He would come.
She knew it, as surely as she knew her own name. He had never failed to show before. Never, not once in the time she had known him. Whenever she needed him, he showed. Today would be no different.
He would come.
She stood in the chilly outside air, watching the early evening traffic crawl by, the jacket she wrapped tightly around her providing little protection from the cruel cold. She stamped her foot to keep warm as her eyes scanned the roads. Where was he? She had sent him the message almost an hour ago. He was supposed to be here by now.
He would come. She waited.
She had known him since she was seven and he was six. The circumstances under which they met were unusual, to say the least. As she remembered, she had picked a fight with a couple of older and bigger neighborhood girls, and was on the verge of receiving a sound, sound beating. And then out of nowhere he came, all smallish and brave-sounding, and told the two other girls to pick on someone their own size.
The ‘fight’, if she could even call it that, went about as well as one would expect.
She hadn’t stayed to watch; as soon as the two girls attacked him, she turned and ran. He found her later, as she was hiding behind a garbage can. His shirt was torn and the side of his face was slightly swollen. He flashed a gap-toothed grin at her, asked her if she was alright…
She smiled at the distant memory.
They had started walking to school together from that day on. Not they lived anywhere close to each other; he lived twenty minutes away. Somehow he showed up at her door every morning, right on time. She suspected that he left home extra early every day in order to make it to hers on time, but she never asked him, and he never mentioned it. But he showed up every morning, and that was fine by her little seven-year-old self.
Though he was a year younger, he was brilliant and had skipped a year of school. They wound up in the same class. He always sat behind her, and they traded many a funny note during boring classes…
Standing now in the fading light, she checked her watch. He was an hour late. Where the hell was he?
…in class six, a new boy joined the class. She was stricken with the newcomer from the first day he entered the building. Two days later she passed the boy a love note. The boy opened it during lunch break, in the crowded canteen – and laughed. Somehow the note did the rounds in the class, and before the closing bell she and her note were a laughing stock. She was humiliated, and ran home alone.
The next morning, he was at her door as usual, to walk her to school. His left eye was swollen. It was only later at school that she learned what caused it; he had stayed behind the previous afternoon and fought – or rather, beaten – the new boy up for what he did. Nobody laughed at her again…
“Spare change for a hungry man?”
The voice jarred her out of her memories. A homeless man, obviously starving, stood before her on the sidewalk, hand outstretched. She dropped a one cedi note in his palm and he walked off, muttering blessings upon her and her lineage. The light was almost gone from the sky now, and she missed her warm bed so, but she needed to see him badly, and he would come…
…One day, in J.S.S 2, he confessed to her that he had feelings for her. Caught off guard, she blurted, “I thought we were just friends!” She saw the pain that flashed behind his eyes even as his lips formed the words: “Oh, yeah…cool. I mean, of course. What was I thinking?” She had feared that their friendship would be awkward after that, but he had made sure it wasn’t, had remained by her side…
…Through J.S.S. 3, when she slept with that soccer player and told him about it when the guy cheated…
…Through Secondary school, when he never forgot her birthday, but always called, always sent her a card. As the years went on and she grew into a beautiful young woman, the gifts she received every year grew, became more lavish, but his card was always there. She never remembered his birthday…
…He was there for her when her boyfriend had an argument with her and left her stranded in a restaurant, with no money to pay the bill…
…He was there for her in the University when her date didn’t show at her department dinner, leaving the football game so she wouldn’t feel awkward sitting there alone all night, even though he couldn’t dance for SHIT…
He had always been there for her.
A distant part of her brain wondered how he would look now (Did he grow that beard like he always said he would in University?). She hadn’t seen him in close to a year, even though they both lived in the same city. Whenever he called she told him she was busy, that she would see him soon. Always soon. And he always said the same thing: Whenever she was free, he’d make time for her. Whenever she needed him.
She needed him now.
Standing in the cold, she gingerly touched her face where the man she was living with had struck her. After that falling out, she couldn’t possibly go back to their apartment. Her closest family lived three hours away; she couldn’t think of anything else to do, anywhere else to go. But he would know what to do. And so she waited.
But she didn’t know. She couldn’t possibly know.
She didn’t know that he had indeed gotten her message, halfway through a date of his own, and had left his date to come to her. She didn’t know that in his hurry he had tried to cross a road without really thinking. She didn’t know that a trotro trying to beat a red light had slammed cruelly into his lanky body. She didn’t know that at that very moment he was being carried in the back of a speeding ambulance, in critical condition.
She couldn’t possibly know that in a few hours he would be dead.
So she stood there, bravely clutching her jacket about her small frame, ignoring the querying looks of passersby, waiting for him. He would come.
And so she waited…
You never know what you have until it’s gone. – Unknown.