THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL

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It was 1991. He lay in bed with the earpiece of his Walkman plugged into his ears. He was listening to Percy Sledge’s ‘When a man loves a woman’. He nodded to every word of the song. He had listened to it several times, so he knew the lines by heart.

When a man loves a woman
Can't keep his mind on nothing else
He'll trade the world
For the good thing he's found
If she's bad he can't see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend
If he put her down

When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Trying to hold on to what he needs
He'd give up all his comfort
Sleep out in the rain
If she said that's the way it ought to be
………………………………..
                                                                      
He looked at his watch as he hummed away to the song. Any moment now she will appear, he assured himself. A few minutes later, he opened the window slightly and peeked through. In front of their house was a road, and beyond the road was a vast field. Jacinta’s family owned a plot on the field. She was not there yet. He lay back on his bed and continued listening to the song. When it was over, he rewound the tape and played it all over again. He left the volume low enough so he could hear voices on the field. Midway through the song, he thought he heard some voices. He opened his window slightly again and peered. There she was! Her sister had told Duru that Jacinta would not be accompanied to the farm by their mother that evening. This time, he had vowed to ask her out. For the past one year, he had been nursing the idea, but he never quite found the will to see it through. She was looking elegant in a blue gown. She walked elegantly through the rows of corn that swayed leftwards and rightwards under the spell of a cool evening breeze. Jacinta’s gown seemed to waltz to the same tunes composed by the breeze. She had her usual low-cut hair style. He removed his Walkman and placed it on the table, pushed the door open and let himself out.

He crossed the road and walked along the field. When he reached Jacinta’s farm, his heart was pounding ‘fiercely’. Suddenly, she raised her head from weeding and their eyes met. His heart almost jumped into his mouth. The pounding of his heart went up several notches. She smiled at him and he managed a smile in return. He could feel his knees creaking. “Hi Jacy,” he said. His voice was barely audible. “Duru kedu ka I mee? (How are you Duru?)” She asked him. “Fine, and you?” “I am well thanks.” “Jisie ike (more power to your elbow)” Duru added. “Thanks!” Duru walked on by, not sure how to make his feelings known to her. A friend of his, Chukwukere had asked Jacinta out some weeks earlier and she had turned him down. Chukwukere was popular, good looking and bright. Girls flocked around him at school. He had been sure that Jacinta would fall at his feet and thank him for asking her out. A horde of girls admired him, and would be thrilled if he were to ask them out. He was shocked to his bone marrow when Jacinta said no. “I am furious! How could she say no to me,” he complained to Duru, who was both pleased and scared. He was pleased because it meant he still stood a chance, albeit slim to ask Jacinta out, and scared to death because if she rejected Chukwukere, the senior prefect, there was no way she would say yes to him.

All sorts of permutations ran through his head as he walked down the slope towards the river. Why make a fool of yourself? The girl is too beautiful for you. If she rejected Chukwukere of all people, you stand no chance at all with her. He found himself getting more anxious and petrified. I am not going to do this, he assured himself. At least, I can still have my pride intact. He sat down by the river and watched a flock of birds take a sip from the river banks. On the other side of the river was a beehive of activity. The early corns were ready and farmers were busy harvesting. He watched as the corns fell under the spell of machete-wielding farmers who slashed effortlessly at the defenseless corn stands. He may not have the courage to ask Jacinta out, but he could afford to use his imagination. He imagined himself holding her and looking into her gorgeous face. He thought of her vivacious smile and her warm and full-of-life laughter. It made his legs weak each time he heard her laugh. Stop living in dreamland, he cautioned himself. He rose to his feet, cleaned sand off his buttocks and turned to head back home. Another effort to ask Jacinta out had fizzled out before it even started.

