She was the happy one; the life of almost every gathering. I used to wonder if she ever worried about any situation or hurt over anything. She always had a sweet word to pick up a guy in a dump or a plate laden with dainties and bowl of soul soup to warm up a cold heart.
That jolly character I saw in her made me hitch myself to her when we were leaving camp. It’s not like I’m the exact opposite or a party pooper; I’m just not a picker-upper like she is. Bring up a fun topic and take up a contrary opinion and I’ll argue with you from dawn till dusk. I just don’t know how to bring up those fun topics. . . Or better put, I don’t know how to make those topics fun. I’m just the ordinary pretty girl with a warm smile but Aby, she sends hearts on a race, making their blood boil with just a flash of a smile. But more than that, she made those around her feel good about themselves. . .she made them look better. I loved that. I wanted it. And I had read and heard several times that the characters you stay around can rub off on you. So, what better way to brighten up my life and general countenance than to have the convivial and bubbly Aby as a roommate for the one-year duration of the NYSC scheme? It would even make the experience somewhat brighter and colourful. Moreover, I’m not the type to engage in petty quarrels and gossips, something I noticed that she consciously avoided throughout our stay on camp.
She seemed enthusiastic about us living together. She said she was glad to have a friend that wasn’t a guy trying to ‘get to know her better’.
And so, we got a room in one of the hostels in the outskirts of town built specifically for students and corps members. Humble it was, but Aby filled it up with a plethora of colourful posters and stickers radiating warmth and effortlessly beaming a certain specie of happiness, the kind I was yearning for and glad to have around me. The year was going to be good. I had a good roommate.
But like a cube, Aby had more than one side. It was nothing horrible or even bad. She remained her happy self. It just seemed to me that after a month or two, she was hanging deftly by a web, trying hard to keep the box of joy from tumbling over and spilling it’s content into a deep dark ocean. She never said she was sad. Hardly ever showed it.
She could wake up on certain days and decide to go on a shopping spree, not for cloths or shoes. Just food ingredients. And sometimes, tiny colourful decorations for the room. She got a huge sticker-board to paste pictures and quotes from movies that she liked. It made her happy, she said.
She was even more attentive now. She took all my complaints in good stride. Sometimes, she said just the perfect thing to make feel better, and other times, she just made the perfect meal or played me the perfect song.
It was good, no doubt. But I could not help but notice that as much as she talked, she merely scratched the surface. Her talks about her family made them sound like a bunch that vacationed in heaven, almost all the time. It all sounded too good to be true. She was beginning to look too good to be true.
I began to imagine what pains and hurts she could be padding up with a cheery face.
Then one day, I stumbled on an email she left open on my laptop. It was from her brother. Her father had beat up her mother again,and a divorce was most likely this time around.
She wasn’t around at the time and I was sorry I had read her private message but I couldn’t change that now. I began to craft words to say to her in my head thinking she would come home to cry on my shoulders.
How more wrong could I have been? She came back home with funny stories of what had happened in the day. I tried to bring up stories of bad marriages and divorce in a bid to draw her out. But she talked so well about them that I began to feel more attached to the issue than she seemed.
But I wanted to believe she was hurting. She had said it severally that she barely cried when people close to her died but there was no way she could be that cold or even happy. I mean, I have seen her cry while watching a sad movie. I believe she’s just locking up her pain somewhere in there. I was determined to force them out. My statements and questions became a little more direct, yet never yielded an answer. There was always something to smile about.
Even Terry, a guy she was really into here never seemed to get beyond her laughs and thrills. He said he wasn’t even sure she liked him that much. Aby seemed upbeat with everyone she met.
One time I asked her about Terry and I saw her constant smile melt into a blush and her eyes twinkled and fluttered all at once. She really liked him, she said. But she wasn’t so sure he liked her that much and even if he did, who was to say if it would work out. I did not care about the later part of her reply. I saw a different emotion on her face; that was enough progress for me to keep my hope alive that she would open up to me.
All that came to a sad knot when a few days after that, Terry introduced us to his girlfriend, Brenda, a girl who Aby was rather fond of. I wasn’t sure how to react. More than that I had not even the faintest idea how my taciturn roommate would handle it. I came back home that day to a hearty meal of hot peppersoup and plantain. I ate with relish. It’s not everyday you get treated to a meatful delicacy. During the meal, we talked about so many things except Terry and his new girlfriend. Then she plugged in her earphones and listened to songs until she fell asleep. Nothing was said on the topic. And the next time she saw Terry, she was smiling and making jokes like she never thought of him as anything other than a brother.
A couple of weeks passed without anything out of the ordinary happening. Then one evening,while making dinner, I got a call that I had lost a distant relative in a car crash. Aby wasn’t in, so the girls in the next room offered me their shoulders to cry on. The relative was a distant aunt, no doubt. We weren’t that close but she was family. I could not help wondering what Aby would say when she sees me with huge puffy eyes and shoulders shivering with tears for someone I barely knew.
She got in just before 8pm and one of the girls quickly filled her in on what had happened. I half expected her to hiss when she got to know who it was. Instead she sat beside me and held me close. I burst into fresh hysterics and the girls broke into their chorus of, “it’s ok” and “don’t cry”. Suddenly, Aby lifted her hand and said, “Let her cry it out. It’s not good to keep the pain in, she’ll just hurt more”
I heard bells in my head. WHAT?! Who just said that?!