You’re the guy at the back hunched up over his phone aimlessly scrolling. You have your earphones safely tucked in lost in a world of sweet serenades and lyrically sound raps. Every few songs you’ll lip sync and at some moments get lost in inaudible mumblings as you try to keep up to Eminem’s insanely fast raps. You won’t notice the lads look at you in a weird way or the ladies shooting glances every once in a while as you become the topic of discussion. Not once have you ever bothered yourself with the draining inane tasks of being the crowd puller. You save your hellos for the select few.
You become the target of estrogen fuelled dares. They know nothing about you and that’s scary. You’re not like Johnnie – everyone knows he likes Claire – they also know he likes anything in tight blue jeans and a full bust. Every once in a while one will walk your way and ask you a silly question – like the notes to a class you don’t even recall to have ever attended. You will look up and your eyes, void of any emotion will stare at hers for an awkward five seconds. You will realize you still have your earphones on when she walks away and it hits you that maybe you came off as arrogant. It doesn’t bother you one bit.
One day you get a note, the handwriting is flimsy it feels like they wrote it with their un-dominant hand. It reads: “I like you we should talk.’ You can feel eyes on you as they wait and see your reaction, but you don’t flinch, instead you crumple it up and let it roll off your fingers until it hits the ground. You look in their general direction – they are hurdled up all together – and you wonder who among them can display such crass. Such asininity and crude behavior of pubescent primary school kids. Such acts enrage you, you have a short fuse. You figure it’s not worth your time so you keep at it – scrolling on your phone. The day drags on and the monotonous drone of the lecturer’s voice now fills your ears. You’re barely paying attention. The class is hot and stuffy and you hate being around so many people – you just want to leave.
As is the norm as soon as the lecturer hints at leaving, your book is already closed and stashed into your back pack. You get up without much ceremony and snake your way in between the chatty types and head out of the institution. This has become your routine, you do not see yourself blending in or find the need to. You have always been the under the radar back bencher ever since high school. You walk all the way to your bus stop and you meet an old acquaintance. You sigh on the inside and brace yourself for the forced niceties you are about throw their way. You take off one ear piece and smile, you say a jolly hello and enquire how they’ve been. With equal enthusiasm they give you a brief synopsis of their life post losing contact and you gather they now have a child. You congratulate them and head on your way thinking to yourself why everyone seems to be getting babies. She’s not the first you’ve met but you just brush it off and don’t think about it.
The next week is uneventful. You grace a few social gatherings to dissipate the myth that you’re anti-social. You get to see the interactions that go on in your absence – to be honest not much – and you sip on your vodka and sprite. They finally know what you drink and to them this is an amazing discovery. It’s like the drink defines you and so they keep coming. You get the feeling they want you to get drunk and lose yourself and you smile inwardly. Chances are they’ll run out of money before you even slur a single word – you don’t know if this is something to be proud of but you’re in campus – everyone adores such prowess. You leave the place earlier than everyone else – sneak out is the term- you think you went unnoticed.
You’re walking the street enjoying the gentle breeze in your face, it’s doing you some good in sobering up. You have your earphones in and are playing bone crusher – this doesntl match your serene surrounding. Okay, not really serene there’s traffic to your right and the roar of engines and hooting every once in a while – it’s chaotic but you love it. There’s human traffic too and you keep weaving your way in and out of shoulders. Some of them smell like they doused themselves in sweat all day and others are busy on their phones. A lady is deeply engrossed in what seems like a domestic squabble – it’s Friday – probably the boyfriend came up with a lame excuse to uninvited her to a party. You don’t pay any more attention.
Just as you’re about to cross the road you feel a tap on your shoulder. You get apprehensive as you turn around with your face contorted into a “Don’t fuck with me” expression. These streets can be brutal. A familiar face smiles back and you let your guard down. You briefly exchange niceties and cross the road. On the other side of the street she tells you she saw you pull away and decided to follow. She confesses how that is not her crowd and that she’d have rather been at home. You know she’s just saying that because you always see her with the supposedly ‘not her crowd’ but you play along. You introduce yourself because, well, you don’t interact much with people around you.
You get to know her name too and indulge in light hearted conversation. She announces you’re not what people think – surprise – and that you’re actually quite an amicable guy. You exchange numbers and from then on keep in touch. You get to know more about her, her dreams and ambitions, the plans she has outside of school and most importantly what she loves. You know all too well how the normal campus guy/campus girl conversation goes like. It’s usually punctuated with smileys and sexual innuendo and invites to indulge in alcohol binges with the hopes it eventually leads up to mind blowing or inanimate coitus depending on the level of inebriation. So she’s somewhat surprised, shocked and confused. At first she doesn’t get what’s happening – normal conversations are rare to her.
You don’t read much into it and you’re oblivious to what’s happening. One night she sends a message that’s perplexing. It simply says “I love you”. Being you, you ask “Are you drinking today?” knowing you are being you she says “Yes, how did you know?” Being you, you say “Just a lucky guess, goodnight.” She replies “Goodnight too.” It’s silent for a few seconds and you get another message saying “I meant what I said.”
You sit on your bed thinking about it almost all night. You wonder what’s to love about you. You brush it off and decide to set things straight in the morning. The morning comes faster than it should’ve and you question your ability to face her and tell her you don’t look at her in such a way. Deep down you hope she’ll take the easy way out and say she only meant it as a brother – she doesn’t. You don’t know how much effort it took her to write those words, you’ve never really thought much about other people to be fair. So you meet up and she’s smiling, God why is she smiling, it’s like shooting a puppy. You brave the niceties over the coffee and finally when she seems warm enough you get serious. You tell her you’re not in a position to love her, you tell her it’s just who you’ve become and finally put the final nail in the coffin buy proposing the two of you should just be friends.
You hadn’t noticed how over the past few weeks she had become so much like you. Her responses and tact are now surgical. Her humor had evolved from the cliché ‘laugh at funny accents’ to sarcasm – heavy and intelligent sarcasm. You think about it for a minute, one fleeting minute and she sees it in your eyes. There’s a glimmer of hope, she backs down and gives you space. Some decisions you need to come to on your own. She leaves the offer hanging in the air – to be your sweetheart. You both live the café content with that transpired. What she doesn’t know is being more like you meant you knew exactly how to get out of the situation. She thinks everything that went down was partly her doing, it wasn’t. You played her as you would have played yourself. It’s cruel, but you had to. You’re young no time to deal with a broken heart.