Her eyes glistened and glowed, and her face shone with such radiance as of the smile of the early morning sun. Her eyes met mine and didn’t blink out of shyness and rather than look down like other damsels, she smiled gaily at me. Not sure I returned her smile but she innocently giggled at the sight of me. How could I flirt with an under aged, still under care of matrons and mistresses in her school? She was only a sweet 16, and her school uniform did little to hide her social identity even though she was seen as a senior girl like her SSS 3 classmates. I didn’t ask for her name for before I left her all-females secondary school where I had attended an official function. My suit was new and I had the appearance of a typical ‘uncle’ who looked too serious-minded to return the flirtatious smile of a teenage girl who was generation behind mine. And separated by a decade-long life’s journey!
Valentine day was a few weeks ahead and being new in the city, I had no plans for any celebrations and had no special Val in sight. So I thought until I was roused from my self-delusion by a willing emissary; another teenage girl and close relative of mine whom I loved so much. The message was explicitly unambiguous and the delivery was apt and well-aimed that my heart was not stung by the bug of denial. The sweet sixteen wants me as her Val for she considered me mature enough to understand her wishes unlike the ‘childish and immature secondary school boys’ who have been trying to woo her. It was a challenge I was least prepared to face. I had wanted another quiet Valentine Day but this young girl has chosen to break into my world.
To save my face, I hit a gift shop and bought her a box of chocolates based on the counsel of her emissary and cupid-conspirator. Being too cautious as avoid being tagged a “cradle snatcher’ and pedophile, I resisted the urge to buy a romantic card spattered with red roses, and I muzzled and gagged the Muse within who schemed to write a romantic ballad for her. I knew her dad, and was eager to erase any suspicions or leave a thread that can serve as an alibi against my case when summoned before the court of human opinion. I was certain she’d be quieted by my aloofness and seeming disinterest in her. But I was mistaken in my judgment for she held to her forwardness and her pristine smiles and cupid notes didn’t cease thereafter.
My escape came when I was offered a job in another town, far-flung from my young admirer and I assumed I had won. But in my waking moments, pictures of her smiles wafted through my mind, and consumed my soul. I couldn’t explain the intensity of power she exerted from a distance and after fighting the battle within, I sought for her but no sounding machine could locate her. The GSM waves have not become ubiquitous in Nigeria then, and my well-scripted letter that NIPOST was to deliver to her must have been lost in transit. I am certain that had she received it, a herald would have knocked at my door with a missive sealed with a tinge of her sunny smile. I ached for a while like the lover who spurned the love from his beloved, who ran into the arms of another in a bid to numb out the pain of unrequited love.
By a stroke of chance orchestrated by destiny, we met again after four years of separation. We sat opposite each other to sip drinks and chat for long hours in a couple of bars and restaurants. We sat on lush green gardens and meadows to talk and lounge for minutes that stretched into hours. We attended social events like two couples chosen and selected by cupid’s rare wisdom. The chasm of distance had been breached and she was within the reach of my arms and heart again. But my sweet sixteen had grown into a woman. Her naivety and innocent smiles had left the tent where she had sheltered years before. She had grown into a beautiful and desirable maiden that kings and princes desired to crown as her royal highness, the queen of their hearts. She evoked stares from men who plumaged and ravaged her veiled but sculpted frame with their ravenous and voracious eyes. She made moving cars screech into an abrupt stop when a man was behind the wheels, and stirred the envy of married women who feared she would maroon the hearts of their husbands.
But hers was a transient visit to the new city and sooner than I had anticipated, her train moved again, and we didn’t get to spend the valentine together, and I have never received another Valentine’s invite from her again. Maybe she has grown wiser over the years and expects that it was the lot of the man to find a Val in her. But in all, she has taught me what it means to have a loyal friend who shows deep interest in another. In a note I read not too long ago, she said these words to me: “You are so special. Thanks for being a part of my life” and I wonder if this is a valedictory note or just another Valentine invite which I would gladly have honored. The note has the past embedded in it, and maybe I could turn it around to wear the cloak of today so it can have a futuristic end.
I should have known better that at 16, a young maiden can be allowed to ride the horse together with an aged prince. And never again would I permit that another should toy with the heart of a sweet16 who knows what she wants from life. I would let her break romantic protocols and lead her to the Prince of her dreams when Valentine’s bell chimes in her heart again!