Growing up in London, Kwabena and I were best friends.
Yet, in many ways, we were opposites.
Kwabena was a tough-as-nails kid whose thick Jamaican accent dulled his words into blunt instruments which thumped his hearers into a dead-perfect silence.
For only in silence could they try to figure out what he meant when he said things like, ‘Small Up Yuhself’
Kwabena had a tendency to exaggerate, everything.
With him, life was what you made it up to be. I was less theatrical.
So he was the apples to my oranges, the night to my day.
Our differences, however, were the superglue of our friendship.
The first person plural of ‘we’ was us. So the only ‘I’ in our friendship was in our intimacy. But, sadly, this “bromance” was to be sorely tested by a ‘siren’ with no ‘off’ button.
Rachel was the new girl.
On her first day in school, the teacher introduced her to the class and instantly my 12-year-old eyes widened with love-swollen desire.
Being three times a lady, even as a girl, Rachel was the first, second and third most beautiful person in any room.
Breezing through school like a peppermint breath of fresh air, she had billowing chestnut hair that streaked behind her before resting like a cherry atop a sweet-as-pie face. Her vanilla ice-cream complexion headlined full, rowan-berry lips that broke into a sceptered smile which simply ruled.
Watching her in class, I daydreamed about her as an angel flashing her wings and taking me up and away to heavenly paradise.
As I awoke from that dream, her hotness caused a fever to rise within me. And she was the only alternative medicine that could cure it.
She was everything and everything was she.
However, I soon found that I wasn’t the only person in puppy-love with her.
Kwabena had been having PG-rated dreams about her as well.
We both had inner “woofs!” which could not be vocalised aloud for the proverbial cat seemed to have caught our tongues on the subject of Rachel.
As we nursed secret ecstasies about her, we refused to tell each other about them. Possibly because we felt overwhelmed by these emotions. Or maybe we simply didn’t trust one another.
Whatever the case, it was Game On!
Our hormones started churning inside us with the fury of Bruce Lee’s fists.
Once, during a swimming lesson, my eyes were glued to the small of Rachel’s back as it tapered down into a waist that brought out the puppy dog in me.
I found myself daydreaming about caressing her with both paws.
Kwabena, standing next to me, suddenly snapped his fingers before my eyes as he saw me held trance-like.
Later, I saw his eyes springing out of their sockets and his tongue dropping to the floor as he watched Rachel too.
I shook him out of his own trance with a loud “Ahem!” He grimaced a little, and then pretended he was looking at a housefly hovering above Rachel’s head.
Pointing to himself and at Rachel, he shook his head as if to say “me and her? Never in a million years.”
We both put on a grand show of hiding what we truly felt. But pretense is the hardest thing to pull off for a 12 year kid. So something had to give.
Even though I was religiously unwashed, I started to dress up to impress Rachel by premiering some red carpet-ready attire.
Still, I had to do something more dramatic to really catch her eye.
I got my chance when I was paired with her during a class exercise.
It was like a People Power rally, we “hit it off” riotously.
Apart from talk about her Barbie dolls, our childish chit-chat was cool. We had a lot in common.
She continuously threw her head backwards with deep-throated laughter as I regaled her with stories about the undisclosed location of my missing front teeth. But just as our conversation was really catching sparks, I heard a resonating fake laughter. Only one kid could fake-laugh like that. Yes, Kwabena had crashed our conversation.
And he quickly outshone me as the gleam in Rachel’s eye.
His jokes and stories-by-numbers were far better than mine.
After a story he even had a closing tune, like the movies! Plus, his feigned delight in Rachel’s Barbie doll stories was an Oscar-winning performance.
Rachel was enthralled as she watched him admiringly. This forced me to go native. So I assembled two Ugandan classmates who laughed at everything I said with the chuckling intensity of sycophants.
The three of us then approached Kwabena. And I said, “Listen, Kabina….”
My two Ugandan friends instantly erupted into laughter at my corruption of Kwabena’s name to make it sound like the Luganda word for ‘behind’.
“Wot is ‘kabina’ now?” Kwabena asked.
“It means I will be kicking some of yours if you don’t leave Rachel alone,” I said, suddenly turning dead-eyed serious.
“Oh really?” Kwabena replied.
He and I then came eyeball to eyeball, as my sleepy fingers stirred and clenched into a fist. It was time for war.