That night as I lay in bed, I cried. I owed Candy Jones something: an explanation and an apology for the way I had behaved. Then I realized I had no such control over myself as I had enjoyed in my early teens. Now, I had become subject to another power – an external force of aggression that threatened to invade my territory. Part of me rose in defense, but it was myself I fooled. The enemy I fought was not an external one as such; it was already in me and had become part of me. Only that morning, I had seen her discuss very animatedly with Alex David, one of the boys in our class. I had envied him and wanted to be in his place: to be able to make Candy smile; to look into her eyes and say to her, words from my heart. I thought the way I behaved, I was going to lose her. And it was not her fault. She had given me an edge over anyone else that might be interested in her, but I was too timid to use it. As the discomfort continued, I hid my face in a book pretending to be reading.
At least, this way, no one would know how I felt and how jealous I was that Alex might take Candy away from me. This new desire to own what was not mine overwhelmed me. It was a strange feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction; an over-powering desire to own something which I was not sure what it was. It caused a violent stir in me and created a haunting feeling of emptiness which had not been there before, and the accompanying deep longing to be filled. It brought a new sensation of emotional dependence; a feeling that I could not do with out her, and a compulsion to drop on my knees and plead with her not just to be mine, but also to accept me as hers. “Candy please,” I whispered and turned uneasily in bed. The night had gone far and yet she was all I had on my mind, not sleep.
When we returned from the mid-term break during which I had thought about no one else but Candy, something happened. While at home for the break, I had developed strong confidence in the fact that she was mine. What could be more? Candy Jones was complete: average height, fair-skinned and elegant. She had a face like one of those seen only in dreams. She had dark hair: smooth and like little strands of nylon. Her eyes were something never seen before, and the way she moved them was something else. Her forehead beautifully decorated with landmark eyelashes, was partially but tenderly covered by some of her hair when it was done in a style that made me envy womanhood. She had a proportionate nose that did not stubbornly express itself, and the nostrils were just sufficient to breathe in air. Then her lips – perhaps the greatest ornament on her face – composed themselves, ready to say the kindest words ever. When they opened in a smile, they revealed a set of teeth which if were mobile phones, I would say were made in Finland. She was the brighter side of my life.
“This is for two of you,” Candy said, placing a beautifully wrapped parcel on the desk in front of Elvis Edwards and me. She and I had not spoken much to each other since we returned from the break and I was bothered. Elvis was a simple person who picked the parcel and thanked her on our behalf. He had actually saved me from a lot of trouble. I had not known how to thank her and handle the parcel. Had he not taken it promptly, at my moment of indecision, a number of curious boys would have begun asking questions I could not have answered. I was a timid individual and the challenge was overwhelming.
“We have got an expensive cake for lunch,” Elvis announced when he unwrapped the parcel in a quiet corner.
“I see,” I responded though I actually did not see. My eyes were vacant as I thought how I was going to handle all this. I could appreciate Candy in a way, but what was it? If I obtained any gift for her, how was I going to give her? Candy had a way of doing things that I did no understand. She did not appear to bother what people would say. “They will always say something, anyway,” she must have convinced herself. I knew I had to do something to prove that I was not a pillar but a human being. “Human being,” I said aloud and Elvis looked at me curiously.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I lied and frowned.
There was something about Candy that earnestly appealed to me. She was humble and never thought more highly of herself than she ought to. She cared and I saw it in all she did. She was a rare friend. She would look closely into the little compositions I made when we discussed. “Robert,” she would call; “do you know you can . . .” then she would proceed to tell me what she thought I could do. She so sounded this into me that I began to believe I could do almost anything. Her confidence infected me and did wonders to my inspiration. She had many friends, but somehow, I knew I meant something to her and it thrilled me to my soul.
I came to class one Friday morning and felt strangely empty. Candy Jones was not in her seat and for that, the entire class looked empty to me. Anyone could say good morning to me, but no one could say it like Candy. Her voice meant something special to me and my ears became used to looking for it even when I read. Therefore, that morning, my ears heard, but did not hear. They did not hear what they were looking for – that smooth, reassuring, calm, beautiful and lovely melody from Candy Jones. I wanted to look for her, but did not know how or even why. Much later that day, I learnt she had taken ill and had gone home. I felt bad and missed her. For the first time in my life, I realized she had a position in my life which no one else could fill. If the illness had come over me in her place, I would gladly have taken it. I did not want anything to hurt her especially then that our exams were close by.
The weekend was a long one as I waited for Candy to return. Then Frederick walked into my room that Saturday evening. “Robert,” he called; “Candy says I should tell you she will keep malice against you,” he said.
“Why?” I asked, feeling both puzzled and uneasy.
“She says you have not called to wish her quick recovery,” he alleged. And yes, I had not called her. In fact, it had not even occurred to me that calling her was an option. I had no phone, and the technology of communication was strange to me. This put me in a dilemma, but Frederick noticed my predicament and intervened. I could not say whether he called Candy or it she who called. All I knew was that I was put on the line and at the other end was Candy.
“Hello,” the voice came through.
