Dinma was tired and exhausted, but also very grateful that the sun was slowing disappearing into the sky as she walked out of the school. Her sweat was drying up on her skin as the weather became much cooler. The heat colluded with the sun to plague her all through the training with the footballers. Ordinarily, she had expected to forget about the message that Longji deleted as she was so drained. It even seemed like it happened ages ago rather than that morning.

She stopped at the bank to withdraw some money knowing that it was probably too late for Nneka to go to the market. She was glad that there was nobody in front of the machine. There were times when she had to wait thirty minutes in a queue that hardly seemed to move to withdraw money. She folded the money and put it inside her bag, burying it inside one of her books.

The distance to the house was not long, but it gave her enough time to think about her current problems. Longji sprung like a cat from the special box she had tried to keep closed in her mind for the duration of the day. Longji, the most misunderstood boy in the school. She felt a smile spread through her face as she thought of the too tall, too thin, and lanky boy. He was mostly concerned about his thin looks, always stuffing more food than he needed into his stomach and doing push-ups that only yielded a small muscle mass on his arms, arms that she loved to wrap her hands around. He was an introverted boy. Sometimes, she imagined what would have happened if she didn’t know him as she did now, she too would have shared the common misconception about him. She was sure she would.

Longji was a quiet boy that preferred the company of himself and his small architecture models. She was in JS1 when she met him. That day he had been drawing a cat, seated exactly where the pictures had been taken. He was one of her first friends in the school. The school had been holding the annual sports competition that week. There had been a number of ceremonies and the school was in the usual chaos that surrounded such events.

She had been looking for a quiet place to read her novel when she came across the abandoned building. When he saw her, he had frowned at her but said nothing as she sat beside him. She showed interest in the paper board placed on his legs on which he was drawing a sketch, he replied with a sharp voice telling her to mind her business. Then packed his bag and left the place.

She was intrigued by him. The next time she came to the building, he was working on a small model of a hut, designing it so intricately that made her fall in love with his art. Despite his cool treatment, leaving as soon as she still arrived, Dinma kept on returning to the building and everytime she did, she met him there. He could have changed his secret place but he too continued coming back.

It had taken a whole term to get him to spend more than five minutes with her before he hurried to leave. It took a year, an excruciating year during which she developed a crush on him for him to start responding to her questions. It was when they were in JS2 that he gave her a smile, a day she would never forget. With him responding to her, their friendship only grew like a budding flower. As their friendship grew, so did his bad reputation in the school.

He often missed classes and when confronted by teachers, he gave silly excuses or point-blankly ignored them. Even when he attended classes, he didn’t participate as he was expected to. He offered no explanation and when he was late for school, he didn’t plead for forgiveness like the other students. Many of the teachers saw him as an arrogant boy that disrespected them as well as the school’s rules and regulations.

Dinma suspected that what made them even more annoyed was the fact that despite the fact that he always skipped classes, he came at the top of the class at the end of the school session. Aside from when they were in JS1 and JS2, all the prizes that were supposed to be given to him during the Speech and Prize-giving day were all withheld because of his attitude. Dinma had seen all the gifts that were awarded to his name in the school storage room covered by dust. When she had asked him why he didn’t want to apologize if not for the sake of his prizes, he had said nonchalantly that he didn’t need their award to show that he was a brilliant student. Hence, the strain between him and the school became even tighter.

Their relationship remained innocent as they graduated from the junior class to the senior class. Dinma saw Longji as friend and family, coming to lean heavily on him both mentally and emotionally. Their friendship took a different turn when they entered SS2, a period where they became increasingly aware of the feelings that they had for each other and as they became more aware of their bodies and its changes. Dinma had made the first move, directly asking him to be her boyfriend. That day, they had shared an awkward kiss that was only the first to many.

She had grown to love him, not the simple infatuation that made her uncomfortable as she got to know him, but one that plagued her, giving her sleepless nights and taking her attention from classes. She was too young to be thinking such things, to be doing such things, but she had been willing to ignore that prickly feeling every time she went to their place of rendezvous and the guilty feeling that followed her to the church on Sunday.

Now, they had been caught in the act, caught by someone who seemed out to destroy her. In their small town, news spread as quickly as fire, from one mouth to the other, from one street to the next. In a short period of time, she would be the hot topic, the ‘good’ girl that knew and did bad things in the dark and later putting a front of other people. She would lose all credibility in school and have her prefectship taken away from her. She was certain that she would also have to appear in front of the disciplinary committee as well. The third section of the school’s rules and regulations banned any ‘carnal relations’. Once, two students had been summoned to the disciplinary committee when they were caught kissing and had undergone a three-day session with the counselor, a meeting that hadn’t gone like the usual meeting with the counselor that students were entitled to two times during their period of schooling. Their faces were cast in shameful stone when they came out of the office and they walked around with that expression for the next two weeks after the incident until other students forgot about it and moved their attention to another hot topic.

Hers wouldn’t be just two weeks. It would go down in the school’s record book that there had been a senior prefect that had been removed from her post because she was caught in a compromising position with another student.

Her body shook. No, it couldn’t happen. She fished for her phone with shaky hands and dialed Longji’s number. The longer the phone rang, the deeper her heart sank. Where was he? She wondered when the voice of the call agent came up saying that the number was not available when she tried to call for the second time.

She had gotten to the front of the house and the sky was already dark. Just how slow had she been walking? She knocked on the gate, still trying to call the number. She sent him a message,

-Where are you? Call me when you get this.- 

She would have kept on trying the number but it would be a futile task. She wondered if she could go to Charward dressed in a camouflage that would make it difficult for anyone to recognize her. Her mother still had some make-up in her room, maybe she could paint her face until no one could recognize her.

Nneka opened the gate. “Dinma, why are you so late?” She fussed as Dinma entered the gate. “Did you take anything for lunch? You-”

“It’s okay.” Dinma forced a smile. “I ate in school.”

“Let me go and warm the rice and beans for you. The meat was not enough, so its just three pieces in your food.”

Dinma shook her head. “No problem. I’ll eat it like that.” Dinma went into the house. Nneka was saying something but she wasn’t listening. Yes, she would go to Charward, but nobody would know it was her.