I never liked that sad look. Especially on someone who wants to be loved by you. That’s all I’ve ever seen on Hannah’s face every time she looked at me.
Maybe that’s why I never liked her, or at least one of the reasons. Maybe that’s why I strung her along for months, even though I knew I would never do anything with her, not even a casual make-out session as a lot of students did at the back of our school, behind the tree that backed our cafeteria. It’s been eight months since I transferred to this school and on my very first day, I knew straight away that she liked me. I ignored her initially and did my best not to give her any slimmer of hope but alas my efforts were all put to shame when she dropped those dreaded words that started all of this.
Two months into my first semester, on a Friday afternoon just a little after lunch, everyone had started returning to class. I stayed back to have a couple of minutes to myself before I had to rejoin the hustle and bustle of school life. I was walking slowly and peacefully, hands in my pocket, safe in the thought that I was all alone when I saw her coming from the teachers’ lounge. When I saw her walk towards me with so much grace in her footsteps, I started to wonder if it was someone else. That was the most beautiful I’d ever seen her. Her long dark hair that came down past her shoulders, her fair skin that seemed to glow under the fluorescent lights, her angelic face that portrayed so much innocence in them and her spotless legs that were made visible by the short skirt she was wearing. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she walked, till she came to a halt in front of me.
“Hi,” she said first.
“You haven’t gone back to class.” It sounded much more like a question than a statement, and so I replied.
“Were you busy?”
“No, I just needed some time alone, that’s all.”
“Oh… So, I guess I’m disturbing you then?”
“Not really, I already got my me-time. Now I’m just heading back to class.”
“Oh, okay. Do you mind if we walk together?” I hesitated for a moment knowing full well, that it might lead to something awkward, but I chose to overlook that thought and murmured a “Sure.”
We walked side by side slowly through the hallway and up the stairs, my hands still in my pocket and hers crossed behind her, resting on her lower back, like a priest deep in thought. I had just started to delight in the fact that we were walking in a somewhat awkward but also comforting and undisturbed silence, and then she broke it.
“I like you,” she said, her voice sounding like a whisper. I pretended not to hear her, hoping her courage would fail and she would keep quiet, at least for the time being but she spoke again, this time in a much higher tone. “I like you,” she said, this time looking into my eyes, “and I know this is a long shot, but would you like to go out on a date with me after school? It can be any day you’re okay with.” Her chest was beating fast, and she looked like someone who had just finished a marathon. I was going to say no and maybe I should have, but I said yes. To this day, I have no idea why. I knew then as I do now, that I did not like her and more importantly, I wanted nothing to do with her in a romantic sense.
We went on the date, to a restaurant close to her home, an African continental place. We both ordered a plate of Egusi soup, turkey and pounded yam with a bottle of coke. Surprisingly, she was much more interesting than I had originally thought; she said so many things about herself, her family, and her future plans that I never expected. We talked, we laughed, and we enjoyed each other’s company like people who had known each other for years. I felt so comfortable around her, I felt like I could tell her anything, things I never shared with anyone else, and I did. I talked about my family, and how much of a dysfunctional group we were. I told her how my mom had died after months of battling cancer, I told her how bad she looked the day before she died, and how when I looked at her, I saw nothing of the mother I had once clung to. I told her how my father had married another woman, just weeks after my mother was buried, and how every day in my household, now constantly involved fighting, quarrels and arguments between my so-called stepmother and my sisters who I hardly ever spoke to anymore. I told her of my brother who I feared was now using and dealing drugs ever since my mother died. I told her how I always felt lost, how I had no idea what I really wanted to do with myself and that every day I woke up, I sometimes wish I hadn’t.
She listened as I spoke, with such seriousness and earnestness, something that no one had ever shown me. It was something that produced an ineffable sensation in me and part of me wished that day would never end.
We became much closer after that date, even though I told her we couldn’t be in a relationship together. When she asked why, I told her it was because I didn’t do relationships, all I did was ‘friends with benefits’ and I liked her too much to do that with her. Of course, that was a lie, not the thing about friends with benefits, that one was true but the fact that I liked her too much or even at all. I found her quite attractive, but it was only enough to make me want to get into her pants. The only reason, I didn’t act on this was because I found out early on that she was a hopeless romantic, and that I feared would have been too much for my conscience.
Although she looked mortified when we started talking, in the end, she seemed a little too happy. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that I had said I liked her too much to do anything. Maybe that was what gave her renewed hope and courage to turn down every guy that came for her, just to maintain a platonic relationship with me that would never go anywhere. Secretly though, I was happy that she kept turning down every guy, not because I liked her, but because of the constant attention, she gave me. Even though I did not like her, I craved that attention. I craved it and I guarded it jealously. I did just enough to make her believe that something could happen someday but not so much, that she forgot we weren’t an actual couple. My conscience could handle that much at least.
Five months of pretty much the same thing passed in a flash, and things were as I thought them, never better, but I was wrong. She had been restless, building up the courage to do the thing which I thought her incapable of, giving me an ultimatum.
About a month ago, she had asked me to wait back after lunchtime, and as we walked back to the class all alone in the corridor, she turned and kissed me. Instinctively I kissed her back, and suddenly we were unable to keep our hands off each other. Finally, I pulled back and stared at her, not exactly sure what to do.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said, not sounding completely convinced herself.
“Do what?” I said, trying to sound oblivious.
“This,” she said, gesturing to us. “Pretending like I don’t want you, like I don’t like you, like I don’t love you.” There it was, that look. That sad look of someone who wants to be loved by you.
“So?” I tried to sound as indifferent as I possibly could.
“Do you love me?” she still had that look. “Do you even like me?” I couldn’t answer, I had nothing good to say and so I just stared.
“Well,” she sighed, “Christian asked me out and I told him I’ll give him an answer by tomorrow. I needed to talk to you first.” I made no response. I just continued staring at her, looking into her eyes and for the first time since I had known her, she stared back into mine unabashedly. “I’ll give you till after lunchtime tomorrow, if you don’t say anything, then I’ll assume that you don’t and that you never did. And I’ll go out with Christian.” The look had disappeared from her face and she seemed a lot more confident than I had ever seen her before.
I walked past her, without saying anything or responding in any way. What was I going to do? That was the only question that plagued my mind throughout the day both at school and at my Godforsaken house. I kept asking myself, should I date her? Was there a way of forcing myself to like her? Or pretend to like her, just so I don’t lose that admiration, that sole devotion for me, or do I let her go knowing full well, that she could never just be friends with me? I was torn and tormented throughout the day, I could barely eat, and sleep was a no-show.
For a brief moment, I wondered if maybe there was a part of me that actually liked her, maybe it wasn’t just about my selfishness in retaining her love for me that made me go through the night sleepless, but alas I knew even that was a stretch too far. Morning came and still, I had no answer to the conundrum that awaited me at school. I decided to leave it till after lunchtime and make my decision on impulse. I avoided her and her eyes throughout until lunchtime arrived, and in the cafeteria, I barely ate, my heart seemed to be beating thrice as fast.
When the moment of truth arrived, and students started to flock out in batches till there was no one in the huge hall except the two of us, I got up and walked toward her and she stood up as I approached her table. “We should talk,” I smiled. I had made up my mind to lie to her, to tell her I was in love with her, and we should start dating.
We walked into the hallway hand in hand and just as we approached the stairs, I turned her to face me, with the intention of kissing her and saying what she wanted to hear. But as I turned to her and looked at that face, I was met with that same look, that sad look of someone who wants to be loved by you.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I let her hand go and walked away.