She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.
Hashim approached the counter holding a loaf of bread and a can of insecticide. Yesterday, it had been a bottle of bleach and a six-pack of Imperial Leather. The day before that, a year’s supply of candles and two tins of Kiwi polish. Tomorrow? Detergent, cereal…and maybe, maybe he’d work up the courage to ask her out.
‘Nicole’ her name tag said. She looked … like a Nicole. Artful make-up, perfect manicure, caramel complexion, thin braids that cascaded down her back. When his turn came, she flashed him a quick grin. “Hello.” He decided he liked the lilt in her voice.
“Hi.” Say something more, you doofus! – Like what! – Like… say something! “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Seriously? Are you kidding?!! That the best you could do?
“Yes, it is.” She scanned the insecticide, arched a perfect eyebrow. “You were here yesterday, right?”
“Uh.” Great! Now degenerated to muttering grunts. Perfect, Hashim! “Yes… Nice shirt.” Dude! – It’s a blue shirt! I like blue!
“Thank you.” She gave a mock bow. “It’s my brother’s.” She squinted at the computer screen, then pronounced with a smile. “Four hundred.”
He paid, took the plastic bag from her. “Thanks.”
The next day, as planned, he bought a 5kg bag of Omo and two boxes of Fruit n’ Fibre. This time, she complimented his blue shirt. He informed her he was a Chelsea fan. She was an Arsenal fan. They got into an argument over the better team. He enjoyed it so much, he forgot to ask her out. Oh, well. Tomorrow, then.
The following day, she wasn’t on duty, her mother was. Hashim decided he liked her mother too. She wasn’t as pretty as her daughter but the quick smile seemed to run in the family. Mama Nicole informed him she was writing university entrance exams. He bought six tins of Titus sardines, and a pound of Blueband margarine. At this rate, he wouldn’t need to buy anything for the next one month…
He didn’t see Nicole for a week. Her exams were right across the country; and she had decided to make a holiday out of it. He searched for her on Facebook. No show. He mentally kicked himself for not getting her number. I can ask her mom – No, you’ll look like a wimp!
He changed his route home from school so that he’d pass by the supermarket every day. It was a longer route, sure. The supermarket was one of the most expensive in the neighborhood, true. But the chance that he might see Nicole was enough motivation. He thought out loud about becoming an Arsenal fan. His flat-mates thought he was crazy; but didn’t razz him. There was after all a plus, all the stuff he kept buying…
It had been a month.
Her mother said Nicole had been admitted into the university. She wasn’t coming back; she would stay with her older sister. The butterflies in his stomach blossomed into a solid ache in his chest. Crazy. He missed her, this girl he’d spoken to twice. He skipped classes, they were no use. He didn’t hear a word the lecturers said, and every time he opened a book, he saw her face. He stayed home and played sorrowful chords on his guitar. He found himself watching Arsenal matches and hoping they won because somewhere, Nicole was watching too and flashing her delightful smile every time the Gunners scored.
He wondered if she thought of him like he thought of her. Every waking second.
He wondered if he was going crazy.
He decided to forget her. It was irrational, this obsession. And he was a level-headed, clear thinking fellow. Right? Right! He reverted to his old route. He called up his ex, a Chelsea fan. His flat-mates grumbled that the detergent had run out, muttered under their breath that they liked the smitten-Hashim better. He roundly insulted them.
He saw her immediately he entered the store. Her braids were replaced with an Afro and she looked even more beautiful than ever. His heart did a little cartwheel. If he was white, he would’ve been blushing. It was six months since he’d last seen her, six months to get over his infatuation. Six months that now seemed like a minute. Oh, boy. She was talking animatedly with some guy, throwing her head back in laughter, shaking her head in amusement. With something akin to despair, he watched the guy kiss her forehead before he left. Her boyfriend. I’ve lost my chance.
He took the giant bag of Omo off the shelf and trudged to the counter. Will she remember me? Probably not! The shop was a busy one; she probably attended to hundreds of people daily. He would be friendly but cool. Isn’t that an oxymoron? – Shut up! I’m gonna ask her! – No! You’re late! That other guy –I don’t care! I can’t stand this indecision anymore…
That lilt again, and had he imagined the extra sparkle in her eyes?
“It’s been ages. Don’t tell me you’ve gone over to our competitors.”
He shrugged, not trusting himself to speak and, in all likelihood, blurt out that he’d come every day when she’d left but stopped when he couldn’t stand the psychological torture of the hope-despair cycle anymore. He wanted to ask her if she liked university life, and how long she’d been back and how long she’d be staying. Instead, he stood mute as she bagged the detergent. When she told him the total, he handed her his ATM card.
“Oh. Hashim.” She read his name from the card, smiled up at him. “Nice name. What does it mean?”
“Uh, Destroyer of evil.” He liked the way she said it. He liked everything about her full stop. Tell her! – That other guy… – Tell her, dammit!
He took the card when she was done, took the detergent, opened his mouth to confess undying love.
It all came out in a rush. “Okay, so I think you’re kinda cute…and I’ve had this insane crush on you since the first time I saw you…you have really nice hair, has anyone ever told you…Gosh, I’m blabbing…and I was kind of thinking, hoping…Have you seen The King’s Speech?”
“No?” His heart was dancing a little jig in his chest as his mind whirled dizzily. WHAT?!
“Would you like to go see it tomorrow? Please?”
A lifetime of sitcoms and he couldn’t resist. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Her eyes narrowed in a delighted grin. “Sort of. Yes?”