Fickle Heart

Episode 2 - Crush and be Crushed

"John, when do you want to travel home?" Ben asked. "I am still thinking about it. I don't think I would travel early this time", John replied. Ben and John were still stretching on their beds. It was the night after their final examination in second semester 200 level. They slept as though they were knocked down with a powerful sedative. They had several sleepless nights studying for their examinations, so, they slept for hours to compensate for the sleepless hours. However, hunger had cut short the sweet long sleep short. Ben let out a wide and long yawn while John responded with a louder yawn and a stomach rumble. Without wasting much time, they knew it was time to visit the cafeteria for their meals. Unanimously and simultaneously, they stood up and got dressed to go out.

As they ate, their stomachs rejoiced and it was evident in their faces. Ben thought within himself that it was the best moment to ask John the question that has long been in his heart throughout the examination periods. Without hesitation, John asked, "Since I have known you ... since 100 level, we always read together. So, you would agree with me why I should be concerned that you didn't read with me throughout this examination. Why?" The food John swallowed got stuck midway in his throat. He was confused whether to answer Ben correctly or not. He had a plan and now wasn't the time to reveal his plan. "This plan must stay hidden, I have to prove a point to him that I am not feeble", he thought to himself. At the same time, he owed it to his best friend a valid explanation.

Just as the swallowed food got stuck halfway, he decided to tell the truth halfway. After forcing the stuck food down his throat by gulping from the chilled glass cup of water before him, he spoke "You see ... you bring Rachael along with you to read most times. I feel oppressed a little because I don't have a girlfriend. More so, I feel like I sometimes innocently interfere with your personal discussions with Rachael." This was quite surprising to Ben. He was surprised at John's response because this was far from what Ben suspected to be the reason for John's action. Ben imagined his reading pattern was the cause for John's action. Ben was accustomed to reading only for five to six hours, at most, at a stretch while John could read for much longer. He also asked a lot of questions from John while they read together. He assumed these were the reasons. John made Ben realize it was neither of those reasons. He further explained that Ben's consistent questions help him to understand the notes and topics better. Ben also explained that John was not unduly interrupting his conversations with Rachael. He also apologized if he and Rachael had subconsciously made John feel oppressed, but, it was never their intentions. Ben was relieved that the issue was cleared amicably. John was rather relieved his plans were not revealed.

Few days later, John was still on campus. He had not travelled home for the holidays. On a cool afternoon, he laid on his bed, looking to the ceiling and thinking about Cindy, he decided to call her.
"Hello, how are you?"
"Who is speaking?"
"It is I, John. Don't you have my phone number anymore?"
"Ok, John. What can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to check up on you. Ummmm ... and .... to ask if we can meet this evening ... provided you are not busy."
"You guessed right. I am busy. We can't meet."
"What day can we meet? I have something important to tell you."
"Ok. Let's meet this evening at the café."
"You said you were busy."
"Don't worry about that."

Just before John could say thank you and goodbye, the call ended. This left John wondering whether Cindy had ended the call or it was bad reception. John also pondered on why Cindy couldn't recognize his number. "Did she delete my number from her phone?" he thought. The third and most troubling thing to John was the hostility in her voice. "All the time we read together for exams, Cindy never talked to me this way" John said to himself.

John felt glad that he was meeting Cindy. He thought, "All my plans are going accordingly. Soon, I will also have a girlfriend." When it was about the time they had agreed to meet, John got into a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He wore white sneakers and dark shade glasses. He took a look at the mirror to admire himself. He used his thumb and his index finger to rub his mustache down to his goatee, before, he took a turn and left the room. They met at the café. There were lots of empty tables at the café that day because school was on holidays and most students had returned home. John picked the table beside the window for them to sit. But, Cindy felt it was a bad idea. She didn't want passers by to see them eating together. So, she asked that they move to another seat far away from the window, and even, inconspicuous to anyone who comes into the café. John couldn't decipher Cindy's reason for the seat she chose. He just went on with her.

