December 3, 2012

Watering Holes

The first time I saw her was at the well. My mother had sent me to fetch water for my father’s evening bath and I had grumbled my way to a slap. I was still sniffing when I reached the well.

I cleaned my tears and snot away as soon I realized I had company. I knew almost everyone that came to the well and the child setting her pail down did not seem familiar.

‘Hello.’ She called out to me noticing my hesitance to come any further than I had done.
‘Hello.’ I said. Or rather, I croaked, the effect of my recent crying. I cleared my throat and tried again.
‘Hello. Who are you?’ I said in a stronger voice.
‘My name is Boma and I just turned 8 years old.’

So that was how it was going to be; I was not yet 8 and I could already feel her stamping her authority over our relationship based on her seniority in age. I had to do something quickly if i wanted to be friends with her. I looked her over and debated if she was worth it. She was wearing a yellow Superman shirt. He was my favorite super hero character and that was the end of my debate.

‘My name is Belema and I am 8 years and four months old’ I lied.
‘You don’t look older than 6 years old. Are you stunted in growth?’
‘Maybe. My mum always says I am small for my age but that if I eat my beans instead of throwing it out when she isn’t looking, I will grow more.’
‘My mother says the same too.’  She said in sympathy. ‘Bring your bucket nearer and I can fill it for you. I am almost done filling mine.’
‘Are you new here? I have never seen you by the well.’ I asked as she filled my bucket.
‘I live in the next house but my brother who always fetched water has gone to boarding school. My mum says it is my turn to be a big girl and help her out. I don’t like being a big girl as much as I thought I would.’
‘What is your brother’s name?’ I asked, my heart fluttering. 

The boy who always gave me sweets had stopped showing up to the well a little while back. Many times, he had helped me carry my bucket home while I skipped along the way. Everyone, even my mother, called him my husband and I would blush till my fair skin turned redder than an agbalumo fruit. I never asked his name and he never asked mine. Names were not necessary where we had love.

‘Ok.’ I said making a note to follow my new friend home one of these days and look at her family photos.

We spent the rest of the evening trading stories. I told her the best times to come to the well; when the sun was setting so it was neither too hot nor too dark to find your way back home. She told me how she missed her brother and how she really preferred Spiderman but she was wearing Ikechukwu's Superman t-shirt so she wouldn't miss him as much. I nodded my head and told her she didn't need to miss him so much since I was only a few houses away. The mosquitoes sang in our ears, telling us to go home but we ignored them and went on with building the foundation of our friendship.

By the time my mother found us and delivered another stinging slap on my buttocks, we were best friends. Day after day, we watered our friendship by the waters of the well. We went to boarding school and wrote each other letters. In one of those letters, I told her my true age and she replied with ready forgiveness. She never found out about my crush on her brother. He came home that first holiday and had new, sophisticated friends. There was no space for little sisters or their brokenhearted friends.

I haven’t seen her in ten years. Then I got an email last night;

 Hey B,
It is me Boma, your friend from the well. I met Somto, your brother yesterday at the train station. He recognized me and I am so glad he did. He tells me you are in London as well. I have the perfect meeting place if you have the time…

Of course I did not have time but I found it somehow. It is what good friends do; they make time, they find time. Like magicians, they wring it out of nothing. 5 minutes there, 30 minutes here...oil to keep the engine of friendship going. In this case, to revive it altogether.

I recognize her immediately. She is taller than I remember and I hear my mother’s voice again telling me to eat more beans. There is a small scar that I do not recognize on her cheek and her wrinkles mirror mine, telling tales of all the time that has passed. Still, it is easy to tell who she is. There is no mistaking her for someone else. With arms open wide and a smile brighter than the sun, I have had more difficult assignments than picking out my friend from all the people milling by Ceasar’s well.  

After all, a friend always, always stands out from the crowd.

Song of the day: Alicia Keys: Girl on fire

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