By the time my set came into power in the third term of our SS2, Vince and I were in what would be my first relationship. When we were not in our separate classrooms studying or separate cliques indulging our varied interests, we were together. Our dormitories were next door to each other, but I may as well have become his dorm member, with the amount of time I spent in his dorm. Every night was spent in his bed, discovering again and again the magic we made with our kisses and loving. He knew every inch of my body and had a fond name for every scar, every blemish that marked my body – names he murmured whenever he kissed the scars during those intimate moments.
To the impressionable mind of the fifteen-year-old that was me, we were meant to be together. Just Vince and I. No one else was allowed to occupy our little magical world with us.
And that was why it came as a nasty little shock when Vince told me one balmy weekday morning to set him up with my female best friend (who we’ll call Jessica).
As a teenager, I fit a number of the gay stereotypes associated with growing boys. One of them was my easy familiarity with girls. I was the close friend to most of the girls in my set, the singular male in their inner caucus, the boy who they told everything to, secrets they’d die before telling any other boy in the school. I was so close to these girls that at one time, when a small group of teachers were leading a witch hunt of those senior students who had romantic relationships with one another, I was almost indicted, except they couldn’t nail me on who my girlfriend actually was, and God forbid they level an accusation on me of being romantically linked with many girls.
But as friendly as I was to a great number of girls, I had a best friend, Jessica. She was in my class, and was easily one of the most popular girls in the school. The moment we became best friends, her popularity began rubbing off on me. Even though I balked at the attention, even though some rumours got nasty over the nature of our relationship, I still loved her and we stuck fast as friends.
Vince was among those who wanted to know what a nerd like me was doing hanging out with a princess like her. After repeatedly assuring him that there was nothing remotely romantic going on between us, he then laid the shocker on me.
“I like her. I want her to be my girlfriend. Can you help me make it happen?”
That was another consequence of my friendship with the girls. I became my set’s official matchmaker, the one who crossed to and fro enemy lines, trying to initiate relationships, reconcile lovers’ spats, and facilitate breakups. It was such a powerful position to be in, and I thoroughly enjoyed it…
Until Vince decided to employ my services!
My boyfriend wanted to date my best friend!
My boyfriend wanted me to help him make a girlfriend out of my best friend!
And you know what the worst part was?
I was so smitten with him, I couldn’t tell him or let him see my reaction to his request: how hurt I was that he didn’t think I was enough and how wounded I felt that he didn’t spare my feelings enough to try dating her behind my back. He had to ask me to help him. And I couldn’t even say no to that.
So with bile churning inside my stomach, I walked up to Jessica the next time I saw her, bearing Vince’s message of intended love. I said the words the way I was supposed to say them, sugared them to win her heart, and kept a smile on my face to encourage her agreement. And all the while, my heart screamed at her to turn him down, to reject him.
Just say no, Jess! I silently screamed. Say no! He cannot be yours! He’s mine! Say no!
“Tell him to send for me this evening so we can talk,” she said with a demure smile.
My heart sank. This was not the prelude to rejection. She was going to say yes. My insides blackened with hate, fleeting and quick, as I stared at her, fighting the urge to rake my fingers across her face. I smiled stiffly at her and nodded. “I’ll let him know.”
As I turned to walk away, she called my name.
I turned to face her. Her brows were creased in a frown, a discerning expression on her face.
“Are you okay?” she asked, and then went on, “This is what you want, right?”
In that moment, the blackness lifted and I didn’t hate her anymore. This was why she was my best friend, intuiting into my thoughts, even though she perhaps didn’t understand them. I realized then that I could squash this relationship before it’d begin, that a word of negation from me could make this budding romance fizzle out. But then, an image of Vince’s face floated up into my subconscious, the ghost of his smile, a fraction of the twinkle in his eyes. and I knew I couldn’t help it; I’d do anything to keep that pleasure on his face.
So I smiled at Jessica and nodded, saying in a firm tone, “Yes, it’s what I want. Vince is a good guy.”
She smiled too. “Yea, he’s cool. I like him.”
