Tochi was hiding behind the water tank again, watching for him.
Her yellow patterned dress stopped just below her knees and did not prevent the slow evening breeze from caressing her calves. Suddenly, she heard her name. Her stomach flipped as if she had just inhaled a jar of antiseptic. She straightened and began to walk away. When he called her again, her pace quickened.
Oh God, he’s talking to me! a voice screamed in her head.
“Tochi, please stop.”
Tochi had always liked Remi, the boy next door. And she confirmed it when her small nipples told her so. She had opened the door one Saturday morning, and he was standing there, and her nipples had responded to him in the same way the ears of Cherie, her cat responded to its name, twitching and standing erect in an instant.
That day, she had felt a strong urge to cover herself, to hide from the shame of her desires. Her cheeks had burned red, and she wondered if he had seen her nipples taking a peek at him. But he had said nothing, not even pausing to look at her as he delivered his message and turned to go.
Her longing amplified.
Over time, Tochi had learned to plan her days around Remi’s schedule. She finished her chores and was sitting at the top of the stairs before 7am to watch the neighbours’ kids leave for school. She was at the window at 2:35pm to watch him come home from school and she also knew on what day tennis practice took place in the field behind their houses.
Remi always had his jersey draped on his shoulder when he returned from practice. Tochi would swallow hard as her eyes followed the sweat dripping down his muscled forearms, then; linger on the singlet covering his broad chest. Her mouth would go dry and she would have to take a glass of water afterwards.
“Tochi, please stop.”
It was the voice in her dreams. Tochi’s palms began to sweat. She quickened her pace and took the bend that would lead to the house. Nervously, she licked her lips and tasted the vaseline she had generously applied before leaving home. Her tongue glided over her lips like butter on a hot pan.
She couldn’t believe Remi was finally going to ask her out. Her heart thudded in her chest and she bit down on the insides of her cheeks to stop the grin threatening to burst forth. At last, she turned to face him.
“I saw you the other day,” he drawled, “you were spying on me, right?”
There was an amused expression on his face, and before she could respond, he added, “I was looking out for you too. Come, I want to show you something.”
Like a docile lamb, she followed him to the back of the house. He took her hands.
“I want you, Tochi. I want you so much it makes my heart ache.”
Then he placed her palms on his chest. Beneath the tee-shirt was the telltale sign of two lumps. Tochi jumped back, withdrawing her hands.
“You… you have… breasts?”
“But of course. I’m a girl, silly.”
Tochi backed away, confusion etched all over her face. She shook her head from side to side, then turned and ran. She had made a turn for the house when she stopped, then whipped around to face the dismay in Remi’s eyes.
“Tell me why,” Tochi demanded in a cracked voice. “How could you like me?”
“I just do.” Remi’s chin was raised in the air.
“Is that why you dress like a boy?”
“There is nothing wrong with my dressing. It suits me.”
“And your parents don’t have a problem with that?”
“Why would they? I like this,” she replied, spreading her hands to cover her whole body, “and my parents let me have them. You know I play a lot with other boys too, right?”
“Have you done this before? Do you like to kiss girls? I hear people do those things these days.”
Remi’s jaw dropped and she looked as if she would say something, but no words escaped her small round lips.
“I’ve never kissed a girl before,” she said at last.
“Then all you are, is a tomboy,” Tochi responded with a sigh.
“So does that mean you don’t love me anymore?”
“No, I do not,” Tochi answered, frowning. “I can be your friend though. But we cannot be girlfriend and err… girlfriend.”
Remi seemed to think about this for a while. Then she smiled.
“Okay. I like that. Now, tell me why your parents do not send you to school?”
Halima Aliyu is the author of Fire on the Tip of Ice, a 2015 ANA shortlist. She divides her time between teaching, writing and editing.
Photo Credit: Andy Melton via Flickr