I hadn’t seen her in four years, but, somehow, I always knew we would meet again one day. That day presented itself last week when oldschool friends informed me that the class was holding a get-together at the Institute. A rather late notice, but everyone was going to be there and they wanted to know if I would come.
I said that I would love to come, and promised to do my best to make myself available for the event. My best, I did. I looked up the airlines calendar and booked a Saturday morning flight. That, for me, ensured that I was locked into the plan.
When I woke up at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning with full energy, I thought it was going to be a beautiful day.
A small truffle at the airport tried to ruin it for me but I didn’t let it dull my glow. Since I was travelling within the country, I landed only a few hours after take-off.
This was the town in which I grew up and I found it ironic that we had moved so far apart from each other over the years. A situation which expressed the magnitude of my dislike for the community. Yet, today, I was here again.
I made some contacts, found a hotel, and hired a car. By noon, I was fully settled. I had a full lunch, spent a long time in the shower, and slept soundly for the first time in weeks.
I had only slept a few hours when a persistently ringing phone brought me awake. I realised it was my phone.
Some good friends wanted to know if I was really in town and where I was. I gave them a bar & resort location, and went ahead to meet them there.
They came shortly afterwards. We had a warm greet-up and it pleased me to see how everyone had transformed over the years.
It was evening when we left the bar. We were all in high spirits. They were pleased to see that I brought a car. I drove them straight to the Institute.
It was as filled as they said it would be. I found parking space by the side of the street. The gateway was busy and I could see many new faces come and go. But we didn’t go in.
I wasn’t interested in going inside. I only wanted to see her. A good number of drinking bars had sprung up around the Institute over the years. I found a table where we could get a clean view of the gates. We filled the table with a few more drinks and continued the drinking party from where we stopped.
I was glad to see that everyone who had a couple of drinks in them thought they had something more interesting to talk about. Since everyone wanted to do the talking, all I had to do was pretend to listen.
I studied the gates again and watched the people come and go. I knew this was the only way I could catch sight of her if she was indeed going to come.
Here were people with whom I spent the greater part of my teen years, eating together, playing together, studying together — at a time when none of us really knew the other.
I imagined the earth filled with billions of people living lifetimes together without truly knowing each other. I found it telling. This was a world where technology appears to have made social networking faster and easier, yet people are lonelier than ever.
I had completely forgotten about her when I heard someone in the group mention her name. Sure enough, she was there at the gates.
There were two friends with her, and, soon, a familiar group had formed outside the gate.
I kept her in sight as I waited for most of the guys to clear out. It was easy to see that she wasn’t in positive form. Like it happened with the others, I could read her like an open book. I saw all of her frustrations, fears and insecurities. She was also highly irritated and was having a difficult job trying to conceal it.
I didn’t remember picking myself from the table but I found myself at the gates, standing before her.
She was alone. A suspicious look played on her face.
I took her hands.
“Come, I want to show you something.”
She blinked as if she didn’t hear me correctly.
“Come on,” I said, and pulled her gently after me.
I took her to the lawn field behind the building. The sun was already setting.
She was still looking puzzled as I turned to face her. For the first time in four years, I really looked at her.
I noticed how much stress had taken toll of her body. Her once beautiful, radiant skin looked dull. Her face looked very tired. But it was still there.
“You don’t know how beautiful you are. That’s why you’ve not been taking care of yourself.”
She looked confused. “What, how can you say that to me?”
“Oh, it’s all too clear for me to see. Don’t worry, most people won’t notice. You still look very beautiful.”
She hesitated. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”
“Actually, no.” I said, unzipping my camera and moving away from her. “What I wanted to show you is how beautiful you are.”
“There’s something about photographs,” I said.
“Most people don’t know that photography is an art. So when they take awful photographs, they go around feeling ugly and terrible about themselves. Only a true photographer can show you how you truly look.”
I looked up at her.
She looked fascinated.
I focused my lens on her. “It takes someone who can truly see beauty to capture beauty.”
She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. My faithful shutter clicked.
“Check it out!” I said, moving towards her. She met me halfway and took the camera from my hands.
“Look how beautiful you are,” I repeated, as she beamed over the photograph.
Her face was bright and radiant when she looked up.
“It’s nice,” she beamed at me.
Yes, it was. I caught her perfectly still. Against the backdrop of the sun-lit flowers, she looked mesmerising, beautiful and epic. She had always seemed that way to me.
“So, the next time you’re standing outside the gates and looking out at the world, remember that you have nothing to feel ashamed or insecure over because you are a truly beautiful lady, and you’re perfect the way you are.”
I collected my camera from her hands.
“Thank you! Can’t I… get the picture?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Can you?” I zipped the camera shut.
“Are you going to print it or something?”
“Not likely. I can send it to you over the Internet if you want it. I can upload it to Facebook and you can download it.”
“That works great,” she beamed.
“That is all,” I added when she didn’t move.
I watched as she turned around and headed back to the street.
“Easy on your footing!” I echoed after her.
After she was out of sight, I moved over to the fence to urinate.
Now that she was gone, I had time to inspect the area a little more carefully.
I noticed how drastically everything had changed. The ground over which I stood once housed the district’s primary school. Now it was just a crumbled ruin.
It occurred to me that there might be tiny insects under the dry leaves where I was urinating. I wondered whether they would receive it like a natural disaster. I tried to imagine myself as a tiny insect tucked in a shallow hole in the ground, ignorant of the world outside. It had to be a natural disaster.
It was after dark when I drove back alone to the hotel. I was already sleepy when I left the shower.
It’s Sunday morning, and I am waiting to catch the return trip to Lagos. It was good to see her again, and it felt really good to talk to her. Maybe something good came out of this town after all.
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