Ifeyinwa stood sweating under his gaze as though his eyes were stage lights. She kept her eyes on her feet, watching them shuffle in the pale yellow sand, filling the small holes raindrops had made that morning.
“Senior Marcus, Mr Olayiwola said I should call you”
“Where is he?” Marcus asked sounding distracted
“In his office” Ifeyinwa said, raising her head and then quickly turning it down when her eyes met Marcus’.
Sweat was dribbling down her armpits and her back and her nose was itchy, but she didn’t move a muscle.
“I’ve heard you. Go back to your class”
A trickle of sweat rolled down the back of her left thigh as she walked away and she walked faster so that if it hit the ground, at least Marcus wouldn’t see it.
Sade was clearing her throat as Ifeyinwa walked into class. Ifeyinwa was taken aback by all the noise the class was making. She had spoken to senior Marcus. The earth should have been standing still, all the tongues in the world pressed to the roofs of their mouths in a standing ovation. Alas, nothing had changed, except the wetness under her armpits.
“How was it? Did he look at you? What did he say?” Sade was asking
Ify closed her eyes and tried to remember, squeezing every memory tight to only remember the moment when their eyes met. That split second. Tired was the word that came when she thought of his eyes. Tired, distracted, beautiful. He had raised an eyebrow subconsciously and her stomach had quivered as though a million butterflies had flown out of their cocoons. She remembered the edge of his lower lip caught between his teeth and wanting to press a finger to his lips.
“He asked where Mr Layiwola was and then he said okay, I’ve heard you, go back to your class.” Ify said slowly, enunciating every word.
“AWWW. He cares about you missing class” Sade said “But how did he look at you? Tell me noww”
Ifeyinwa did not like to tell her friend about her crushes. Sade made it impossible to forget you had a crush on someone. She asked you about them endlessly, made you describe every encounter in detail and gave meaning to every word and glance she had neither heard nor witnessed. Ify blamed all the Nora Roberts novels Sade read. When Sade herself had crushes, they were an ever rising tide. Usually they began with a delusion that someone liked her.
-He touched me with his bag when he came to assembly.
“His bag? Ah ahn, Sade”
-I saw Nene’s brother watching me from the rear view mirror.
“Are you sure he was watching you? I think people have to look in that mirror when they drive”
Sade would often conclude by saying “YOU don’t have to believe it to make it real. You weren’t there” Ifeyinwa would feel a bit guilty after that and mentally shrug because she hadn’t been there indeed.
Ify’s thing for Marcus started innocently. Every Tuesday, she stayed behind in school to take Math lessons with Ms Romina. Marcus was staying for WAEC classes which the school organised for SS3 students. She had been buying sweets at the Tuck Shop when he came to buy biscuits. As she would tell Sade, she hadn’t known this Marcus boy was that fine and his smile was perfect, she’d said in that absolute way people speak about high school crushes. Before Marcus, Ifeyinwa had prided herself on being above the other girls who thought senior boys were hot sliced bread. She always shook her head when Chioma ooh-ed and aah-ed over Doyin or Sade and Oma had arguments about which senior boy was the hottest. She reminded them to include the boys in their own class in the polls, since they were afterall in SS1. Their collective hiss always made her day. The only boy that Ify had ever liked was Uche in JS2 and she’d thought his handwriting was perfect. Also, he’d helped her with her maths assignments.
After she’d seen him at the Tuck shop she’d reasoned that she would use him as motivation for staying behind for her math classes. Him and the fact that she needed to not get a C in math again. So she would look out for him every afternoon, safe in the knowledge that he was unaware of her feelings. She hated how boys got when they realized you liked them. Uche had started to wink at her whenever he’d see her. She hated all that fluttering nonsense, the constant shakiness and how it seemed her face had a mind of it’s own, smiling sheepishly because a boy closed one eye at her. She started to watch Marcus until she figured out when he usually came to school and what time he liked to come to the Tuck shop. She would walk all the way from her class to the Tuck shop at the exact moment he was on his way. As he said The Biscao one there ma, she would watch his slender finger pointing and marvel at how he always moisturized the spaces between his fingers. Then he would give Mrs Akpan the ten naira the same way he did everyday, folded note between his index and middle finger like a flattened cigarette. And then he would turn around, stuffing the biscuit into his shirt pocket and rubbing his chest as he swaggered away. Ifeyinwa realized she was too far gone the day she heard herself sigh as he walked off.
Of course she hadn’t wanted to tell Sade but Sade kept trying out to figure out who she liked and she would die before she let herself be paired with Clinton in Sade’s over-imaginative mind. The boy always made grammatical errors in his speech and never let anyone correct him. So, she had to set Sade straight. Sade was overjoyed. It was as though she was the overexcited fairy godmother and Ify was Cinderella. She asked Ify about Marcus everyday and told her that the principal had asked Ify when in reality, Sade had volunteered to call Marcus and then passed false information to Ify.
The Monday Marcus actually spoke to Ify, she had been late to school. She had missed seeing Marcus come in and had been terribly disappointed. She hadn’t been able to shake the disappointment for the first two periods. So, when he called her during lunch break, she couldn’t believe her luck even though he hadn’t even said her name.
“Good afternoon” Ify said, her hand finding the back of neck and then coming down to hang behind her. The sun was so hot it stung. She avoided looking into his eyes this time, as though the halo around him was far too bright. She hoped she did not smell as sweaty as she felt.
“Afternoon. Please get me two Biscao bisuits” he said handing her the money cigarette-style.
Ify’s disappointment sat like an elephant on her heart until she was sure she heard it crack. She took the money and mentally kicked herself. How stupid could she be? He didn’t even know she existed as anything other than a junior who was a senior. ‘Get me two Biscao biscuits’. Ugh. And yet, she was even more disgusted at how happy a tiny part of her was. He chose her. He must have at least recognized her. That was something, wasn’t it? When she gave him the biscuits, she tried to place them in his hands so her knuckles would graze his palms, but he was oblivious. That day when she got home, she searched his words for signs of a concealed attraction. Turned them in and out and around, like a broom sweeping dust from under a carpet. She decided to hold on to their eyes meeting that one time. He had to have seen something in hers as she had in his.
She watched him the rest of the term and imagined and re-imagined the conversations they would have; about her improving math skills and his love for those biscuits. Perhaps she would ask him what really the deal was with he and Alice. Everyone said they were dating but Sade insisted that she knew they were only family friends: Did Ify not know that Alice lived in her estate? She knew Ify didn’t have anything to be jealous of. Ify was ashamed to have believed but she needed for her own sanity to stop trying to decipher the difference between the way he smiled at Alice and other girls in his class. She told herself whenever she caught them sharing a joke that it was simply the easy camaraderie of people who had grown up together.
Marcus’ class graduated that June and when Ify returned that September, the entire school felt empty. She’d be in a sea of people and not realize she’d been searching for his blue Jansport bag until her heart sank when she didn’t find him. She wished she could see him again. At first it was a quiet yearning and then a desperate longing that cooled off into resigned acceptance. By the next September, she wasn’t looking out the window for Marcus whenever the lunch bell went off.