“Hey, big head,” she called out to him. She walked toward him and as he watched her, he could have sworn she floated. He smiled. His smile was as wide as his tiny lips could be stretched with the earnestness in his wrinkled eyes that his skin could muster. He felt something move inside of him. He reckoned it was his heart. But, heck, she already had his heart, so that could not be what it was, he concluded with a scoff. “Hey, small head,” he replied.
He watched her float closer and then stand next to him, her arms tucked underneath his as she smiled at him — her perfect dentition a mirror of white bliss. As he looked into her eyes, he felt the familiar pull to draw her in for a kiss. He gazed deep into her eyes even though hers blinked away. In his mind, he still held her gaze and as he did he spoke all the beautiful truths that his heart felt to her. He told her of how much his day went terribly whenever she stepped away from him. He reminded her of that one time when she visited the mall with him and she twirled around in her white short jean skirt and her pink top and he felt like the luckiest man capturing the same essence as was the Mona Lisa. He told her of how much her smile was the one thing that quelled his anxiety. How his fears dissipated whenever she called him “big head” even though proportionally, hers was bigger. He told her—
“What are you thinking of?” her voice drawing him back to the reality of her warmth.
He smiled as they walked hand in hand down the beach. It was his first time at Oniru beach. He was there for her even though deep down he was there for himself. “Nothing,” he lied.
She smirked, “You’re such a terrible liar.”
He smiled. He loved how much she knew him so well. “Maybe that’s because you never believe any of the truths I say.”
She chuckled, “You and your way with words.”
He smiled. “You and never believing them,” he returned.
She shook her head as she kicked up some sand while they strolled behind their cluster of friends — her friends — who walked ahead of them. The beach was populated but as the darkness of the sky cloaked the sun, it became less so. It felt quiet except for the hissing and murmurs that the waves roared in defiance. He wasn’t a fan of water. He hated swimming, yet at that moment he felt a sense of peace. He was stopped in his tracks as he felt her left arm, which was interlocked under his right arm, pull him downward. He turned to look and saw her reaching down to take off her pair of crocs. “I want to feel the sand in my toes,” she said. She stood up straight and without her asking, he stretched his left arm to help take the weight of the weightless black-colored crocs from her.
She smiled, “Awww, you’re such a gentleman.”
“And you’re such a gorgeous woman.” He noticed her looking away as she smiled. Her head was turned toward the teasing tides as they walked slowly. The distance between them and their friends had been extended. The silence between them lingered and it felt like the longest one they’ve shared since the first time he had sent her a message on Twitter.
“Do you ever feel like I’m using you?” Her voice held a quiet quiver that concerned him. He stopped short and turned to look at her.
“How do you mean?”
She smiled to herself as she tugged at his arm, nudging him to keep moving. “I mean, I know how you feel about me, and I sometimes feel sad that I can’t share that same intensity with you. Yet, I know deep down I love hearing you say some of the things you say to me.”
“The things you never truly believe,” he cut in with a chuckle.
She smacked him playfully, “I’m being serious.”
He laughed, “I know.”
“So, do you feel like I’m one of those girls who keeps a good guy around who they don’t have romantic feelings for, just so they can run back to them for reassuring words when they have their hearts broken?” He pondered on her question for a moment. In his head, he had the answer he knew to be true for him. But as much as it felt true to him, it was still only an assumption of her truth. He knew how much she enjoyed his presence even though it was more as fodder for a sense of intimacy. Being at the beach with her at that moment was one such manifestation. She had called him up to join her after she explained to him her ex would be coming and she wanted to avoid him.
“Look, I just don’t want to deal with his shit,” she had lamented to him over the phone a day before.
“Then just don’t go,” he suggested.
“Nah, Soma has planned this for the longest time. I want to be there to support her.”
Soma was her best friend. He remembered shaking his head as they spoke.
“Do you want me to come and help make him jealous?” he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
She burst into laughter and as her voice echoed through the phone, he remembered how much he loved her throaty laugh. “That won’t be bad o,” she later replied after her guffaw had subsided.
“I promise to be the best fake date you would ever have,” he assured her.
She chuckled over the phone and coughed a little. “Make sure we hold hands all through so we look so in love,” she suggested in response.
He chuckled, a little bit of phlegm stuck in his throat as he wondered if she knew how much he wanted to be on an actual date. “We’d walk slowly behind them and you’d giggle intermittently to show how funny I am and how much you’re into me.”
