Contemporary Romance

“He has the biggest head in the school!” Vele's voice echoed to him, alone in the living room.

“It's bigger than a watermelon!” A young boy remarked.

It was ten years ago since his high school flame had severed the knot that linked their hearts. Ten years since their last meeting, but her words never ceased to haunt him. Her silvery voice, laced with mockery, roused the children's giggles that day.

Jake stared at his pair of shoes, his mind made up. He wouldn't miss the high school reunion because of her. But as he put on his socks, his eyes stopped on the scar that ran from his left calf to his ankle, a daily reminder of that November afternoon. Every day, that crooked stretch of scab prickled his confidence. It always made him suddenly aware of the size of his head.

Jake quickly put on his shoes before he stared into the mirror. The rest of his body was small and skinny. A hideous birth mark plastered much of his neck and part of his left face. He took a deep breathe, but only succeeded in quickening his heart beat. A part of him begged him to stay, he was boring company. He could picture the excitement that would be at the reunion and how he would never fit in. He could just stay indoors and save himself the embarrassment. But he had promised his former classmates that he would be there.

Jake walked out of his apartment and descended into the sea of people in the street. He was certain he had made a wrong decision. 


Jake was aware of the stares that rested on him as he walked through the crowd. Some kept their eyes on him until they met his before they turned away, while others kept looking even after he caught them staring. Sometimes he fancied they stared at his dressing, neatly ironed trousers and shirts. But since childhood, every fight he got in was because someone had made fun of his head. There was nothing as eye-catching about him as his head, it was the only attraction that stalled even the children playing in the streets, they would stop and look on.

The bus stop was pulsating with activities. Fruit vendors were calling for the attention of passers-by, from their makeshift stands, as bus touts fought each other for their would-be passengers. Three of his classmates had become bus conductors, he felt sorry for them. Two of those had been among the best performing students in his class and Jake thought they deserved better. They had told him the reunion was for people like him who had gone to university and obtained degrees. They didn't know that his bachelors degrees in economics was packed in his suitcase, below the pairs of trousers, shirts and neckties he kept specially for the job interview he was on the verge of accepting would never come. 

As the trees and buildings ran past, Jake stared idly at the bus window. He liked the backseat, that way his head wouldn't be a distraction to anyone. Throughout high school, he had occupied the desk at the back and he sat in the corner. He feared his head would distract the students behind him and the jokes would never stop.

“It's rather too warm today,” a woman next to him said.

Jake grunted.

“Everything is suddenly skyrocketing,” she said. “First the price of goods goes up, and now its the weather!”

Jake chuckled, he just wanted to be left alone.

“It's sad that the next election is two years away,” she said, looking expectantly at Jake.

Jake grunted again, she was probably staring at his head.

“This government has failed us, right?” she asked him.

Jake could feel a caravan of sweat slowly descend down his face, he smiled sheepishly. But before he could respond, a man next to the woman answered. Then started a debate that lasted the entire journey with every passenger taking part. Every passenger except Jake.


The venue of the high school reunion was a play park in the suburbs of Lusaka. When Jake got to the entrance, he hesitated. Excited voices and low music could be heard beyond the high hedge. It was not too late, he could still go back home. Jake turned to go.

“Hey!” a voice bellowed behind him.

Jake felt his heart sink, even after ten years he still recognised the voice.

“Why are you walking away?”

Jake turned and faced the speaker.

“Hello, Paul” Jake waved.

“Hey guys, the head has arrived!” Paul called out behind him. “You are late for the first time, headman.”

Same old Paul with his head jokes, another reason Jake wished he had stayed away. Two other men joined them and, unlike Paul, with his usual oversized shirts and sagging jeans, they looked different from their high school days. Back then, the trio were rappers and they would always brag how they would some day sign a recording deal in the USA.

Jake was surprised with how the other two men greeted him, they were very formal. Back in high school, the trio had threatened to beat him on the last day of exams. But their adult versions before him looked like honourable men, at least two of them.

“Look at him, still with the big head and tiny arms!” Paul said with guffaw, the other two men simply looked at him.

Jake left the company of the trio and went inside the play park, confident it would be a pleasant evening. He stopped in his tracks when he noticed the fleet of cars before him. There was a crowd in the play park and most of them were by the parked cars, life had obviously favoured them. 

“Is that you, Jake?” A female voice called behind him.

It was Jennifer, his crush in the first year of high school. She had grown taller but still preferred her head bald. Jake felt comfortable in her company as the two went around meeting their former classmates. She told him of how she had been through three abusive marriages in the last eight years, had four miscarriages and was now back living with her parents.

