There are certain words that remind me of you. I know because my fingers tremble at the sound of their letters swirling to paint your face in my heart.
Aunty May asked me why my neck was blushing red, and I couldn’t say it was because you had my fingers in the palm of your hand, so I told her that I was ill. Raised to never to lie, I told her the half-truth, I was sick with the heartache of the first-love-blues.
The boys in my year weren’t the boys for me; their voices felt like thunderstorms on the eve of spring. When I was younger, they would chase me across cracked concrete playgrounds and laugh when I tumbled into patches of dry ground, deaf to my girlish screams. Aunty May laughed it off. She told me I should lay there and let a silent tear fall from my eye.
“Get used to playing the damsel in distress.”, she would say, “Let the boys pick you up when you fall, laugh as one holds in his arms so they know it’s okay. Don’t go violent red.”
Aunty May was an odd woman. Often, she would sit still, awake and dreaming of the spaces in the universe that had yet to be filled. Aunty was raised on the streets; fed by the kindness of old widowed women, she blossomed where rosebuds withered. The old women were bestowed with the wisdom of life. They taught Aunty May that happiness needed sacrifice first, a marriage and then a prayer for a holy union that was short and sweet. They taught her that sometimes wealth was more important than love, even in the presence of strong desire. But Aunty May didn’t listen. She married for love, and after a marriage that was short and sweet, he died and left her penniless. That was when she met my mother. I don’t remember her face, but I know that she wore long broomstick dresses, embroidered with stars that glittered in the daylight. I didn’t know her long enough to truly love her, but Aunty May did. They had been friends long before I was born, so it was when my mother faded away that Aunty May took me in. My father was a drunk so we moved away, and in our little home she held me and taught me, feeding me nightly affirmations of my goddess-given beauty, a daughter of a star. So I listened to her, falling endlessly and waiting for the boys to sweep me off my feet.
After a while it became mundane and useless. Games began to progress and mutate into forms of Kiss Chase, and the physicality began to make me uncomfortable. Enough was enough so I took up to sitting inside, reading at my desk away from the playground heat and romantic lunchtime endeavours.
The same building that I entered as a child, I remained till I reached my mid-pubescent teenage years. It was in my last year at the school that I saw you. You weren’t a new student; I had seen you before, sat at the opposite side of the classroom, quiet-loud, tall and billowy like silk curtains with nectarine-seed eyes and a voice that could never travel further than two feet. But that lazy Tuesday afternoon when you dozed off, slouched upright with the sun illuminating the golden beads in your braids, I saw you. Maybe it was the summer heat, the high-pitched humming of the birds or the chirping in the fields outside, I don’t know, but I had never looked at anyone that way before. I had never seen beauty so clear and untamed.
“Your name is very beautiful.”
“Thank you, my father chose it for me.”
“I’ve never heard your voice this clearly before.”
“I’m sorry… I know I’m too quiet.”
“No no, it’s just too loud here.”
“I don’t really ever see you speak.”
“I never really have anything worth saying.”
“You probably do, it’s just too loud here.”
With their drooping shadows against the surface of the floor, two mouths opened wide, curved at the corners, white teeth gleaming in the absence of light.
“Do you want to sit down?”
I often wonder if love blossoms the way that friendship blossoms. Out of a glance or a smile, a body and brain begin to depend on another for something more than interaction.
We began to speak often. There existed no day without the lull of your voice or the warming feel of your lingering eyes. We became inseparable. Walking side by side on the path to school; an extra fifteen-minute journey to encompass the stories of our evenings apart. Life expanded with you inside her, painting the walls yellow and hanging bluebirds from the ceiling.
It was a late Thursday evening and the crescent moon hung low from a night-sky dotted with dim white lights. Aunty May and I were stood in our kitchen, hands and knives dancing across wooden boards chopping bruised red tomatoes and bulb onions, absent-minded to the sound of flies buzzing.
Aunty looked at me and broke our silence.
“You smile more than before.”
