His name was Frank and he was fine.
Sometime in my primary four his family returned from America and Frank enrolled in my school. He had a chipped front tooth and a paw-paw head and the teachers let him wear trainers to school rather then the usual brown, cortina shoes buffed to a shine with Kiwi polish. They also let him show off his white, short-sleeved vest by leaving his school shirt unbuttoned.
I’d heard about him the previous day from Chinenye. The headmistress made her his guide since Frank was in our year. He wore a denim shirt and jeans, and said ‘Wassup’ as they were introduced. Chinenye said she felt as if ants were crawling all over her face.
I think everyone was aware the minute Frank walked into the T-shaped hall which housed all the primary fives and some of the fours and sixes. The usual hum died like something had flicked a switch. “Mmuo nso agafee,” someone whispered.
Chinenye rounded the corner with her charge.
A million bubbles formed and popped inside my tummy. I couldn’t take my eyes off the whiteness of his trainers and the way his shirt flapped in the breeze coming from windows-spaces that never held glass. Something about him reminded me of The Karate Kid.
“Class, this is Frank. Greet him.”
“Good day Frank, you are welcome to our class. How do you do?” We chorused.
“Hi,” he drawled. Some girls tittered.The teacher eyed them.
“He will need your help meeting up so at the end of the day I will select the notes that he will take home to copy.” She paused. “Now where will I put you to sit?”
My heart beat madly in my ears. I hoped he would be seated on the first bench but we were already four. It was full. I dreaded him sitting with us. I wanted to throw up. The teacher put him at back with the rest of the tall people. I was relieved and saddened.
I avoided him. During break when it seemed the whole school had Frank fever, I kept away. My usual crowd hung about, as near as the boys would allow. When they got too close to the boys’ shiny new toy, one of them darted forward and pushed whatever girl dared breach the invisible wall.
“Hey.” My heart contracted in my chest even before I turned. My tongue rattled about in my mouth, my saliva solidified. It was the end of school. My water bottle was empty.
“So, you’re in my class right? How come you haven’t said hello?”
“I have said hello. We all did, this morning.”
“No,” he laughed. “I mean like everyone else has?”
“I think you’re letting all the attention get to your head.” My voice came out thick and I was shamed by how effortless his accent sounded compared to mine. His words were bees swarming in my head. I was dizzy from the pleasure of it but kept my face straight, peeking out of the corner of my eyes at him. He slouched on the wall, hands in pockets, the very picture of nonchalance.
I checked my watch. Just in time, I saw my mother’s figure shimmering across the sand of the assembly ground. I left my shade by the wall and walked towards her. Frank followed, his voice dripping in my ear like honey. “Hey,” he pulled me by the elbow. Maybe tomorrow I can hold your bag while we walk to the gate, how ’bout that?” The heat travelled up my arm and lodged itself in my throat. My mother was watching me.
I drew my arm back and smacked him across the face. “Don’t ever touch me, you…you…SCALLYWAG,” I said in my most adult voice.
My mother patted me on the back all the way to the car. “Good girl. That’s how it’s done. If you don’t show them now they’ll think they can take what they should buy.” I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t care about anything. I replayed the slap over and over; the impact of skin on skin, Frank’s jaw hanging open in shock. My heart was breaking.
In school the next day Frank avoided me. I siddled close to his friends and tried to talk to him. He didn’t look my way. I eventually caught up with him in the sun outside, when we both got permission to use the toilets. He flinched as I apporached.
“Oh no, not you again. Dunno what I did to you but whatever it is, I’m sorry. I don’t want none of your crazy.” He walked behind the building to do his business in the bushes.