And the following week, the couple that was Vince and Jessica became an instant sensation amongst the student body. They were both popular and looked good together. Students loved the match, and before long, they became the first couple I’d know who had their coupledom confirmed with a portmanteau of their names: you know, like you have Brangelina and Bennifer, Vinssica was born.
I hated the name. I hated them together. And sometimes, whenever I hung out with them (which was often, seeing as they were both my people), I had the uneasy feeling that I was the ‘other woman’, the first love who wasn’t good enough, and so had to be set aside in favour of the shiny new possession. I resented the feeling. And yet I stewed in it.
I stewed so much that my magnanimity slowly began to chip away. It didn’t help that Jessica wouldn’t stop talking about Vince to me, or that I knew how often they met in the evenings to steal some moments of frantic canoodling in an abandoned junior classroom just before night food. Those led to nights when I’d lie in Vince’s arms and wonder how far his fingers – the fingers now tracing my body – had gone inside Jessica’s skirt, or where his lips – the ones now sucking at my nipples – had been to on her body. I hated myself for these thoughts. And I hated him. And I hated her. And I hated me some more for hating them.
But I couldn’t do anything to hurt their relationship because they seemed like such a great pair, and they were happy. I had a nagging conscience that kept me in line whenever my jealousy reared its head and called for some underhanded action.
And then came the whispers – that Vince was stealing intimate moments with someone else. The whispers had the other girl as Adaure Ngonadi (not real name). When I heard the talk, I refused to believe it until I confronted Vince with it. He gave me a laughingly vague response which he, no doubt, intended would reassure me of his commitment to Jessica without him actually lying outright. Unfortunately, the reverse was the case: I knew then that the whispers were true. I silently seethed as I contemplated how the love triangle had stretched out to become a rectangle. Way too many people in the room now. Way too many hands on the goods. One other woman, I could barely stand. And now, two?!
Without even thinking on it, I walked up to Jessica the next time we met and told her point blank, “Vince is cheating on you.”
It had to be done. He was hurting her. I was doing her a favour. There was no conscience to stop me.
Her face collapsed as the news hit her. Her eyes believed me at once. “With whom?” she inquired.
“Adaure Ngonadi,” I answered.
“That witch,” she hissed.
I nodded in total agreement.
“I have to confront him.”
“You can’t tell him I told you,” I said. I was trying to break them up, not break us up as well.
“Of course I won’t,” she said. And blinking back tears, she walked away.
A couple of days later, she broke up with Vince in an occurrence that scandalized most of the student body, especially the seniors.
I remember that period now with amusement, noting how of all the four players involved in the scandal, I was the only one who came close to being scorched. Vince was forgiven for cheating on Jessica because, well, it’s what boys do. Jessica was empathized with because, well, she was the victim of love gone wrong. Even Adaure was pardoned for being the reason such a power couple broke up because, well, Vince was too charming a boy to resist.
But me, I came under furious suspicion as the one who told. I suffered through inquisitions from my mates, side-eyed glances from juniors, and Vince’s cold detachment. Even my younger brother, who was in JSS3 at the time, idly asked me one afternoon I went to see him in his hostel if I knew anything about how Jessica found out Vince was cheating.
I was a few whiskers away from being the villain in this story. But I furiously contested all the allegations. I denied, denied, denied! I even dared some of my accusers to go and ask Jessica if I was the one who tattled to her. Of course they couldn’t do that. The scorned woman would have no pity for anyone trying to indict her messenger.
Eventually the dust settled, and I was still miserable. Vince wasn’t speaking to me. My close friends tried to comfort me with the usual platitudes – Don’t mind him, he doesn’t deserve you… He was cheating on you with Jessica and cheating on her with Adaure – just imagine… You’re better off without him… Shey you know Kanu has been eyeing you since… How about going back to Joshua…
I wasn’t comforted by them. I didn’t want to notice Kanu’s interest in me. And I didn’t want to go back to Joshua, who I dumped for Vince. I just wanted Vince back. I wanted our little magical world back.
I was on my way back to the hostel one afternoon at the end of school when I heard someone call my name. I turned.
It was him.
And he was smiling.
Written by Pink Panther