Do not give things to people with the expectation that they will like you because of that. In the same token, when people give you things, it does not necessarily mean they love you.”
He got up again, and walked up to the other end to counter the move he made earlier as his own opponent. He had tried to teach me to play chess. He said it would make me to think strategically.
He said the black and white pieces represent two armies ranged in battle, the mission being to capture the opponent’s king. Well, I was not so interested in fighting any battles and certainly not interested in capturing any kings. But before he gave up on me, I had already known the names of all the pieces and how each of them moved.
I suspected he always chose this part of the school to meet with me so that he could play against himself as he was doing now. A group of students walked past us towards the hostel and said good afternoon to him. In my school, it was compulsory for every student to greet any adult they came across. He returned their greetings and picked up another piece, a castle, from the board.
“Do you know the kind of girls that most boys like?” “No,”I answered.
“Dumb girls. Boys like dumb girls.” “Really,but I am not dumb,” said, frowning.
“Of course. But this boy, e-r-r, what’s his name, Bobo, does he know that? That you are not dumb?”
“He should. We are in the same class and I always beat him in exams.” “Aliya, it is not all about exams. You can score A in all your subjects and Still be dumb.”
“Daddy, I don’t understand?”
“A dumb girl, the kind of girl that boys like, is not necessarily the one who cannot pass exams. A dumb girl is the one who thinks she needs to live up to other people’s expectations; a girl who feels the need to ‘belong’ a girl who thinks she needs to have sex with a boy to prove that she loves him, or who thinks that having sex and generally misbehaving is the way to show that she is a grown-up; a girl who is not smart enough to know when she is being manipulated or exploited; that is a dumb girl.”
“Okay, well, that sounds really dumb to me,” I said.
He returned the castle to its position and picked up a queen instead. By then, the pawns on the white side had marshaled out into some kind of triangular formation.
“Daddy, do you think I should return the teddy?”
He kept quiet for a while. Then he shrugged and said,” Well, that is a decision you would have to make for yourself “He looked at his wristwatch.”By the way, do you still have your inhalers?”
I knew this was his way of saying the conversation was over and he would like to be on his way. I still had my inhalers and he knew. I had been asthmatic since childhood and the Ventolin inhaler had been a constant
presence in my life. Soon after, I took the teddy with me to the class with the intention to return it to Bobo. As I entered the class, he saw me first and walked up to me. “I can see you like your teddy,” he said, looking very pleased with himself. “Bobo, actually… yes, I like it,” I stuttered. Seeing how happy he was, I could not bring myself to hurt him. He was probably just being nice. If only my father had told me what to do. “I am glad to hear that, he said still grinning from ear to ear. “But Bobo, can I ask you something? I had regained my composure. “Yes, of course.
“Do you want something from me? I mean like, you gave me the teddy and I know it must have cost you some of your pocket money. Why did you do that?” “Nothing. It was Valentine’s Day.
Some of my roommates were talking about gifts for their girlfriends and I don’t have a girlfriend. I could only think of you. So…” “But I am not your girlfriend…” “Yes, I know. I just…” Someone sighted the duty master coming towards our class and everybody scurried back to their seats. After that day, something happened that involved another girl in my class. So, Bobo and I never had the opportunity to finish our conversation.
True, my intention that evening was to give him back the teddy, but when I realized I couldn’t do that without hurting him, I was going to make it clear that if he expected anything more than a thank you from me, he was in for a disappointment. But somehow, I never got the opportunity.
When we resumed school the following term, I learnt that Bobo had relocated to Ireland with his parents. I was surprised by how unhappy I felt when I heard the news from other classmates. I was not even sure if I was unhappy or angry or both. He should at least have told me he was relocating. Daddy was right after all when he said you should not believe that someone loved you only because they gave you a gift.
That was the kind of relationship I had with my dad. How I had eagerly looked forward to turning 16, when he, of all people, would no longer consider me a child and formally recognize me as a young adult.
But here I was, with not even the usual birthday card from my father and the principal acting all strange! The idea that something might have happened to my dad truly scared me. Suddenly, I was no longer so sure that I was ready to be the grown-up girl I had always wanted to be. Without my dad, I would be lost like sheep without a shepherd. The moment the teacher signaled the end of the first period, I ran out of the class.
I could hear Bisi calling after me that I had dropped a pen. “Keep it for me,”I shouted back and continued to run. Afterwards, she said she thought I was rushing to catch a flight or something.