The couple that everyone, including Jake, thought would never last a month together, after they graduated, said they were now married with two children together. They wore matching t-shirts that read ‘together since 2007.’ The woman was now a mid-wife and the man had achieved his dream of becoming a lawyer and owned a chain of gaming stores.

Each former classmate present seemed to have achieved some success in the last ten years, except him. He had gone to university but had not received any feedback, not even negative, from the numerous companies he had applied to in the past six years. He had then setup a phone repair store that barely sustained him. When one of them asked what he did, he found himself lying.

“ Am a freelance market research analyst, with two contracts currently,” he said the rehearsed lie.

“That's great,” the man said. “I didn't expect less from the man who was always top of the class”

As the sun set, more cars came. The crowd grew and everyone was excited to see everyone but there was no sign of Vele. Jake was glad he wouldn't have to face her. Maybe she had long died, he hoped she had died. 


Jake found himself happy, a calm settled over him. Except for that clown Paul, everyone had matured and for once, he didn't have to worry that they would make fun of him. He wished the reunion could be held every year. But his happiness was short-lived with two successive taps on his back. He turned.

“Hello, Jake!” A grinning Vele said.

In that instant, memories of that afternoon ten years earlier flooded him rapidly. He could feel sudden droplets of sweat taint his face. A traffic of words congested his throat, stuck. She had not grown a day and had the same girlish look of innocence that had lured him to fall for her. But her looks were deceptive.

“Long time, you look good.” Vele said, extending her hand to him.

Jake reluctantly took it, as he grunted.

“Where have you been?” She asked, her voice laced with concern. “I've been looking for you.”

“Excuse me,” Jake said walking past her.

Images of himself climbing the wall fence ten years ago, to run away from her words, haunted him. He had not cared what was beyond the wall. There had been four dogs laying in the next yard: they chased him around before one of them sunk its nails into his calf, tearing his trousers and flesh. 

“Jake, can we talk?” Vele woke him from his reverie. “Please?”

Jake nodded and followed her as she got away from the crowd. He watched the movements of her small back as she took calculated steps, the steps that he had fallen for. She held her handbag tightly, Jake guessed she had a novel or two inside, she was always reading back then.

“I hoped to find you here, Jake,” she said when they reached the furthest end of the play park. “But you are looking at me like you've seen a ghost.”

“Can you blame me?” Jake was surprised by his reaction.

“I don't know what that means, but tell me why you've been hiding from me.” Her tone wavered.

“Why would I hide from you?”

“It's 2019! Yet you are not on Facebook or Twitter,” she said, on the verge of tears. “You don't exist on social media, because you are hiding”

Even after a decade, she seemed to still know him. Jake craned his neck, she was hitting the right nerves. He had purposely used a made up name on Facebook with altered photos of himself so she could never find him.

“Am not continuing this conversation, Vele,” Jake said, turning to go back.

“You disappeared from my living room without a word, why?”

“Don't play the dumb game with me,” Jake felt his anger rise.

“What are you talking about?” Vele was now wiping her tears.

Jake looked at her, searching her eyes. They were the saddest eyes he had ever seen. 

“Look at me.” Vele waved her hands in his face. “I’m not married.”

“Serves you right,” Jake mocked.

“It's because I've been hoping that I'll see you again.”

“After making fun of my head with those kids back then?”

He watched her face for a reaction, none came. She stared back at him with blank eyes. The he saw the realization slowly cloud her eyes and her face contorted into a smile. Jake was appalled as she burst into laughter.

He turned to leave, she grabbed his arm.

“You left because you thought we were talking about you?” she asked between laughs.

“You didn't just talk about my head, you broke my heart.”

Vele got close to him, her floral scent too strong. She was as beautiful as he had always imagined her. He could see she was trying hard to hold back her laugh as she peered into his eyes.

“ I would never make fun of you,” she said with sincerity. “I cared for you, I still do.”

Jake just stared at her.

“It was a kids book, Jake.” She said with a laugh. “It's so funny you would laugh.”

Vele fumbled through her handbag, as Jake watched on. Had he overreacted?

“Here, look” Vele was holding a yellow book with a drawing of a boy with a large head.

“Davey big head, dream big by Peter J. Hayden,” she read.

“It's my personal favourite. And I've been reading it to my kindergarten classes for the last six years; it's about embracing and celebrating individuality.”

Jake was lost for words. For ten years he had lived a lie, harboured a grudge against an innocent Vele. He smiled at her, she smiled back. They stood staring at the ecstatic crowd, none said a word. Vele took a deep breath and leaned against him.

“I shouldn't have left, Vele” Jake said.

“Then it wouldn't have taken me so long to know where I belong.”

“We are together again, that's what matters,” she whispered.

Under the starry heavens, they embraced tightly.

September 30, 2020 08:33

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