By Talib Gibran
I have gone to the beach so many times. But most of the times I would go with Mustapha Darboe who doesn’t have time for anything else but filling his head with conspiracy theories. If he is not acting prophetic, he would get lost in the bliss of portraying Baddibu as the most developed bush town in The Gambia. That’s why our times on the beach would be replete with arguments about Baddibu and Foni—no time to fraternize. This time, I went alone and look what happened.
I started riding back home as I painstakingly visualized my life with Anna. It was a reverie, sort of. I had planned to call her immediately I reached home because I wanted our beach conversation to remain fresh in her mind when I called. But no, that turned out more difficult than the first conversation. I got restless, tensed and sweaty as I mustered courage to make the call or even send her a text, which was the likelier option. But the thought of sending her a message or calling right after meeting her on the beach seemed so basic…..and I don’t like basics. So I fetched water, staggered into the bathroom and washed sand off me. Since it was time for the last prayer, I did my ablution and had few minutes of spiritual practice. And then on my bended knees, with calmness, I called on God:
I grew up in a home where marriage is sacred, celebrated and embraced. In fact, if I had a way I would grow faster so that I could get married early. But that was then; now, my entire perception about marriage has changed. You are the only One who sees the future and there is nothing that I want more than knowing what my marital future holds.
No one can hear me except you. No one can help me except you. No one knows how I feel except you. I don’t even know how I feel. My heart beats faster than normal, my breathing is faster and I feel like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. Please, light my path. Show me the way.”
Considering my religious background, I have a strong belief that God knows how we feel even without hearing it from us. So I avoided telling Him exactly what I wanted. It’s a little trick.
After my dua, I jumped into bed…..stretched on my back, eyes fixed on the ceiling and allowed my heart to take over. The night was longer and, since my satanic phone was right on my chest rising and falling along with it, the idea of calling or texting Anna never disappeared. It kept nagging and buzzing but I fought it back. I knew I would somehow reach out to her but not tonight. Tonight is too soon.
It was a difficult night. I kept rolling over….from one end of the bed to the other. And as soon as the cocks crowed, I got on my feet, rubbed sleep off my eyes and said my prayers. It was Saturday, the only day I don’t have any white-collar commitment. When I was convinced that every diurnal being is active, I picked my phone, browsed through my contacts and called her number. It rang, rang and kept ringing endlessly. That’s it, I gave up…. I had cancelled every other plan the night before just to give myself ample time to figure out what to say when I call Anna. But before I started regretting and beating myself up about it, her call ushered in. Dang! In a split second, I had to calculate whether to pick the call or to just let it ring and then call her back. I gambled the latter….because I knew she didn’t know it was me since she didn’t take my dial on the beach and if I pick, we might only speak briefly if she didn’t have enough units. I made sure I recharged enough to last a day…. So I dialed back…..and then a soothing velvet voice picked.
Me: “Hi, Anna.”
Me: “It’s Talib. We met on the beach last night.”
Anna: “Oh, Talib, my new friend that feels old.”
Me: “Haha, already old? That was fast.”
Anna: “I’ve been waiting for your call.”
Me: “And I have been meaning to call you.”
Anna: “What took you long then?”
Me: “I guess I didn’t have the courage to start a conversation.”
Anna: “Talib, there is nothing like starting a conversation. We already started it on the beach, didn’t we?”
Me: “Yes we did…. I guess then I didn’t have the courage to continue the conversation.”
Anna: “I have a strange feeling about you.”
Me: “That doesn’t sound good.”
Anna: “No, come on… it’s not that. I mean I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”
Me: “It’s possible you know me… We have thousands of people marauding with their smart-phones waiting for people to put their pants down before they either snap or shoot them. The next thing you know, it’s posted and shared around the world. Plus, we also have Gambian online portals that survive on scandals….. Maybe you stumbled on something like that about me and it sticks…”
Anna: “Haha, none of those, believe me. I don’t even know what’s happening on those platforms.”
Me: “Well, that is a relief then.”
Anna: “Are you saying that because you have a skeleton in your closet?”
Me: “Oh I have a lot of skeletons in my closet. Big skeletons.”
Anna: “Hmm….How’s your weekend?”
Me: “Saturdays are liberating for me. The only day I don’t answer to any boss.”
Anna: “That’s nice… So what are your plans for today?”
Me: “Well, I want to return to the beach.
