The first time I saw you, nine years ago, my heart skipped a beat. It was both painful and shocking, and I couldn’t analyze what I was feeling because I was young—barely twelve years old. But I was perfectly sure of one thing: you were special, quite unlike any girl I’ve met before; I knew that I would forever be hooked to you.
The first time I saw you was in primary five; I was sitting with my best friend, Kene, and as you marched past us (you’ve always walked in that manner, as if you are always in a hurry), I’d commented on your beauty to him. He had chuckled and said that you were in his class. I’d been thrilled, and a little bit disappointed. I was thrilled because you were in a class I could easily go to anytime to see you, and disappointed because of the same reason: Kene was a good charmer, and I was jealous that he would get your attention.
But strangely though, Kene seemed not to be interested in you, and buoyed by that, I came to your class more often. Did you ever notice that anytime I came to visit Kene, I would always stare at you, barely listening to whatever my friend was saying? Of course not. What was I even thinking? You are a goddess, and mere mortals like us pass without your notice. And how could I have competed with the boys in primary six who were vying for your attention as though you held their destinies in your palms?
I was stuck on how to approach you, to tell you that although I was twelve, I was madly in love with you and would always be. And just when I thought I had no hope, Fate gave me some dose of good luck—in primary six we became classmates, and as if that was not enough, we sat in the same seat, me and you, all alone in one seat.
I will never forget my primary six because it was a class that showed me my future, and helped me realize that I was meant to love you. Only you.
Gradually, we became friends, and it was as if I was living in the Garden of Eden, where everything is good. I, who before I met you, didn’t like going to school, was now counting the hours before I would see you again whenever I got home. Monday became my favourite day and Friday my worst. You were the reason I came to school in primary six. Don’t tell my parents.
Do you remember the first time I told you that I loved you? I had battled with that decision for days—weeks even—before I finally mustered the courage to let my feelings known to you. And no, my courage wasn’t that strong to confess my feelings to your face. So I had written you a note, with the words ‘I LOVE YOU, FAVOUR’ in bold letters on the sheet of paper. Then I had slotted it inside your bag, where you normally kept your pen. When you came back from break, you saw the note, and when you asked me if I wrote it (although you saw where I signed my name), I was momentarily hit by a fear so great and intense that I had wanted to balk. In that one second it took me to nod my head, I had feared that you would show our class teacher the note. Yet I found my neck jerking my head up and down in affirmation of what you asked.
You did not show the note to our class teacher, rather you had smiled and had said that you loved me too. I had been ecstatic.
Now, I want to derail a bit. I’ve come to realize that you were more matured than I was back then. This is because when you said you loved me too, you must have meant the normal, platonic love that existed between friends. But my single-minded heart thought that you mirrored the feelings that were intoxicating me. It took me nine years to understand.
After our primary school, we parted. And with no phones back then, we lost contact. But I didn’t lose my love for you. Instead it grew and became stronger; and for the six-year period of my secondary school, I was constantly looking for you. I guess I started going for inter-school competitions in the hopes that I might see you.
Now someone else who might be reading this might think that I did not really make any effort to find you, but I did. I don’t want to make this letter unnecessarily long by telling you everything I did in search of you, but believe me, I tried to find you; I asked our classmates, went on social media, even to the point of asking anyone I met who had the same surname with you if he or she knew you. But all these efforts yielded nothing. It was as if you’ve vanished into thin air. At some point I even started entertaining the idea that you might not have been real, that you were a figment of my imagination. But how then could I have loved someone who didn’t exist?
All this does not mean that I did not try to forget you or try to move on. Of course, I did try. I tried so hard that it became impossible to forget you. I went into several relationships, but it was as if I was looking for you in those girls. And since you were a goddess to me, those girls, those mortals paled in comparison. Thankfully, I broke up with them without any problems.
After I’d given up on seeing you when I’d exhausted all ideas on how to find you, a friend of mine suggested that I went back to our primary school and from the records trace you. Don’t roll your eyes, please, I was desperate to find you.
So I went back, and thankfully I was able to get someone who knew your mother. She’d said that she would send me your mom’s number and I’d gone home elated. The message didn’t come till a month and later when I was organizing extra lessons for some children. The message had given me goosebumps and I’d immediately dismissed the children as I claimed to have an important meeting to go to.
Then I’d called your mother and asked her about you. She had said that you traveled to Enugu and that your phone spoilt. She’d also said that she did not know when you would be back. I had been a tad disappointed, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I’d gotten closer to finding you.
It was over a month later before I got to speak to you. That day, September 24th, 2014, would always be one of the happiest days of my life. I’d called your mom around 3pm and asked of you, and she’d informed me that you were back, but she had lost my contact so she couldn’t let me know. I told her it was alright and then asked to speak to you. She said that you went to church, and that when you came back, she would let you know I called. That day around 5.59pm, you’d flashed me. And without wasting time, I called you back. When I heard your voice as you said, “Hello,” I felt myself bursting into a million joyful pieces.
Finally, after six years, two months, one week, one day and eighteen hours, I got to hear your voice again. And it was as magical as I’d imagined it would be, even more if I’ll be honest. We talked for long and when I finally ended the call, I knew that I was the happiest man alive.
Gradually, we started catching up, and it was beautiful having you in my life again. I didn’t make any assumptions about what you might be feeling for me, and I was aware that your feelings for me might have changed, and that you might have gotten another person. So after one month of our reunion, I’d told you how I felt.
I know that the manner in which I told you might have had a hand in your reply, but if you remember, I had asked you many times for meeting with me, but you were always giving one excuse or the other. So I decided to call you and tell you, but you didn’t pick up, even after ten missed calls. That was why I sent you that long text, chronologically detailing how I felt for you, telling you every detail, all of it.
Why then were you so livid when you called me back two hours later on that day? I’d been in front of my family members—my dad, mom, brother and sister, and as we watched the evening news, they did not know that my heart was being shredded into little pieces by your words. I ask again, why were you so angry, letting out strings of expletives and words I cannot even pen down for fear that they might come to life? I’ve tried for months to understand why you acted that way, but no reason came to mind. It wasn’t that I asked you out, because I did not; I’d only told you what I felt, nothing more. I did not make any demands on you, so why did you make that ultimatum? That if I did not want to stop talking to you, then I should never tell you such a thing again?
What did you expect me to do? Of course I had to bottle up my feelings, and act as if I never told you how I felt about you. How could I stop talking to you when for six years finding you was the most important thing to me?
So I swallowed my feelings that were threatening to burst out of my heart; and like poison, my bottled love started to eat me up from the inside. I became bitter and irritable, nothing was beautiful anymore.
Favour, love is like a bird. For it to truly live, it has to be set free, to be expressed. But you made me cage mine, till it started clawing at the walls of my heart, wanting to be set free. But you don’t want my love, that’s what I’ve come to understand. And it’s perfectly okay.
So on this Valentine, I have realized that I have to love myself too. Yes, I have to. Over the years, I’ve loved you, only you, and in doing so, I’ve forgotten that I have to love myself too. That is why I’m finally letting you go. I know I do not have you in the first place, but I’m letting you go, I’m letting the love I felt for you go so I can love myself. Because I deserve to love myself too. Valentine is a time of love, and I cannot love another person again without first loving myself.
I truly hope you find the one meant for you, and I truly hope I find mine too. I still want us to be friends if you want; the fact that you did not see me the way I saw you doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends. After all we were friends before I fell in love with you.
Goodbye for now. And goodbye to my love for you.
Yours ever, Ben.