The first time…she knew what love was.
He should have left her, she thought as she looked up at him sitting on the other end of the room, trying to study for his finals. He would have been within his rights to abandon her totally. Never speak to her again look at her again. Yet he came back…for her.
The first time they met had been innocuous enough. She was already used to her lifestyle, that of a hardened hooker and she was amused at his lame attempts to try to woo her.
“Yes, I know I’m a pretty girl,” she had said laughing and handed him her number. Perhaps he had some money, she thought. Besides, he wasn’t so bad looking.
She didn’t know what to think when after they spent two evenings together, he made no move to touch her. Wasn’t he aware of her reputation on campus? Instead, he kept asking her questions.
“Where did she grow up? How was her childhood? What were her dreams and goals? It was a strange experience, being with him. It was as if he really wanted to know her. No one had taken the pains to do that before. All they wanted when they saw her was…a bed. She found herself suspicious off him. What were his true motives? What if he was a psychopath?
In spite of herself, she felt drawn to him. She laughed at his silly jokes and enjoyed his serious, intent, sometimes philosophical discussions. It didn’t take her long to open up to him. To tell him about the shadows that haunted her. She told him about her uncle and his nocturnal visits to her bedroom. She told him about her first love and his ingenious ways of humiliating her. She told him about her absentee father and her couldn’t-care-less mother. She told him everything. And she saw his eyes fill as she said it. He drew her close, but even then he didn’t touch her.
“You’ll get past all this. I’m here for you,” he had murmured against her hair.
He had become more than a friend then.
She wanted to show him her gratitude, so she tried to kiss him but he shook her off gently.
“No Frieda, it’s not time for that yet,” he had said firmly. On other occasions when she tried to be a little more demonstrative, she was met by a firm but gentle refusal.
And so she asked her friends for advice.
“He’s gay,” they said. “It’s not natural,” they agreed. “He’s dangerous,” someone else said.
What was scarier was what another girl had whispered into her ears; “He doesn’t love you.”
She froze when she heard that. Could it be true? He seemed to care for her…a lot. But then, maybe he was not in love with her. Any time she looked into his eyes she felt it could not be so. But how could she be so sure?
She met Steve a few days later. He was walking with her ‘more than friend’ along the hallway. Her eyes had lit up at the sight of Kunle.
“Frieda, meet my friend Steve,” Kunle had said.
They had shaken hands and exchanged pleasantries. When he left them, she had felt Steve’s eyes on her. No surprise there. She was used to intense scrutiny from the male species. She had gotten used to their leering gazes early on.
What surprised was how quickly Steve showed up beside her on her way back to the hostel.
“I’ve heard you are generous. You have to give me some of what you’ve been giving him,” he said suggestively putting an arm around her waist. She recoiled.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked him, incensed.
“I want you,” he said huskily.
His words chilled her. Those were the words she wanted Kunle to say. She wanted him to want her. And now someone did. Steve. She desperately wanted to be wanted. It was all she had ever known. She let him lead her away wordlessly.
After it was over, he handed her some bills. She looked at it and crumpled it and spat on the floor.
“I don’t need your money,” she said her voice barely above a whisper.
“So I was that good eh?” he said sneering.
She went out of the room without a backward glance. When Kunle called her, she refused to speak to him. He didn’t deserve to be with someone like her. She was scum, filthy. He was everything she was not. She avoided him. She passed him in the hallway one day and saw him talking with Steve and quickly turned away before he could see her. But he caught her and ran after her.
He took her to a quiet spot and she couldn’t resist the look in his eyes. A while later, when the truth came out, he put his head in his hands thinking. She looked away, sure of what was coming. But then, suddenly he held out his arms.
“I love you Frieda,” he whispered against her hair. “You should know that by now. I forgive you for what you did. I want you to know that even though I have feelings for you, I respect you and I respect your body.”
She shuddered against him, and realized this was what she had been looking for all along. It was love, real love and respect.
Here they sat, on opposite sides of the room, both studying. From time to time, he looked up from his work and gave her a wink and a smile and she could not deny the joy that threatened to overwhelm her. It was the first time she knew what love was.