‘You found yourself a girl’, she said as her eyes slowly went up and down looking at me with pure disdain.
‘Actually we’re not dating’, I managed to say avoiding her eyes and wishing I hadn’t been in the room at that point.
‘You’re not?’ her eyes finally pulled away from my image.
‘No, we’re not Jackie’, he said as he stood and gave her the book she had come to collect, ’here’s your book and this is Ola, Olaedo….the priceless one’, he quickly added as he turned and looked at me with a smile.
‘Jordan has never told me about you, but it’s nice to meet you’, I could hear some sort of victory in her voice as if Jordan not speaking about me meant I was a filthy secret not to ever be told.
‘It’s nice to meet you too’, I had taken the open hint that I was not liked by this tall, slender girl with lips the colour of strawberries.
‘You two should really come for the African Students Union “let’s talk night” this Thursday, I’m sure everyone would like to meet Jordan’s new friend’, her stress remained on the word friend as her fingers played with strands of her dark, kinky, afro hair.
‘I don’t think we would like to come Jackie, I need my space at this period and I don’t want you or any other girl trying to intimidate Ola because I’m not there’, I guessed Jordan must have noticed her dislike for me.
‘You sound like I’m mean, I’m just trying to be friendly’.
‘We should go Jordan, you need to get out of this room sometime. If you don’t want to it’s fine, but I would love to see you outside again’.
Jordan had become like me after his mum’s death. He preferred the comfort of his four cream walls and looked at the sky from only his window. He refused to open his door to his flatmates or anyone else except me. Today though, Jackie had managed to get herself the opportunity of meeting him after weeks. I could only imagine how Jordan felt after the death of his mum and I wanted to mourn with him for as long as possible but each passing day only seemed to change the happy, outgoing guy I knew and each day I longed to hear him laugh again, to ask me out for dinner or to see a movie, each day I longed to see him looking through his window amusing me with a silly dance or a mime as he used to.
‘Ola says we should come so we’ll come’, he said and I knew those words triggered her dislike for me even more.
I didn’t see Jackie till the African Students Union day and as we walked I secretly prayed that she would be struck with some sort of acne infestation on her face so she wouldn’t come. Jordan had taken time to tell me about Jackie and how they grew up in the same neighbourhood and went to the same church, until Jackie turned 15 and her parents decided she was going back to Ghana for at least 3 years to get some “proper discipline” after she was suspended from school. My heart dropped as she saw us walking in with our hands stuck together, my prayer had failed.
‘Jordan’s here!’ Jackie yelled, getting everyone’s attention. Soon he was surrounded by friends, friends who had missed him, missed his presence in this ‘African family’.
‘Hey man, I’m so sorry’, ‘it’s good to have you here again Jordan’, ‘you got us all worried’, ‘God knows best Jordan’…the condolences kept coming till everyone had hugged him or shook his hand, or made him smile. I could only wonder what was going through his mind.
‘Thanks guys’, he said as we all sat on chairs that had been put in a circle, ‘I appreciate it and let me apologise for the unanswered calls and texts I haven’t replied, I promise I’ll keep in touch’.
I didn’t like gatherings like this, they made me nervous. I always had to write a script in my head as soon as I saw chairs put in circles, because then I knew at some point everyone would be asked to say something about themselves, or a game would be played that would require someone being singled out and I hated that someone being me.
‘beautiful lady right next to Jordan’, someone said, taking me out of my prayer of invisibility,’ we would love to know you’.
‘Hi everyone’, I said in a low voice and then cleared my throat to speak louder, ‘I’m Ola, I’m Nigerian and I’m in my second year studying Law’.
‘Girl where have you been all my life?’ a guy with hazel eyes said flirtatiously as he smacked his lips with his tongue and people begun to laugh. I begun to thank God that I was in no way light skinned else I would have betrayed my shyness with my skin turning into shades of red or pink.
The evening went by and I became more comfortable as games played a role in me talking to others. Jackie then called for everyone to come back into the circle and have their seats.
‘Last time the boys dominated the ‘let’s talk’ topic so today the girls are taking over with their discussion on hair. So let’s talk, what do we think about keeping our hair natural and putting a relaxer into it?’
I looked around and noticed that half of the girls were ‘team natural hair’. After a few comments had been made Jackie called her friend whose hand had been up, she too was natural.
‘ A lot of African women want silky hair that they can run their fingers through and flip while the breeze blows’, she swayed her head from side to side acting like those women I had seen in adverts when they flip their hair, ‘the thing is we are beautiful with our natural, thick, kinky, curly hair. I’ve heard so many people say the reason they relax their hair is because it’s easier to maintain, I think the sooner we learn to embrace our natural hair the easier it becomes for us to maintain it.’
The hair argument, I thought. Recently it had become a personal dislike for me.
‘Can I just say that relaxing your hair does not in any way make you less of an African than you are?’ I started, even though I tried so hard to stop myself from talking, ‘I mean, take for instance, a lot of us were born here in the UK and not in our respective countries of origin but we still say we are African and come together as Africans. True, a lot say it’s easier to maintain your hair when relaxed or texturized, like me I would admit to that, but just as every girl with natural hair has to take care of their hair and treat it like gold, girls with relaxed hair have to do that as well. let’s be honest with ourselves, some girls did the big chop and became natural because relaxers ruined their hair so they needed it to grow which means relaxers don’t work for them, others turned natural because they had friends turning natural and not because it gives them the sense of embracing their roots as proud African women with natural kinky or curly hair. Natural or relaxed we still remain Africans…beautiful African women’.
I sat down realising I had spoken too much. Jackieforced a smile on her face and kept telling everyone to calm down as the clapping became louder. Even though I had officially gained an enemy I also knew I had found my confidence somehow. As we walked home, holding hands again I wondered if Jordan was shocked at my speech, he hadn’t said anything all evening. We got closer to the accommodation gate and it felt like the night we first talked.
‘You’re my African princess whether they like it or not’, he whispered in what seemed to be a Ghanaian accent trial which was almost perfect. I laughed and heard him laugh too and for a minute I felt my heart beat like never before. As his lips rested on my right cheek I prayed that this wasn’t what love felt like. I could hear my heart say we just couldn’t be together…