His upper lip glistened in the sun as he pushed me aside, hands outstretched, fending me off. But he couldn’t say the words ‘break up’, or my favourite Sweet Valley High expression ‘dumped’. He just kept repeating the word ‘over’ ‘over’ ‘over’, like we were at a cricket match. I would like to tell you that I maintained my dignity but how could I when pain consumed my entire being? Everyone else in the quad gawked as I watched myself clamour and grasp at him, while my head pleaded with my heart: ‘What the hell? Why the performance?’
Fingertips tapped away on touch screens and soon everyone on Facebook knew about it. I didn’t log on for maybe five days, until my courage seeped back. My first instinct was to search for his name. A big fat ‘+1 Add Friend’ appeared next to his smirking face, as though he had known I would look him up to see whether we were still ‘friends’ on Facebook. Tessa said would I really blame him after that spectacle?
I could, actually. We weren’t those Facebook friends who occasionally like each other’s updated profile pictures and quirky quotes. We were different.
I won’t lie and say we had many **Cardies* moments together, because we didn’t. We didn’t curl in front of a log fire, sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows and listening to Drake crooning over the crackling flames. He didn’t carry my bag to History class. We didn’t hold hands at break or make out behind the basketball courts like everyone else. He never publicly declared his undying, shatterproof love for me.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t felt. I know I am not being too bold in saying that we both felt it. When his gleaming lip curled at me and spat out words of hatred, he was unrecognisable – like he had somehow become unfelt.
We were in the same class for maybe four years before anything happened between us. Shuffling from class to class; passing one another in the corridors; sitting opposite each other in grade 8 isiZulu, completely unsuspecting of our connection. Then: we were in English and Mrs Joseph asked me to read Lady Macbeth’s lines while he read Macbeth’s. Normally the class stumbled over Shakespeare’s work, mispronouncing, faltering, and pausing in all the wrong places. The gap between Shakespeare and us usually expanded. This time was different. We were reading that part where Lady Macbeth manipulates her pliable husband into going through with Duncan’s murder. Our lines were fired off flawlessly, a seamless invisible thread between us. When the scene closed, approving murmurs surrounded us. We beamed across the classroom at each other in mutual awe. How did we do that?
After that, he began offering to walk me home from school, even though it meant he would have to walk back to school to wait for his lift. We shared our first kiss beneath the Jacaranda tree near my house, its tiny purple trumpets twirling around us. He murmured the word ‘wow’, over and over. After all those wasted years, we finally found what we had both been missing. We thirsted to hear each other’s life stories, both of us whispering things about ourselves that no one else knew.
But, within a few months, he drank himself full. He was slipping away. Slowly, our thread unravelled, and I could not reel it back. I found myself hanging around the basketball courts when he was busy playing, waiting for him outside Business Studies. I knew the cut was coming but I didn’t anticipate the hate.
Tessa said getting over him was easy: find Another Guy, and she was adamant that Another Guy would be waiting at a nightclub. Taboo was of the usual fare for kids faking it to get in – grey, dank, stank like piss, with suspiciously sticky carpeting. Tessa was perched against the bar, flirt-speaking to one of the Another Guys while I entertained myself by judging the bodies on the dance floor. Girls, consciously On Show, swayed their hips to catch Another Guy’s eye, swirled their hair in the air and laughed breathlessly with their girlfriends. The guys were just thumping their heads awkwardly to the music, not quite sure how to move the rest of their ill-at-ease bodies (and can we please not discuss the drunken one quietly throwing up next to the speaker). It was all an anxious performance (to fit in? to find the one? to nail that dance move?). The desperation sank into my pores.
On instinct my eyes felt their way to him. He was there, oblivious to me. I drank him in from my perch on the balcony. In my head, I knew it was not Fate – rather it was her dull sibling: Coincidence. Unfortunately the head had little control and I was horrified to watch myself marching towards him.
I saw his reaction when I came into view. Indignation. But there was no stopping me; my heart was cartwheeling my body towards him.
People were throbbing their way through a popular song, unaware of our confrontation. He glared at me, eyes flashing. Then he spat. He actually spat, as though I was a foul aftertaste in his mouth. It landed right on my big toe (unfortunately wearing open-toed shoes). The warm gobby substance slid down and pooled between my toes. When I looked up he had already submerged himself into the throng. The glistening slime was all I had left of him. It was part of him yet it wasn’t him. Was this really the same person who had shared himself with me?
It was then that I stopped. For those few moments, the longing, the fondness, the aching vanished. I became unfelt. Like my mouth had been washed out with soap.
Catherine Jarvis is an English teacher in Johannesburg. When Catherine is not teaching or marking, which is rather a rare occasion, she enjoys the company of books, her three cats, and her family. Catherine’s first published short story appeared in Short Story Day Africa’s 2013 anthology, Feast, Famine and Potluck. She attended the Writivism 2014 workshop in Cape Town and was mentored by Timothy Kiprop Kimutai.Follow @JaladaAfrica