I have always been shy and reserved when it comes to approaching women. It is something I consider to be a flaw of mine because I genuinely like girls and I find them quite interesting. I don’t know where this fear comes from but looking back, I guess an incident I had back in class seven has something to do with it.
Gertrude and I were in the same class. It was the first time I had seen or heard of the name Gertrude and I couldn’t believe it was her actual name. She was one of the most popular girls in school for a couple of reasons. One, she performed exemplarily well in her academics. Second, she was the cleanest and neatest pupil. Third, she was the assistant school captain. She had everything going on for her and it was so typical of me to place my sights on the girl that was out of my league.
I wasn’t that popular to say the truth. People only associated me with my height and my Bata shoes; otherwise, I was pretty much invisible. I wasn’t a good performer in class or in the field. I was just the tall weird guy. With puberty, hormones were on overdrive and I found myself writing a letter to my dear Gertrude. She was smarter than I was and, in my attempt, to overcompensate, I wrote the letter official style, with the two addresses and reference. I poured my heart out, frequently referencing Westlife music and telling her how she was the prettiest girl in the world. I signed the letter as follows, “Yours faithfully, Brian. I love you Gaterude”. Gaterude! it was an honest mistake, please don’t laugh.
Gertrude was very blunt in her reply. She wrote a brief note about how I spelt her name wrong and that she had a boyfriend at home. She was so even so gracious to share some composition writing tips. “Your letter was one long sentence, please learn how to use paragraphs”. My heart and confidence were broken in equal measure. That moment was the genesis of my fear of rejection.
After primary school, I didn’t see nor hear from Gertrude for a long time. She was the one that got away and I honestly had no desire of reliving that pain again. So, I made no efforts to look for her or make contact. As fate would have it, we would soon meet in the house of God on Christmas eve.
By this time, we had both finished high school and were waiting to join the university. Ironically, I was going to take a course in literature, I had worked overtime on my punctuation. The parish had organized a seminar for youth members from the entire district. It was a two-day event and it would end on Christmas morning. Gertrude was in attendance, she hadn’t changed that much, she still looked as good as she had looked when we were in primary school. I didn’t say hi immediately, I hoped the universe would cross our paths at some point, and it did.
As it turned out Gertrude had changed a whole lot. She was outspoken, loud and very worldly. I bumped into her as we exited the afternoon session and walked with her to the hall for lunch. I remember my heart beating hard and I was really nervous. She on the other was immaculate, talking about raving, drinking and sneaking out of the church compound on Christmas eve.
“Have you ever been to a rave before?”
“Not exactly. I once attended a wedding after-party that went on until late, does that count?
“No, it doesn’t. It is not even close. Join me tonight and I will show you what a real rave looks like. You have your ID right”
“Yes, I do! Who else is coming?”
“You’ll see! Just be at the gate by 10pm. Sneak out covertly, no one should see you!”
“What does covertly mean?”
“It means to move silently, secretly. Please google its spelling first before using the word. I wouldn’t want you to give people heart attacks the way you almost gave one to me. I have heard of Gate A and Gate B, never Gaterude ha-ha”
I joined her in laughter but inside, painful wounds were re-opened. It was refreshing to talk to her once again. The hairs at the back of my neck stood throughout the entire conversation. Six years had gone by, but she still had a hold on me. I agreed to join them, all I had to was meet them at the gate after supper. It’s hard to tell whether I was nervous or excited, I just know it was a rush I hadn’t experienced before.
Around 10 PM five of us were walking down the tarmacked road, our hands tucked into our pockets trying to fight off the cold breeze of the night. There were lights everywhere, clubs were open, shops were busy, and families were burning the midnight oil.
There we were, a bunch of teenagers thirsty for fun and a little lust, unsure of how the night would end. Gertrude was really chatty; she gave directions to the rest of us and we gladly followed her. It was like being in Class Seven all over again, she was still calling the shots. I hoped that we would get some time in the course of the night to talk and catch up.
We walked for more than half an hour without seeing a matatu we could board. Gertrude hadn’t even finished asking where all the matatus were before we saw a police car approaching us. It was driving quite slowly and barely making any sound. I grew extremely nervous and paranoid. Paranoia was immediately followed by regret. “I should have stayed in church,” I silently mumbled.
The scary-looking policemen stopped and asked us for identification. Though all of us had just turned 18, we all had IDs because we needed them to get into the rave. The policemen looked at us suspiciously, constantly surveying us from head to toe. They asked many questions about where we were going and how we all knew each other. “Get into the car!! We are going to the station!”
There was a crackdown around town after a group of youths had vandalized a supermarket and we fit the description. We tried to plead our case but the more we begged the angrier the policemen became. We reluctantly jumped into the police landrover and waited. This wasn’t how any of us had imagined the night going.
I sat next to Gertrude, she had gone remarkably silent and she shook like a leaf. She leaned against my shoulder and apologized for getting me into that mess. I told her it wasn’t her fault and I was the one who had made the decision to come. Deep down, I kind of blamed her a little. We were driving slowly around town looking for the real culprits while still protesting our innocence.
“Did you ever know how to spell my name right?” Gertrude asked in a half laugh. I was tense, there was no room in my consciousness to find humour in the situation we were in but I faked a laugh and said yes.
“Actually, it was a one-time typo, I’ve always known how to spell your name.”
“That was the first letter I ever received from a boy; it was a poorly written official letter, but it was still very sweet of you.”
As soon as she said those words, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. My tension turned into a feeling of ease and for the next two hours of senseless driving around, I forgot that I was in a police car. We talked about all that was there to be talked about. I told her about the crush I had on her and how rejection hit me hard. She apologized and admitted that she secretly liked me but not in a romantic way
“Are you still with your boyfriend?”
“You mentioned in the letter that you had a boyfriend back at home”
“Ohhh no, my friends told me to say that. I have never really had a romantic relationship; I am actually still a virgin. How many girls have you been with?”
“Ehh just one ”
I meant to say none. I don’t know why I lied. As the clock hit twelve, I had my arm around Gertrude. It was surreal, it was Christmas day already! One of the officers told us to give him the pastor’s number if we were really from the seminar. Luckily, our youth pastor wasn’t asleep. We were dropped off at the gate where he confirmed that we were his flock. He was infuriated and angrily sent us to sleep promising to deal with us in the morning. “Merry Christmas!!” Our pastor told the police as they drove off.
I hugged Gertrude that night and didn’t want to let go. Our bodies were so close that I could feel her heart beating through her jumper. Boys went to their dorms and girls went to theirs. We all had juicy stories to share with our friends that night but the juiciest was the one about me having a moment with Gertrude; the one that came back. There was no way I was sleeping that night.
That was easily the best Christmas I had ever had, or so I thought. Gertrude and I started dating through university, even though it was a long-distance relationship, I had not felt that close to anyone else before. I cannot wait to see what this Christmas eve will bring when we meet.