A wise quote once said, You are not responsible for who you attract but you are responsible for who you entertain. It’s the eyes, they always get to me. I like to think they don’t.
He had the softest unrelenting eyes that looked at me like I was the prettiest thing he had seen in a while. Although I knew better. He looked like a guy from the countryside, but only more refined. There was this delicateness about him that had nothing to do with the harsh psychological climate in the camp but had everything to do with his entire cultivated demeanor.
He was more like an Aside, a footnote I would like to make part of the main story, but the main story was interesting as it was at the moment. I would be leaving the news of the war in Syria for a story on the picturesque African landscape. Both are interesting but the war had the prospect of change, the thrill of uncertainty, the feeling of waking up every morning checking that you’re still alive and having that knowledge set you on the edge…making you more conscious of your dear fleeting life.
Nevertheless, Africa meant him, those soft eyes that made me want to kick anything that put him in harm’s way, even if it was the last thing I did; regardless of the feeling I had that something about him was taken and there is this unspoken code of not taking or even coveting what’s already claimed.
Our brigade was undergoing some late evening training and as usual, I was doing my best to be late or even absent. I was on the commander’s ‘don’t touch’ list and I was making good use of that. That was when we met, he was on my every watch after that but I was too much concerned with the war story I was covering. However, I treasured the fleeting moments of unrequited affection. When the war ends, as with all wars, I would check out Africa.
I didn’t think it was hard to let go of something you never had, or it would be harder to want to be in two places at once. He went back to Africa but the war was calling….this kind…it came once in a lifetime and so I had to be there in the moment; but now and then, I took mind trips to Africa. After every successful operation, I resigned myself to writing memoirs. The war ended almost as soon as it began and it was unforgettable, the evidence, lying more in my memoirs than in the devastating ruins.
It seemed absurd to give up after the war, it seemed strange to surrender after you’ve won, but that’s what I did. I burnt the memoirs, my only true weapon during the war. Writers don’t write to make a living after all. Reminding people of the war was not going to help either.
The plan to stay here was created by the war which was now over, and I was not going to remain a prisoner of my personal but somewhat shared history. I took the next flight to Nigeria, West of Africa….to the landscape and to his waiting arms.
I made the trip home, feeling the wave of apprehension rush through me. I sat on the edge of the Sedona minivan in the open. There was no need to but I wanted to breathe in the air here. It was fresh, not stale like it had been at war. Watching the sunrise, I felt the warm rays of the sun wash over my face, and smiled to myself, while in my head I could hear the beating of an African drum. I was a million miles away from civilization but I felt absolutely at peace with myself and the world. With the African wind blowing through my hair I felt alive and free.
It took me a while to decide, but I wanted Africa….I had always wanted Africa. My love for Africa, it had been something I could not explain. It spoke to my soul. It’s an indescribable magic, but once you’ve been, you will undoubtedly yearn for more.
From the first time I saw him, it felt like gravity. I was pulled to him; wanting to know him and my knowledge of him only deepened my curiosity. He was my fascination, he was, ridiculously, my hope at one true love. I had vowed to protect what I had found in my unprecedented attraction to him…even if it meant leaving him. His perfect cultivated demeanor would be no match for my wild uncultured roots. He was to remain my obsession, my curiosity, my unknown too precious to explore, my escape from the harsh realities of the war I had given the past six months of my life to.
The van finally halted interrupting my thoughts, I was to make the rest of the trip on foot. I walked the familiar path that two hundred days did nothing to obscure.
This place gave me life but it also took life from me. It birthed everything I loved and accommodated everything I hated. I should not be here, I was the soldier returning home; everyone would expect some grand war tale and how I was at the core of the war, fighting for the freedom of the rebels. I would have to make up a story, after all, that’s what writers do .
They would not understand that my only duty had been to report the war, I was the emissary of hope, heralding justice and advocating for truth and I loved every bit of it but it would be boring to them. I should not be here but I could not deny that it felt like my soul had been here forever.
Africa was the smell of rain and the feel of it on your bare skin as you danced excitedly in the open field. She was the mysterious work of art that came with a thousand stories. Being in Africa, was my father warring against seventy mad spirits even when the doctor confirmed I only had a migraine. It was waking up to the sound of gongs and church bells because the night watchmen and the early morning preacher didn’t give a damn if you had a rough night and was trying to get in a minute more of sleep.
Africa was my great grandfather, regal and knowing, the African physiocrat, who had married eight wives in his lifetime. It was either he fell in love a lot or he had the infamous polygamous gene men swear they were born with even though when God made Adam, he made and gave him, only one woman.
Africa was the wildlife, the monkeys, the dogs that were both domesticated and eaten by the same Africans, the cats…that was actually most probably a transfigured witch in disguise, the owls that were always a bad omen and should be prayed against and avoided at all cost. Even though God made these animals, they each were assigned their symbolism that governed my people’s relation to them.
Africa was perfect sunsets. The sky lights on fire each morning and night as the sun rises and sets. I looked forward to seeing each one every day and the beauty never ceased to amaze me. Africa had it all: deserts, canyons, waterfalls, savannahs, and everything in between. How can you know all these and not fall in love?
This was home….home was where he was…He was Africa.
It had been six months, two weeks and twelve hours and I could not wait to be trapped in his gaze again.
They say the war changes people, I knew this because it had changed me. I was bolder now…but what if….he was not the person I thought he was, what if I had just been an escape for him as he had been to me?
What if Africa was not what I expected? What if she was cold and harsh and had no regard for my presence treating me like yet another tourist she was in a temporary relationship with. Like the passing day, and the time not pausing for anyone, what if Africa was not ready to make any commitments?
My doubt vanished in my readiness for whatever came. I was ready to reconnect with the part of my heart I left back here. I had not met anyone yet that could love as deeply as I did but if he felt anything at all, it was worth crossing the ocean for.