The first mistake was applying for the undergraduate degree in Economics, and she should have known that she was on the wrong path, even before Richard, her childhood friend, told her. His face had been crumpled like an unwanted piece of paper heading for the dustbin- so much that it seemed as though his creased forehead would never smoothen, as he asked her a condescending why, lamented their being in different schools, then blamed and cursed her teachers for letting her cross from science class.
“Why would you waste your intelligence like that?” Richard had asked.
Still, she did not see them coming, the many mistakes that that initial one would propel.
At first, she did not mind the bald-headed, dark-chocolate-skinned lecturer massaging his sparse beard as he made languid strolling motions from one end of the front of the lecture hall to the other, murmuring things, once in a while loudly interjecting a word or two, then asking at the end of the long hour if she, and the rest understood, and expecting a solid yes. But only because she had not known that her tests and exams would have little to do with those classes where she dozed and her head- with half-closed eyes- rotated like the earth on the axis of her neck. It was her mistake- not knowing, because they had told her during her A’ level year that she would outshine her ‘colleagues’ in the University since she had been exposed to a foreign curriculum and they had not- they who had, by the time she joined their class, been armed with more knowledge than was necessary, of the erratic nature of the lecturers with their alien tests and exams, and she who was only just arriving, sans the bitter experience of an unfair exam and no ties with the said classmates, the only ones who could have forewarned her- and she had believed them.
Things started to dawn on her after the first set of exams, but she had scaled through, and it was still a hazy knowledge- like the way Harmattan would start with that subtle, yet familiar dryness, heralding its arrival, but not yet its presence- that something was wrong, somewhere, but it was beyond her grip and she continued because the feeling was not something she could quite hold, yet.
It became tangible by the next year when her CGPA took a free fall down a bottomless pit, even though she had read and read and had become a regular at the Nescafe stand, exhausting their supply so that she could continue reading. That was when she turned to the internet, and buried what was left of her head in it.
She should have kept in mind, the sage warnings of adults like her mother, who discussed the internet as though it was a sin in itself. But instead, she proceeded to make the mistake of seeking solace on it, using it without caution, and sooner than she realised, she had started a blog, filled it with the things her mind ruminated on, then created a LinkedIn account because she could no longer rely on her degree, and she needed the insurance of having networked professionally, and that was the beginning of her world falling to bits.
There was also the issue of her hair- thick, long, and tough to maintain- and her uncontrollable fidgeting. So it did not help when she had painful periods that put her in bed, immobile and bored, because her hair became a target. She twisted it.
It was a mistake too, the twisting- at least she had not set out to, not even expected that she would cover the entire bush on her head, and even if she had, she had assumed that she would take them out before morning, that they would have looked too wild to wear out. What she did not know, was that her roommate would barge in on her and the twists, and squeal in approval, and that this would give her the confidence to wear them to class.
She could have just gone to class. If she had, with seriousness and purpose and not that her usual idle lingering, she would not have been cajoled into taking that ‘fine’ picture that Kemi made her sit for, and she would not have had the perfect profile picture for her new online presence. But by evening she had put up the picture then sent connection requests, then he appeared on the list of people she might know and she sent him a request as well- desperate to exhaust all her options- the MD of a firm that may or may not have been offering the kind of jobs she should be interested in by virtue of her degree. And he accepted the request and viewed her profile and then ‘jaunted to her blog’.
That, and ‘I enjoyed the post about 3-D printing’ and ‘feel free to contact me’ with his phone number attached were the things he messaged her. Later, he would add that he had been taken by her cute photo, and even though she did not think much of the picture, it would have been too late by then to doubt him, because she would have let her heart strip her head of its senses and leave it standing naked, reduced to dizzying emotions defined by four letter words like love and like.
But it didn’t arrive there just like that.
There was the mistake of being thrilled by his endorsement of the things on her blog, of gaining too much confidence from a stranger’s kindness, then replying his message and his ‘contact me’ request. Then there was the mistake of being smart and witty, of figuring out just what to say from the very first conversation and laughing easily and being open and liberal- things that she had never been, but had become, because she made the mistake of thinking that this was a new life for her outside the mundane walls of her textbooks. And then he became melted butter.
By the time their rendezvouses finally graduated from virtual to real, it was as though they had known themselves their entire lives: trading opinions, arguments and jokes all in one breath and it did not take much for him to lean in, for them to melt into each other: she bread, he butter, sharing things like saliva, sweat and intimate compliments like the one she gave him about his lips and the one he gave her about her bottom, and before long they were planning weekly visits and constructing well-thought-out excuses to get her away from home during vacations. And she did not for once wonder what a man who was twice her age, would want in her.
Until he moved away.
At first it was easy- promises to visit every two weeks, to video-call on Skype, to keep in touch and never stop WhatsApp-ing. But there was the mistake of neither warning the other about times when their lives would not be in sync, when he would be too busy during the day and her phone would be dead at night, and they would not talk for six days at a stretch then fight about it because she was doubtful and felt neglected and he was disappointed that she did not understand. Then they would ignore each other.
In those communication-less windows, he would listen to his Drake albums and pine while staring at that first picture of her in her chunky twists and her Ankara shirt, and remember the feel of her lips and the taste of them, but would not call her because there was something about missing her that made him know that his wholeness, his completeness was in the palm of her hand, and he was not comfortable with this new development.
She too would attend daily Masses and see him in a different person each day- the altar boy with the exact degree of lip-pinkness, a man with thick, nail-bitten fingers like his, seated by himself in the garden- and she would will him to die, and wish that she had not made the mistake of replying that first message then wonder if it was another unfortunate girl he chatted with when he was online and not talking to her- and it would dawn on her that a large chunk of her heart was no longer with her, that it had lodged with a man who smelt of Rexona for men, and considered it home.
Then her phone would buzz, and it would be there, his name, and his usual, “Temi”
And she would make the mistake of melting again, of replying and telling him that she missed him too much; and she would no longer be the sole owner of her heart, and never learn from her mistakes.
He too, would not learn from her mistakes- he would let her ruin his life, just like he had done to hers.