I don’t usually post short fiction on my blog but I wrote this specifically for a Valentine’s Day Competition and I thought I’d share it here since it wasn’t chosen. Enjoy.
7 pm don’t forget
I giggle as the text chimes into my phone, scrolling through the messages preceding it:
I’m throwing a small party nyana at my place, Wednesday night, hope you come thru.
PS, bring ur friends if ur shy 😉
Would I miss it for the world? Not a chance. I remember showing the texts to Wadzanai and Ethel, a wave of excitement pulsing through my body – finally a guy had noticed me and was asking me to hang out with him… on Valentine’s Day, no less. It can only mean one thing: this year I’ll finally find happiness.
My friends give each other the look. It lasts a second but I see it. I imagine it is a look of relief: Chenai is no longer our charity case. They’ve never said as much but I know it bothers Ethel whenever I have to tag along on her dates and how Wadzanai always has to lend me clothes whenever we go out.
Grateful for friends and the amazing college experience, I submit my face to Wadzanai’s makeup ministrations and my hair to Ethel’s curling irons, before we all head downstairs to the parking lot where we tumble into Wadzanai’s Polo.
The minute we walk into Jabu’s studio apartment, I want to bolt out. Everyone here looks so chic, so put together and, standing next to Ethel and Wadzanai, I feel every bit the awkward girl who trips on her own feet. I’m the Michelle of this girl band.
I’m reminded that I was raised by a man whose idea of keeping the boys away was to drive me to the barber every other Saturday and pay for a chiskop and a mother who passed away before she could explain to my dad that knee length jean skirts may have been cute in the nineties but the only thing they now attract is laughter and bullying.
We make eye contact, Jabu and I and I don’t feel so guache anymore because, well, if I were that bad then the cutest guy I know wouldn’t be disengaging from a gaggle of slay queen to walk over to me now would he? The room has a few red decorations in it, nothing over the top, but I know in my heart of hearts – I’ll be Jabu’s girl before the night is over.
“Glad you could make it, Chen,” he whispers, drawing me into a hug that smells of Old Spice and happily ever after. It ends way too quickly as he gives Ethel a cursory nod, remaking he’s glad I brought my friends along.
He pulls Wadzanai in for a hug and whispers something intimate which neither Ethel nor I can hear. She giggles a little before blushing. He doesn’t let go of her. Ethel doesn’t look surprised.
I get the message loud and clear: Bring ur friends if ur shy 😉
I should have figured it out. Every time I caught him staring at me in the lecture theatre, Wadzanai and I were sitting side by side and when I told her Jabulani had not only spoken to me but asked for my number as well, her face had faltered for a while before she’d smiled and said she was happy for me. Had I imagined it?
Woodenly, I walk outside into the harshly lit corridor and sit on the stairs. That’s the only good thing about being a wallflower — you can book out of entire conversations and no one will notice.
“Already bored?” A voice comes at me from the darkness and its all I can do to stop myself from jumping out of my skin.
“You scared me!”
“Sorry. I’m Paul.”
I shake Paul’s extended hand and try to place the short dreadlocks and tall frame. I might have seen him once or twice but he’s unassuming and I could have had a whole conversation with him and forgotten all about it.
I motion toward the Nikon camera dangling from his neck and he sits beside me and starts scrolling through the shots he’s taken tonight: smiling faces, people taking shots and laughing… there’s even a shot of night sky.
“These are really good,” I tell him, “you could go pro.”
He shrugs, a little embarrassed but keeps scrolling through shots until he lands on a series of pictures of me. First, looking shy the minute I stepped in, then happily smiling at Jabu, and lastly, mingled shock and horror when Jabu macks on Wadzanai.
“You have an expressive face,” Paul says.
“I look like I’m in a calculus exam,” I say, trying to dispel the awkwardness that’s built a wall between us.
“You really see me, don’t you?” I’m not sure where these words come from but they’re out of my mouth before I can process them. He nods.
“I, I’ve had a crush on you since the day you helped an old woman with her groceries in Checkers. Everyone stood by when she dropped her shopping bag but you bent down and helped her,” he says. I stare at him for a long time.
“That must have been a year ago,” I whisper.
He scrolls through more pictures until he finds one of me, bent down in a busy supermarket, helping a stooped old lady. Even with my short hair and no makeup, I look radiant. That was before my “makeover.” Paul sees me.
He gets up, powers his camera down then extends his hand nervously toward me, “how about I take you out on a date?”
I think about my jacket still being in Wadzanai’s car and the fact that I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life but then I remember that this was the year I was finally meant to find love so what if it isn’t with Jabu? As my father always says, you always get what you deserve but never what you expect.
I put my hand in Paul’s and pull myself up to standing.
“Sure,” I say, “why not?”