I’m turning 30 next month. The big 3-O is looming. It’s around the turn sitting with its legs crossed, head leaning back against a rocking chair. It’s watching 29 doing the last lap in a 12 month marathon. I can sniff 30.
The wind of age is blowing its whiff in my direction. Everything about it smells like eucalyptus and rosemary. I can smell some vanilla in the air too. And as the clock ticks, I’m reflecting a lot about the last decade. It spans my relationships and career, decisions I’ve made and opportunities I got or missed. I’m thinking about my fears and worries and everything in between.
When I was at the tail end of 20, I had a crush on a girl. She’d just joined her first year. So yeah, she was a fresher. I liked her. We stayed on the same hostel floor. She was relatively short, hanging around the lower-mid end of 5’something. I liked the way she walked and the way she laughed. I could eat her laughter for breakfast and lunch and dinner.
Every time I heard her laughter seeping through the slit of her door, wafting through the corridor, then squeezing its way under the door to my room, I’d feel a sense of warmth tickling my heart.
I wanted to ask her out so bad but I held back. My friend King [as his name suggests], who was more experienced than I was in all things relationships advised me.
“Ernest, you rush, you crash,” he said.
I didn’t know how to treat a girl right then [I probably still haven’t got the hang of it.] I wasn’t sure what sort of pick-up lines to use. I didn’t have the right words. Text messaging was still a thing back then. I’d use so much puke inducing short hand.
I think my texts would go something like, “Hy thea, hw u? I wz jst thnkng abt u.” I don’t know what the reception on the other end of the screen would be like. I went on to use such bad shorthand until I was probably 24. When I read my Facebook posts and messages from the days of my early 20’s, I’m embarrassed by the way and things I wrote. I won’t delete them though.
Anyway, I waited until I turned 21. I put my testicles together, bit the bullet and asked this girl out. I invited her to a date at the College Inn restaurant in Wandegeya. She said yes, a reluctant yes I should add. She showed up carrying along her signature ray of laughter that stroked my heart. We had a meal of goat meat and rice (or was it chips?) and we talked. I didn’t know what I was doing.
Turns out, she didn’t like me the way I liked her. She asked us to be friends. That’s not what I wanted. I did try talking to one of her friends to intercede for me. [You know a guy is Catholic when he uses the word, “intercede”.] This didn’t work either.
And that, my lovely readers, is how I got my first friend-zone experience. Credit to her. She made the right call.
Later that year, I fell in love with another girl. She was a special soul.
I first saw her in church. She had a singing voice that’d bring angels and saints to the alter of worship. When she sang, hearts moved, eyes got filled with tears, heads nodded in acknowledgement. Her gift of singing was immense I couldn’t concentrate in prayer whenever I saw her. I wanted to speak to her, to get to know her, to listen to her and to spend time with her. It helped that at that point, I could play a bit of guitar. And that was a good match.
I sneaked my way into her life. I got close to her. After getting friend-zoned a few months earlier, I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes I made. I’m a student of the proverb, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
I asked her out. We started dating. I loved her. I loved her giggles. I loved her alto voice. I loved how she’d hug me. She’d create a warm ring with her arms around me. She’d give me a real tight hug. I’m a hugger so I felt comfortable in her hugs. She never gave me the side Christian hug. How I hate those side hugs! Can’t you just hug people right?
She was a joy to speak to. Texting wasn’t anywhere close to her strengths. If it wasn’t a phone call, I had to find a way of seeing her. I learned bits of her love language; quality time and gifts. She wasn’t too big on touch though. I think it had a lot to do with her faith. I’m not sure I did a good job decoding her love language(s).
We’d pray together whenever possible. I’d drift off thinking about her during some of the prayers. I was 22 and in love. God surely would’ve cut me some slack for losing concentration. She was a perfect girl, a good woman.
She took me to her favourite hideout restaurant. I liked that place for its ambience. It was a quiet spot in the middle the bustling city of Kampala.
Then I got some insecurities, things I never spoke to her about. I developed lots of self-doubt. I didn’t think I was the kind of guy who would give her the type of life she deserved. The more I had these doubts about myself, the further I drifted from her. She’d done nothing wrong. I was afraid because I had no job and no money. I was scared; scared of losing her, scared of not being able to provide for her or to protect her. I felt inadequate. I felt she deserved better.
So I asked her out one day to her hideout restaurant (which had sort of become our restaurant at this point). And that afternoon, I fumbled with my words. I couldn’t keep myself together. My confidence was on the low. I said things, things like, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and all that shit. I couldn’t look her in the eyes.
She looked at me with eyes of love. I saw her fighting tears from rolling out. Silence filled the space between us for a few seconds. I dragged my sole on the floor.
“Are you breaking up with me, Ernest?” she asked with an innocently sad face.
I didn’t have the muscle to respond. My lips felt heavy, my heart terribly sorry.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I remember her asking as a follow-up question.
I still didn’t know what to tell her.
“I’ll tell you why very soon,” I said.
I looked her in the eyes, then looked at the table. I sighed again, for I was weak. I stood up, leaving her seated, wondering why I was doing what I was doing, and walked out of that restaurant and her life. She had done nothing wrong.
And for five years after that, I didn’t get into any other relationship. Yes, I did ask girls out and went on dates but none of those – for half a decade – advanced to the next level.
I never told her why I walked away. I’ve just laid it all bare in this post. Why am I doing it now after these so many years? Maybe it’s because I’m cleaning up my 20’s, tying up loose ends from this past decade, looking for closure. I don’t know if she’ll get to read this though. Gina, if you ever get to read this post, send me a smoke signal.