Yes, I want to talk to Candy Jones,” I said at once, shivering and sweating under Frederick’s eyes and those of my roommates as I waited for another response from that end of the line. It was the longest suspense of my life. I thought I should have given my personal identity, but the receiver at the other end did not seem to bother, so I did not worry either.
“Good evening Robert,” another voice greeted, or was it the same as the one who had received the call? I did not know. Technology had made me unable to recognize the voice that had begun to matter greatly in my life. I did not have time to think about how she knew it was I. “I told Frederick to tell you I will keep malice against you,” she said.
“Yes, he told me so and I am sorry,” I said, feeling more uncomfortable.
“Oh Robert,” she went on; “you should have . . .”
“I’m sorry, Candy. I am sorry. Sorry,” I apologized.
“That’s okay,” she relented.
“When would you return?” I asked.
“Oh, tomorrow evening,” she answered.
“We shall see then,” I said. “Good bye.”
“Thank you,” she said and I handed back the phone to Frederick, sweating like I had just been involved in an anaerobic activity. Of course, I had. Speaking to Candy Jones did not come naturally to me. It involved a lot of energy and distorted the way I breathed.
That Sunday afternoon, I closed the door of my room and sat at the table, pen and paper in hand. I wanted to write a note for Candy. She had touched something in me and it hurt deeply. Somehow in her delicate heart, she had thought I cared and expected me to call, wishing her quick recovery. However, in my timidity, I had not, and she was disappointed.
“That morning,” I continued after I had written a simple salutation and an intro. “I came to class and you were not there. The seat in front of me that bore the most encouraging girl in the world, was empty. Where was Candy? As we went about our normal school activities, I felt somewhere within me that all was not normal. It was not unusual for some girls to stay away from class whenever they wanted, but the Candy I knew was not one of them. I wondered whether Candy was not going to emerge from one corner of the school, smiling and greeting everyone in her usual way, thus proving my apprehension a needless fear,” I wrote. This first page was to contain how I felt that morning when I did not see her in class. The one to follow was to carry words of comfort and maybe, an apology. “Never mind,” I continued; “sickness is recalcitrant and obstreperous.” At that time, nothing appealed to my friends and I more than the use of big English words and proverbs, some of which we did not understand. If anything, these words which we put together mechanically in the most distasteful way, made what we wrote or said, less meaningful. But I had written and whatever it was, Candy was going to understand I meant well.
Then trouble broke lose on how I was going to give Candy the note I had written. I could not do it in class with all those curious eyes watching and asking questions. Yet I knew had to do it because it would be no use giving her the note when we would have been together for more than a day since her return. Then she would not know how I felt: how I had longed all through her brief illness to be by her bedside, and how much I had shared her pain.
“You are not a clean person after all,” the opposition voice in me charged. “Your level of involvement with this girl is not ordinary. You see, you are not different from those who write love letters and who keep girlfriends. You are just one of them,” it accused.
I liked Candy greatly, but I did not like to think of her as a girlfriend. There was something about the word – girlfriend – that brought a feeling of guilt in me. Having been programmed with certain radical religious and cultural values from childhood, and being at a stage in life when I had not yet evolved a stable personal identity, the challenge of coping with these new feelings was great.
“But that girl was sick and he owes her some goodwill,” the other voice defended me.
“He doesn’t owe her anything,” the first resumed and I sweat.
Before break that day, I gave Candy the note and it was a great relief. I felt my heart overflow with peace and happiness. She wrote a response immediately and handed it over to me. I was surprised. She did not have difficulty reading whatever I had written for her right there in class! I could not do that myself. Always, I had to look for a quiet place where there were only two eyes watching those splendid signals on the paper turn to great meaning in my life. Among my classmates, I was an individual with no privacy. They asked questions about everything – the content of my files, bag and wardrobe. If they found such an emotional note from such a beautiful girl in my file, I could not convince them that there was nothing between Candy and me. Of course, how could I convince them when I had not been able to convince even myself? I thought if people found out that there was something between she and I, it was going to affect our reputation negatively. I just could not stand it.
That afternoon, I used the period between end of classes and lunchtime to read her reply. It was a two-paged piece, written in letters of the English alphabets whose shapes made me wonder whether Candy had drawn, rather than write them. The first page explained what had happened and how she had gone home. In the second page, Candy Jones opened her heart to me the way she had never done before. She wrote strong emotional words that made my heart beat furiously. I knew at once that what we felt for each other was strong and mutual. It was she however, who first called it love. “Thanks for your care, concern and love,” she wrote. Deep down the page, I read the sentence that touched the roots of my soul and changed my life. “I love you with all my heart,” she wrote. “Not for anything, but with a clear conscience, I love you dearly.” I felt like I was dreaming. I stood and stared at the white paper in my hand, seeing nothing. It was the first time someone had told me she loved me and it provoked a strange feeling of peace and fulfillment.
“I love you Candy,” I whispered. “I love you dearly,” I said.
This morning as we welcome guests to our home where we are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary, I am thinking about how I had fallen in love with her, and I realize that the morning Candy Jones first spoke to me was indeed, a good morning.