When he turned, he saw Jacinta’s unmistakable figure descending the hill towards the river. Instantly, his heart began to compose loud rhythms again. For a moment, he was frozen to his bones. He watched her glide gracefully down the hill and he wished she’d be his. I wonder where she is going, he thought. He slowly headed up the hill. She increased her pace, reaching the foot of the small hill in time. He looked in the opposite direction as he slowly walked uphill. “Duru!” “Y-e-s,” he stammered. “Are you leaving already?” “Yes. I…I…I have a few things to do at home.” “Are they very urgent? I thought you might want to sit here for a moment and keep me company. I like to come out here to soak in the beauty of the scenery.” “Yes…yes I will do that,” he answered smartly. She sat on a mound a few feet from the bank. Duru took another mound next to hers. “Isn’t it beautiful here?” She asked him. “It is. I like to come out here too.” “We should come out here more often then.” “You and I?” “Yes of course.” “Yes, I’d love that!” Duru could not hide his excitement. “So let me ask you something,” Jacinta said. “Ngwanu juo m (Go ahead and ask me),” Duru replied ebulliently.

“Did you mean to just come here this evening and enjoy the scenery or did you have something else in mind?” “I…I..,” he wondered if he should tell her and face the consequence or lie about his original intention. “You wanted to say something to me, o kwia (right)?” “Why don’t you try and see what my answer might be.” Duru could hear an earthquake erupting in his mind and chest. She looked even more elegant perched atop that little mound with the river calmly flowing down the slope beside her. “Jacy…” he began. How did she read my mind? He wondered. Maybe she wants to make a fool of me. She knows Chukwukere and I are good friends. She must know that Chukwukere must have told me she said no to him, so she probably wants to place both of in the same category – the numerous boys she has turned down. A million thoughts zipped through his mind simultaneously. And what if she says no, he thought. It won’t be the end of my life.

“Jacy, I like you. I have liked you for a long time now and each time I try to tell you, I find myself restrained by the fear that you would say no to me. I have never quite mustered the courage to let you know that you are the girl I think of when I lay in bed at night. When I see you walk by, my heart beats faster; my knees squeak as I wonder if you’d ever be mine. You remember the last time I came to your house help your mother with the goat pen?” Jacinta nodded. “I wanted to see you; to be around you most of the day. I can’t stop thinking of you. I guess it is love, but I know you are far too beautiful. I may not be the type of guy you want.” “And what makes you think that?” “Well, you turned down Chukwukere.” “And because of that you thought I’d never say yes to you?” “He is the ‘happening guy’ around you know. I didn’t think I stood a chance with you, if he didn’t.” “Come here,” she said. “Sit right here,” she pointed at a tiny spot on the same mound she was sitting on. Duru obediently and gleefully squeezed onto the same mound beside her.

“I said no to Chukwukere because you are the one I think of when I lay down in bed at night. The one I see in my dreams. Your laugh, your gentle and honest smile; your kindheartedness, I admire all that. So, now you know why I said no to Chukwukere.” She had placed her hand on his. He felt a rush of blood through his veins. For a moment, he thought he had gone dumb. He could not utter a word. He was shaking with indescribable excitement. “You…you like me?” “I think I am in love with you Duru,” she replied without hesitation. Slowly, he placed his hand on her shoulder and held her to himself. The alluring scent of her hair wafted into his nostrils. “This is the happiest day of my life Jacinta.” “Me too. I have come here several times to enjoy the beauty of the banks, but I never really realized how beautiful it is until now…with you beside me, everything makes sense,” she said excitedly.

After talking for an hour, they could see darkness casting a shadow over the horizon. “I wish we could stay here and talk for much longer,” he said. “Me too. Let’s do it again tomorrow.” “Yes, let’s do it again.” They got up and walked slowly up the hill, hand-in-hand. A gentle breeze raised specks of dust and tall grasses bowed as the breeze coasted past. He squeezed her hand, looked into her eyes and said, “I never thought this would ever happen to me.” “I have been wondering when you’d ask me out.” “Thanks for…for giving me some help with asking you out,” he said smiling. “I could no longer wait. I had been dying to hear you say it. Yesterday my sister, Nwanneka told me you were asking questions about me and when I’d be at the farm, so I knew you felt what I felt.”  He gave him a peck and she giggled. Happily, they climbed onto the other side of the hill and walked towards her house.

Written By
Victor Chinoo

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