She laughed again, “I see you have this already planned out.”
“You have no idea,” he returned. She laughed. Again, the sound of her throaty laughter filled him with a sense of warmth.
But in contrast, it was the chilling winds from the sea that brought him back to the present. He looked at her and saw the longing anticipation in her eyes for his response. He knew what she wanted him to say. But he also knew the truth of how unlikely his deepest desires for her were. For the longest time, he had hidden from it too. But he reckoned this was a good time to say it, albeit with the sliver of hope that it watered the seedling that would one day change his fate. “Look,” he began calmly as he stopped short in front of her and turned her body to face his, “if you weren’t sure before, here’s the simple truth: I am going to be waiting on you for a long, long time.” He saw the quizzical look on her face slowly melt into a familiar smile. “It’s clear as day to me and has always been so since the first time I DMed you on Twitter and used your picture as my wallpaper.” He moved closer to her and pulled her gently in by the small of her waist. His fingers brushed against the skin on her back, exposed by the sheer black crop top she had on.
She smiled and chuckled with a blush as she tried to avoid his gaze. “Occasionally,” he continued without missing a beat, his eyes remaining locked on her face, “on some weird days, I’m going to pretend to be over you. But know this now and know it well: that would be a lie.” He pulled her a little closer again, “I’ll forever be pining for you, my gorgeous wallflower.” He could feel her heightened breath on his face as she looked up at him. He smirked, “Mark my words, a few years from now, you’re going to text me one day and say ‘I love you.’ And excitedly, I’ll reply as fast as my finger can type the words, ‘Marry me.’” She chuckled as she tried to move back from his personal space and maintain hers. But he gently pulled her back in as he looked down at her and smiled. “But then you’d hurriedly text me back again saying, ‘I meant I love you as a friend’ and add a laughing tears emoji for effect. Reading that would break my heart.” He paused and gulped before leaning forward a little, his chin brushing the side of her face slightly. “But I’ll text you back almost immediately too and say, ‘So, marry me as a friend’.” As he said those words, she broke into a fit of laughter. Her face fell to his chest as he wrapped his arms around her in an embrace. He laughed with her too. But some part of him laughed at the joke that was at his own expense. If only she knew, he pondered, if only.
She lifted her face to look at him, tears of laughter clouded her brown wide eyes as she shook her head, tucking back a loose strand of her braided hair behind her ears. At that moment he wanted to kiss her. He wanted to feel the soft tenseness on her lips as she welcomed his in shock. In some part of his delusions, he hoped that would be the moment that would sway their destinies; the moment when he’d no longer just be the guy she loves but could never love. He hoped that some cliché scenes in romantic movies would prove true: that when two hearts are meant for each other, all it sometimes took was for one person’s bravery to ignite the fire of passion that melted both hearts in blissful union. But he knew all too well that movies lied. He knew all too well that sometimes people could love others without ever being loved in return. They’d been friends for three years and the number of intimate moments they had shared was replete, enough to stoke his delusions every time, like it did at that moment. Yet whenever he considered making those brave cliché romantic movie-type moves, he always noticed that look in her eyes. It was never a look of passionate longing or cautious surrender. Instead, it was the sort of look that he could only refer to as “kind familiarity.”
It was the same look that was in her eyes at that moment when his wandering thoughts returned and he felt her body settling from her laughter spasms. It was the exact look that she had in her eyes when she had looked up at him afterward and said, “Mifa, I love you.” The cheeky smile on her face at that moment almost illuminated the darkened night sky on the beach. He smiled back at her as he once again took note of the look of kind familiarity in her eyes. It was a look that told him more than enough about how much he was probably going to remain forever tethered to her unrequited affection for as long as she needed him to.
“Marry me, Cynthia,” he replied with a smirk as he took a step back and pretended to go down on one knee.
She chuckled as she mimicked pulling him up to his feet, “No no, I meant I love you as a friend, Mifa.” She broke into another fit of laughter. It was the same throaty laughter that he loved. The one he could listen to all day.
His eyes watered a little as he stuck to the script, “So, marry me as a friend, Cynthia.”
The next line left his lips with as much sincerity as his heart could muster. But who was he kidding? He scoffed in his thoughts. His heart wasn’t his anymore. It was hers, always.