The Awkward Zone (adj. used to describe a relationship between two people bordering on intimate but full of uncertainty.)
“I love you too, hon.” I managed to croak out. The phone was hot against my ear, having been held up for over forty-five minutes. I switched it to the other ear and got up from the chair, heading straight for the bed.
“Talk to you later dear.” I said and promptly cut the call.
I sighed as I eased onto the bed in my small self-contain apartment, tired from the long day at work; well it wasn’t exactly office work, it was more like house boy-ship. You see, I was a NYSC Corp Member serving in Benue State after my attempts to leg it to Abuja had failed. I found myself buying pure water, serving refreshments in meetings, and scratching recharge cards in the Ministry of Works in Makurdi, despite my first class degree in Electrical Engineering. It was an excruciatingly dull life. As a result, the only fun things or actual work things I got to do revolved around my phone and my laptop.
On that particular day, I had spent the last forty-five minutes of my life talking to one of my closest friends/potential lover. Talking to her was easy; we always had something to talk about. She seemed to temper my critical intellect with a simplicity that almost bordered on daft. Please make no mistake about it, she was intelligent in her own way but she chose (I believe) to dumb it down for most people. She also had an unholy love for E entertainment television and Brad Pitt (both of which I pay no attention to). We had been in the awkward zone for a little over three years at the time and I was still uncomfortable using intimate words on her. Here’s how we got to this ridiculous situation.
We met during the second semester of my first year in school. One afternoon, I spent too much time in the cafeteria sipping on Chi Exotic and watching English Premier League highlights and was late for my class. I broke into a sprint, heading for the lecture theatre, knowing fully well that the crazy old professor who taught us engineering math would shut the doors once fifteen minutes elapsed from the start of the class. I made it just in time; stumbling past the man as he pulled the doors shut. I made my way to where my course mates sat and realized no one had bothered to keep a seat for me. They had assumed that the premier league was more important to me than education. I angrily stalked round the lecture theatre, looking for a free seat and found one around where Chemical Engineering students sat. I stumbled into the seat and dropped my laptop bag beside me, sweating profusely from the unnecessary exercise I had subjected myself to.
“Excuse me, someone is sitting down there.” A sweet voice said to me.
I turned around, ready to lash out with a vicious retort when I realised that the sweet voice was supported by an equally “sweet” face. I quickly changed my strategy.
“Are you sure?” I struggled not to pant “because I didn’t see anyone’s belongings on the chair.”
She looked at me like she wasn’t sure what to do with me and I suddenly became very self-conscious. My ridiculously heavily starched shirt was starting to cling to my body in nasty sticky splotches. My hair might have been rough but I wasn’t sure. I was however grateful that I had used my Calvin Klein cologne that morning before I stepped out of the hostel. She asked someone behind her a question and nodded before addressing me again.
“I’m sorry, the girl left. You can have the seat.” She said with a half-smile on her face.
“Thanks.” I replied and immediately started wondering what I was thanking her for.
All of a sudden, she moved her things to the chair next to me and settled beside me, making room for someone else to take her previous seat. My nose immediately gathered up the strawberry fragrance that wafted off her. At that moment, I knew I had wasted my time in going for the class because there was no power capable of making me focus on the lecture with such a beauty beside me. I immediately tried to adjust myself; strike a pose, look bigger, talk with a deeper voice, the usual mating displays. Like the monkey that I am.
The class was hot and I had not stopped sweating. I silently cursed whoever was in the power room for not turning on the air conditioners. I tried to fan myself with swag, repurposing my note to serve as a fan; I was pretty sure I looked like a half drunk baboon on a tennis court. Without warning, she thrust a handkerchief in my direction.
“Here,” She said “You need it more than I do.”
Shock made me hesitate for a moment.
“It’s new and I didn’t jazz it.” She added with a smile, sensing my hesitation.
“Of course not,” I replied, surprised that I had rediscovered the lost art of speaking and accepted the handkerchief.
I brought it to my face and was greeted by the same strawberry fragrance that had shattered my composure, this time in a condensed ethereal form. Had I been alone, I would have sniffed the handkerchief like a rabid dog, but seeing as that type of behaviour would alienate me quickly and render me the creepiest of creeps, I settled for wiping my face quickly.
“Thank you.” I finally said, uncomfortably aware of the fact that I had thanked her twice in the space of ten minutes.
“You’re welcome.” She replied without even looking away from the calculator as she inputted digits.
It suddenly occurred to me that I’d stand even less of a chance at getting her if I was a year below her, so I decided to attempt to pay attention to the Professor. I promptly opened my notebook and began listening to the lecture. Fortunately, it was easy stuff, as most of the things taught came to me easily.
We sat in silence for another ten minutes before she broke the silence between us.
“Do you understand what he’s saying?” She asked, pointing her pen at the Professor, revealing perfectly manicured fingernails painted red. With the way I was feeling, she could have had a third eye and I’d still have found it attractive.
“Yeah, it’s straightforward enough.” I tried not to sound as proud as I felt. I was a cocky bastard.
“Can you please explain it to me?” She pleaded with beautiful brown eyes. Hell, she could have asked me to donate my kidneys to Boko haram at that moment and I’d have obliged.
I spent the rest of the lecture explaining the concepts to her much to my joy. Our hands might have brushed and I might have seen a vision of us having children but I’m not sure. Infatuation does funny things to you.
“Hey, I didn’t even ask for your name. I’m Eniola, thank you so much.” She said when the class ended.
“It’s my bad actually. I’m Daniel,” I replied “You’re in Chemical Engineering right?”
