This Loving Heart Of Mine (1)

I  can’t really remember but I think my first words to her were ‘It will fall’.
I had just tidied up the Chemistry laboratory which the Students’ Representative Council had used as venue for one of our sittings. I was hungry and in a hurry to get home but every ‘need for speed’ drained out of me at the sight of her. 
 She was at the main entrance, just under the eaves of the school building. The weather outside was stormy with dark angry clouds and billowing winds. She stood in the blue A-line skirt, white shapeless shirt, blue tie and baggy striped jacket that made the school uniform. Her white canvas shoes were Oceania and looked well worn, one stringy lace loose and trailing on the dusty floor. 
Her stockings stopped low, just beneath her ankles. And they had lacy frills lapping over the trimming. Those stockings were not allowed in school but they looked good on her – the only concession to her femininity in the intentionally sexless school attire.
 Her school bag was a shade of light brown and hung loosely from her right shoulder as she hovered at the entrance, visibly torn between waiting out the storm and making a dash for it.
Without waiting to think lest I lose ‘liver’, I walked up to her. I must have startled her because she turned a little too fast. She had generous lips that were parted slightly and her forehead was strewn with creases that reminded me of Mr. Umunna’s illustrations of waves in Geography class.
 But it was her eyes that got to me. They were huge, almond-shaped and BROWN! The brown was a calm one, light but intense, arresting even from behind the rectangle-framed glasses she wore. All words died on my lips, my train of thought seized. And I just stared.
She must have found me amusing because a dimple materialized dead-centre of her right cheek. I realized how like a fool I must seem staring with mouth and co agape. In desperation, I grabbed for something to say, anything.
“It will fall”, I blurted out and regretted it the minute the words left my lips.
“Huh?” was all she said. By then the creases on her forehead had smoothened out and I could have sworn that her lower lip trembled for a second as she tried to control her amusement.
“Ummm…” I stuttered, “the rain…you know…” Damn! I was stuttering so bad it was hard to breathe and if I hadn’t had my hands in my pocket, she would have seen they were quivering so hard that if I put them in the ocean, they would send ripples all the way to Malaysia.
I took a deep breath and tried again. “The rain will fall”, I managed, “I’d wait if I were you.” I hastened to add when one pencil line-thin eyebrow arched.
I watched that dimple deepen inch by lovely inch. I wanted to grab her face and plant a kiss right in the hollow of that teasing dimple. But I also felt like taking my blue Bic out of my pocket and stabbing it hard dead centre. What a joke, I thought, thoroughly embarrassed.
Then she laughed. Her laughter wasn’t anything like what I’d expected. It was neither lady-like nor soft. It was loud, very loud…and sweet. As quickly as my embarrassment and anger had grown, they disappeared. Without knowing it, I started laughing too.
Badly as I’d started off, I had done one thing right though – predicting the rain. It had by then started pouring in heavy, steadily increasing drops. Just inside the main entrance where we stood, there were some seats. We sat down. With the storm that the rain had become raging just a few feet away from us, we talked.
That was how I met Isabella. See, it wasn’t like we had never seen each other before then – we attended the same secondary school. I had heard about her, seen her from some distance away, I had even heard her speak on a couple of occasions but we had never ‘met’. We did on that day though. Three hours after we sat down, the storm ended but we had just begun.
We dated through secondary school which was not for long seeing as I was already in my final year of senior secondary school when we met. After graduation, I gained admission to study engineering in Owerri. She was by then in her last year of secondary school.
She had an older brother who had left for Canada immediately after secondary school and had remained there even after he had gotten his bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Everybody expected her to join him there when she graduated a year later. But she chose to pursue her first degree in Nigeria, in Owerri, in the same university as me. It was a hot Monday afternoon when her name appeared on the Admissions board in school for Biochemistry. We couldn’t have been happier.
Isabella and I weren’t the ideal couple, we were only ideal for each other. We were different in many ways, similar in more. The more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to spend with her. I was older by two months but age was never an issue with us, we were mates, equals on a mystical level.
 It was a weird feeling, living as if enslaved to another human being yet loving every minute of it. Of course I never described it in those words to anyone, not after my mother heard it once from me and made me visit her Charismatic prayer group in church.
I called her Bella, my beauty. She liked to call me Beep – of all names! – something about my being the sound of the alarm that gave her a reason to wake every morning.
Of course she had her faults. She was very stubborn; like an ass, I often told her. I had always been a little strong-headed but I met my match in her. She had one quick, biting tongue in her head to which I repeatedly fell victim.
 She always drove me nuts; I once told her that what we had couldn’t be love else there’d be mad men and women lined up in front of churches to be wed. More than half the time, I was going crazy either over her or over things she had done. And I loved her to pieces.
I finished from engineering after five years with a second class upper division result and was fortunate to be posted to an oil company in Ibeno, a compact but rapidly developing town in the oil-rich Akwa Ibom state. 
That year saw me and at times, her constantly on the road, visiting. After my service, I was retained right about the time Bella graduated. She was posted to serve in Abuja despite all the strings we tried to pull. But even the distance could not keep us apart for long. My assistant at work often joked that booking my flights to and fro Abuja was what she earned her salary for.
Isabella finished with service and declined an offer to be retained. For the major part of a year, we searched for vacancies in related fields and closer to me. First we started with Ibeno, then Akwa Ibom state. When it yielded no results, we widened the scope to anywhere in the South-South; after fruitless months, we were searching for vacancies in the South-east and later, in the entire southern part of Nigeria. Still nothing.
We had just about given up hope when a spot opened up in an indigenously-owned food processing firm in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom. It wasn’t exactly the plum job she deserved being a first class graduate and all but she grabbed it.
I asked her to marry me the moment she alighted from the plane upon arriving Uyo; what was there to wait for? She said yes. I did not have a ring though; I was racked by nerves and had forgotten to bring along the ring I had bought months earlier. Improvising, I put my finger rosary on her finger. She laughed. And we kissed.
We got married, frolicked for two weeks in the exotic Obudu resort, and then returned home to Uyo to build the life we’d both wanted for so long. We were both only 26 years old, basically living a dream, and loving every bit of it.
 To be Continued
 By MCO 11
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