I flipped through the newspaper, using its pages to block the scorching sun. The boys surrounded me, waiting. They watched me glance quickly through the headlines and stories on each page. As I turned the last, Dapo spoke, “So wetin happen today?”
“The regular tins” I answered. Politics, corruption, sports news, talk of change and more politics. They nodded, Oke following every word. As the only literate one in the group, the duty fell upon me to be their personal informant.
As we got up to leave, my eyes fell on an entertainment newspaper. On the front page, was a picture of a light-skinned lady, beaming. She resembled Anna…in fact, they could have been twins. As I was about to turn away, the bold red letters above the image screamed at me.
“MILLIONAIRE DAUGHTER DATING STREET URCHIN”
It was followed by a slightly less aggressive “More on page 5”. My breath left me then and it felt like the sun’s heat was seeping into my bald head, causing sweat to rain down my face. How could it be? My hands found the page and there we were. My arms around Anna, a beer in hand, her body pushed up against mine. The article said it all and worse still, they seemed to know everything about me; Andrew Foluso, up and coming musician, son of a carpenter. I lowered to the ground, shock overtaking me. How could they know? The writer wrote of our “escapades” and how Anna had met me on campus, not knowing I was a yahoo-yahoo boy. There were many lies but the truth was glaring. The dimly lit image of us was placed right beside an image of her in an evening gown with her father. I clearly saw the difference between the two of us. It was something I had denied since the day we met.
“Wetin happen?” Buzo asked. Air rushed back inside of me and I breathed in deeply.
“Nothing,” I said, folding the newspaper over. The boys moved closer towards the table, trying to see. I shoved them playfully and began running in the opposite direction. An indirect challenge. The sound of slapping slippers on the ground caused me to pick up my pace. Another race home.
I collapsed onto my mattress and felt the ground beneath my back. It seemed the rats were here to stay. I pulled out my phone and called Anna.
“My love,” I said.
“Babe! I called you earlier!” I moved the phone away from my ear.
“Yeah. I was busy; reading”
“Something happened,” I hesitated.
“Spit it out” her voice was light, airy.
“So… we were in a magazine today.”
“Mhm. Frontpage news. ‘Millionaire daughter dating thug’.”
“Oh my God” she whispered “Jesu!” There was silence and I saw her eyes filled with confusion and shock.
“Come over,” I said.
“I can’t”. I understood this. There had always been rules of engagement. “Andrew, what did the article say?”
“Apparently I am a yahoo boy. And your father is disappointed in you”
She repeated her previous exclamations.
“That is it, then.” I offered. I wanted to avoid saying the actual thing; ‘we must break up’.
“Just like that?” A heavy, wavering voice asked.
“What do you want me to do? Your father will send goons. If he has not already.”
“We can run…” Anna said. She had a fairy tale view of the world, a consequence of her sheltered upbringing.
“Run where? This is not a soap opera, Anna. Its real life. And I’m in danger now. Your daddy owns a jet and I’m struggling to pay school fees…”
“I’ve offered to help you”
“That’s not what this is about!” I yell and instantly regret it. “I’m sorry”
“Fine,” she said. “Okay.”
“Okay,” I said. “Bye.”
She hung up.
Cool air blew into the window and I forced myself to turn Anna into a memory. Something that happened long ago. But it all came to a halt when I remembered our first meeting. She had been new and almost too beautiful; far out of my reach. But she had approached me and laughed with me, on that first day. She had given me hope and truth be told, was my first ever anything.
My phone vibrated- Anna!
“Do you remember everything?” She sniffed.
In me, there was a wicked glint that pushed me to remind her that it had only been a month since we started dating. But the greater part of me wanted to listen to the sound of her voice, forever.
“Yes,” I said.
“And you’ll let me go?”
“We are not the same”
“Andrew,” she said, for the last time.
“Please, don’t call again”
“I love you” she breathed.
Scratchy throat and prickly eyes became my symptoms, clear signs of emotional overwhelming. But I could not cry. The street life I lived had soaked up every last teardrop from my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said and hung up.
I remembered her kisses. How lingering they always felt. Like there was a giant ellipsis at the end of every one. She was my light. But if I had to choose between death and letting go, I would choose the latter. If one day, we did meet again I hoped that she never forgot our love.