“Yeah. You’re in Elect?”
“It was nice meeting you.” She said, extending her hand.
“Nice to meet you too.” I replied, shaking her hand lightly.
I might have felt electric currents flowing through my hand but like I said earlier; infatuation does strange stuff to you. Either that or it was a side effect of the shock I had suffered trying to fix a socket the previous night.
“I’m going to keep a seat for you in every class.” She said as she walked away with her friends, her hips swaying ever so gently in the grey pants that held them. I have no idea how I saw that through the hundreds of students heading for the exit but, again, like I said; infatuation does strange stuff to you.
I went back to the hostel a happy man and donated half of my provisions to the less privileged (maybe not half but I’m not sure I turned anyone down. Oh, they’re also not exactly less privileged but I bet you know their type). I quickly made enquiries about her among my guys in Chemical Engineering and got the 411 on her. I loved what I heard.
It turned out she wasn’t joking about keeping a seat for me in every class we were having together. Being the perpetual late comer that I am, I stumbled into class the next day, struggling with my T.D. board while trying to keep my well starched shirt wrinkle free (guys know how this feels). Before I got to my usual seat, she flagged me down with a wave and a heaven worthy smile. My brain automatically rerouted my direction to her side. Things continued like this for a while and before I knew it, I was walking her off to her hostel and picking her up in the morning. There were also a couple of random dates in the cafeteria in the evenings, but not after 8pm. She was never out after 8pm.
Being a total nerd, I had tried to subtly bring up the subject of relationships on several occasions. She always spoke dismissively about it and usually changed the subject with finesse. Things were going well between us but I didn’t have the confidence to man up and ask her out. We were becoming sort of an item but she laughed off any suggestion from friends relating to us dating. I laughed along too, slowly dying and decaying on the inside; a plastic smile plastered onto my face while I wept like a little girl on the inside. Things hit an all-time low for me when she confided in me that she had started seeing someone. I felt like Cristiano Ronaldo after he lost the Ballon D’Or to Messi the year he deserved it (we won’t argue that here but you get my point). I congratulated her and asked to see the guy. In retrospect I should have asked to see the “god” because that was what that guy was. I saw him at 4:30pm on a Monday evening in the cafeteria after his last class of the day and his shirt was still straight and wrinkle free. The guy must have been at least 6 feet and 4 inches tall, exuding pure masculinity. I smelled his cologne and I knew I could not afford such. Shirt and pants, tailored to fit perfectly. His shoes were still gleaming. It was 4:30pm for the love of God! He shook my hand and I knew I had lost the battle, the war, and the peace treaties. I promptly said goodbye and ran for my dear life, before he decided that I was a threat. She protested but I refused, carrying my food and smiling like the court jester. I later found out from her that he was in his final year of Biochemistry. How on earth was I supposed to compete with that? I almost became depressed.
In the last weeks before we went on break, I withdrew from her. I made excuses to avoid sitting with her and hid from her in public. My friends thought I was crazy, and to some degree they were right. After a hugely embarrassing intervention by my guys, I finally decided to pay attention to some of the mortal girls giving me the green light the goddess could not give me. It turned out I wasn’t so bad myself. I started dating a nice enough girl; far from who I wanted but she was a good person and so I decided to be grateful.
A couple of days to the start of the new semester, she called me and was crying on the phone. She had broken up with Zeus (I choose to call that guy Zeus for he is no mortal man). I felt sorry for her, but my relief outweighed my sorrow, seeing as with Zeus out of the way, the next logical choice for a boyfriend would be, should be, okay might be me. The only problem was that I was in a relationship myself; and my relationship was actually going quite well.
For the next couple of days, Eniola and I spoke almost incessantly. She shared all her fears, all the things Zeus did wrong, family challenges and all sorts with me, effectively relegating me into the best friend zone. To make matters worse, my mortal girlfriend suddenly became uncomfortable with the amount of time Eniola and I were spending together.
“You know she’s my friend. That’s all she is to me.” I said one evening just after the semester began.
“That’s what you say, but you spend more time with her than with me,” She replied “It’s almost like you’re a married couple.”
“C’mon, don’t be ridiculous.”
“I shouldn’t be? When is her birthday?”
“Her birthday, when is it?”
“4th of May, why are you asking?”
“When is my birthday?”
Our relationship ended in the three-second pause that followed the question. My brain had failed me.
Eniola was sympathetic and assured me it was my now ex’s loss. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that me knowing her birthday was the cause, although, I’m sure she must have realised it after the ensuing scandal which may have involved girls from another department engaging Chemical Engineering girls in a ‘you-stole-our-boyfriend’ screaming contest.
We grew closer as the months passed, but not without our fair share of disagreements. Different people came into our lives individually, but we could not commit to anyone. We also spoke about us from time to time, trying to define what we were.
“So some people are saying we’re dating.” Eniola said one day in our fourth year.
“They’ve been saying that since year 1. It doesn’t change anything, does it?” I asked.
You see, over the years, I had accepted my fate that I was never going to date her. I could only hope against hope that my chi would not cheat me.
Let’s say that I hoped against hope a lot.
“It doesn’t, I just wanted you to know.”
The words left unspoken hung in the air.
In retrospect, I realize now that she had a thing for me back then and was waiting for me to make a move, but I never did.
Right now, I’m not sure I want her again. I still think she’s amazing but I fear that a relationship will ruin the friendship we’ve forged over the years. Maybe if I can see things from her point of view, I’ll know what to do. Right now, however, we are comfortably in the awkward zone, and we’re not going anywhere.