“Yes, big and wide at times, or sometimes, when it looks as if you’re lost in your head, I see little smiles.”
“That’s funny… I didn’t notice.”
“People never do. It creeps up behind them and swallows their heart before they realize.”
“Love, my darling, love.”
“I’m not in love.”
“Well there’s love inside you… I’m not blind… Tell me, my darling, who have you given your heart to?”
“I don’t know Aunty; my heart is still beating inside my chest… This is the mysticism speaking.”
“I’m old, not blind; I know love when I see it.”
“I don’t know Aunty… I hardly know anyone.”
“Who is he?”
“I’m not close to any ‘he’, only a She and you’ve met her already”
“I’m not blind.”
“I didn’t say that you were Aunty”
“There’s love inside you.”
“It isn’t right.”
“Look inside your heart and tell me what you feel for her.”
There was a teardrop on my left cheek. It had formed in the middle of our conversation, and fell from my left eye leaving a salt stain trail on my cheek as she spoke. It seemed that Aunty May knew my heart better than I did, claiming that there was a way that one smiled as love took bites out of their heart, and Aunty May could see that in me and it scared her. She told me so later that night, and I wept green tears as I wished that the tradition of a boy and girl didn’t matter where true love resided.
“Aunty May, did you love my mother?”
“Of course I did.”
“More than your husband?”
“I want to know.”
“You loved her more than my father?”
“Your mother’s dead.”
“Aunty that wasn’t the question.”
“They took her away.”
“Mama was sick.”
“The Gods took her away.”
“You loved her.”
“I want you to be safe.”
I’m sorry. Weekday mornings, I avoided you and gained my fifteen minutes back. The summer heat made me miserable and there were days where I would just stop, lift my eyes and glare at the sky. I wanted thunder. I wanted the ground to quake, the flowers to wilt and the green grass to sully. I wanted the earth to weep. Looking up beyond the clouds, there were Gods who had taken my mother away and I didn’t want to lose you. At a conference table sat between Venus and Mars, they plucked at the people who had wrong minds and hearts, ripping from them the stars of their eyes. At a conference table sat between Venus and Mars, they would pluck at me and take you away. I’m sorry.
Two weeks after I went all wrong, you stood outside my door on a Thursday morning and asked if we could walk together. My Aunt saw you and frowned a little, but our two-week distance had begun to reassure her so she waved us off, eyes glued to our hands as we disappeared in the distance. Halfway between my house and the school, your hands started to graze my knuckles, lightly brushing at the small hairs on my fingers. That was our thing inside silences; grappling for each other’s palms, comforted in the gentle physicality of holding hands. I think my mouth was glued shut until you whispered.
“The sky looks a little troubled… Do you think it’ll rain today?”
“I don’t know how to read the sky.”
“You can’t ever really read the sky.”
“You call it by what it is.”
“And if I’m wrong?”
“You make a mistake.”
“I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“My mama says mistakes are a part of living, that you shouldn’t let the fear of a mistake stop you from living.”
“Aunty says that we should avoid making mistakes at all costs.”
“Your Aunty is bitter.”
“She knows the world better than we do.”
“She knows the world of yesterday… not our world”
“She knows more than we do”
“Why’s that so important?”
“Look at me.”
“No… look at me.”
There is a bird above our heads, circling around and around against the background of rippling grey clouds. I think she’s waiting for you to pull me close, or for me to pull you close.
Who will dive first into the unknown?
Tangerine lights are seeping through the cracks in the ash-grey skies above, and the bird is still circling and circling, waiting for a body to fall into the other.
Who will dive first into the unknown?
Early morning sun ascending and we’re standing closer, knee against knee. Is that your heartbeat or mine?
Who will dive first into the unknown?
Dew painted leaves hanging low from tall trees, lips pressed against lips, hips pressed against hips.
Maybe this is what love tastes like.
The first fruit of love is blooming rapidly within the four corners of my heart; a red rose towering against the background of a pale blue sky. This is my love letter to you.