The auditorium was filled with my excited classmates and their equally happy ‘persecutors’; the priests, the reverend sisters, the ‘wicked’ teachers and the reverend brothers. I was probably the only person who was tensed in the whole auditorium.
I looked around for her and in less than fifteen seconds my eyes caught a sight I lived for everyday. Perhaps, because we were about to graduate from secondary school she had let her cropped hair grow into a curly afro that matched her caramel coloured skin perfectly. She had her lazy perpetual smile on and her lovely hazel shaped eyes darted from side to side with excitement. I let my eyes caress her oval face lingering at her straight nose, small lips, dimples, pure white teeth and pointed chin before closing them.
Rachel Williams was my life. I prayed to her, prayed for her, and on the occasions when I prayed to God, I told Him to bring all the harm heading her way to me. She was the love of my life. I was just her classmate.
The Master of the ceremony woke me up from my reverie with his short speech before presenting the awards, “…and now I present to you all the couple of the year. I know most of you frown at this part of the graduation ceremony because some of you think you ought to be the ones crowned while the others especially our priests and religious are not very comfortable with the idea of young and impressionable boys and girls getting paired off as couples so I’ll rush past it without much ado. However, I’ll like to point out that this recognition usually goes out to the most outstanding boy and girl in every graduating set in the areas of moral, social, sporting and academic excellence. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Onward for St. Barth’s Academy for the year 2002/2003 is the senior prefect William Ifeatu Dubem while Miss Onward is the lovely sanitary prefect Rachel Owolabi Williams.”
I watched her inverted triangle shaped five feet nine inches tall body stand and take a few steps before shouts of Wid, Wid, Wid (which was the word you got if you put my initials together and which doubled as my nickname) reminded me that I was Mr. Onward. I stood up and the applause was deafening. Virtually everyone was shouting or clapping; boys, girls, the principal, all the reverend sisters, brothers, priests and the M.C but she stood at the podium smiling at something or someone I was too disconcerted to see. It broke my heart to see her focused on something other than me.
I made it to the podium, the noise subsided, I and Rachel were asked to sit and the ceremony continued. After the names of prize recipients were mentioned along with their prizes, I found out that I had come first overall, Rachel had come second and Ayo had come third. I was the best in English, Biology, Government, Christian Religious Studies, History, Agricultural Science and Economics. Rachel was the best in Yoruba language, French language, Mathematics, Technical Drawing, Geography and Further Mathematics while Ayo was the best in Physics and Chemistry.
My song “My heart in her arms” won the award for best song written in the past one year while Ayo won the award for best football player and best goal scored in the past one year since his goal gave us victory in the finals of the Lagos State Secondary School Football Championship. I won the award for highest goal scorer in the past one year while Rachel won the award for best actress in the past one year because of her role in the drama that led St. Barth’s theatre group to the finals of the All Secondary Schools’ Drama Competition at Abuja.
After the prizes were presented I got lost in my Rachel thoughts again. I rehearsed what I was going to tell her after the ceremony over and over again then blood rushed to my head when I pictured myself holding her.
Six years ago, Rachel was my major rival. Whenever I came first, she would come a close second and this continued till she knocked me off the crest in the first term of J.S.3. By the time we came back for S.S.1, I was ready to take over and I did but Rachel came first in other areas. Her breasts had grown to the size of an apple from virtually nothing in just a few months. Her hips had swollen and she found a way to make them sway though she still walked like a boy. Her face had grown thinner like the rest of her body that weren’t filling out into amazing curves and she had an instant effect on me and most of the boys in my class the way only beauty combined with matching brains could. Soon people forgot I was the one who came first in the class. Only Rachel remembered.
We got friendly in S.S 2 and started exchanging notes and ideas. The rivalry reduced to a good friendship that almost extinguished my camaraderie with Ayodele. Rachel got into my senses then; her scent, her touch, her smile…and then I slipped down to second position in the second term. For the first time it didn’t matter. I even let her repeat the feat again before snatching my position back in the first term of S.S 3 after our pre-mock examinations. Rumours that we were an item started spreading and because they pleased me greatly I did nothing to stop them. I don’t think Rachel did much too. That was the best year of my life. Before we wrote our West African Senior School Certificate Examinations, I knew I was in love with Rachel though I hadn’t told her a word that was not related to our books.
This was when Ayodele came in. He had been my best friend since we met during the orientation course for J.S.1 students and our uncanny physical resemblance was harped on constantly by every single person who spoke to us. Before I got close to Rachel, we were inseparable. We were both on the school’s football team, we were in the same classes from J.S 1 to S.S 3, he was the deputy senior prefect, he backed me up when I sang on stage and we slept in the same room in the boy’s hostel. Ayo was the only one that knew about my feelings for Rachel. He even promised to help me broach the subject to her since they were both science students and were almost always in the same group during their science experiments. He was the one who told me to tell her how I felt tonight. He was the one who told me to kiss her as soon as I said it.
At last the graduation ceremony got to the final stage: the principal’s speech. I don’t remember everything he said now but I remember his last words. He said,”…Some of you think you’re grown now. Some of you think you are ready to conquer the world. By God’s grace you will be great men and women but when you leave this place, you will meet pain, wickedness, ignorance, jealousy and a thousand other vices on your way to greatness. You might succumb to any of this beasts or you may go ahead to become great men and women but the reality is that you may be hurt every day of your life from tonight till you die…” My thoughts drifted off at this point to Rachel who was glittering beside me and the kiss that was making my blood boil already. Perhaps if I had listened to the principal’s speech till the end, things would have turned out differently for me. Perhaps not. In the midst of all the excitement, I’m not sure any of the S.S. 3 students realized how true his words were.
An hour later, the locked lips of the love of my life and my best friend proved how true they were. My heart broke for the first and the last time.