Me: “Yes. Who knows, maybe I’d meet another Anna.”
Anna: “Haha, there is no need to meet another Anna. I am enough.”
Me: “So you’re saying I shouldn’t go?”
Anna: “That’s right.”
Me: “Okay then, I have surrendered my Saturday freedom to you.”
Anna: “Haha, funny. I’m glad you called.”
Me: “I’m glad I called.”
Anna: “I’m heading out to the market but I’ll call you when I get back yeah.”
Me: “Sure… Watch over yourself.”
Anna: “Thanks, bye…”
The entire call took a minute or so and, like Nouri said, I was vibrating from my hair follicles to the tips of my toes. I was floating. I was humming. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t me. But it wasn’t my fault. I rushed to the shop to buy breakfast. Just the routine; if there is no leftover rice, then it is bread and whatever is edible stashed in it. I was on tenterhooks. I did everything in a rush….and those who are used to seeing me in the morning would notice my unusual edgy mood. I sat over breakfast. No tea; just bread and something. I munched the bread and washed it down with water. And then I waited for the call.
My phone rang. And the ringtone is that Nancy Ajram song, Enta Eih, which never gets old. Here is a rusty translated chorus of it:
How cruel are you?
Is it not enough?
That you hurt me? Have pity.
Why my love, is it so easy for you to bring me to tears?
And why do I accept that you hurt me when my soul is part of you?
And why am I accepting this torment at your hands?
If this is love, my misery is from it
And if I am to blame, I cannot say never again
And if it is my lot to live in torment
I shall live in torment
That’s a song I enjoy but I had to pick the call early because I enjoy Anna’s voice more than I enjoy any of Nancy’s songs.
Me: “Hi. I didn’t expect you to call this early.”
Anna: “The market is just a stone’s throw from my house. And I didn’t buy much.”
Me: “I thought as much.”
Anna: “Do you remember our conversation on the beach? You told me something that I still can’t shake off. No, you alluded to something.”
Me: “Oh I memorized that conversation. Which part?”
Anna: “That I am beautiful. But I don’t think I am beautiful. I am dark, skinny and that doesn’t catch men’s eyes.”
Me: “I’m offended. That means you have scrapped me out from the category of men.”
Anna: “No, no, that is not what I mean. It’s just that I feel like I can’t compete with others who have the complexions that men desire. You know, the chocolates, the light skins, the olive skins, the tan browns. ”
Me: “Don’t catch men’s eyes, catch their hearts. And the only way to do that is by being true to yourself. Just be you. Don’t change your looks for anyone. You owe that to yourself. And who says black is not beautiful?”
Anna: “No one has to. It’s that apparent.”
Me: “Once upon a time. Okay, let me just go straight into it. I will tell you a story about Jare, the angelic 5-year-old Nigerian who recently sent social media into frenzy after her portraits were shared on Instagram. Jare is black. Melanin black. No, navy blue black, like Trevor Noah would say. But her beauty is so striking that it blew the entire world. Everyone decided she is the most beautiful girl in the world. People shared her pictures, put it on their statuses, and made it their DPs and profile pictures. People craved for her. As far as I am concerned, you’re Jare. The only difference is you’re older and, for me, the older the better, and the more beautiful.”
Anna: “Stop… Jare wasn’t even that black. You just want to make me feel better.”
Me: “Is it working?”
Anna: “Haha, maybe. I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Me: “Klint The Drunk would disagree. He thinks it is in the eyes of the beer-holder.”
Anna: “(Chuckles) that is hilarious. The truth is, I think people should forget about whatever beauty the eyes can see. Inner beauty is the most important thing.”
Me: “I disagree. Totally.”
Me: “Look, if you are not beautiful or handsome, you are just not beautiful or handsome. Period. There is nothing like inner beauty. You can’t qualify anything as beautiful without seeing it, especially something you will never see. People who think they are not beautiful or handsome console themselves with the illusion of inner beauty.”
Anna: “Haha… Okay, I am officially running away from you…”
Me: “I take it back then.”
Anna: “I’m kidding. It’s good to talk to someone natural. I’m gonna cook now okay.”
Me: “Right… Later.”
She hung up but I kept the phone attached to my ear as though she was still talking. That moment, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment, I loved the phone conversation more than the way a drowning man loves air. And like John Green said, I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable but from the first day I met Anna, there was something about her I needed. But it turned out it wasn’t something about her at all. It was just her. I just needed her.