He was my first boyfriend. He wrote me love letters and quoted the Book of Solomon. I, at 13, had no inkling what those verses really meant. The apex of my sexual knowledge was limited to zero at that age. What I remember is that he was sweet. He would call the house on our rotary phone, because in those days, Nairobi was full of phone booths, dial-up rotary phones and that kring-kring ringtone. I never knew when he would call and I remember the first time it happened. We sat down to dinner at 1930 usually. And on this day, we were all hunched around the TV as it was nearing the 1900 news that all of us were forced to watch courtesy of my parents. Dinner was being prepared and the loud jangling of the red phone in the corridor by the main bathroom surprised us all.
I don’t recall who went to get the phone but I recall the distinct feeling of surprise when my name was called out and they said someone’s on the phone for you. I could feel my father’s eyes boring into my back as I walked out of the living room into the unlit corridor and I picked up the head of the rotary phone that had been pulled from the cradle and placed gently on it’s side on the side table where the large phone directory rested. I swear I could hear my father’s eyes following my every move. When I picked up and I heard a deep voice (adolescence and puberty had hit him) belonging to Phoray say hello, I swore my father could hear my racing heartbeat thundering in his ears.
First relationship. It was so long ago that I don’t recall every little thing that marked it. What remains in my memory: the love letters that I bundled together and hid away (my mother found them and I got a whooping). The stares from him from across the classroom when we were in class together. The chocolates he mailed to me from Seychelles (perhaps this is where my undying love for milk chocolate came from?). His knobby knees poking out from beneath his primary school shorts. His quiet facial expressions that belied a very eloquent man-child. He still raises his eyebrows in a certain way that I still find fascinating because it quickly takes me back to 1992.
We never kissed and I don’t think we ever held hands. I know he never spoke to me directly to my face as he was very shy and very frightened of my mother who was a teacher at our school. I was so sure we met up just before I flew out of Kenya at a Floodlights Rugby event…and I am so sure we went to catch a movie and he tried to pull the yawn-armdrop move. And I thought we kissed. He denies, denies, denies.
Cut to 27 years later and we reconnect, laughing over Whatsapp posts in our graduation class Whatsapp group. I lit into him for waiting so long to include me in the group that he started years ago. His excuse? He had no idea where I was in the world.
He reminded and continues to remind me of a much simpler time. Before single motherhood, pressure of finding and keeping a job, becoming a fully fledged tax payer, owning a business and all that comes with that and a time when the only thing we were worried about was what a French Kiss meant. Or which Hardy boy was cuter.
There’s a soft spot in my heart for this man, probably because of what we shared over the course of three years 27 years ago. We are friends now, both parents, both a bit beat up by life and its challenges but he reminds me of a time when being cared for was so simple and straightforward. When he talks to me now, even discussing serious matters, I constantly find myself smiling. I keep remembering that first call he made and the eyes my father gave me when I walked nonchalantly back into the living room like I had just been talking to Jacqueline, my best friend at the time. Perhaps he noticed the sparkle in my eye or the spring in my step. Funny thing is, during those phone calls, this boyfriend of mine hardly spoke. He held in his deep-timbre voice and I regaled him with useless bits of information because I had no idea how to talk to a boy, let alone one who confessed his love for me in 4+ pages of foolscaps (legal writing pad paper).
Those memories have kept me buoyed recently, in the wane of heartbreak and in the renewed determination to continue believing in love despite all the disappointments that it can bring. This Valentine’s Day, I am struck by how hungry people are for love but yet so many treat the ones they love so callously. Being 13 and being loved by a 14 year old who had no ulterior motives and wore his heart on his sleeve was the best introduction to romantic love that I could ever wish for.