.
“And I am proud of you too.” she finished.
“I love you” I retorted. Those were the only words I could make up eventually. My truest truths. And I hoped it would convey all other thoughts of how proud I was of her, and how inspiring I thought she was.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
© The Short Black Girl, 2016.