They made their order and John paid for it. As they ate, John pondered on when was the perfect time to deliver his important speech. Over the past few weeks, he had searched his dictionary for certain words and thought of several manners by which he would make his feelings known to Cindy. He finally had a mental picture of how he thought it would go. However, his heart was beating too fast that he feared he could not stick to his plan. All the words he had planned to use ran out of his brain. He was lost and empty in his brain that it was beginning to show on his face. Cindy had to ask him, "What's wrong with you?" "Nooo ... noooo ... nothing" he replied. "Ok. What is the important thing you have for me?" Cindy said. This time, he couldn't stammer. His tongues failed to move. His brain was empty. His heart was racing. The only thought in his head was, "Oh my God, please, help me."

He forced himself to calm down a bit. In a bid to buy more time and to search for words to say, he chewed the food in his mouth a little longer than usual and drank water to push it down his throat. Eventually, when all his tactics were exhausted, he opened his mouth to speak, "For quite a long time, I have had ... feelings ... for you. Ummmm ... I didn't know how to approach you to let you know how I felt until we got closer during this examination period. We read together and I got to like you even more. Cindy, I like you a lot ... I looo ... love ... you. I think we ... " Cindy initially rested her hands on the table. As John spoke, she already knew where the conversation was heading towards. She sat upright and rested her back on the chair. She shook her head a couple of times as John spoke, but, he did not notice. John's head was down as he spoke; his eyes were locked on the table, moving between the cups and the plates.

John lifted his head up when Cindy interrupted his speech. He was expecting to see a somewhat relaxed and smiling face. He thought his speech was having a pleasant effect on Cindy. He assumed his feeling was mutual. His assumption was based on how Cindy related to him during the times they read together - she tapped his shoulder to get his attention rather than call his name; she placed her hands on his shoulders whenever he was explaining the notes and topics to her; while studying, their eyes occasionally met, and they smile to each other whenever this happened; while walking to and from the library, they sometimes bumped shoulders together; she might have also held his hands a number of times while they discussed; she called him often, even at odd times of the night during the examination period. On seeing the uneasiness Cindy wore on her face, John was rather perplexed. He knew something must be wrong.

"Hey, please just hold it there. Hmmm ... I am surprised you are telling me all these. I thought you meant something really important. It's best that I make it clear to you. John, I can not date you. I have a boyfriend." She read the amazement on John when she said she had a boyfriend. So, she continued, "He graduated five years ago. He works in a bank in this city. He usually comes around in his car to pick me up after class." In John's head, it was as if the world stood still; even his heart must have stopped and stood still. Cindy kept on talking, "Even if I do not have a boyfriend, what makes you think I will date an undergraduate like you? Well, except if the student is very rich, and I mean, very rich. This would mean his parents are top politicians in the country or they own a multimillion-dollar company. Then, I would consider. It is obvious I need to take care of myself, and, this costs more money than the stipends students can offer."

A loud bell rang in John's head and the echo gave him a headache. "John, I read with you only because you are brilliant and you can teach me the things I do not know. We are friends and I wish we continue that way. To be sincere with you, I decided to meet with you because my boyfriend had a football match to watch. I know how engrossed he is when his favourite club team plays and I would rather be anywhere else than be with him while he watches the football match. If you don't mind, I will like to take my leave now as the football match would be coming to an end soon. Thanks for the meal."

Cindy stood up while she was still completing her last sentence. John's eyes were as red as crimpson. He had to force himself not to cry. He could not utter any word. The bell sound kept on echoing in his head, intensifying his headache. Just as Cindy stood up, Rachael walked into the café with two of her friends. Her fast-moving eyes sighted John and she waved to him. John forced out a smile from his red-eyed thunder-strucked face in response to Rachael's wave. Rachael and her friends picked a seat and continued their conversation.

Cindy walked out of the café while John was still digesting all he heard from her. As much as he prevented himself from crying, he couldn't help it as a cold tear rolled down his hot chin from his left eye. He knew it was time to leave, or else, he would embarrass himself with sobs that others would notice. Then, he remembered he had brought a dark-shade googles with him. He used it to cover up his tear-filled eyes. On getting to his room, he was glad not to have met Ben. He laid on his bed and wondered. He felt pain and anger all at once. He felt he was deceived. He felt Cindy took advantage of his emotions for her selfish gain. As he pondered on all these, tears kept rolling down his cheeks. Suddenly, he heard the sound of the door knob moving. He knew it must be Ben. He quickly cleaned his face and pretended to be asleep while Ben came inside. In his pretense, he decided he would travel home the following day as there was nothing more keeping him on campus during the holidays.

(To be continued ...)

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