My mum got off the phone, looked at me and said “That was Dumebi’s mum”. Like I was supposed to know who Dumebi was. “Dumebi is going to be celebrating her 10th Birthday next week and she has invited you.”
“Ok” I replied, trying to do my impression of someone who has an interest in a person they’d never met. For 10 year old Nigerian boys, especially in the late 70’s, arguing with your parents was not an option, so all you could really really do was acquiesce to their thinly veiled demands.
The prospect of going to a birthday party for someone I didn’t know seemed a little suspect and not the least bit appealing. Like most kids my age, I has already figured out that my chances of enjoying a birthday party largely depended on existing mates that would be attending the same party. As far as I was aware, the number of the aforementioned group was nil. Thankfully, something came up and we couldn’t attend the bash. It was just another birthday party I wouldn’t enjoy held in honor of someone I wouldn’t remember; no biggie.
A few months down the line and it was time to leave for the BIG school a.k.a Secondary school. My mum had sworn by Sango, Oya, and Obatala that all her kids were going to attend boarding school. This was to ensure that we all learnt basic life skills so that we wouldn’t end up spoilt rotten. I for one was looking forward to this new phase of my life and couldn’t wait for the day to come.
My first term at school had gone well enough, but now, it was my first visiting day and I was looking forward to my mum’s visit. The smell of home cooked food filled the entire visitor’s car park as I walked down while trying to pick out my mum from the stream of people and cars. I eventually spotted a green Mercedes Benz “regular” with an identifiable plate number and I couldn’t contain my excitement as i saw her small frame step out of the car. “Mummy!!!” I screamed in excitement as I ran to give her a hug nearly knocking her over.
We had barely untangled from our hug before she started inspecting me all over…”Look at your hair all uncombed ehn? And why isn’t your shirt ironed?…” I couldn’t care less about these things at this point in time as I jumped into the back seat of the car to inspect the goodies she came with. “They aren’t all yours o! Dumebi’s mum also sent a few things as she couldn’t make it down to visit”.
“Dumebi??” I asked, trying to figure out why the name sounded familiar.
“Yes. Dumebi, the one who invited to you her birthday party – remember her now?”
If memory served me correctly, she didn’t invite me. Her mother did the inviting using my mother as a proxy, but nevertheless, I nodded in affirmation as I unscrewed the lid of the Eleganza cooler. The beautiful aroma of the Jollof rice it contained was intoxicating. My mouth watered as I said, “But i didn’t know she was at my school.”
“I thought I mentioned it,” she replied.
I shook my head without a care. “No, you didn’t.” I couldn’t be bothered with someone I’d never met when all this delicious rice was just sitting there taunting me.
About 15 minutes later, a girl in a red chequered house wear, glasses and a fanny pack round her waist walked up shyly and says “Good afternoon ma”. My mum gets out of the car and gives her a hug.
“Dumebi, how are you?”
“Fine ma” she replied. Their back and forth between both continue for another 3-4 mins before my mum pointed to me saying, “That’s my son, Lekan.” Still staring at her in bewilderment, I say hi. She responds. And that was the beginning of my friendship with Dumebi.
Over the 3 years of junior secondary school, we became good friends. We would catch up every now and then, a few visits during the holidays like “good family friends.” Around this time, the reality that we were on the cusp of moving into the senior phase of secondary school was beginning to dawn on us. In my head, I started running a gap analysis of things that needed to be in place for that new “Senior student” look. One thing that however stood out among the several changes required was a girlfriend.
At 13, my self awareness, like my hormones, were at an all time high. I wasn’t exactly full of myself, but I felt I had a lot going for me. I was among the top students in the class, a key member of the football team, and a junior prefect. As far as the girlfriend was concerned, my goal was to find someone of somewhat equal measure. I started thinking of the best way of going about this, but a few months into my search and it wasn’t going well. I’d like to think I was good looking but it evidently wasn’t enough to send the ladies into frenzy over me. For that matter, I didn’t simply want a girlfriend; I wanted THE girlfriend. I wanted someone who was pretty but sorta nerdy, well spoken, smart, intelligent, well dressed and mannered, not popular on school grounds but not unknown either….someone like DUMEBI!!
Why did it take so long for me to realize this? It wasn’t rocket science. it was never supposed to be. What – rather, whom – I wanted had been right there under my nose all along and I didn’t even know it. She’s the one girl that ticked every box and she was my friend to top it all.
I started researching and rehearsing romantic lines that I had no doubt would knock any girl off her feet. This was going to be a milestone in our friendship. If it went well would be the best thing to happen to us, but if it fell flat, neither of us might never recover from it. I had to pick out the perfect day and time too, a gift perhaps? Was I overthinking it?? I just wanted the moment to be perfect!!! The prep was never going to be complete without me confiding in my two best friends Subomi & Kwame who provided their “expert” advise on do’s and don’ts when asking a girl to be your girlfriend.
And so on a lovely Sunday afternoon after the dinning halls had closed for lunch, when most students would have been having their Sunday afternoon naps, I walked down to the basketball court and got one of Dumebi’s dorm mates to let her know that I would like to see her. A few minutes later, I saw her walking towards me. The closer she got, the more my heart pounded. I couldn’t chicken out now, could I?
“C’mon, Lekan!! You got this,” I told myself trying and failing to show the anxiety on my face.
“Hi Lekan, what’s up? You sent for me?”
I froze. Panic set in.
Her eyes remained fixed on me as she followed up with a “Yeess….?”
I nodded in affirmation. It was all I could think to do. The ground seemed to be giving way under me. Only if it would open and just swallow me whole. So much for all that planning “expert advice.” Taking in a few slow breaths, I looked down at the pebbles on the ground and muttered, “Will you like to be my girlfriend?”
To be Continued…