My heart hammered persistently against my ribcage, beating out an alien tune. In its notes, I recognised fear, uncertainly, regret. I stared at his face, afraid to believe what my eyes revealed as truth, dreading the implications of accepting the reality. The implications - not only for my life, but for the lives of those who had, in the last fifteen years, become a part of me.
His face had aged; his body somewhat less. But after what we have been through, the lines around his eyes were to be expected. I had matching ones around my own eyes. Fine lines that were etched into the skin by an excess of tears and grief. His hands rested casually on the handlebars of a trolley and he appeared lost in thought. A good thing too, for if he were to see me, what would I do?
People milled around him, walking in both directions. The mannequins in plush department store windows glared at him, chiding him for the shabbiness of his attire while he just stood, placidly, lost in thought.
I crept deeper into the entrance of one of the stores. He must not see me. It would be suicide. The mall was an artificially lit haven from the winds that raged outside. Winter 2019, so unlike winter of 2004 - the winter when he became a part of me, a part that was critical to my survival. A part that I had valiantly fought to have for my own.
Love for a man long dead, rose like bile to my throat. No, no I mustn’t. It cannot be right. The walls began closing in upon themselves. The plush window displays sprang to life before my eyes. The tune played by my hammering heart became frenzied. Air was slowly squeezed out of my lungs. I was gasping, choking. Air, I needed air. I groped my way to the exit. The doors slid open, as though by some unseen hand.
I drank in the cold air greedily and my breathing evened out. The sun’s rays were superficial. The wind clawed at my face, stinging my cheeks. I burrowed into my jacket and walked until I found my car. I walked away, away from the face that I have loved for ever so long, clinging desperately to the hope that I’d find myself mistaken. That it would all turn out to be a dream.
Ahmed Nkosi, the boy who invaded my small space in the classroom at Benoni Muslim School. The boy who succeeded in being noticed while all the others like him lived as silent spectres in the hallways that spoke of equality in Islam. Ahmed Nkosi whose ready smile contrasted sharply with the blackness of his skin. He was the man for whom I had fought and won only to lose him again to fate.
It has been fifteen years, but I can still smell his skin. I could smell it then, as I stood watching him from the shadows. I can feel his hair, coarse and curly, springy beneath my touch. I remember the light that leapt into his eyes whenever he looked at me. I remember it all as though it was yesterday. Perhaps it was. A yesterday filled with promise of great things to come. A yesterday that reached into the present and directed all our lives. A yesterday immortalised in books all over the world. A yesterday so different from what I now call my today.
© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006